7 Daily Rituals For Awakening Divine Feminine Energy

7 Daily Rituals For Awakening Divine Feminine Energy


We all, men and women, have feminine (Yin or SO) and masculine (Yang or CHA) energies inside. But women are physical representatives of feminine energy on our planet. Unfortunately, most modern women have forgotten their original nature – a nature of divinity. This article is not about worshiping the Goddess within but about awakening divine feminine energy in your daily practical life.

Ancient women put a special sacred meaning in everything they were doing. Cooking, embroidery towels, brushing their hair, etc. was a magical ritual. Everything that women did, they charged with their energy through their prayers, manifestations, and spells. Maybe that’s why families were more harmonious and stronger, and people are healthier and happier? And maybe it’s time for us to put that knowledge back into our lives, and also begin to treat our daily household chores, responsibilities, and beauty care as sacred rituals?

When Can Divine Feminine Energy Be Awakened?

Before I start talking about the rituals for awakening divine feminine energy I would like to talk about feminine consciousness. We all should remember that every woman follows her own path and each step of this path is connected to a certain level of her consciousness. Awakening Divine feminine energy resonates with the highest level of a feminine consciousness – Bliss. For better understanding let me share with you 5 levels of feminine consciousness.

Level 1: Body


At this level, a woman is primarily concerned about her appearance. Her thoughts are focused on how she looks like, how she is dressed, younger or older than the women around her. She questions her weight, and body shape. She desires to look no worse than others and this is most important for her. Such obsession with her body can even lead her to plastic surgeries. She does everything to please others.

She needs the approval of her look and compliments from her family, friends, and even complete strangers. But in response, she receives only unjustified expectations and disappointments. If a woman has money then she bets on her appearance as the main value in the relationship – expensive clothes, jewelry, accessories, plastic surgeries, etc. In the case of limited finances, a woman suffers from her jealousy about good-looking and wealthy women.

No one argues that appearance is important for every woman. But if in addition to the body a woman is not interested in anything else, it says a lot about her development. If time, money and all thoughts are directed only at the body, then the search for happiness is carried out outside – in the store, in the beauty salon, which often does not help. And then a woman is faced with an unsolvable task: how to be happy if you are not so young, beautiful or you do not have expensive and stylish clothes? Such a woman only wants to receive, but not ready to give anything back.

Level 2: Vital energy

At this level, a woman already understands, no matter how you dress up yourself, no matter how you try to keep youth through various procedures, there is a more important thing – it’s HEALTH. Therefore, a woman focuses on how to keep the vigor and energy. And the purpose of fitness and massage at this level – not only to keep the body to look sexy but also to give yourself joy, care, and attention.

Women who think about their life energy, already understand that smoking is not just ugly, but harmful. They know that beautiful eyes have nothing to do with expensive mascara, but is a reflection of good health. Such a woman will look for her happiness in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, whether it be a fitness club, a tennis court, conversations with friends about a healthy lifestyle, or yoga. At this level, women quit smoking. It is noted that if a woman refused to smoke, the level of her energy increases significantly. But the female energy is not only her health but also harmony in all spheres of her life, for example, in relations with men.

Level 3: Intellectual development


The level of intelligence directs a woman to self-education. Reading books and constantly learning something new, she begins to understand that there are laws that operate in this world. She realizes how important it is to develop and learn the secrets of relationship. Such a woman begins to realize that getting something necessary depends on our desire to give and share. At this stage, a woman often attends many seminars, workshops, degrees, she wants to find an answer to the questions that come to her daily.

She understands that the secret of beauty, harmony, and health should be sought inside. But all this active intelligence does not answer the main question: how to be happy? A woman goes to the next seminar, buys another book, gets another degree but still cannot make the right choices and find the answers. She can give great advice to others, but at the same time, she cannot solve her own problems. This level of active mind does not allow her to realize that a lot of information is useless without it fully being integrated into herself as living wisdom and the mind can sometimes give completely different answers than the intuitive heart. She is looking for happiness through her belief of “I know how to” and activity in the outside world.

Level 4: Wisdom

This is the level that opens the path of Wisdom to a woman. We should all remember that we all have wisdom from our birth. All women are wise by nature. But unfortunately not every woman can use this wisdom. At this level, a woman begins to turn knowledge into practice and leaves the eternal bustle. She begins to feel the taste of life and savors every moment. She realizes that “a lot” doesn’t mean “well”. At this level, she learns to hear the voice of her soul.

A woman calmly perceives the authority of teachers and the success of those who have moved further than she has. She moves in her development at her own pace and acquires the ability to listen and change. She knows how to listen to a man, and not try to change him. A woman understands that our whole life is a school. And happiness is something that comes from within, from one’s own heart. But at the same time, she understands the importance of the outside world that gives us pleasure and opportunity.

Level 5: Bliss


This is the level of a woman with awakened divine feminine energy. This woman has a higher purpose in life – to serve and help other people.


How Can We Apply Ancient Knowledge to Improve Our Lives Today?

Yes, we all are at different levels of awakening divine feminine energy. But I have good news for you – no matter what level you’re at you can start applying ancient knowledge for awakening your divine feminine energy now. This is how, step by step, gradually you will develop your consciousness to the bliss stage. I’m not going to give you some complicated rituals or magical spells. All you need to do is become more conscious of everything you do in your daily life.

Main qualities of Divine feminine energy are love and compassion. The more you can control your ego, the more love, and compassion you can give to the world. Whatever you’re going to do ask yourself first: “Does it resonate with love and compassion? Is it coming from my Heart?”. If it’s not – try to change your focus from ego or negativity to love and compassion. Here are 7 rituals that you can apply to your daily “Awakening Divine Feminine energy” practice.

Ritual 1


Comb your hair consciously, imagining how the comb sliding through your hair removes all the negative energy and information accumulated during the day. Our hair absorbs feminine energy. By conscious combing, you’re restoring it. A woman with long hair has a very strong feminine energy and is able to create a circle of protection for her beloved man. Moreover, if you’re in a relationship you can ask your partner or husband to comb your hair. This powerful ritual creates protection for him and makes your bond much stronger.

Ritual 2


Taking a bath, doing cosmetic procedures or applying makeup, imagine that you are connected with the energies of Venus, which gives you youth, beauty, charm, and health. Visualize how Venus’ energy fills your skin with youth and beauty and awakens feminine energy.

Ritual 3


Create a love or healing “potion”. Don’t be afraid it has nothing to do with witch potions. I’m just using this word figuratively. By “potion” I mean preparing for your partner or family member a drink he likes. For doing this take the drink into your hands, visualize how the green, emerald energy of love comes out of your hands and nourishes it. And quietly whisper over the drink positive blessing words or a healing prayer. Such a “potion” will become a healing love nectar and will nourish and heal not only the body but also the soul.

Ritual 4


The process of cooking should be approached as a meditation, that is, to do it consciously and slowly. If a woman neglects this duty, her partner can’t feel a strong connection with her. If she cooks with her love, slowly, and her dishes are always creative, her relationship will be more harmonious and bond with her partner – strong.

