Archive for January, 2013

This post is brought to you by the letter “B”.  -cue Sesame Street song-

Bona Dea is one of those deities of whom we know very little; this is because she was the major deity for a women-only mystery cult, and while people wrote down many speculations, we have no insider stories, as it were.

One of the things that we do not know is her true name.  That’s right – Bona Dea is not a name: it’s actually a title, meaning “The Good Goddess”.  Plenty of other Roman deities are known by titles instead of names, including Bonus Eventus (Good Fortune/Outcome), and Bonus/Bona is often used as an epithet for, well, pretty much all deities.

Anyway.  One of the more popular theories as to her identity is that she is Fauna, the wife (and daughter!) of the seer-deity Faunus.  Another couple of theories put out by ancient authors is that she is the wife and sister of Faunus, or that her name is not Fauna but instead Fenta Fatua, with Fatua for foretelling women their fates, as Faunus did for men.

In any case, it is speculated that her true name was forbidden for men to speak, and since the women of her cult didn’t write it down, we don’t know what it is.

We do, however, know some things about the cult and mysteries of Bona Dea.

It was apparently similar in nature to the Orphic Mysteries, thought what that means, exactly, I don’t know.

No myrtle was allowed in her cult areas, and there’s a little myth that goes along with the reason: taking the perspective that Bona Dea is Fauna, wife of Faunus.  Faunus found out that she had been drinking wine in secret – a huge taboo in ancient Roman society – and, in a rage, he beat her to death with sticks of myrtle.  This is also why wine, although used in rituals in her honor, was called “milk”.

It seems that wine or mead and cakes were the most popular offering to Bona Dea, and purple – unsurprisingly – was her sacred color.  We know that her sacred groves were decorated with purple ribbons and garlands, and apparently her priestesses wore purple ribbons in their hair.

Sacrifices in honor of Bona Dea were called damium, which comes from a Greek word meaning “public”.  Obviously, however, those sacrifices were private, so there’s an interesting use of word there.  Along with that, a priestess of Bona Dea was called a damiatrix.

Another myth of this goddess says that she is merely the daughter (not wife) of Faunus, and that she refused to be in the company of men due to her “great chastity”.  That, the myth says, is why men aren’t allowed to participate in her mysteries.


Just because men didn’t participate in her mysteries, didn’t mean that they didn’t worship the goddess.

We actually have a ton of evidence, mostly in the form of dedicated altars, that men were devotees of Bona Dea.  And they were men of different statuses, too, from freedmen to high-ranking Romans.

And speaking of men involved in some way with Bona Dea…

brings me to the great “Bona Dea Scandal” of 62 BCE.  There were a couple of festivals each year in honor of Bona Dea, but the one that concerns us here is the Winter rite.  The festival of this particular year was held by Pompeia, the wife of Julius Caesar.

As I’ve said before, but will re-emphasize here:  MEN WERE NOT ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE MYSTERIES OF BONA DEA.  They weren’t even able to be in the same residence that a mystery festival was taking place in.  It was said that she would blind the man who looked upon her sacred rites.

But on this particular day, a young cad by the name of Publius Clodius Pulcher (Clodius the Beautiful, lol) dressed up as a woman and intruded upon the rites, fully intending to seduce Pompeia.

Needless to say, things didn’t end well.

Clodius was caught red-handed and charged with desecration of religious rites.  His sentence was execution, though a friend of his – Crassus – managed to bribe the jury into an acquittal.  Julius Caesar divorced Pompeia, famously remarking that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”.

Now, moving on.

In iconography, Bona Dea is depicted as holding a cornucopia in her left hand and an offering dish in her right.  Oftentimes a snake accompanies her, and it is shown drinking out of the dish.

She is also associated with a good amount of other deities: Silvanus, Hercules, Sabazius, Caelestis, Vesta, Mercurius, Panthaeus, Diana, Juno, and Fortuna Conservatrix.

