Fertility symbol

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

A fertility symbol is an object used by early historical human societies representing fertility, reminders of which remain in folklore today.

Ancient forms[edit]

Fertility symbols have traditionally taken on many different forms. The prehistoric Venus of Willendorf is commonly regarded as an example of a feminine fertility symbol[1] - its rotundity and obesity being seen as attractive in times when food was scarce.

Certain animals that reproduce prolifically are also seen as fertility symbols, such as frogs and rabbits - the Easter Bunny as symbol of rebirth and fertility[2] - while the same is also true of the widespread classical image of intertwining snakes.[3] Freud considered the pig to be a further primitive symbol of fertility.[4]

The Sacred marriage of sovereign Queen/mother and the annually dying fertility godling[5] was itself a fertility symbol. Not unconnected was the phallus as a symbol of vegetative fertility, linked to the notion that the ritual performance of the sexual act promotes agricultural growth.[6]

Hindu mythology[edit]

Śiva the Hindu god was worshipped as the principle of generation through the symbol of the lingam (phallus).[7] His complement is the river Ganges, his mistress and the mother of all fertilising rivers.[8]

Modern survivals[edit]

Two treasures of Bran the Blessed, his magical horn and platter providing food and drink on demand,[9] were fertility symbols that have been associated with the legend of the Holy Grail.

The Cerne Abbas giant is a fertility symbol, which offered help in conception to childless women.[10] Similarly, the Maypole is a phallic pole celebrating the sexual renewal of life in spring.[11]

Western marriage ceremonies regularly include the throwing of rice and the bouquet - vegetative symbols of fertility.[12] The shoe tied to the happy couple's car can been seen to represent the fertile vagina, as with The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.[13]


For Jung himself, 'the phallus always means the creative mana, the power of healing and fertility';[14] while Lacan considered that 'the phallus is...the image of the vital flow as it is transmitted in generation'.[15]

Conversely, Eric Berne saw the vagina as a fertility symbol promising both protection and productivity.[16]

Western art[edit]

  • In Botticelli's Primavera, on the one hand 'the Three Graces represented by nubile young women...embody the sexual powers of springtime'; while opposite them 'Flora, goddess of Spring...is a symbol of motherhood and, by her distribution of the roses gathered in her skirt, the good things of life'.[17]
  • In Picasso' paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter, 'everywhere there are symbols of growth and fertility...green, the colour of nature's renewal'.[18] In his 'series of sleeping nudes...Picasso may have been influenced by the much reproduced Hal Saflieni Reclining Woman...and the Venuses of Lespugue and Willendorf, which with their heavy, ripe, bulging forms can be viewed as ancestresses of Picasso's images of female fecundity'.[19]


  • In The Bacchae Dionysus - as 'a kind of male fertility god' - 'represented that special kind of vitality which we sometimes refer to as the Life Force. It is a force which, in itself, is neither good nor bad. It simply exists...'[20]
  • When at the close of Possession: A Romance the two lovers finally unite in the midst of a great storm, they wake the next day to find 'the whole world had a strange new smell...a green smell, a smell of shredded leaves and oozing resin, of crushed wood and splashed sap, a tart smell, which bore some relation to the smell of bitten apples. It was the smell of death and destruction and it smelled fresh and lively and hopeful'.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A. Bolin/P. Whelehan, Human Sexuality (2009) p. 132
  2. ^ C. G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (1964)p. 99
  3. ^ Judith Duerk, Circle of Stones (2004) p. 36
  4. ^ Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 198
  5. ^ Robert Graves, "Introduction", Felix Guirand et al eds. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (1968) p. vi
  6. ^ N. O. Brown, Hermes the Thief (1990) p. 34
  7. ^ Guirand et al eds., p. 374
  8. ^ William McCormack, in A. K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Śiva (Penguin 1979) p. 181
  9. ^ H. M Mustard/C. E. Passage, "Introduction" Parzival (New York 1961) p. xli
  10. ^ E. A. Bennet, Meetings with Jung (1985) p. 188
  11. ^ Anthony Stevens, Ariadne's Thread (2001) p. 322
  12. ^ Paul Fussell, Uniforms (2003) p. 167
  13. ^ G. Legman, The Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1973) Vol II p. 90
  14. ^ C. G. Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy (London 1993) p. 157
  15. ^ Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (London 1997) p. 287
  16. ^ Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (Penguin 1970) p. 79-80
  17. ^ Edmund Swinglehurts, Botticelli (1994) p. 26-7
  18. ^ John Golding, in D. H Kahnweiler et al eds., Picasso 1881/1973 (1973) p. 184
  19. ^ Golding, p. 115-6
  20. ^ Neil Curry trans., Euripides (Cambridge 1981) p. 164 and p. 116
  21. ^ A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance (1991) p. 507

Further reading[edit]

James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (1922)

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge)

External links[edit]