Ritual 5


When you wash clothes or iron your husband’s (partner’s) shirts, feel his courage and strength, give his clothes the power to win, see how his business is getting better, how success, prosperity, and luck come his way. And then by wearing the clothes that were ironed with love and positive intentions he will really be able to reach all his goals.

Ritual 6


When you’re cleaning your house, mentally imagine how negative energy is leaving your home. Then visualize how your house is getting filled with the light of your love, joy, and magic. It is favorable to clean the house with a candle flame, to open windows, for free air circulation, to burn incense, to do wet cleaning and to grow flowers. Thus you enlist the support of all elements and gain protection.

Ritual 7


When you’re touching your partner, husband or a child, imagine how love energy is coming from your palms. Set your intention for this energy to heal, soothe, fill the soul of your beloved ones with divine love. These touches can work wonders!


Put love and blessing in everything you do. Treat everything you do as a ritual, giving it a special sacred meaning. The above rituals mainly stem from classic domestic feminine acts of nurture but the same love, compassion, and attention should be applied to the modern day woman’s career. It is in such seemingly invisible acts of a woman that her true, magical power manifests itself. This is how happiness comes to her in the form of spiritual harmony, a creative and fulfilling career, a successful loving husband, healthy and happy children, and a strong family. But more important, this is how day by day you begin tapping into your divine feminine energy and manifest your reality!

Katya Ki is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of SOLANCHA Magazine, a Feng Shui Master, a Metaphysical Expert, a Reiki Master, and Human Rights Attorney. She has been studying Eastern metaphysics and esotericism for almost 20 years now. And she’s still discovering new knowledge, which is hidden in ancient teachings. During her pilgrimage to the monastery of Saint Catherine in Egypt, she discovered the SOLANCHA System. This is how the SOLANCHA journey started!


Divine Feminine Ritual To Artemis: “Become the Archer”

“Become the Archer”

Artemis is the Greek goddess of chastity, virginity, the hunt, the moon, and the natural environment. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin sister of Apollo. Call on her for protection, clarity, focus, and innocence.

The Ritual:
Result of performing this ritual: Clarity of direction, courage to walk forward, and trust in your own counsel.

Inside each one of us is a maiden Archer. She is beholden to no one, a woman unto herself. Brave, fierce, and unapologetic, the Artemis Archetype can help you leave behind the parts of your life that no longer resonate and aim true for your evolutionary path.

Artemis is bold. She is feisty. She is within you, as she is within every woman. Call upon her when it is time to lean into self-trust, to cultivate courage in the face of fear, and take inspired action. Artemis will help you hunt for beauty, magic, and breathe life into your dreams.

This ritual will help you invoke her energy through the fire of release and invocation.

What you’ll need:
• A safe place to do a fire ritual, such as a burning bowl, fireplace, large cauldron, or empty metal trash bin
• A number of small sticks (no longer than 6 or 7 inches)
• Paper, cut or torn into strips
• A pen
• Matches or a lighter

Step ONE: Let go. First, write situations, people, thought patterns, identities, roles, habits and/or other things you wish to fully release from your life; one per each strip of paper. Be mindful that you only conduct this ritual on behalf of yourself, so you are not releasing anything for anyone else – simply your tie/cord to them or to the circumstance.

Step TWO: Create your arrows. Once you have written everything you intend to release, gently roll the strips of paper onto a stick, like you are curling the paper with a pencil. You can wrap several on each stick. Set these sticks in a pile.

Step THREE:What are you aiming for? It’s time to shoot for the stars. What do you want to be true? What do you desire? What will enter into the space that you’re creating with what you’ve just released? Write out your visions, one per strip of paper.

Step FOUR:Add to the quiver. Just as you did in Step TWO, wrap your visions around another set of sticks, several (or more) per stick. When you are complete, stack these sticks together in a separate group.

Step FIVE:Aim True. With your lighter or match, hold one of the sticks from the RELEASE pile and ignite the strips of paper. Place the stick (aka Arrow) into your burning bowl or fireplace. As it burns, carefully place the remaining release arrows into the fire. Help them ignite them if need be. Hold the intention that freeing yourself from these situations is for the best and highest good of all beings. Once all the release arrows are burned, follow suit with your arrows of vision. One by one, unleash your visions into the fire to liberate yourself from expectation and limitation as to how these visions may appear in your life. The universe/Source/Goddess/The Divine/God has much larger perspective than you or I… as humans, we nearly always dream too small. Burning your visions creates a vibrational frequency that is emitted out into the Field, and there are countless ways for resonance to then materialize. Allow for surprises. Trust.

Step SIX:Completion. When all the sticks/papers have burned and the heat is ebbing from the ashes, take a small pinch of the cinder and rub it into your palms, then gently blow on your skin. This serves to ground your vision, to bring your liberation and desire fully into your body, and completes the alchemical process that occurs when fire, air, water, and earth meet.

Step SEVEN:Gratitude. Thank your spiritual and human allies, the archetype of Artemis, Great Spirit, and/or anyone else it resonates to appreciate. You are supported in seen and unseen ways as you become your highest self here on earth. It is important to thank the beings that bring you power, comfort, guidance, and release so that you can enjoy a lifelong relationship with all that is Sacred.


May your arrows find their target and serve the highest good of All. Aho and blessed be.


Lola Medicine Keeper is a modern-day Shaman – a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms. Her irreverently effective work has earned her the description “bulletproof coffee meets tribal elder.” She offers shamanic play retreats around the globe and mentors a VIP group of apprentices in the art & practice of wildly rich living. Lola is mom to two wild babes, married to the sacred masculine, and she believes ecstatic curiosity is the key to all that’s holy. Feel up her work by subscribing to the Wild Playground Podcast and visiting her online sanctuary at wildplayground.com


Ritual from PDF from Sistership Circle

Divine Feminine Ritual To Brigit: “The Flame of Inspiration”

“The Flame of Inspiration”

Brigit is the Celtic Triple Goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. A Goddess beloved by the people, Brigit is a fire goddess who comes to the aid of those who call on her. You can also look to her for inspiration and help with creative projects of all kinds, as we do here. Brigit’s sacred day is Imbolc on February 1, marking the beginning of springtime and a noticeable return of the light.

The Ritual:
Result of performing this ritual: Inspiration from your Essence (Higher Self) for a creative project or a solution to a life challenge.

The creative drive is in each of us; creativity is a fundamental part of being human. You are always creating, all the time, whether you are aware of it or not! Throughout our lives, we have those projects that MUST be birthed – those projects that come with a creative urge that is so overwhelming that we can think of nothing else.

And yet – it is these projects that are often the most difficult. Risky. We wind up blocked, with sometimes years going by with our creative dreams on the shelf.

The creative projects that are closest to our soul are usually the ones that bring forward the most resistance. Use this ritual to draw forth creative inspiration from your Essence (your Higher Self or Divine self), as well as the spark and passion to start the project, or bring it to completion. It can also be used when you need to tap into your creativity for a solution to a problem or challenge in your life.