And, finally, I’ve compiled a list of common epithets of hers found on inscriptions.  I’ve attempted to translate them, but some proved more difficult than others and so are left untranslated:

  • Ops: the Helper, because it is on her help that life depends
  • Fatua: the Speaker, because she teaches speech
  • Restituta: the Restorer, the Renewer
  • Oclata: either goddess of ophthalmology; or, goddess who strikes men blind who behold her sacred rights
  • Annianensis: something to do with time…or perhaps the Anio, a tributary of the Tiber
  • Sanctissima: Most Holy
  • Conpos: In Control
  • Hygia: something to do with healing
  • Lucifera: Light-bringer
  • Nutrix: Nourisher
  • Castrensis
  • Agrestis Felicula
  • Quietana:  She who calms
  • Pia: Dutiful/Loyal
  • Opifera:  Bringer of wealth
  • Caelestis: Heavenly
  • Sevina
  • Arcensis Triumphalis
  • Augusta: August/Holy
  • Sepernas: possible local Etrurian epithet of Bona Dea
  • Cereria: possibly used in conjunction with Ceres
  • Pagana: Rural
  • Obsequens: Gracious
  • Domina Heia Augusta Triumphalis
  • Dominatrix Terrae Marisque: Mistress of Land and Sea
  • Conservatrix: the Protectress
  • Potens Mentium Bonarum ac Remediorum: Mistress of wisdom and medicine
  • Dea Bene Iudicanti: Goddess of right judgement
  • Regina Caelestis: Heavenly Queen
  • Valetudo Sancta
  • Damia: the Private (really means Public, but taken to mean the opposite)
  • Penelope

EDIT:  Oops!  I forgot to add the book that I got my info from.  It’s a fantastic book for anyone interested in the cult of Bona Dea, though, be warned, it is very much a scholarly work.  It’s got 577 pages, with 57 pages/plates of pictures, 5 maps, and long lists of inscriptions.

It’s called “Bona Dea: the sources and a description of the cult”, by H. H. J. Brouwer.  Published in 1989 in New York by Leiden publishers.


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I’m sure you guys all know how many deities are in the Roman pantheon.  I’ve probably mentioned that a good few times.

And how there are a metric tonne of different groups, each overseeing different functions.  I’ve probably mentioned a couple of those, as well: The Big 12, the Hidden Deities, the Lares…etc.

This post is on deities associated with agriculture.

Agriculture was and still is incredibly important, and yet I don’t often appreciate those deities who preside over that field nearly as much as I should.  Hence this post as both a learning lesson and a sort of way for me to get closer.

So.  Prepare yourselves.  Names are coming.

Probably the most recognizable of the Roman agricultural deities are Ceres and Tellus.  Ceres is also a deity said to have given mankind laws, and is quite possibly a kind of psychopomp, but that’s another story.  Tellus I wrote an earlier PBP post on, which you can find here: she’s essentially the Mother Earth figure, quite literally seen in her later Latin name Terra Mater.

According to someone – I think it was Augustine, though who exactly is escaping my mind at the moment – attributed a group of…well, functional deities as “helper deities” to Ceres.  These deities are a group who oversee the basic functions of agricultural planting and harvesting:

  • Vervactor, the plougher;
  • Reparator, who prepares the earth;
  • Imporcitor, who ploughs with a wide furrow;
  • Insitor, who plants seeds;
  • Obarator, who traces the first plowing;
  • Occator, who harrows;
  • Serritor, who digs;
  • Subruncinator, who weeds;
  • Messor, who reaps;
  • Convector, who carries the grain;
  • Conditor, who stores the grain;
  • Promitor, who distributes the grain

Along with these deities are  whole other bunch who don’t accompany Ceres.  There is Rusina, a goddess who protects fields; Rusor and Altor, gods who nourish plants and make them grow; Sator, a sower god invoked in the Carmen Saliare; Seia, a goddess who protects sown seeds; Segesta, who makes those seeds grow; Messia, the female equivalent of Messor; Noduterensis, god of threshing; and more.


Other fairly-well known deities include Flora, goddess of flowers, and Venus, goddess of, not love, but fertility and the growth of fruit.

There is also Sterculinus, god of manure.  Poor guy; what a job.


GAH.  A couple other deities keep coming up, saying “HEY IULLA, don’t forget about me 😦 ”

So I am being obliging and putting in a mention of Pomona and Vortumnus.  This couple is amazing, and Vortumnus is hilarious.  There is a myth centering around the two of them which I’ll have to write up someday – it’s one of my favorites.  Pomona is the goddess of gardens and fruit trees, Vortumnus the god of seasons, change, plant growth, and gardens and fruit trees.

