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inability to conceive or carry a child to delivery. The term is usually limited to situations where the couple has had intercourse regularly for one year without using birth control.
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fertility (and fertility rate)
- (fertility) the physical capacity of a woman or man to sexually reproduce.
- (fertility and infertility rate) the extent of actual childbearing in a population, usually expressed as a combination of the crude BIRTH RATE, that is births per thousand of a population, and the total fertility rate, being the average number of children women bear, currently below 2.0 in most industrialized countries. Compare FECUNDITY.
Fertility(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
There has long been a belief that fertility can be controlled by magical means. Extant cave paintings and rock carvings show that religious or magical rituals were performed for this purpose; for example, a clay figure of two bison mating was constructed to ensure that the real bison mated. Clay models and rock carvings were made of the Mother Goddess, emphasizing the feminine attributes: heavy, pendulous breasts and greatly enlarged genitalia. Similarly, representations of the male deity showed him with an erect phallus. The Venus of Willendorf is typical of the female deity representation, while the Cerne Abbas Giant—a huge, pre-Roman figure with a club and erect phallus, carved into a white chalk Dorset hillside—is perhaps typical of the male.
Mating of man and woman would ensure fertility of the tribe and, by extension, it was thought to ensure fertility of the crops. It was noted that the Moon, representative of the Goddess to many pagans, equated with woman's menstrual cycles and ovulation. Those who lived close to the earth, who worked daily with livestock and with seeds and grain, were more aware of the life cycle. They continued the fertility rites long after the coming of the new religion, Christianity, and its somber declamations that all things sexual were of the devil. For centuries, the pagan people performed the sex act in the furrows of a newly plowed field to ensure a good harvest. (In fact, it is said that some farm families continue this belief even today.)
It was perhaps because of knowledge of these continuing practices that the Church's witchcraft persecutors concentrated so much on sexual matters. Accused witches were charged with making animals and fields barren and with interfering in the sexual intercourse of married couples. The Malleus Maleficarum
of Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger (1486) included such chapters as: "Whether witches can hebetate the powers of generation or obstruct the venereal act"; "That witches who are midwives in various ways kill the child conceived in the womb"; and "How witches impede and prevent the power of procreation."
Some fertility rites did continue, apparently unnoticed, under the nose of the Church. One was the Maypole dance (see May Day). Originally the Maypole was a phallic symbol, with the ribbons streaming from it representing the semen flowing. For hundreds of years, Maypoles were kept in villages and towns across Europe. A huge one was set up in the city of London, only taken down in 1517 after being repeatedly preached against. Even then it was kept, stored within a row of cottages, until 1549. At the site of the Cerne Giant on Trendle Hill, a circle of stones just above his head was the site of a Maypole ritual held annually for generations. Originally these celebrations included sexual intercourse by most of the participants, but this was eventually curtailed by the clergy. In addition to the Maypole dancing at this site, it was (and may still be) common for a woman wishing to conceive to sleep overnight on the phallus of the figure. Many Maypole celebrations still take place today in villages, towns, and cities across Britain and other countries.
Insofar as Wicca is a fertility cult, there is still recognition of the power of sex in its ritual and magical operations. The sex act is recognized as a way to raise power for the working of magic. In the Third Degree ritual of degree-oriented traditions is found the Great Rite, which is a symbolical joining of the initiate with the God or Goddess—a hieros gamus, or sacred marriage. Yet sex is looked upon as something sacred. Because of this attitude, there is no promiscuity in modern Witchcraft.
in animals, the capacity to bear offspring, compensating under normal conditions for natural mortality. Fertility, which developed in the course of evolution, is associated with longevity and varies in species with different types of reproduction. Monocyclic animals, that is, those that reproduce once in a lifetime, usually bear numerous offspring. Polycyclic animals, each of whose females may bear several litters, are usually less fertile. Animals with a long life-span bear one or two per litter; litters often are not produced every year. Short-lived animals, such as small rodents, can reproduce several times a year, bearing as many as ten to 15 young per litter. The fertility of animals changes with age and, in species with repeated reproduction, varies regularly with the seasons. Changes in the food supply and climatic conditions cause fertility to vary from year to year.
N. P. NAUMOV
The fertility that is characteristic of each species also characterizes agricultural animals. For example, cows and mares usually carry a single fetus. Cows produce twins 1-3 percent of the time, and mares 1-1.5 percent of the time. Births of three to seven calves and four foals have been recorded. Sows, depending on the breed, bear an average of six to 12 shoats per litter. The most fertile sows may produce 17 to 20 young (sometimes as many as 30). Sheep and goats, as a rule, yield an average of one or two offspring. Romanov sheep produce two or three lambs (sometimes as many as nine). Rabbits bear an average of five or six young (up to 18). In captivity the fox produces four offspring, the sable three, the arctic fox eleven, and the mink five. Maximal use of the natural reproductive capacities of animals is important in animal breeding. It is an indispensable condition for expanded reproduction of a herd.
Domestication and the accompanying changes in the life of agricultural animals have for the most part fostered an increase in fertility, which is conditioned not only by the genetic nature of an organism but also by its physiological state and by external factors. Increased fertility may be transmitted to offspring and be established by selection and culling as an important breed characteristic. For this reason fertility is taken into account in evaluating animals and selecting them for breeding. Prolonged inbreeding or interspecific hybridization often causes a decrease or complete loss of fertility in the offspring.
An increase in the fertility of agricultural animals may be best ensured through proper feeding, maintenance, and use of the animals; proper rearing of the young; the use of stimulators (for example, pregnant mare serum); and the prevention and eradication of disease.