What you’ll need:
• A safe place where you can place and light a candle, such as your altar; ideally located in your creative space and where you can leave the candle burning while you are in it. A workspace or office is perfect.
• A candle in a color associated with Brigit. White, yellow and red are all traditional colors, or go with what speaks to you. 7-day jar candles are great, as you can leave them burning for longer periods of time.
• Slips of paper, for writing your creative Desires.
• A small fireproof bowl, for burning the papers.
• Matches or a lighter
• Tweezers, for holding the paper as it burns (so you don’t burn your fingers!)• Journal and pen, for capturing ideas.

Step ONE: Create sacred space however you usually do – circle casting, smudging, singing bowl, etc.

Step TWO: Charge your candle. Holding it in both hands, close your eyes and bring the energy of Brigit to your awareness – imagine her image (if you are visual), hear her (auditory) or feel her presence (kinesthetic). Call her by saying:

Aho Goddess Brigit, Bright Arrow, Goddess of the Flame, Healer, Maker, Muse. Bring me your Inspiration; connect me to the endless well of wisdom, passion and creativity. With this candle I call forward the inspiration and answers I seek, and the courage and energy to bring all of my creations to life. So more it be.

Step THREE:Light your candle, creating the flame as an extension of Brigit’s sacred flame. (This is done by simply intending it to be so. If you are visual, you might imagine Brigit lighting the candle as you do so.)

Step FOUR: Clarify your outcome. Take a slip of paper and write the outcome you wish to create – “Completed first chapter of new novel” or “Completed module of new online program” “Project plan for next launch.” (You can choose the scope of the outcome; however this exercise works best when the scope is small – “chunk down” bigger creative projects into smaller steps.)

Step FIVE:Activate inspiration. Using the tweezers so you don’t burn your fingers, use the candle to light the piece of paper, letting it fall into your fireproof bowl. Call forward inspiration from Brigit’s flame, saying:
As this paper burns, so shall I receive the exact inspiration, ideas and guidance needed to bring this project to completion.

As the paper burns, Let GO of any tension, frustration or “grasping” for creative answers. Feel gratitude in your body for the project already completed; feeling and experiencing it as done. When you are ready, say: It is done.

SIX: Expect the answer. From here, go about your life! Release any more conscious search for the solution, instead holding unshakable expectation that the creative answers you seek are already on their way to you. Leave the candle burning while you go about your activities in your creative space – this cultivates the energy of inspiration and passion. Extinguish and re-light – do not leave lit candles burning unattended! When you re-light the candle, recreate the flame by intending it to be Brigit’s flame, as you did before in Step 3 above.

Step SEVEN: Receive, take action and give thanks! Your inspiration and answers will come in while your conscious mind is occupied, so it’s crucial that you remain unattached and OUT of “churning” mode! Have your notebook handy or a way of capturing the “Goddess Winks” (Divine inspiration) that you receive, and take action on what you’ve been given by making time to create as quickly as possible, after it comes in.

This ritual is great to perform right before you go to sleep as a dream incubation ritual. Keep your notebook right by your bedside, so you can write your answers upon waking. You can also keep the candle burning on a regular basis, using the ritual to quickly call in creative solutions as needed!


Elizabeth Purvis is a mentor and magical teacher to thousands of conscious women around the world, showing them how to develop their Divinely-given manifesting power, especially in the realm of money. She is the founder of Goddess Business School®, which delivers premiere business training to women who are ready to own their worth so they can create extraordinary impact. A priestess & practitioner of Western esoteric traditions, Elizabeth is also the creator of Feminine Magic®, a set of practices for women to develop their ability to magnetize their deepest Desires. Discover more of her work and the 7-Figure Goddess community at ElizabethPurvis.com

Ritual from PDF from Sistership Circle


Divine Feminine Ritual To Kali: The 4 Fierce Elements

“The 4 Fierce Elements”

Kali is the Hindu goddess (or Devi) of death, time, and doomsday and is often associated with sexuality and violence but is also considered a strong mother-figure and symbolic of motherly-love. She removes the ego and liberates the soul from the cycle of birth and death.

The Ritual:
Result of performing this ritual: Space, clarity and capacity to create powerfully and in a balanced way.
Inside each of us is a fierce part that wants to be expressed. That fierce part is about truth and clear everything that is no longer useful away so you can feel the balance and capacity to create inside of you.

Kali is bold. She is powerful. She is within you waiting to be awoken and activated. Call upon her when you need to get back into your power, courage and confidence and feel your raw sense of self. Kali will help you honor yourself and truth for the highest good.

This ritual will help you invoke her energy through the 4 fierce elements earth, wind, water, and fire of release and clearing.

What you’ll need:
• A safe, uninterrupted place
• A bell• A bowl of water
• A candle
• A rock (I use my volcano rocks)

Step ONE: Fire Feel the intensity of fire to burn away your limiting beliefs that are no longer serving you. Allow that lava to clear your body temple of anything that no longer belongs to you and is standing in the way of your life mission.

Step TWO: Water Feel a tidal wave is flooding your body and washing away all the beliefs that have been infiltrated inside of you and they never belonged to you. Allow the flood to go from head to toe and clean and clear and harmonize your body.

Step THREE: Air Imagine a tornado enter your body and allow this tornado that is standing in the way of your highest good. Any outer voices or even images. Allow the tornado to destroy it all.

Step FOUR: Earth Ground yourself into the earth. Take your rock and hold it into your hand and allow that grounding quality of earth to infiltrate and saturate your body.

Step FIVE: Feel your capacity and space inside of yourself to create.



Antia Boyd has been helping single women all over the world to find the right man to share their life with and be happier quickly without loneliness, sadness or wasting any more time for over 10+ years. She studied Personality Psychology at U.C. Berkeley, has spoken on stages and radio shows all over the US, and has led dozens of Soulmate Support Groups (where most of the women there have attracted the right man for them!) She now lives in the beautiful Bay Area of California with her loving & supportive soulmate husband Brody.

Ritual from PDF from Sistership Circle

Bast (Egyptian)

Bast (Egyptian)

Bast was an Egyptian cat goddess who protected mothers and their newborn children. A woman suffering from infertility might make an offering to Bast in hopes that this would help her conceive. In later years, Bast became strongly connected with Mut, a mother goddess figure.


Bast (known as “Bastet” in later times to emphasise that the “t” was to be pronounced) was one of the most popular goddesses of ancient Egypt. She is generally thought of as a cat goddess. However, she originally had the head of a lion or a desert sand-cat and it was not until the New Kingdom that she became exclusively associated with the domesticated cat. However, even then she remained true to her origins and retained her war-like aspect. She personified the playfulness, grace, affection, and cunning of a cat as well as the fierce power of a lioness. She was also worshiped all over Lower Egypt, but her cult was centred on her temple at Bubastis in the eighteenth nome of Lower Egypt (which is now in ruins). Bubastis was the capital of ancient Egypt for a time during the Late Period, and a number of pharaohs included the goddess in their throne names.

