Vegetation deity

A vegetation deity is a god or goddess whose disappearance and reappearance, or death and rebirth, embodies the growth cycle of plants and represents the capacity of earthly life to regenerate itself. A vegetation deity is thus often a fertility deity. The deity typically undergoes dismemberment (see sparagmos), scattering, and reintegration, as narrated in a myth or reenacted by a religious ritual. The cyclical pattern is given theological significance on themes such as immortality, resurrection, and reincarnation.[1] Vegetation myths have structural resemblances to certain creation myths in which parts of a primordial being's body generate aspects of the cosmos, such as the Norse myth of Ymir.[2]

In mythography of the 19th and early 20th century, as for example in The Golden Bough of J.G. Frazer, the figure is related to the "corn spirit," "corn" in this sense meaning grain in general. The concept has a tendency to become a meaningless generality, as Walter Friedrich Otto remarked of trying to use a "name as futile and yet pretentious as 'Vegetation deity'."[3]


Examples of vegetation myths

In the Mesopotamian tradition, during the journey of Inanna or Ishtar to the underworld, the earth becomes sterile, and neither humans nor animals are able to procreate. After confronting Ereshkigal, her sister and ruler of the underworld, Inanna is killed, but an emissary from the gods administers potions to restore her to life. She is allowed to return to the upper world only if someone else will take her place. Her husband, the vegetation god Dumuzi, agrees to spend half the year in the underworld, during which time vegetation dies off. His return bring regrowth.[4]

In ancient Egyptian religion, the cultural achievements of Osiris among the peoples of the earth provokes the envy of his brother Set, who kills and dismembers him. Osiris's wife Isis makes a journey to gather his fourteen scattered body parts. In some versions, she buries each part where she finds it, causing the desert to put forth vegetation. In other versions, she reassembles his body and resurrects him, and he then becomes the ruler of the afterlife.[5]

List of vegetation deities

Other examples of vegetation deities include:[6]

Corn spirit

The corn spirit is a closely related concept, defined by Frazer as "conceived in human or animal form, and the last standing corn is part of its body—its neck, its head, or its tail."[7]

See also


  1. ^ Lorena Stookey, Thematic Guide to World Mythology (Greenwood Press, 2004), p. 99.
  2. ^ Stookey, Thematic Guide to World Mythology, p. 100.
  3. ^ Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult, translated by Robert B. Palmer (Indiana University Press, 1965), pp. 7–12.
  4. ^ Stookey, Thematic Guide to World Mythology, p. 99.
  5. ^ Stookey, Thematic Guide to World Mythology, p. 99.
  6. ^ Unless otherwise noted, examples in this list are from Stookey, Thematic Guide to World Mythology, p. 99.
  7. ^ J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (unknown edition), p. 351.

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