- The central theory of *Frazer's The Golden Bough was that much European folklore preserved rituals from archaic vegetation cults, in which men and women ensured fertility of trees and crops by having sexual intercourse at seasonal festivals; also, that this fertility corresponded magically to the virility of the local king or chief priest, who would be killed and replaced while still in the prime of life, to guard against any risk of impotence. This did not convince anthropologists (Ack-erman, 1987), but had a huge impact on novelists, popular writers, and journalists throughout the 20th century, as its bloodthirsty and sexual content gave it great appeal. Of all theVictorian mythological theories it is the only one still remembered; it has been so widely publicized that performers themselves now often believe their local custom to be 'a fertility rite', and say as much to enquirers. Certainly, bawdy humour is common in festive contexts, but for this very reason is more likely to be spontaneous, rather than a ritual survival from a remote culture.Among agricultural customs actually recorded in England, some do explicitly aim at ensuring success for crops or fishing (see *Plough Monday, *wassailing apple trees), and many others bring a more vague and general good luck, and/or joyfully celebrate natural processes such as the return of spring or the completion of harvest.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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fertility — [fər til′ə tē] n. 1. the quality, state, or degree of being fertile; fecundity 2. the birthrate of a given population … English World dictionary
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