Her name could be translated as “Devouring Lady”. However, the phonetic elements “bas” are written with an oil jar (the “t” is the feminine ending) which is not used when writing the word “devour”. The oil jar gives an association with perfume which is strengthened by the fact that she was thought to be the mother of Nefertum (who was a god of perfume). Thus her name implies that she is sweet and precious, but that under the surface lay the heart of a predator. Bast was depicted as a cat, or as a woman with the head of a cat, a sand cat or a lion. She is often shown holding the ankh (representing the breath of life) or the papyrus wand (representing Lower Egypt). She occasionally bears a was-scepter (signifying strength) and is often accompanied by a litter of kittens.

Cats were sacred to Bast, and to harm one was considered to be a crime against her and so very unlucky. Her priests kept sacred cats in her temple, which were considered to be incarnations of the goddess. When they died they were mummified and could be presented to the goddess as an offering. The ancient Egyptians placed great value on cats because they protected the crops and slowed the spread of disease by killing vermin. As a result, Bast was seen as a protective goddess. Evidence from tomb paintings suggests that the Egyptians hunted with their cats (who were apparently trained to retrieve prey) and also kept them as loved pets. Thus it is perhaps unsurprising that Bast was so popular. During the Old Kingdom she was considered to be the daughter of Atum in Heliopolis (because of her association with Tefnut), however, she was generally thought to be the daughter of Ra (or later Amun). She (like Sekhmet) was also the wife of Ptah and mother of Nefertum and the lion-god Maahes (Mihos) (who may have been an aspect of Nefertum).

As the daughter of Ra she was one of the goddesses known as the “Eye of Ra”, a fierce protector who almost destroyed mankind but was tricked with blood-coloured beer which put her to sleep and gave her a hangover, stopping the carnage. As a result, she is linked to the other goddesses who were known as the “eye of Ra”, most notably Sekhmet, Hathor, Tefnut, Nut, Wadjet and Mut. Her link with Sekhmet was the closest. Not only did both goddesses take the form of a lioness, they were both considered to be the spouse of Ptah and the mother of Nefertum and during the feast of Hathor (celebrating man’s deliverance from the wrathful “Eye of Ra”) an image of Sekhmet represented Upper Egypt while an image of Bast represented Lower Egypt.

She was very closely linked to Hathor. She was often depicted holding a sistrum (the sacred rattle of Hathor) and Denderah (the home of the cult centre of Hathor in the sixth nome of Upper Egypt) was sometimes known as the “Southern Bubastis”. This association was clearly ancient as the two appear together in the valley temple of Khafre at Giza. Hathor represents Upper Egypt and Bast represents Lower Egypt. One of her epithets was “lady of Asheru”. Asheru was the name of the sacred lake in the temple of Mut at Karnak, and Bast was given the epithet because of her connection with Mut, who occasionally took the form of a cat or a lion. Within Mut’s temple there are a number of depictions of the pharaoh celebrating a ritual race in the company of Bast. In this temple Bast is given the epithet “Sekhet-neter” – the “Divine Field” (Egypt).

She was also associated with the lion-headed goddess Pakhet of Speos Artemidos (cave of Artemis) near Beni Hassan. The cave was given the name because Bast (and her aspect Pakhet) was identified by the Greeks with Artemis, the hunter. However, the two goddesses were not that similar as Artemis was celibate while Bast was associated with fun and sexuality. However, the connection with Tefnut and Bast’s potentially warlike aspect probably contributed to this apparently strange connection. After all, even the smallest house cat is a skilled hunter. The Greeks thought that Bast should have a twin brother, as Artemis had her brother Apollo. They linked Apollo with Heru-sa-Aset (Horus son of Isis), so Bast’s name was tinkered with to mean “soul of Isis” (ba-Aset) changing her into a form of this popular goddess. They also decided that Bast was a moon goddess, although she was originally considered to be the daughter of Ra and the “Eye of Ra”.

  • Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
  • Goodenough, Simon (1997) Egyptian Mythology
  • Grajetzki, W (2003) Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt
  • Kemp, Barry J (1991) Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation
  • Lesko, Barbara S (1999) The great goddesses of Egypt
  • Pinch, Geraldine (2002) Handbook Egyptian Mythology
  • Redford Donald B (2002) Ancient Gods Speak
  • Watterson, Barbara (1996) Gods of Ancient Egypt
  • Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003) The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt
  • Wilkinson, Richard H. (2000) The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt

Published on Ancient Egypt Online

Bona Dea (Roman)

Bona Dea (Roman)

This fertility goddess was worshipped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. A woman hoping to conceive might make a sacrifice to Bona Dea in hopes that she would become pregnant.

Bona Dea ([bɔ.na ˈde.a] ‘Good Goddess’) was a goddess in ancient Roman religion. She was associated with chastity and fertility in Roman women, healing, and the protection of the state and people of Rome. According to Roman literary sources, she was brought from Magna Graecia at some time during the early or middle Republic, and was given her own state cult on the Aventine Hill.

Her rites allowed women the use of strong wine and blood-sacrifice, things otherwise forbidden them by Roman tradition. Men were barred from her mysteries and the possession of her true name. Given that male authors had limited knowledge of her rites and attributes, ancient speculations about her identity abound, among them that she was an aspect of Terra, Ops, Cybele, or Ceres, or a Latin form of the Greek goddess “Damia” (Demeter). Most often, she was identified as the wife, sister, or daughter of the god Faunus, thus an equivalent or aspect of the nature-goddess Fauna, who could prophesy the fates of women.

The goddess had two annual festivals. One was held at her Aventine temple; the other was hosted by the wife of Rome’s senior Annual Magistrate for an invited group of elite matrons and female attendants. The latter festival came to scandalous prominence in 62 BC, when the politician Publius Clodius Pulcher was tried for his intrusion on the rites, allegedly bent on the seduction of Julius Caesar’s wife, whom Caesar later divorced because “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”. The rites remained a subject of male curiosity and speculation, both religious and prurient.

Bona Dea’s cults in the city of Rome were led by the Vestal Virgins, and her provincial cults by virgin or matron priestesses. Surviving statuary shows her as a sedate Roman matron with a cornucopia and a snake. Personal dedications to her are attested among all classes, especially plebeians, freedmen and women, and slaves. Approximately one third of her dedications are from men, some of whom may have been lawfully involved in her cult.

Titles, names and origins

Bona Dea (“The Good Goddess”) is both an honorific title and a respectful pseudonym; the goddess’ true or cult name is unknown. Her other, less common pseudonyms include Feminea Dea (“The Women’s Goddess”),  Laudanda … Dea (“The Goddess … to be Praised”), and Sancta (“The Holy One”). She is a goddess of “no definable type”, with several origins and a range of different characteristics and functions.

