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The Golden Bough

Chapter 11. The Influence of the Sexes on Vegetation
FROM THE PRECEDING examination of the spring and summer festivals of Europe we
may infer that our rude forefathers personified the powers of vegetation as male and
female, and attempted, on the principle of homoeopathic or imitative magic, to quicken
the growth of trees and plants by representing the marriage of the sylvan deities in the
persons of a King and Queen of May, a Whitsun Bridegroom and Bride, and so forth.
Such representations were accordingly no mere symbolic or allegorical dramas, pastoral
plays designed to amuse or instruct a rustic audience. They were charms intended to
make the woods to grow green, the fresh grass to sprout, the corn to shoot, and the
flowers to blow. And it was natural to suppose that the more closely the mock marriage
of the leaf-clad or flower-decked mummers aped the real marriage of the woodland
sprites, the more effective would be the charm. Accordingly we may assume with a high
degree of probability that the profligacy which notoriously attended these ceremonies
was at one time not an accidental excess but an essential part of the rites, and that in the
opinion of those who performed them the marriage of trees and plants could not be fertile
without the real union of the human sexes. At the present day it might perhaps be vain to
look in civilised Europe for customs of this sort observed for the explicit purpose of
promoting the growth of vegetation. But ruder races in other parts of the world have
consciously employed the intercourse of the sexes as a means to ensure the fruitfulness of
the earth; and some rites which are still, or were till lately, kept up in Europe can be
reasonably explained only as stunted relics of a similar practice. The following facts will
make this plain.
For four days before they committed the seed to the earth the Pipiles of Central America
kept apart from their wives in order that on the night before planting they might indulge
their passions to the fullest extent; certain persons are even said to have been appointed to
perform the sexual act at the very moment when the first seeds were deposited in the
ground. The use of their wives at that time was indeed enjoined upon the people by the
priests as a religious duty, in default of which it was not lawful to sow the seed. The only
possible explanation of this custom seems to be that the Indians confused the process by
which human beings reproduce their kind with the process by which plants discharge the
same function, and fancied that by resorting to the former they were simultaneously
forwarding the latter. In some parts of Java, at the season when the bloom will soon be on
the rice, the husbandman and his wife visit their fields by night and there engage in
sexual intercourse for the purpose of promoting the growth of the crop. In the Leti,
Sarmata, and some other groups of islands which lie between the western end of New
Guinea and the northern part of Australia, the heathen population regard the sun as the
male principle by whom the earth or female prínciple is fertilised. They call him Upu-lera
or Mr. Sun, and represent him under the form of a lamp made of coco-nut leaves, which
may be seen hanging everywhere in their houses and in the sacred fig-tree. Under the tree
lies a large flat stone, which serves as a sacrificial table. On it the heads of slain foes were
and are still placed in some of the islands. Once a year, at the beginning of the rainy
season, Mr. Sun comes down into the holy fig-tree to fertilise the earth, and to facilitate
his descent a ladder with seven rungs is considerately placed at his disposal. It is set up