Miraculous birth

Miraculous birth

The motive of a hero’s miraculous birth is quite common for the world folklore, especially for fairy-tales. Additionally, it can be found in many religions – from the most basic beliefs to modern and sophisticated religions like Christianity.The most likely origin for the motive of miraculous birth is the lack of knowledge about the process of human reproduction in the early human tribes. Unaware of the actual reasons of conception, our ancestors believed that virtually anything was capable of impregnating a woman, including fruits, water, spells, the gaze of a god, etc. This, researchers say, may have been the precondition for the formation of the belief in virgin birth in the folklore of the different nations all over the world.

The kinds of miraculous birth are categorized into the following groups:

Virgin birth

Since our ancestors didn’t fully understand the actual cause of pregnancy and birth, they attempted to attribute it to practically anything – a sighting of some animal, a blow of wind, swallowing of a stone or a nut, etc. Therefore, the woman is considered to be the only source of new life and reproduction, which is the main principle of matriarchal society. Only the understanding of the man’s role in conception shall later on cause the domination of patriarchal views. Scholars suggest that such a state of things has existed on the early stages of the development of practically all groups of historic humans, which has contributed to the presence of the virgin birth motif in all of the world mythologies and religions.

Conception from a fruit

This theme is seen quite often in Russian and Ukrainian fairy tales in the form of eating a pea, while in the rest of the world, the most popular fruits for such beliefs are apples and nuts. It is considered that conception by eating (or, in some cases, merely touching) the fruit is an attempt to transfer the seemingly amazing fertility of the plants to humans. Then, some suggest that the seeds in a fruit (and especially a nut) may be seen as a symbol of a baby inside the womb.

Birth by an incantation or a spell

An especially bright example of such a birth is the beginning of the Snow White fairytale. When the blood from the Queen’s pricked finger falls on the snow, she makes a wish to have a daughter with snow-white skin and blood-red lips. However, the queen’s words may as well be considered a sort of a magic incantation. It’s quite possible that in the earlier versions of the tale, the wording of the wish (or spell) was not “I wish I had a child…”, but “Let me have a child…” However, conception by a spell is comparatively rare, because it is usually combined with a touch, a hit, or a look.

Birth by drinking water

This motif has its roots in the belief in the power of water to bring life. In a Northern Russian fairytale, a queen drinks water from a spring and thereby conceives a son, whom she calls Ivan Vodovich (the similar in English would be something like Waterson). There was also a strong belief in the conceiving power of the rain, which used to be especially strong among agricultural tribes for obvious reasons.

These beliefs in a way form a single group, because all of the forces that apparently cause miraculous pregnancy have a natural origin. In this way, the ancient humans attempted to transfer the power of the nature to reproduce itself onto themselves. However, some of these beliefs are not purely naturalistic. Some of them may be combined with animalistic concepts. For instance, drinking water is sometimes related to consuming something contained in it, like a fish, a worm. Then, the rain that gives birth to a hero in Greek mythology is an incarnation of a god. Therefore the article concludes that there must be something else in these beliefs, and continues describing other causes of miraculous birth:

Birth as the return of the dead

This is most likely related to a belief that a born person used to live before, or, shortly, reincarnation. Therefore, in folklore we can see the return of a hero, an ancestor, etc., through rebirth. The origin of this belief is seen by some in the resemblance of the children and parents, and the ignorance of the supposed origin of the new human souls. Reincarnation might have been the easiest way to explain where souls go after death and where they come from at the birth. The motive of a hero’s fast growth may also be related to this category, implying that the child used to live before as an adult, but since a woman is physically incapable of giving birth to an adult, the hero has to undergo a short phase of growth and development. Such heroes are present in Egyptian, Greek, Biblical and African myths, where the heroes are usually born in the times of trouble, and right after maturing they start undertaking heroic deeds.


There are also normal births that are marked by wonders, like astrological events, earthquakes or healings.


* Huitzilopochtli: The Aztec god of war and the sun, he was conceived when a ball of feathers fell on his mother Coatlicue while she was cleaning a temple. The ball of feathers was actually Mixcoatl, the god of the hunt.
* Hunahpu and Xbalanque: The Mayan Hero Twins, in their holy book the "Popol Vuh", were conceived after twin sons of the Creators were summoned by the lords of Xibalba and beheaded for playing a noisy ball game. The head of one twin, Huh Hunahpu, magically impregnated Ixquic (also known as Blood Moon).
* Laozi: Laozi, or LaoTzu, lived in the 6th century BC and authored the Tao Te Ching, according to Chinese tradition. " In legends, he was conceived when his mother gazed upon a falling star" [http://www.stthomas.edu/justpeace/Tao23.htm]
* Augustus Caesar (Gaius Julius Octavius) : His mother Atia fell asleep in the temple of Apollo and a snake glided up to her and she became pregnant by Apollo (Suetonius - De Vita Caesarum).

ee also

* List of virgin births

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