Based on what little they knew of her rites and attributes, Roman historians speculated her true name and identity. Festus describes her as identical with a “women’s goddess” named Damia, which Georges Dumézil sees as an ancient misreading of Greek “Demeter”. In the late Imperial era, the neoplatonist author Macrobiusidentifies her as a universal earth-goddess, an epithet of Maia, Terra, or Cybele, worshiped under the names of Ops, Fauna and Fatua. The Christian author Lactantius, claiming the late Republican polymath Varro as his source, describes her as Faunus’ wife and sister, named “Fenta Fauna” or “Fenta Fatua” (Fenta “the prophetess” or Fenta “the foolish“).

Festival and cult

Republican era

The known features of Bona Dea’s cults recall those of various earth and fertility goddesses of the Graeco-Roman world, especially the Thesmophoria festival to Demeter. They included nocturnal rites conducted by predominantly or exclusively female initiates and female priestesses, music, dance and wine, and sacrifice of a sow. During the Roman Republican era, two such cults to Bona Dea were held at different times and locations in the city of Rome.

One was held on May 1 at Bona Dea’s Aventine temple. Its date connects her to Maia; its location connects her to Rome’s plebeian commoner class, whose tribunes and emergent aristocracy resisted patrician claims to rightful religious and political dominance. The festival and temple’s foundation year is uncertain – Ovid credits it to Claudia Quinta (c. late 3rd century BC). The rites are inferred as some form of mystery, concealed from the public gaze and, according to most later Roman literary sources, entirely forbidden to men. In the Republican era, Bona Dea’s Aventine festivals were probably distinctly plebeian affairs, open to all classes of women and perhaps, in some limited fashion, to men. Control of her Aventine cult seems to have been contested at various times during the Mid Republican era; a dedication or rededication of the temple in 123 BC by the Vestal Virgin Licinia, with the gift of an altar, shrine and couch, was immediately annulled as unlawful by the Roman Senate; Licinia herself was later charged with inchastity, and executed. By the Late Republic era, Bona Dea’s May festival and Aventine temple could have fallen into official disuse, or official disrepute.

The goddess also had a Winter festival, attested on only two occasions (63 and 62 BC). It was held in December, at the home of the current senior annual Roman magistrate cum imperio, whether consul or praetor. It was hosted by the magistrate’s wife and attended by respectable matrons of the Roman elite. This winter festival is not marked on any known religious calendar but was dedicated to the public interest and supervised by the Vestals, and therefore must be considered official. Shortly after 62 BC, Cicero presents it as one of very few lawful nocturnal festivals allowed to women, privileged to those of aristocratic class, and coeval with Rome’s earliest history.

Festival rites

The house was ritually cleansed of all male persons and presences, even male animals and male portraiture. Then the magistrate’s wife and her assistants made bowers of vine-leaves, and decorated the house’s banqueting hall with “all manner of growing and blooming plants” except for myrtle, whose presence and naming were expressly forbidden. A banquet table was prepared, with a couch (pulvinar) for the goddess and the image of a snake. The Vestals brought Bona Dea’s cult image from her temple and laid it upon her couch, as an honoured guest. The goddess’ meal was prepared: the entrails (exta) of a sow, sacrificed to her on behalf of the Roman people (pro populo Romano), and a libation of sacrificial wine. The festival continued through the night, a women-only banquet with female musicians, fun and games (ludere), and wine; the last was euphemistically referred to as “milk”, and its container as a “honey jar”. The rites sanctified the temporary removal of customary constraints imposed on Roman women of all classes by Roman tradition, and underlined the pure and lawful sexual potency of virgins and matrons in a context that excluded any reference to male persons or creatures, male lust or seduction,. According to Cicero, any man who caught even a glimpse of the rites could be punished by blinding.  Later Roman writers assume that apart from their different dates and locations, Bona Dea’s December and May 1 festivals were essentially the same.[21]

Clodius and the Bona Dea scandal

The Winter rites of 62 BC were hosted by Pompeia, wife of Julius Caesar, senior magistrate in residence and pontifex maximus. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a popularistpolitician and ally of Caesar, was said to have intruded, dressed as a woman and intent on the hostess’s seduction. As the rites had been vitiated, the Vestals were obliged to repeat them, and after further inquiry by the senate and pontifices, Clodius was charged with desecration, which carried a death sentence. Cicero, whose wife Terentiahad hosted the previous year’s rites, testified for the prosecution.

Caesar publicly distanced himself from the affair as much as possible – and certainly from Pompeia, whom he divorced because “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”. He had been correctly absent from the rites but as a paterfamilias he was responsible for their piety. As pontifex maximus, he was responsible for the ritual purity and piety of public and private religion. He had the responsibility to ensure that the Vestals had acted correctly, then chair the inquiry into what were essentially his own household affairs. Worse, the place of the alleged offense was the state property lent to every pontifex maximus for his tenure of office.[24] It was a high profile, much commented case. The rites remained officially secret, but many details emerged during and after the trial, and remained permanently in the public domain. They fueled theological speculation, as in Plutarch and Macrobius: and they fed the prurient male imagination – given their innate moral weakness, what might women do when given wine and left to their own devices? Such anxieties were nothing new, and underpinned Rome’s traditional strictures against female autonomy. In the political and social turmoil of the Late Republic, Rome’s misfortunes were taken as signs of divine anger against the personal ambition, religious negligence and outright impiety of her leading politicians.

Clodius’ prosecution was at least partly driven by politics. In an otherwise seemingly thorough account, Cicero makes no mention of Bona Dea’s May festival, and claims the goddess’ cult as an aristocratic privilege from the first; the impeccably patrician Clodius, Cicero’s social superior by birth, is presented as an innately impious, low-class oaf, and his popularist policies as threats to Rome’s moral and religious security. After two years of legal wrangling, Clodius was acquitted – which Cicero put down to jury-fixing and other backroom dealings – but his reputation was damaged. The scandalous revelations at the trial also undermined the sacred dignity and authority of the Vestals, the festival, the goddess, office of the pontifex maximus and, by association, Caesar and Rome itself. Some fifty years later, Caesar’s heir Octavian, later the princepsAugustus, had to deal with its repercussions.

Imperial Era

Octavian presented himself as restorer of Rome’s traditional religion and social values, and as peacemaker between its hitherto warring factions. In 12 BC he became pontifex maximus, which gave him authority over Rome’s religious affairs, and over the Vestals, whose presence and authority he conspicuously promoted.  His wife Livia was a distant relative of the long-dead but still notorious Clodius; but also related to the unfortunate Vestal Licinia, whose attempted dedication of Bona Dea’s Aventine Temple had been thwarted by the Senate. Livia restored the temple and revived its May 1 festival, perhaps drawing attention away from her disreputable kinsman and the scandalous events of 62 BC. Thereafter, Bona Dea’s December festival may have continued quietly, or could simply have lapsed, its reputation irreparably damaged. There is no evidence of its abolition. Livia’s name did not and could not appear in the official religious calendars, but Ovid’s Fasti associates her with May 1, and presents her as the ideal wife and “paragon of female Roman virtue”. Most of Bona Dea’s provincial and municipal sanctuaries were founded around this time, to propagate the new Imperial ideology. An Imperial cult centre in Aquileia honours an Augusta Bona Dea Cereria, probably in connection with the corn dole. Other state cults to the goddess are found at Ostia and Portus.  As the Vestals seldom went beyond Rome’s city boundary, these cults would have been led by leading women of local elites, whether virgin or matron.

