There are times when mpreg seems like a pretty modern trope. After all, it’s only be recently that we’ve been able to do things like in vitro fertilization. With advancements in science, medicine, and technology, the “impossible” suddenly becomes the realm of potential. After all, if we can transplant lungs and hearts, why not a uterus into a cis male?
It might surprise you to learn that human beings have been telling mpreg stories for a lot longer than we’ve had modern science. But all you have to do is look at mythological traditions.
The Most Famous Example: Mpreg in Norse Mythology
The vikings are often misunderstood. Most of them were farmers who went on raids in the summer. The word “viking” itself is just a word for a job—most people in Norse society had pretty ordinary lives.
Norse mythology has also been adapted, translated, lost, reinterpreted, and so on, for centuries. It became particularly corrupt in the 1800s and 1900s, thanks, in part, to European fascination with scientific racism and eugenics.
But Norse mythology is actually quite a bit of fun. Like most mythological traditions, though, it’s full of contradictions and confusion.
Part of the issue is one of translation. Another issue is that we may have fragments of poems or tales, but not the whole story. And another issue is different variants of what seems to be fundamentally the same story—kind of like there are different versions of Cinderella in almost every culture around the world.
One thing that often gets missed or left out of Norse mythology is how queer it is. Loki and Thor run around in drag for a bit, among other exploits.
Perhaps the most “queer” god, though, is Loki himself. Loki is a trickster god and—as the stories make clear—a shapeshifter.
Loki the Horse
In perhaps the best-known example of mythological mpreg, Loki turns himself into a mare and gets pregnant. He remains in horse form, eventually giving birth to Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.
We can argue about whether that really “counts” as mpreg, since Loki is in the form of a female horse. It might be a better example of, say, a fluid or trans gender identity in action.
Yet there’s another story that survives in a couple of different variations. That’s the tale of how Loki’s children Hel, Fenrir, and Jormungandr are begotten. In most versions of the story, Loki begets them with the giantess Angrboda, in the usual way.
Yet in one fragment, Loki himself is the one who gets pregnant and gives birth—by eating Angrboda’s heart. This time, there’s no shapeshifting involved at all—it’s mpreg all the way down.
Mpreg in Greek Mythology
The Greeks and Romans were pretty infamous for their attitudes toward what we would, today, call queerness. The Greeks thought same-sex love was the pinnacle of love, with heterosexual attraction being something you kinda did out of obligation. Roman culture was, generally, bi or pansexual: men and women are both beautiful, so why not love both?
There is a lot of overlap between Greek and Roman mythology, with the Romans often stapling their own pantheon on over top of the Greek one. The Greek tradition, however, is where I want to focus.
The Greek tradition is more familiar to more people, so many people already know an mpreg story: the birth of Athena.
See, Athena isn’t borne by her mother. Instead, she springs, fully formed, from Zeus’s forehead. Zeus, in effect, gives birth to the goddess of wisdom.
Now, a lot of people will take issue with that one and say it’s not “true” mpreg. While Zeus may “give birth” in an unconventional way, he still carries his offspring within his body and gives birth.
There aren’t many other clear examples of mpreg in the Greek tradition, although there is plenty of opportunity for it. One example might be the god Hermaphrodite, who was both male and female. The son of Aphrodite and Hermes, he was loved by a nymph, so much so, that she wished to become part of him. The gods granted her wish, combining the two.
Going Beyond Gods to Find Mpreg in Mythology
There are plenty of depictions of Hermaphroditus in art, as well as a curious genre known as the gynomorphs. These figures are, much like Hermaphroditus, both male and female at the same time. They’re usually interpreted as being beautiful male youth, but they also have female characteristics. The Greeks believed they were both male and female, and they were capable of completing both parts of reproduction.
We can talk about what, precisely, Hermaphroditus and the gynomorphs represent, but one thing is for sure. Greek myth is pretty queer, and even though it doesn’t contain a lot of mpreg, it certainly contains the framework for it.
Shapeshifting Creatures and Mpreg
Another place we can look to see mpreg in mythology is shapeshifters. We already saw one example in the story of Loki, who turned into a mare.
Other creatures—not necessarily gods—are known to be shapeshifters, who often taken on humanoid shapes. Some examples include selkies, the Japanese nine-tailed fox demon (and kitsune more generally), as well as many others.
These sorts of tales are common the world over, and they usually have a similar thread. The shapeshifting creature takes on a humanoid form to seduce or ensnare a human lover. Most often, they take on the form of a beautiful maiden. They often then marry and bear children for their human spouse.
In other stories, it’s the human who acts as the aggressor. The human, for whatever reason, traps the magical shapeshifter, forcing the shapeshifter to marry them.
