This topic might not be something that many of us think about much in our modern existence, but it is an important concept for those who study pre-1600 civilizations. And to be honest, it can be pretty interesting to investigate. There are probably literally thousands of different fertility symbols, but I feel that people should at least be aware of some of the more obvious ones and understand why they were so important. If you are offended by mater-of-fact discussions of body parts and sexuality, this would probably be a good place for you to stop reading.
Some fertility symbols, like goddesses, vulvae, and phalli are pretty obvious. It always makes me laugh when people ask about something that I am selling in my shop, and when I explain that it is a fertility symbol, they respond with something like “Oh, I don’t need any fertility in my life!” Really? You don’t want a raise at work, and un-expected gift, or a winning lottery ticket?
Modernly many people often think of fertility purely as animal reproduction, but in a culture based on natural resources, which most pre-1600’s cultures were, the best thing that could possibly happen was fertility. Without fertility there was no grain for people and animals, no fish to dry for the winter, no animal offspring, and starvation. In a pre-modern society there was no international aid organization to rescue your group if the crops failed.
And people understood where fertility came from – sex! So the exaggerated female form, the vulva, the penis, and testicles were natural representations of a desire for fertility. Good crops, a good sailing voyage, a good trading expedition, even a battle that was won, were all viewed as fertility.
The Roman legionnaires wore an interesting assortment of decorations that were shaped like penises and testicles on their gear. Some of them were very realistic and three-dimensional, but others were much simpler. This is an example of a Roman strap end.
I am also perpetually amused by the “prude factor” in modern society. In a culture where everything from beer, to toothpaste, to cars, uses sex to sell their products, the matter of fact presence of a penis, or other sex organ totally freaks some people out. When I started making glass goddesses to sell in my shop, I actually had parents refuse to let their children in my shop because of the goddesses being there. A couple told me that they just didn’t want to have to explain them to their children. Now as this picture demonstrates, my goddesses are not exactly graphic content. I still sell them, along will any glass crosses, or phalli that I make, up on the counter, so that young children can’t easily see them.
So what else is out there that you might have missed? We will talk about that next time.