Livia’s best efforts to restore Bona Dea’s reputation had only moderate success in some circles, where scurrilous and titillating stories of the goddess’ rites continued to circulate. Well over a century after the Clodius scandal, Juvenal describes Bona Dea’s festival as an opportunity for women of all classes, most shamefully those of the upper class – and men in drag (“which altars do not have their Clodius these days?”) – to get drunk and cavort indiscriminately in a sexual free-for-all.[36]

From the late 2nd century, an increasing religious syncretism in Rome’s traditional religions presents Bona Dea as one of many aspects of Virgo Caelestis, the celestial Virgin, Great Mother of the gods, whom later Mariologists identify as prototype for the Virgin Mary in Christian theology.[37] Christian writers present Bona Dea – or rather, Fauna, whom they clearly take her to be – as an example of the immorality and absurdity at the heart of traditional Roman religion; according to them, she is no prophetess, merely “foolish Fenta”, daughter and wife to her incestuous father, and “good” (bona) only at drinking too much wine.[38]


The Temple of Bona Dea in Rome was situated on a lower slope of the northeastern Aventine Hill, beneath the height known as Saxum,[39] southeast of the Circus Maximus. Its foundation year is unknown but the Aventine was host to several foreign or imported cults. Dumezil claims that Festus’ identification of Bona Dea with Damia infers a foundation date in or shortly after 272 BC, after Rome’s capture of Tarentum. On the other hand Cicero, during Clodius’ trial, claimed the goddess’ cult as native to Rome, coeval with its foundation. In the middle Republican era, the temple may have fallen into disrepair, or its cult into official disfavour. In 123 BC the Vestal Licinia gave the temple an altar, small shrine and couch for the goddess, but they were removed as unlawful by the pontifex maximus P. Scaevola.[40] Its use and status at the time of the Bona Dea scandal are unknown. It was restored in the Imperial era, once by the empress Livia, wife of Augustus, and perhaps again by Hadrian.[41] It survived to at least the 4th century AD.[42] Nothing is known of its architecture or appearance, save that unlike most Roman temples it was walled. It was an important centre of healing; it held a store of various medicinal herbs that could be dispensed at need by its priestesses. Harmless snakes roamed its precincts. Men were forbidden entry but could dedicate offerings to the goddess,[43] or, according to Ovid, could enter the precincts “if bidden by the goddess”.[44]

Most provincial sanctuaries and temples to Bona Dea are too decayed, despoiled or fragmentary to offer firm evidence of structure and layout, but the remains of four are consistent with the sparse descriptions of her Aventine temple. In each, a perimeter wall surrounds a dense compound of annexes, in which some rooms show possible use as dispensaries. The layout would have allowed the concealment of inner cults or mysteries from non-initiates. There is evidence that at least some remained in use to the 4th century AD as cultic healing centres.[45]

Dedications and iconography

Despite the exclusively female, aristocratic connections of her winter festival at Rome and her high status as a protecting deity of the Roman state, elite dedications to Bona Dea are far outnumbered by the personal dedications of the Roman plebs, particularly the ingenui; the greatest number of all are from freedmen and slaves; and an estimated one-third of all dedications are from men, one of whom, a provincial Greek, claims to be a priest of her cult. This is evidence of lawful variation – at least in the Roman provinces – from what almost all Roman literary sources present as an official and absolute rule of her cult.[46] Inscriptions of the Imperial era show her appeal as a personal or saviour-goddess, extolled as Augusta and Domina; or as an all-goddess, titled as Regina Triumphalis (Triumphal Queen), or Terrae marisque Dominatrici(Mistress of sea and land).[47] Private and public dedications associate her with agricultural deities such as Ceres, Silvanus, and the virgin goddess Diana.[48] She is also named in some dedications of public works, such as the restoration of the Claudian Aqueduct.[49]

Most inscriptions to Bona Dea are simple and unadorned but some show serpents, often paired. Cumont (1932) remarks their similarity to the serpents featured in domestic shrines (lararia) at Pompei; serpents are associated with many earth-deities, and had protective, fertilising and regenerating functions, as in the cults of Aesculapius, Demeter and Ceres. Some Romans kept live, harmless snakes as household pets, and credited them with similarly beneficial functions.[50]

Images of the goddess show her enthroned, clad in chiton and mantle. On her left arm she holds a cornucopia, a sign of her abundant generosity and fruitfulness. In her right hand, she holds a bowl, which feeds a serpent coiled around her right arm: a sign of her healing and regenerative powers. This combination of snake and cornucopia are unique to Bona Dea. The literary record offers at least one variation on this type; Macrobius describes her cult statue as overhung by a “spreading vine”, and bearing a sceptre in her left hand.[51]


Cicero makes no reference to any myth pertaining to Bona Dea. Later Roman scholars connected her to the goddess Fauna, a central figure in Latium’s aristocratic foundation myth, which was thus re-embroidered as a Roman moral fable. Several variants are known; Fauna is daughter, wife or sister of Faunus (also named Faunus Fatuus, meaning Faunus “the foolish”, or seer). Faunus was son of Picus, and was the first king of the Latins, empowered with the gift of prophecy. In Roman religion he was a pastoral god and protector of flocks, with a shrine and oracle on the Aventine, sometimes identified with Inuus and later, with Greek Pan. As his female counterpart, Fauna had similar gifts, domains and powers in relation to women. In Plutarch’s version of the myth, the mortal Fauna secretly gets drunk on wine, which is forbidden her. When Faunus finds out, he thrashes her with myrtle rods; in Lactantius’s version, Faunus thrashes her to death, regrets the deed and deifies her. Servius derives the names Faunus and Fauna, collectively the Fatui, from fari (to prophesy): they “are also called Fatui because they utter divine prophecy in a state of stupor”.[52] Macrobius writes that Bona Dea is “the same as Fauna, Ops or Fatua… It is said too that she was the daughter of Faunus, and that she resisted the amorous advances of her father who had fallen in love with her, so that he even beat her with myrtle twigs because she did not yield to his desires though she had been made drunk by him on wine. It is believed that the father changed himself into a serpent, however, and under this guise had intercourse with his daughter.”[53] Macrobius refers the serpent’s image at the goddess’ rites to this mythical transformation, and to the live, harmless serpents who roamed the goddess’ temple precincts.[54]

