We’re all familiar with the supernatural conception trope, where characters like Scully from The X-Files, Leo from Charmed, and Cordelia Chase from Angel are forcibly impregnated through unnatural means. It’s... not great, people. However, there’s another version of the trope called supernatural pregnancy where the conception part is normal, but everything else is pure magic.
Both these tropes share similar roots in history, and they serve the same purpose. In our latest video, we break down the history of the supernatural history trope, and how it’s being used in TV and film today.
Supernatural pregnancy is a trope in genre fiction where a child is conceived through normal means—which here means consensual sex—but the pregnancy gives the parent certain abilities... or enhances ones they already have. This can sometimes happen through experimentation or outside magic, like Daenerys’ cursed dragon fetus on Game of Thrones, but in this case, we’re talking about magic that comes on its own. Examples include Polaris from The Gifted, Piper on Charmed, and Bella from Twilight (although she kind of got the short end of the stick). There are even rumors Iris West is pregnant on The Flash, explaining why she’s about to mysteriously obtain speedster powers.
Supernatural pregnancy’s history can be tied to supernatural conception, with both of them under the general umbrella of “mystical pregnancy.” Throughout history, there have been stories in different religions and mythologies about children who were magically conceived or virgin births. Stories include the birth of Jesus in Christianity, which is considered deified, and Isa in Islam, where it’s viewed as a virgin birth. There’s also Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god who was conceived after his mother tucked flowers into her bosom, and the Egyptian god Osiris, who was (technically) without a penis when Horus was conceived.
However, it wasn’t limited to just faith and myth. Some kings and popular figures would claim to be magically conceived or virgin born. Other times, legends were created around them. Alexander the Great, the Ptolomies of Egypt, and Genghis Khan were all born from virgins—at least according to legend. And there are examples where real people claimed to be so powerful, they affected their mothers in the womb. One such person was Abaoji, the founder of the Liao dynasty. His mother dreamed that a ball of light fell down on her before she got pregnant. Then when he was born, he was said to have filled the room with sunlight and the scent of flowers. This looks to be a predecessor for supernatural pregnancy.
Supernatural pregnancy might be different from supernatural conception, but both of them end up serving a very similar purpose: It’s to show a child’s importance before they’re even born. If a child is powerful enough to give their parent invincibility from the womb, it signals the audience that this baby is something to keep an eye on. Sadly, this means the mother doesn’t actually factor in all that much, mostly reacting to something happening to them. This may not be as problematic as supernatural conception, but it still can be sexist and lazy storytelling when not done properly. But, I do think it’s a better option than supernatural conception, and the trope seems to have improved over the years—especially by having characters like Polaris with their own powers that exist before pregnancy.