Personally, my concept of fertility is fairly literal and biological. There is a spiritual dimension to it that goes beyond the act of procreation to a more fundamental expression of life, but the reproductive process is an essential manifestation of it. I don’t just mean human reproduction, but also plant and animal, and the latter is more relevant to me. When I think about “fertility” the main thing I think about is abundant food, and nature teeming and overflowing with life, not human babies.
I might feel differently about it if I’d had kids or thought I would ever have kids. (I don’t want to get into details, but even if I weren’t gay, I’m infertile due to a medical issue.) The closest I’ll get to raising kids is babysitting my partner’s daughter’s kids, when she eventually has some.
Even then, my primary focus of worship – Frey – is so strongly agricultural, so I think I’d still see fertility as primarily about food. I eat food every day. I have livestock that needs to get pregnant to give milk and to have babies we can raise and eat.
My impression is that many of the folks in my tradition either see “fertility” as primarily about human-procreation and don’t find the concept particularly relevant, or they have a more metaphorical understanding of it that includes any “process of creation” such as writing a book.
It is April, so we are planning for our Beltane campout and rituals. That is a holiday very focused on fertility, with an emphasis on the procreation and how the bringing together of male and female is what creates new life.
This poses an interesting dilemma for us. For our Maypole ritual, we want there to be a couple representing the Green Man and May Queen to embody that aspect of fertility. After extensive discussion and prayer, we decided that this means they must not only be fertile, but they must be quite comfortable embodying that biological role. That doesn’t mean the Green Man needs to be the manliest of all men, just that he be fully comfortable with the male role, comfortable with the idea of fathering a child, and have a fully functional male reproductive system. Same with the May Queen. Sure she could be a little butch, but she’s got to be able to deeply connect with that Maiden-becoming-Mother role and she’s got to be able to physically embody that role.
We also require that at some point shortly after the main ritual, they go to a private space and have sex. Because of that, we require that they be in some kind of long-term romantic relationship. That isn’t a gods-mandated criteria, just an attempt to ensure that they’ll find it enjoyable and natural to fulfill this part of the role, without emotional drama or nervousness. Also, if we’re going to ask people to have sex for our ritual, we want it to be people who were already having sex with each other and plan to continue doing so for a long while, so there isn’t any sense that we have coerced them into doing this. We’re not asking them to do anything they weren’t already doing. We are just asking them to do it in the afternoon in a tent in our woods, in complete privacy. We’ll take their word for it.
The first part of the dilemma is that some people who might want to fill the roles don’t qualify, for one or more reasons. The second part of our dilemma is that almost no one in our core group fulfills all the criteria. We don’t want to use the same couple over and over, so we’ve often got to look pretty far afield to find a fertile, heterosexually-paired (though not necessarily heterosexual) couple, both comfortable with embodying these reproductively-defined roles. They also have to be “Pagan” (under the broadest conceivable definition) and, most importantly, they must be able to give us a firm commitment that they will show up for the ritual!
So this year, we are still on the lookout.