I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about women in occult traditions and how gender plays a role in the craft, and throughout the posts I’ve alluded to the idea that fertility is more than just baby-making. Yes, it can include that, but it’s not just that either.
So…what is it? What is fertility all about and why is it so central to the craft?
In traditions which actively involve the earth, the seasons, life, death, and nature in general I’m honestly amazed that it’s not obvious to so many just what fertility is really about and why it’s so important. I blame our modern world and how divorced we are from life and death and from where our food comes from. Especially for those of us who live in urban areas who aren’t in touch with these things around us aside from our occasional visit to a farmer’s market. If people are still stuck on the idea that fertility is just about baby-making, I believe that it’s largely in part because of this. The reality is that fertility is also about crops, agriculture, and nature–the very things which allow all of us to live and everything on this planet to survive and thrive.
I come from a background in Hellenism and am a Greek polytheist, and regularly hear people say things like “We’re not earth-centric! Our focus is on the gods!”, and such sentiments largely ignore how desperately important to the core practices and many holidays were around growing things, the crops, grain, and harvests. Hestia, the goddess who acts as an intermediary between us and the gods as far as offerings were considered was always given due portion both first and last. Crops, grain, food–all of these things were sacred and were a part of regular offerings and sacrifices to the very gods we honor. Sacrifices–a word which comes from the Latin sacer which means “sacred” and facio meaning “to make”–then typically included food. And cattle was indeed food, enough to feed entire families, villages, and cities. It was a reminder that life and death are intertwined and part of the mortal experience, and ultimately what separated (and separates) us from the gods.
For those of us who are vegan, we tend to be even further removed from these things and it is why I’ve chosen to stray from being “purely vegan” in my own practices. All controversy about veganism aside it is very difficult, if not impossible, to have any sort of connection to the dead when you’re rigidly practicing a philosophy that includes removing yourself from death as much as possible. My diet remains vegan and I continue to abstain from purchasing any animal products as readily as I can. But in the occult practices I am a part of that involve working with the dead and with certain chthonic deities and daimons, it is a different story. In those traditions I do not shy away from materials that came from dead animals, and certain deities and spirits get vegetarian but not vegan offerings. I do take care that my materials are ethically sourced, but that’s easily done. All of the gods whom I honor regularly–especially my patron deities–have chthonic connections and ties–even Apollo has chthonic aspects which are frequently overlooked because of his strong associations with agriculture and therefore the sun.
When we examine the festival season as we practice it in regards to the neo-pagan wheel of the year, all of the sabbats are about the cycle of agriculture and honoring of the cycle of life and death as we pass through the seasons. At the time of this article, it is rapidly approaching Lammas. Lammas is a harvest festival to be sure, but much foreshadowing is in that festival of the days to come. The holidays that follow Lammas are all about the upcoming winter season, the death of growing things, and the remembrance that in order to have life, there must also be death. For those of us who are so much more detached from this process in the modern world, being mindful of our own mortality is something of a sacrifice in and of itself. No one regardless of their experiences or beliefs wants to think much of the end of our lives, but it is the great equalizer. It will happen to us all regardless of who and what we are.
Death is a hard, painful thing, but as a witch our powers are deeply rooted in the underworld. The act of making death into a sacred thing may be a difficult one for some to grasp, but for those of us who regularly do ancestor work and honor our dead, we get it. Life is an endless process of sacrificing itself in order to continue living, and we all die that life may continue to exist. And for those of us who do spirit work, we are also aware that in death there is life, too. And the cycle continues.
So when we talk about fertility being an essential part of the craft, this is the fertility I immediately think of. And for those who want to focus on the notion of wombs and baby-making as part of their fertility rites, that’s certainly valid and I won’t dispute that. But the reality of fertility is so much larger than that, and is an essential part of my own craft, my spirituality, and my work.