Fertility Gods and Goddesses Then and Now

Throughout history, cultures the world over have relied on mythological stories and beliefs that help advance their societies and deal with the many mysteries of being alive. One such story with no clear answer was that of fertility. An obviously critical role in the propagation of tribes and cultures, there were gods and goddesses of all kinds—not just for human fertility, but also for that of fertile soil so that crops would grow and feed their hopefully expanding society.

When we fast forward and look to modern times, we're overwhelmed by images of fertile-looking women—be they pop music stars, supermodels, cheerleaders or actresses—they are indeed the fertility goddesses of modernity. These gorgeous examples of sexual allure remind us of the power of fertility—its innate effects on the desires that must exist in order for procreation to occur.

And what about the celebri-moms like Nadia Suleman the "octomom" or Kate Gosselin and her sextuplets? These feats of abnormal gestation leave us in awe of the power of childbirth, reminding us that even with the help of modern science, it is indeed a miracle far beyond explanation.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Kwan Yin has been known as the goddess of fertility for thousands of years. But she's also the goddess of mercy and a great healer. Do we think of those attributes today in the same way we think of fertility? Seems like we parse those roles out: Supermodels are rarely doctors and lawyers, yet study after study links good looks to higher paying jobs and better success in the job market, regardless of whether or not the candidate is the most qualified in experience.

The Egyptian goddess of fertility and magic, Isis, married her brother, Osiris, and together they conceived a son: Horus. While Isis was many things to many Egyptians, the marriage to her brother is an important reminder of how connected the human family really is. Are we all not brothers and sisters? Ancient cultures lived in much different times, of course, and being aware of the connection to one another was a critical tool in forward progress. It's a lesson that will be relevant as long as humans exist, and perhaps no more significant than right now as we wage wars over oil, try to keep same-sex couples apart, and insist our faith is worth dying for.

In Greek mythology there were two significant goddesses of fertility: Gaia and Aphrodite. Gaia represented a fertility of the earth—abundance of the seasons. She's often representative today of the environmental or eco movement towards sustainability and working more harmoniously with the planet. As we treat the earth, so we treat ourselves.  

Aphrodite offered a long lineage through many lovers and children, infusing the culture with tales of beauty and jealousy. Aphrodite's story is an interesting one, especially as it relates to fertility challenges for people today. She was thought to be too beautiful, so Zeus thought she would be disruptive and married her off. How does this compare to our modern challenges with fertility? Think of the envy a couple trying to conceive may feel over couples with children. While wanting a family is a very normal human feeling, is jealousy and anger really a healthy response to the situation?

Parvati was the Hindu goddess of fertility. She practiced a great many austerities or disciplines in order to please her husband, Shiva. Her steadfast devotion is not unlike many modern mothers-to-be committed to creating a healthy and responsible environment for bringing a family into.

Though just a small number of the fertility goddesses worshipped around the world, all of these examples are similar in some ways to how we approach fertility today. These deities were praised in a sort of one-dimensional way—a god or goddess for every situation. So perhaps it is fitting then that we categorize and judge ourselves and others based on few criteria. The best/worst-dressed celebrity gawking and gossiping…are they our modern versions of worshipping subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexual energies vital in a successful conception?  What would have been a prayer or meditation a thousand years ago is now a hushed murmur, or a TMZ episode, but nonetheless, a distinct invocation of the powers of these energies.

Elaborate stories of divine beings who had the power to make rainy seasons and healthy babies appear are creations of the human mind and spirit eager to take this experience as long and as far as it can go. While you may have your own religious beliefs and practices, looking back at fertility stories of our ancestors is a helpful way of understanding the role surrender and faith have in the process. We can't control everything. It's something our ancestors certainly knew, but in the world today we seem to think our smart phones and iPads can solve any of our problems. Certainly when it comes to fertility, we may think that science, too, can make anything possible. But sometimes miracles just happen, and those are worth pondering, even adulating, if just a tiny bit.