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A Very Religious History of Sperm

From the foundation of creation itself to the physical manifestation of original sin, semen has shot itself across the face of religion for millennia

When some guys jerk off, they mess up a tissue; when others do it, they create civilization. Not a civilization, mind you — the entirety of civilization, including agriculture, the wheel, sailing, written language and more.

If you’re a serial tissue destroyer, don’t feel bad: Just one being has ever masturbated so powerfully that it brought humanity out of the Stone Age, and he was an ancient Sumerian god. He wasn’t the only god whose cum contained divine power, though. The world is full of religions that have viewed semen as some combination of holy, powerful or sinful, but have always, always, taken it extremely seriously.

Before Judeo-Christianity lugged original sin into the conversation, jizz wasn’t considered dirty. In fact, in ancient Sumeria, it was arguably the most important substance in the world — important enough that the word for “semen” also meant “fresh water,” which are both, in their own ways, the source of all life. In fact, Enki was the god of both, as well as wisdom, art, crafts, healing and more, and when Enki jerked off, the result was the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which formed the lush Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia and whose verdancy made the local Neolithic humans’ move from hunting and gathering to an agrarian society possible.

Enki did more than just jerk off, though. In some versions of Sumerian mythology, he fathered some of the most important figures in their pantheon, including the goddesses of vegetation, mountain pastures and fate. Because this is an ancient myth, there was obviously a lot of incest going on; in some traditions, Enki’s granddaughter took Enki’s seed after one of their “sessions” and planted it into the ground, which formed eight plants that Enki, not knowing of their origin, later ate with relish. Suddenly full of cum and with no way to give birth, Enki was in terrible pain until his wife Ninhursag took it from him and gave birth to eight more deities, including the gods of justice, healing, metal, fertility and, last but certainly not least, Ninkasi, the goddess of beer.

Although creating beer is obviously pretty rad, the Egyptian god Atum had Enki beat, so to speak. Atum was the creator of, well, the entirety of creation when he arose from the primordial water of the universe and masturbated. Wanking was considered so holy and important to life that the Pharaohs would annually jerk off into the Nile as part of a fertility ceremony to not only make sure the river continued to make living in Egypt possible, but also to keep the universe in order.

That’s not to say Egyptians didn’t also have some less positive myths about semen, including one that made Enki’s snack time look somewhat tame. Horus, the falcon-headed god of the sky, and his uncle Set, the mysterious-animal-headed god of the desert and chaos, hated the hell out of each other and constantly competed to be king of the gods. At one point, Set decided to dominate Horus by fucking his nephew, but Horus secretly caught the load in his hand and tattled to his mother, Isis. The appalled Isis retaliated against her brother by secretly putting Horus’ semen on Set’s lunch of lettuce. Later, Set went to the arbiter-god Thoth and demanded that he be appointed king, since he had sexually dominated his nephew, and thus Horus wasn’t fit to rule. Horus told the judge to check out where the cum of both entities was currently located; Set’s semen was long gone, but Horus’ was still sitting in his uncle’s stomach. Set lost the motion (and presumably kept a closer eye on his veggies).

The ancient Greeks didn’t lack for semen-based myths, either. In one tradition, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was created when Cronos (Zeus’ dad) cut off his dad Uranus’ balls and tossed them into the sea — one of the Greek pantheon’s many fraught father-son relationships. The cum that had been stored in the aforementioned scrotum foamed up, and Aphrodite emerged from it. Meanwhile, when the lame god of blacksmithing, Hephaestus, tried to rape the goddess Athena and failed, Athena wiped away the semen that had gotten on her leg with a scrap of wool and tossed it to earth, out of which the eventual king of Athens, Ericthonius, emerged. Although he was supposedly a snake from the waist down in some versions of the myth, he also taught the Athenians how to use horses to plow the earth and pull chariots, which probably more than made up for it. Speaking of, the first horses were the result of when Poseidon, god of the sea, had a wet dream.

Of course, semen didn’t need to be part of a specific tale to be considered divine. Ancient Celts thought mistletoe was the semen of Taranis, the god of thunder, because it stayed supernaturally verdant even through winter, and its white berries emitted a milky, sperm-like fluid when mashed. In two more Enki-esque myths, the blood and sperm of Chinese mythology’s first being, Pangu, became the world’s rivers, while the first Persian king, Keyumars, released semen after dying that became Mashya and Mashyana, the Zoroastrian equivalent of Adam and Eve.

Things started to get sticky for semen — pun obviously intended — in ancient Judaism, which viewed semen as unclean and instructed men who pleasured themselves to ritually purify themselves in clean water before rejoining society. The Bible complicated things immensely with the story of Onan (from whom we get the term onanism) in which the God of the Old Testament, who was significantly stricter and less loving than the New Testament version of God, killed Onan’s brother Er for unspecified wickedness. As a result, their father Judah (not that Judah) ordered Onan to get Er’s widow, Tamar, pregnant, so that Er could have an ersatz heir. Onan wasn’t a fan of this idea, ostensibly so that he could inherit his family’s wealth instead, and while he had no problem fucking his deceased brother’s spouse, Onan always pulled out before coming and “spilling his seed on the ground.”

God killed him for it, although whether this was because of the waste of semen or not following orders is unclear. Some Jewish mystics took the former view and deemed any ejaculation not purposefully used for procreation not only a crime but murder, as it effectively killed unborn children in what is arguably the most extreme pro-life argument ever made.

Early Christians latched onto this idea of semen as something tainted and expanded it to sex itself. This is especially true of St. Augustine, who posited that semen was literally original sin in physical form around 400 A.D. The idea was that once Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge, they became aware of sex, which they instantly realized was so shameful that they covered their respective junk with fig leaves. Augustine believed that since every human being was tainted by this original sin, and since every human being was created by sperm, the two must be related. The seemingly paradoxical belief that semen shouldn’t be wasted on anything but making babies but is also representative of dirty, filthy lust has continued to influence many Christian religious offshoots for the past two millennia, resulting in generations of guilty, confused, horny teens.

Even when it’s not strictly religious, many cultures have viewed semen as a physical form of life essence, containing its own power that is lost when it’s ejaculated; in Chinese medicine, it’s the product of energy known as jing while in Hinduism, it’s called virya. Basically, a lot of societies throughout recorded history have had major opinions on jizz and what men choose to do with it, for both good and ill.

So the next time you’re about to jerk off, take a moment to consider how the load you’re shooting is bearing a load of its own. Just don’t get too impressed with yourself: Remember, while semen contains potential gods, societies and even major geographical features, nowadays they can all be destroyed by a single Kleenex.