Celebrating fertility has been very important to our Pagan ancestors. It had to be, of course. Whether it was to help secure the birth of new human (or animal) life or to coax rain to fall to make the land fertile, every pagan pantheon had its own gods and goddesses of fertility — many of who are still very much celebrated to this day.
As Beltane, the great Wiccan Sabbat of union and fertility, draws near, it’s a great opportunity to get to know these gods and goddesses a bit better so that you can include them in your Beltane altar and ask for their blessing.
Arianrhod is a Celtic goddess of fertility and rebirth that symbolizes the Wheel of the Year. She rules over childbirth and art, manifestation and magick, the spinning and weaving of the tapestry of life. As in many Pagan pantheons, though, fertility goes hand in hand with death, and so, Arianrhod is also the one who welcomes the souls of the dead in her palace before they are reincarnated. The wolf (for its connection to the Moon), the owl (an omen of death), and the birch tree (a symbol of new beginnings) are sacred to Arianrhod, who is still worshipped by many modern Pagans and Wiccans.
Ayida-Weddo comes from the Vodou tradition and is especially worshipped in Haiti and Benin. A loa (goddess) of fertility and unity of life, she is depicted as a “Rainbow Serpent” and is thought to be the heart of all bodies of water and all trees. The rainbow and the white paquet congo are her symbols, while her sacred colors are white and green. To this day, many Vodou practitioners offer Ayida-Weddo white eggs, rice, milk, and cotton when they want to invoke her.
The goddess with the head of a cat was one of the most important in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, presiding not only over felines but also upon all matters of fertility, childbirth, femininity, and joy. As the daughter of the Sun God, Ra, Bastet was associated with the light of the sun, and she was thought to bring warmth to people’s hearts. Carrying a talisman with Bastet’s image was thought to bring good luck, fertility in women, and protection from evil.
The Horned God of the ancient Gauls is as mysterious as he is important. His origins are obscure: there are no myths to help us understand his original function in the Gaelic pantheon. In fact, some believe that Cernunnos (whose name translates to ‘The Horned One’) is a syncretic term that encompasses several horned gods that were worshipped in the area. In any case, Cernunnos is considered the god of the wild hunt, presiding over animal fertility and life creation. Depicted as a man with deer antlers sitting cross-legged, Cernunnos represents the balance between man and beast. He is the archetype of male energy in Wicca and particularly important during Beltane when his sacred union with the goddess takes place.
Another important male fertility deity, this time from the Irish pantheon, the Dagda, is the leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann race of gods. Often compared to the Norse Pantheon’s Odin but decidedly more benevolent, the Dagda presides over agriculture, strength, magick, Druidry, and fertility. He’s known as “the good god,” the “allfather,” and “the fertile one,” and he holds a magick staff that can kill people and bring them back to life, a cauldron that never runs empty, and a magick harp that can control both the seasons and men’s emotions.
Speaking of the Norse pantheon: the god of fertility is not Odin but Freyr. Freyja’s twin brother is one of the Vanir, an older race of gods, and was worshipped in Scandinavia long before Odin and the Aesir arrived. Freyr controls fertility and harvest; the rain and the sunshine; he brings peace, fertility, and pleasure to people. Traditionally, families would have a phallus-shaped object in their hearth to honor Freyr, whose name simply means “The Lord.” Freyr’s energy can be felt strongly during Beltane, as all of Nature enters a mating season and passions are celebrated.
Zeus’ wife and the queen of the ancient Greek pantheon, Hera, presided over matters of marriage, fertility, and childbirth. The goddess is known for her love of animals, particularly birds, and for being strong-willed and opposing Zeus at every turn. As Beltane is the Sabbat of a sacred marriage (Hieros gamos), Hera is often invoked to bless any unions or handfastings that take place on the day.
An intriguing deity from the Japanese Shinto pantheon, Inari Okami is depicted sometimes as male, other times as female, and sometimes as androgynous. Protector of blacksmiths and warriors, Inari Okami also handles matters of fertility and prosperity and protects rice, tea, and foxes. The deity is thought to have brought the first grain of rice from heaven and to bless each year’s harvest, whereas the foxes are considered the deity’s divine messengers. If you want to include them in your Beltane altar, their colors are red and white.
Although her name is actually Aset (meaning “throne” or “seat”), this important goddess of the ancient Egyptian pantheon is widely known by her Greek name: Isis. The wife of Osiris and the divine mother of the pharaoh, Isis, presided over healing, magick, fertility, and the changing of the seasons. She helped the dead reach the afterlife, ruled over fate, and protected both marriages and the ships at sea. Isis was beloved throughout the ancient world, from Egypt to the Mediterranean and eventually to Rome. To this day, Isis is one of the goddesses that represent the essence of the Sacred Feminine and, as such, a great deity to invoke during Beltane.
A Native American deity, Kokopelli is unique in combining fertility powers with a trickster god aspect. Usually portrayed as a man playing the flute and dancing, Kokopelli is thought to control rain and carry unborn children on the hump of his back. This fertility god is invoked to help with matters of agriculture and can often be found accompanied by snakes. During traditional Native American rituals in Kokopelli’s honor, sex was a big part of the ceremony, so this god is a fitting one to summon during the fiery times of Beltane.
One of the most important Orishas of the Yoruba tradition, Oshun, is associated with fertility, sensuality, love, and all bodies of water. According to Yoruba myths, Oshun is a protector and nurturer of humanity and “mother of all sweet things.” Connected to destiny and divination, Oshun can help cure ailments, heal, and create life. Worshippers of Oshun to this day leave offerings for her at river banks or close to bodies of water. If you wish to work with Oshun’s energy, her colors are white, yellow, and gold, and some of her favorite offerings are sunflowers, honey, oranges, and cinnamon.
Pan is a Horned God of fertility and protector of the wild like Cernunnos — but unlike the perfectly balanced Cernunnos, the Greek god is more attuned to his animal nature than his human one. Worshipped first in the forests of Arcadia, the bearded god with the horns and legs of a goat soon became so beloved among our Pagan ancestors that once Christianity took over, they had to fashion the Devil after Pan to discourage people from worshipping him. But of course, there’s nothing devilish about Pan, who was thought to bring fertility over land and animals and promote sexual liberation, dance, and music among humans. If you want to invoke Pan in Beltane, goat’s cheese, milk and honey, or alcohol will do the trick.
A very important figure of the Hindu pantheon, Parvati is the wife of Shiva, protector of all life, and represents the divine energy between a man and a woman. Although she has many aspects (and over 10,000 names), Parvati is first and foremost considered a goddess of fertility and children, marriage and harmony, love and devotion. The lotus is her sacred flower.
In the Aztec pantheon, Xochiquetzal is the goddess of love, fertility, pregnancy, and the different phases of the Moon. She is the only Aztec goddess to be depicted as a young and beautiful woman whose hair is adorned with flowers. She is particularly seen as a protector of female power and sexuality and is often invoked by young mothers. Her favorite flowers are marigolds, which also make for a great offering.
A major goddess in the Slavic pantheon, Ziva is a force of life and fertility (her name itself means “alive” or “existing”). Usually depicted as a beautiful woman with golden hair, Ziva is often conflated with Sif, the Norse pantheon goddess of wheat and fertility. Ziva, however, has a stronger association with the Water element and is thought to control the flow of water and the flow of life, helping out all pregnant and lactating mothers.