Varro explains the exclusion of men from Bona Dea’s cult as a consequence of her great modesty; no man but her husband had ever seen her, or heard her name. For Servius, this makes her the paragon of chaste womanhood.[55] Most likely, once Fauna’s mythology seemed to offer an explanation for Bona Dea’s mysterious cult, the myth developed circumstantially, to fit what little was known of the practice. In turn, the cult practice may have changed to support the virtuous ideological message required of the myths, particularly during the Augustan religious reforms that identified Bona Dea with the empress Livia.[56] Versnel (1992) notes the elements common to the Bona Dea festival, Fauna’s myths, and Greek Demeter’s Thesmophoria, as “wine, myrtle, serpents and female modesty blemished”.[57]

Cult themes in modern scholarship

Bona Dea’s is the only known festival in which women could gather at night, drink strong, sacrificial-grade wine and perform a blood sacrifice. Although women were present at most public ceremonies and festivals, the religious authorities in Roman society were the male pontiffs and augurs, and women could not lawfully perform rites at night, unless “offered for the people in proper form”.[58] Women were allowed wine at these and other religious occasions. At other times, they might drink weak, sweetened, or diluted wine in moderation but Roman traditionalists believed that in the more distant and virtuous past, this was forbidden,[59] “for fear that they might lapse into some disgraceful act. For it is only a step from the intemperance of Liber pater to the forbidden things of Venus”.[60] Some ancient sources infer that women were banned from offering blood-and-wine sacrifice in their own right; even banned from handling such materials; both claims are questionable.[61] Nevertheless, the strong, sacrificial grade wine used in the rites to Bona Dea was normally reserved for Roman gods, and Roman men.[62]

The unusual permissions implicit at these rites probably derived from the presence and religious authority of the Vestals. They were exceptional and revered persons; virgins, but not subject to their fathers’ authority; and matrons, but independent of any husband. They held forms of privilege and authority otherwise associated only with Roman men, and were answerable only to the Senior Vestal and the Pontifex Maximus. Their ritual obligations and religious integrity were central to the well being of the Roman state and all its citizens.[63]

The euphemistic naming of strong wine at this festival has been variously described as an actual substitution for milk and honey, relatively late in the cult’s development; as a theological absurdity;[64] and as an ingenious justification for behaviours that would be considered unacceptable outside this specific religious sphere. Fauna’s myths illustrate the potential of wine as an agent of sexual transgression; wine was thought to be an invention of Liber-Dionysus, who was present as the male principle in certain “soft fruits”, including semen and grapes; and ordinary wine was produced under the divine patronage of Venus, the goddess of love and sexual desire. Its aphrodisiac effects were well known.[65][66]

For Staples, the euphemisms are agents of transformation. The designation of wine as “milk” conceives it as an entirely female product, dissociated from the sexually and morally complex realms of Venus and Liber. Likewise, the wine jar described as a “honey jar” refers to bees, which in Roman lore are sexually abstinent, virtuous females who will desert an adulterous household.[67] Myrtle, as the sign of Venus, Faunus’ lust and Fauna’s unjust punishment, is simply banned; or as Versnel puts it, “Wine in, Myrtle out”.[68] The vine-leaf bowers and the profusion of plants – any and all but the forbidden myrtle – transform the sophisticated, urban banqueting hall into a “primitive” dwelling, evoking the innocence of an ancestral golden age in which women rule themselves, without reference to men or Venus, drinking “milk and honey”, which are “markers par excellence of utopian golden times”[69] – under the divine authority of Bona Dea.[70]



