Fertility rite

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fertility rites or fertility cult are religious rituals that are intended to stimulate reproduction in humans or in the natural world.[1] Such rites may involve the sacrifice of "a primal animal, which must be sacrificed in the cause of fertility or even creation".[2]


"Fertility rites may occur in calendric cycles, as rites of passage within the life cycle, or as ad hoc rituals....Commonly fertility rituals are embedded within larger-order religions or other social institutions."[3]

As with cave pictures "[that] show animals at the point of mating...[and] served magic fertility rites", such rites are "...a form of sympathetic magic"[4] in which the forces of nature are to be influenced by the example acted out in the ritual. At times, "ceremonies intended to assure the fecundity of the earth or of a group of women...involve some form of phallic worship".[5]

Geographical varieties[edit]

Ancient Greece[edit]

Central to fertility rites in classical Greece was "Demeter, goddess of fertility... Her rites celebrated the procession of the seasons, the mystery of the plants and the fruits in their annual cycle of coming to be and passing away."[6] But most "women's festivals... related in some way to woman's proper function as a fertile being (which allowed her to promote the fertility of crops too, by sympathy)".[7]

Because of his link to the grape harvest, however, "it is not surprising to see Dionysus associated with Demeter and Kore in the Eleusinian Mysteries. For he, too, represented one of the great life-bringing forces of the world."[8]


Ancient Phoenicia saw "a special sacrifice at the season of the harvest, to reawaken the spirit of the vine"; while the winter fertility rite to restore "the spirit of the withering vine" included as sacrifice "cooking a kid in the milk of its mother, a Canaanite custom which Mosaic law condemned and formally forbade".[9]

The death of Adonis – "a vegetation spirit who...was manifest in the seed of corn" – was marked by "the most beautiful of Phoenician festivals...celebrated immediately after the harvest".[10]


Durkheim explored Australian ceremonies "to assure the prosperity of the animal or vegetable species serving the clan as totem".[11] Such ceremonies took the form both of "oblations, whether bloody or otherwise", and of "rites which...consist in movements and cries whose object is to imitate the different aspects and attitudes of the animal whose reproduction is desired".[12]

Durkheim concluded that "as the rites, and especially those which are periodical, demand nothing more of nature than that it follow its ordinary course, it is not surprising that it should generally have the air of obeying them".[13]


In the parables of Jesus Christ, such as the Parable of the Sower, "the sower sows the word," where the seed is the word of God.[14] The parables of the mustard seed and the growing seed explain the kingdom of God in which growth is due to God and not to man and follows its own schedule .[15][16] In John 12:24[17] the death and resurrection of Jesus compared to the core, which falls to the ground and dies and then produces a lot of seeds. In many Christian traditions, Easter service at dawn, or the service of the Resurrection, is held in the Acre of God, where the bodies of the dead are "sown as a seed".[18]

Many fertility rites that have spiritual origins such as European Christians and Pagans drew their methods from "myths, imagery, and ritual practices from the religions".[19] Agricultural practices role in transforming “the wild” into habitable places were prevalent in (western). Alongside education and medicine, agriculture helped spread western power and influence through Christian missions.[20]


Some authors believe that fertility rites took place around the Kaaba in pre-Islamic times. During the autumn pilgrimage to the Kaaba, rituals performed there included performing the circumambulation naked, holding vigil in front of Mount Arafat, giving offerings to the pillars at al-Mina, and offering sacrifices. According to Barnaby Rogerson, it is likely these rituals were a part of a fertility cult, ensuring continuation of the life-cycle. In the cult, a mother goddess represented by a trinity was worshiped, along with a heroic young god would die and be reborn in an unending cycle due to his father, the supreme god. This was symbolized by agriculture and movement of the celestial bodies in Arabia. Allat was the fertility goddess with al-Rabba (the sovereign), Manat and Al-Uzza being her epithets. Thuraiza or Muzdalifah was the heroic young god and Allah was the father. Benjamin Walker says the Kaaba was honored by orgies and that its name means "virgin". Fertility rites took place in the temples of the Great Goddess and the color green was associated with her.[21][22]

Islamic traditions[edit]

It is believed in some Islamic traditions that a tree transfers its blessings (barakah) and thus trees were planted on graves. The custom of beating people with twigs is derived from an old fertility rite, with the tree transferring its life force. This practice was performed in medieval Egypt, particularly in Cairo by a jester called the 'Ifrit al-mahmal, when the mahmal carrying the covering of the Kaaba was exhibited. A similar practice also happens in the Deccan region of India during Muharram. Pilgrims to Mecca and tombs of saints are also garlanded since it is believed they preserve the life force of a tree.[23]


