Fertility rite

Fertility rites 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

Ancient Greece

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]


Some authors consider that fertility rites took place around Kaaba in pre-Islamic times. The pilgrimage to the Kaaba in the autumn and the rituals performed in it like performing the circumambulation naked, vigil in front of Mount Arafat, offerings to the pillars at al-Mina and sacrifices. According to Barnaby Rogerson, it is likely these rituals were a part of a fertility cult and it ensured continuation of the life-cycle. In the cult, a mother goddess was worshiped and represented by a trinity, a heroic young god would die and be reborn in an unending cycle due to the supreme god who is his father. 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 which was honored by orgies and its name means "virgin". Fertility rites took place in temples of the Great Goddess and the color green was associated with her.[14][15]

Islamic traditions

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.[16]

Contemporary analogues

  • It has been suggested that "at the heart of the myth of science lie fertility rites which ensure the continued fruitfulness of technological innovation".[17]
  • 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".[18]
  • Modern wedding ritual is seen by Freud as a kind of ritual orgy[19].

Literature: T. S. Eliot

In The Waste Land, "Eliot waxes nostalgically for a classical society founded upon ritual praxis...fertility rites in which the participants mime the fall and return of natural cycles"[20] – "Keeping time, Keeping their rhythm in their dancing As in their living in the living seasons",[21] as he would subsequently put it.

See also


  1. Ananti, Emmanuel. 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. Rogerson, Barnaby (4 November 2010). The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography. Hachette UK. p. 22. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  15. Maria Zalewski, Wojciech (13 February 2012). The Crucible of Religion: Culture, Civilization, and Affirmation of Life. Wipf and Stock. p. 269. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  16. Schimmel, Annemarie. Deciphering the signs of God: a phenomenological approach to Islam. State University of New York Press. p. 19. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  17. F. A Kreuzinger, The Religion of Science Fiction (1986) p. 42
  18. Eric Berne, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (1974) p. 325
  19. Freud Sigmund (1953). On Sexuality Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality Vol-7.
  20. E. P. Comentale, Modernism, Cultural Production, and the British Avant-Garde (2004) p. 96
  21. T. S. Eliot, "East Coker", in The Complete Plays and Poems (London 1985) p. 178
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