[Click on the Billiken graphic to see him "blink."]
A few days ago I linked to investigative reporter Sandy Frost's article about the Royal Order of Jesters. In her article, she mentioned the icon/mascot of the Jesters, a strange little naked Buddha-like happy fellow named Billiken.
She said that there was an online animated version that "appears to have his, uh, thingy popping up and down as he blinks."
I tracked down the animation, and, yup, I think it looks like a big red head of a penis popping up and down.
Or maybe it's his navel glowing, as someone wrote in the comments section to my earlier article.
Nah, it's his pecker. Why would an icon of FUN have a glowing navel? I've contemplated my navel several times, but I'd never say that it was fun. There's nothing physically or symbolically fun or "mirthful" in a navel.
What say you? Penis or navel?
The original Billiken doesn't seem to have had either a navel or a pecker, though both appear to have been included in later designs. A 1908 patent was issued to Florence Pretz, a Missouri art teacher and illustrator who patented her "design for an image," but not the name "Billiken." The Billiken Company of Chicago manufactured the character as a coin bank, a statuette, and a doll. It was one of the first of many dolls that for a few years in the early 20th century became very trendy and fashionable. The Billiken was "all the rage" for about six months in 1910-1911.
The Billiken was known as the "God of things as they ought to be," which author, historian and anthropologist Dorothy Jean Ray believes is a variation on a line from poet and Freemason Bro. Rudyard Kipling's L'Envoi: "Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!" She wrote about the Billiken in a 1960 article in Alaska Sportsman. The Billiken had become a popular item in Alaska after someone had given a store-bought version to a local ivory carver named Angokwaghuk, whose nickname was "Happy Jack." To this day, Eskimo ivory carvers produce many Billikens, all following the Happy Jack pattern, which itself remained nearly identical to the original Pretz/Billiken Co. design.
In 1911 or 1912, Coach John Bender unofficially adopted Billiken as the mascot of the St. Louis University football team. Several versions of the story exist.
It was also in 1911 (February 20th — oddly, today's date) that the original meeting of the Royal Order of Jesters occurred, during a San Francisco-to-Honolulu Shriner cruise aboard the S.S. Wilhelmina. The meeting was led by Shriner Noble A. M. Ellison of San Francisco along with 13 original members. The group was "officially" formed in 1917.
Those more conspiratorial-minded than I can contemplate whether the God of Mirth inspired this meeting, or if perhaps the Shriners themselves were behind the popularity of the Billiken doll at the time.
Variations of Billiken spread to Japan and other parts of the world, and over time the word itself seems to have been appropriated to mean any carved doll-like character under a foot tall, or so a quick look at eBay indicates.
It's probably safe to assume that the navel-or-pecker animated Billiken shown above was created fairly recently, since animated GIF's weren't available before 1989 (and I doubt too many Jesters were computer geeks in 1989, nor were there too many webpages to put animations for many more years), which to me gives further reason to suspect it's indeed his pecker and not his navel that lights up. (Imagine yourself as an animator, probably a teen or in his early 20's... would you think it fun to make a non-existent navel blink, or to create a pop-up penis? I mean, there's a pop-up penis in The Little Mermaid, isn't there?)
Not that people didn't contemplate their peckers in times past. The undated photo montage shown at left of a Jesters' Billiken paperweight, especially the second and third photos, certainly look like little Billy is playing with his Billiken to me.
Or is he just holding his gut while having a mirth-filled belly laugh?
Masons | Masonic Clubs | Shriners | Freemasonry | Royal Order of Jesters | Burning Taper | BurningTaper.com