I’m probably – no, I am missing several other deities.  Sorry, guys 😥

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IO PBP 2013!


I’m kind of excited to start this round of the Pagan Blog Project, which will, for me, be starting along with the actual schedule.  I’m not going to re-use or re-post anything that I used for 2012’s sporadic PBP; instead, you guys can expect a completely new set of alphabetic entries.  WOO.

So this post is…a little different from the first post that I had planned.  I was planning on writing about agricultural deities, but then I remembered the goddess Anna Perenna, and I thought, “Oh, a goddess concerned with the start of a new year…how fitting!”

Thus, the agricultural-centered post will be next week.

…Unless I think of another topic in the meantime.

Anyway, moving on.  Anna Perenna is, as I somewhat said before, a deity entirely concerned with the start of a new year and making sure that that new year is a healthy, productive one.  People would, according to the ancient author Macrobius, give her offerings and pray “ut annare perennareque commode liceat“, which, roughly translated, means “so that it is possible that the circle of the year be happily completed.”  Sounds like a nice way to start the year.

Her festival on which people would ask this, however, was not on January 1st.  Hell, it wasn’t even in the month of January.  Instead, it took place on March 15.  Which is an odd date for this sort of thing if you aren’t familiar with the archaic Roman calendar.

For the early, early Romans, January was not the first month of the new year: that title fell instead to the month of, you guessed it, March.  Or, rather, what we call March today.  The reason for this is that the Romans, a warmongering bunch of agriculturalists, put warring and farming together: March was the month in which the first war campaigning and crop planting would have taken place, so they put great importance on it and made it the first month of the year.

Furthermore, the festival was held on the first full moon, or the Ides, of March – an important date in any month.

So, with all that down, who exactly is Anna Perenna?

The answer to that is, like with so many things Roman, “We don’t know.”

There are three myths ascribed to this goddess that come to us from Ovid, all of which can be found in book 3 of his Fasti:

First, he says that Anna Perenna is the same Anna who appears in the Aeneid: Anna, the sister of Dido queen of Carthage.  After Dido’s death, Carthage was attacked by the Numidians, and Anna escaped the city and fled away by ship.  In a cruel twist of fate, the ship was driven by the winds right to Lavinium, the settlement which Aeneas had founded in Italy.  Aeneas, ever a stranger to common sense, invited Anna to stay with him: Lavinia, Aeneas’ wife, didn’t like that too much.

Anna had a dream in which she was visited by her sister Dido and warned that Lavinia was planning to get rid of Anna – and not in a good way.  Anna took heed of her sister’s warning and, for the second time in this story, fled: but, unfortunately, she fell into the river Numicus and drowned.

Aeneas and some of his men tracked Anna’s trail to the Numicus, where her ghostly form appeared to them and told them that she was now a river nymph dwelling in the “perennial stream” of the Numicus, and that her name was now Anna Perenna.

The second story that Ovid gives is his own belief that during the first secession of the plebeians (in which the plebs went on strike and left the city of Rome en masse), those plebeians who had left the city ended up on the Mons Sacer (Sacred Mountain).  There they ran short of food: but Anna Perenna, an old woman from the suburb of Bovillae, baked cakes and brought them to the plebeians every morning.

When the strike ended, they set up an image and instituted a cult for the woman who had helped them.

The third and final story is also my favorite of the three.

Ovid writes that not long after Anna Perenna became a goddess, Mars Gradivus attempted to get her to persuade Minerva to become his consort.  The wily old woman agrees, and goes off to do so.

However.  She didn’t really try to persuade Minerva.  Nope.

Instead, she pretended to be Minerva, all the way up to the wedding and into bed with Mars.  When it came time for Mars to lift her wedding veil, SURPRISE-

it was not the face of Minerva that he saw, but the old, wrinkled face of Anna Perenna.  Mars was pretty pissed off, and Anna laughed at him with crude jokes and songs.

And that, Ovid says, is why, on Anna Perenna’s festival day, people sang coarse and rowdy songs and told crude jokes.

Poor Mars.

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