Fairy Tale Tropes and Typologies
This trope is called the “swan-maiden.” In tales like this, the human usually waits until the shapeshifter has revealed their humanoid shape. Then they steal the magical item that allows them to shift back. For swan-maidens, this is their clothing. A selkie is almost exactly the same: they shift by using their magical sealskin. If someone steals their sealskin, then the selkie can’t shift back, thus becoming “stuck” in their humanoid form.
These stories usually don’t have a happy ending. The shapeshifter always yearns to be free. If they ever happen to find the item that enables their shapeshifting, they will flee, never to be seen again. Their human family will be completely abandoned.
Now, these stories probably do a lot to explain “strange” goings on. Instead of being “embarrassed” by having his wife run out on him, a man might save face by “hiding” within the idea that his wife was some kind of mythical creature. It’s also notable that the husbands in these stories are usually quite jealous and possessive. These stories may also function as a way of explaining women running from abusive marriages.
Thinking Like Loki
What, you ask, does all that have to do with mpreg? Well, it should be noted that not all of these myths specify that a shapeshifter has to be a female shapeshifter.
In fact, in some stories, it’s implied that both male and female shapeshifters will seduce humans. There are certainly stories of male selkies seducing human women, for example.
The implication is often that shapeshifter sex is one-for-one with their humanoid shape—that is, male shapeshifters take on a “male” shape and female ones would take on a “female” shape. Yet there’s nothing to suggest that a female shapeshifter couldn’t take the form of a handsome man.
The reverse is also true. There’s not much suggesting that a male shapeshifter couldn’t take on the form of a beautiful woman. (And, in fact, we can see this happening in some popular media and modern takes on these stories. Naruto, the vessel of a nine-tailed fox, takes the form of a beautiful woman with his “sexy no jutsu.”) Thus we end up in a situation where some of these tales are mpreg stories, as male shapeshifters take on a female shape. In fact, that’s precisely what happens in the Loki myth: a male god takes on the form of a female animal and bears children.
Much like Greek myth, though, there may not be anything that’s set in stone here. Thus, some of the fox-wives of Japanese lore and some of the selkie wives of Scotland may actually be male characters, who, like Loki, take on female form.
If nothing else, the bones of an mpreg set-up are definitely there.
Incubi and Succubae
Finally, let’s hop forward to the seventeenth century and take a look at demonology. Demons and angels, in Christian lore, do not have sex or gender, at least not as we know it—although we often see both being gendered or given sex. One famous example is the story of the angels who mated with human women, who then gave birth to monstrous giants. Those angels, having transgressed, are banished by God and become the first demons.
From that story, we might infer that angels might not have sex or gender as we know it, but that they can fluidly shift and take on whatever characteristics might suit them at the time. (Alternately, we might read them all as male.)
That “fluid” shifting is a trait we find when we look at seventeenth-century theories about incubi and succubae. Some theorists held that incubi and succubae were the male and female of the same “species” of demon—the sex demon.
Not everyone agreed on that, though. Some categorized demons has being—like angels—sexless and gender less, at least in human terms. That could mean that they could shapeshift, moving between sex and gender as they saw fit.
In that sense, some people argued that “male” incubi and “female” succubae were actually one and the same. That is, there was not a male and a female demon, but instead one demon that moved between being male and female as needed.
Demons as Vessels
Now, it’s worth noting here that the incubus/succubus was unable to have children in the “usual” way, which was why it went about doing what it did. The succubus would copulate with a male human and extract his seed, then turn into an incubus and copulate with a female human, thus impregnating her. Notable, here, though is that such children were called “cambions,” which suggested non-human origins. That, in turn, might suggest there was a small role played by the demon.
Now … that’s not mpreg—the male demon isn’t going to impregnate male humans, and the demon itself cannot get pregnant, seemingly.
Yet, once again, we find ourselves with lore that allows for a creature to move back and forth not just along lines of gender, but of sex as well, which sets the stage for possible mpreg scenarios. And when we’re dealing with the supernatural, almost nothing is impossible.
Are There Other Examples of Mpreg in Mythology?
Oh, most certainly. I’ve simply highlighted some of the very prominent examples, which are the ones I’m most familiar with myself. I’m sure other mythologies have tales and legends that also include either stories of mpreg or elements that could easily be twisted into mpreg stories—that is, an implicit mpreg framework.
So, as we can see, mpreg isn’t something that was “invented” in the modern age as we became more scientifically inclined. It’s not the realm of sci-fi—at least, not until recently. In the past, it’s been the realm of fantasy: of magic and mythos. After all, magic might just be another word for something we don’t know how to explain with science just yet.