Agricultural fertility was and continues to be of primary concern for Mesoamerican cultures. Many ritual activities performed by Indigenous communities in Mesoamerica were directed to deities of land and rain, as their understanding of fertility was intimately related to specific geographical attributes, such as bodies of water, mountains, and caves. In Mesoamerican worldview, agricultural success was believed to be directly related to survival and prosperity. For this reason, ceremonies and religious rites offered to rain and earth deities were an integral part of most aspects of their socioreligious organization. Archaeological evidence throughout Mesoamerica attests to the magnanimous importance of fertility rituals for the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations.[24]

Contemporary analogues[edit]

  • It has been suggested that "at the heart of the myth of science lie fertility rites which ensure the continued fruitfulness of technological innovation".[25]
  • Eric Berne points out that "the Adult 'helpnik' vocabularies (PTA, psychology, psychoanalysis, social science) may be used in an intellectual Rite of Spring, where the victim's dismembered psyche is left scattered over the floor on the theory that he will eventually join himself together and be more fertile afterwards".[26]
  • Modern wedding ritual is seen by Freud as a kind of ritual orgy.[27]

Literature: T. S. Eliot[edit]

In The Waste Land, "Eliot waxes nostalgic for a classical society founded upon ritual praxis...fertility rites in which the participants mime the fall and return of natural cycles"[28] – "Keeping time, Keeping their rhythm in their dancing As in their living in the living seasons",[29] as he would subsequently put it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ananti, Emmanuel (January 1986). AnthonyBonanno (ed.). Archaeology and Fertility Cult in the Ancient Mediterranean: First International Conference on Archaeology of the Ancient Mediterranean. B R Gruner Publishing. ISBN 9789027272539.
  2. ^ Aniela Jaffé, in C. G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (1978) p. 264
  3. ^ Thomas Barfield, The Dictionary of Anthropology (1997) p. 184
  4. ^ Jaffé, p. 261
  5. ^ Willard Bohn, Apollinaire and the Faceless Man (1991) p. 66
  6. ^ M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus (Penguin 1967) p. 158
  7. ^ J. Boardman et al, eds., The Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford 1991) p. 269–70
  8. ^ F. Guirand ed., The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (1968) p. 160
  9. ^ Guirand, p. 77–9
  10. ^ Guirand, p. 81–2
  11. ^ Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London 1971) p. 327
  12. ^ Durkheim, p. 351
  13. ^ Durkheim, p. 361
  14. ^ Barnes, Charles Randall (1912). The People's Bible Encyclopedia: Biographical, Geographical, Historical, and Doctrinal : Illustrated by Nearly Four Hundred Engravings, Maps, Chats, Etc. People's Publication Society.
  15. ^ Longenecker, Richard N. (2000). The Challenge of Jesus' Parables. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-4638-9.
  16. ^ Edwards, James R. (2002). The Gospel According to Mark. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-3734-9.
  17. ^ "John 12:24 Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  18. ^ "Definition of DIASPORA". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  19. ^ "Ancient Roots, Historical Challenges". pluralism.org. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  20. ^ Sundkler, Bengt; Steed, Christopher (2000-05-04). A History of the Church in Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-58342-8.
  21. ^ Rogerson, Barnaby (4 November 2010). The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography. Hachette UK. p. 22. ISBN 9780748124695. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  22. ^ Maria Zalewski, Wojciech (13 February 2012). The Crucible of Religion: Culture, Civilization, and Affirmation of Life. Wipf and Stock. p. 269. ISBN 9781630875329. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  23. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie. Deciphering the signs of God: a phenomenological approach to Islam. State University of New York Press. p. 19. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  24. ^ Arnold, Philip P. "Fertility." In David Carrasco (ed). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures. : Oxford University Press, 2001
  25. ^ F. A Kreuzinger, The Religion of Science Fiction (1986) p. 42
  26. ^ Eric Berne, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (1974) p. 325
  27. ^ Freud Sigmund (1953). On Sexuality Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality Vol-7.
  28. ^ E. P. Comentale, Modernism, Cultural Production, and the British Avant-Garde (2004) p. 96
  29. ^ T. S. Eliot, "East Coker", in The Complete Plays and Poems (London 1985) p. 178

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