Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A central concern of most archaic Religions is the Ritual control of fertility, which is almost invariably understood as being tied to the Seasons. Fertility – of humans, beasts and vegetation alike – is understood as part of a great Cycle, and its regular return is understood as being in the gift of the Gods. Fertility is not, therefore, thought of as following upon natural or unthinking behaviour; it is something mysterious, triumphant, earned, and given.

Historical fantasies abound in images of fertility, though rarely examined to much effect. In Supernatural Fiction – as befits its 19th-century period of literary triumph – fertility is generally thought of as obscenely procured, and as a signal of Wrongness. Fantasies and supernatural fictions which focus on Goddess figures tend to be suspicious of fertility – and the Rituals associated with it – until well into the 20th century. In Horror novels, any attention to questions of the seasons or their fructification is likely to be understood in terms of blasphemous Parody. In full fantasy, questions of fertility tend to be etherialized into mythic patterns, in which a period of Thinning of the Land is succeeded by a Healing, and the Waste Land becomes fertile once again.

Fertility is one of the three aspects of the Goddess (see also Aphrodite), the other two being Virginity and agedness. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.