  1. ^ In Propertius, 4, 9, 25.
  2. ^ LygdamusElegia, 5, 8.
  3. ^ Brouwer, p. 236 ff.
  4. ^ Brouwer, p. 323.
  5. ^ Staples, p. 14, cites Dumezil’s theory that “Damia” was perhaps probably an ancient misreading or mistranslation of “Demeter”, later institutionalised.
  6. ^ Brouwer, pp. 237–238, 240–242, citing Festus, Epitome of Flaccus, de Verborum Significatu.
  7. ^ Macrobius cites Cornelius Labeo as his source for BonaFauna, and Fatua as indigitamenta of Terra in the Libri Pontificales
  8. ^ Cornelius Labeo seems to have drawn this theology from the work of Varro. See Brouwer, p. 356, footnote 255.
  9. ^ Brouwer, p. 239: citing LactantiusDivinae Institutiones, 1, 22, 9–11.
  10. ^ Versnel, p.31ff.
  11. ^ Ovid, Fasti, 2, 35; he is the only source for this assertion.
  12. ^ Brouwer, p. 398: “And considering the fact that the aristocracy were only a small percentage of the population, it is not surprising that most expressions of Bona Dea worship originate from the lower classes.”
  13. ^ Wildfang, pp.92 – 93, citing Cicero, De Domo Sua, 53.136.
  14. ^ Brouwer, p. 398.
  15. ^ Possibly, her own female servants.
  16. ^ Presumably her Aventine Temple.
  17. ^ The sacrifice could have been offered by the Vestals or, according to Plutarch, by the hostess; see Cult themes in this article.
  18. ^ Winter festival summary based on Brouwer (1989) as summarised in Versnel, p.32, and Wildfang, p.31. For Roman sources, cf. Plutarch, Lives: Life of Caesar, ix (711E), Life of Cicero, xix (870B); Juvenal, vi.339 (a satirical treatment); and Plutarch, Roman Questions, (Loeb), 20 – 35, available via link to Bill Thayer’s website
  19. ^ Versnel, p.44.
  20. ^ Cicero, De Haruspicum Responsis XVII 37 – XVIII 38; cited in Brouwer, pp.165 – 166.
  21. ^ See W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the period of the Republic, MacMillan (New York, 1899): 102 – 106.[1]
  22. ^ Beard et al., pp. 129 – 130, 296 – 7. Clodius’ mere presence would have been sacrilegious: the possibility of his intrusion for sexual conquest would be an even more serious offense against Bona Dea. See also Brouwer, p.xxiii, and Herbert-Brown, p.134.
  23. ^ The proverbial phrase “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” is based on Caesar’s own justification of this divorce, following the scandal. See Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 1.13; Plutarch, Caesar 9-10Cassius DioRoman History 37.45 and Suetonius, Julius 6.2 and 74.2
  24. ^ Herbert-Brown, pp. 134, 141-3.
  25. ^ Beard et al., pp. 129 – 130, 296 – 7. In 59 BC, to further his political career, which otherwise might have stalled, Clodius renounced his patrician status for a questionable adoption into a plebeian gens, and was elected tribune of the people. To his opponents, he was a dangerous social renegade; he was murdered in 53.
  26. ^ Herbert-Brown, pp.141 – 143.
  27. ^ As a dutiful heir, he deified the dead Caesar and established his cult, but he took pains to distance himself from Caesar’s mortal aspirations, and cultivated an aura of personal modesty. His religious reforms reflect an ideology of social and political reconciliation, with a single individual (himself) as focus of empire and its final arbiter.
  28. ^ His restoration of the Vestals began even before his pontificate. On his return from the final battle of the civil war, at Actium he was greeted by a procession of women, headed by the Vestals.
  29. ^ Herbert-Brown, p.146.
  30. ^ Phyllis Cunham, in Harriet Flower (ed), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p.155.googlebooks partial preview.Livia’s association with the Vestal Licinia is itself not unproblematic. Licinia was tried on an almost certainly trumped-up charge of broken chastity, acquitted, then re-tried, found guilty, and executed on the strength of two prophecies in the Sibylline books. She was a contemporary of the Gracchi, and was probably a victim of the turbulent factional politics of the time. Livia’s actions may also have helped to repair and elevate Licinia’s posthumous reputation. Augustus is known to have called in, examined and censored many oracles, including the Sybilline books. According to Herbert-Brown, p.144, he might have removed the prophecies that had been used to condemn Licinia.
  31. ^ Herbert-Brown, p.130, citing Ovid, Fasti, 5. 148 – 158. As a non-divinity, Livia could not have appeared on the religious calendar. Claudius deified her long after her death.
  32. ^ Brouwer, pp. 237 – 238.
  33. ^ Brouwer, p.412.
  34. ^ Brouwer, pp.402, 407.
  35. ^ Parker, p.571.
  36. ^ Juvenal, Satires, 6.316 – 344. See Brouwer, p. 269, for further commentary.
  37. ^ Stephen Benko, The virgin goddess: studies in the pagan and Christian roots of mariology, BRILL, 2004, p.168. Other goddesses named Caelestis or Regina Caelestis(Heavenly Queen) include Juno, the Magna Mater (also known as “the Syrian Goddess” and Cybele), and Venus, the one goddess ritually excluded from Bona Dea’s rites.
  38. ^ Lactantius appears to draw on Varro as his source for Fenta FatuaFenta appears to be a proper name; Fatua is translatable as “female seer” (one who foretells fate), or a divinely inspired “holy fool”, either of which might carry Varro’s intended meaning: but also as merely “foolish” (in Arnobius, for getting drunk in the first place, or because stupefied by drinking wine, or perhaps both). Arnobius gives two 1st century BC sources (now lost) as his authority: Sextus Clodius, and Butas. See Brouwer, pp. 233-4, 325.
  39. ^ Traditionally, Remus took his auspices on the Saxum, the Aventine’s lesser height and probably identical with Ennius’ Mons Murcia.
  40. ^ Wildfang, pp.92 – 93, citing Cicero, De Domo Sua, 53.136. Licinia may have been attempting to assert the independence of her order against the dominant traditionalists in of the Senate. Scaevola removed her donations as not made “by the will of the people”. Thereafter, the Temple’s official status is unknown until Livia’s restoration in the Augustan era.
  41. ^ Ovid, Fasti, 5.157 – 158, refers to the Augustan restoration. Historia Augusta,Hadrian, 19, is the sole source for a rebuilding under Hadrian: Fecit et… Aedem Bonae Deae. Brouwer, p. 401, regards this as the most likely meaning, rather than a new building.
  42. ^ The temple is listed in the 4th century Notitia Regionis, (Regio XII)
  43. ^ Samuel Ball Platner (revised by Thomas Ashby): A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London: Oxford University Press, 1929, p.85.courtesy link to Bill Thayer’s website
  44. ^ The meaning is uncertain: see Ovid, Ars Amatoria, III, 637-638: …cum fuget a templis oculos Bona Diva virorum, praeterquam siquos illa venire iubet. (…Bona Dea bars the eyes of men from her temple, except such as she bids come there herself). Cited in Brouwer, p.183. See also p. 210, citing Festus, epitome of Flaccus, De Verborum Significatu, 56: the entry of men to Bona Dea’s temple is religiosus (contrary to the divine will and law). Presumably, men were allowed in the precincts but not the sanctuary.
  45. ^ Brouwer, 410, 429.
  46. ^ Brouwer, p.258. The estimate is in Peter F. Dorcey, The cult of Silvanus: a study in Roman folk religion, Columbia studies in the Classical tradition, BRILL, 1992, p.124, footnote 125. The claim to be a male priest of Bona Dea is from Inscriptiones Graecae, XIV 1499.
  47. ^ Brouwer, pp. 384 ff.
  48. ^ Brouwer, p. 21.
  49. ^ Brouwer, pp.79 – 80.
  50. ^ Franz Cumont, “La Bona Dea et ses serpents”, Mélanges d’archéologie et d’histoire, 1932, Vol. 49, Issue 49, pp.1 – 5.link to French language article at Persée.
  51. ^ Brouwer, p. 401: Macrobius may have been referring to her Aventine cult statue (now lost): cf. the sceptre as an attribute of Juno, and a dedication at Aquincum to Bonae Deae Iunoni.
  52. ^ Versnel p.46, citing Plutarch, Roman Questions, 35: cf. ArnobiusAdversus Nationes, 5.18: Lactantius Divinae Institutiones, 1.22.9 – 11: Servius, In Aeneidos, 8, 314.
  53. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.12.20 – 29.
  54. ^ Brouwer, pp. 340 – 341.
  55. ^ Brouwer, pp.218, 221.
  56. ^ See Brouwer, p. xxiii, 266ff.
  57. ^ Versnel, pp.35, 47. Thesomphoria was a three-day festival; its participants, exclusively female, slept on “primitive” beds made of lugos, a willow species known to the Romans as agnos, or vitex agnus castis: supposedly an infertile tree, and a strong anaphrodisiac. Though wine is not attested at Thesmophoria, it may have been used. Like the Vestals, Demeter’s priestesses were virgin.
  58. ^ Cicero, De Legibus, 2.9.21.
  59. ^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.23.1:available at Bill Thayer’s website[permanent dead link]. His principal source for this prohibition is the 2nd century BC moralist, Cato the Elder. See also Versnel, p.44.
  60. ^ Valerius Maximus, 2.1.5.
  61. ^ Prohibitions against the handling of wine and the preparation of meat by Roman women occur in Roman literature as retrospective examples of time-hallowed tradition, in which the Vestals, whose duties include the supervision of Bona Dea’s rites, are the significant exception. Some modern scholarship challenges these traditional assumptions. While female drunkenness was disapproved of, so was male drunkenness, and the moderate consumption of wine by women was probably a commonplace of domestic and religious life. Lawful blood-and-wine sacrifice is indicated many female-led cults, particularly in Graeca Magna and Etruria. See Emily A. Hemelrijk, in Hekster, Schmidt-Hofner and Witschel (Eds.), Ritual Dynamics and Religious Change in the Roman Empire, Proceedings of the Eighth Workshop of the International Network Impact of Empire (Heidelberg, July 5–7, 2007), Brill, 2009, pp.253 – 267.[2]
  62. ^ Versnell, p.32: “the most surprising aspect is the nature of the drinks: during this secret, exclusively female, nocturnal festival the women were allowed to drink – at the very least to handle – wine”: see Versnel, p.45 and Wildfang, p.31.
  63. ^ Modern scholarship on the Vestals is summarised in Parker, pp. 563-601. See also discussion in Wildfang, pp.31 – 32.
  64. ^ Versnel, H.S., Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion: Transition and reversal in myth and ritual, BRILL, 1994, p.233. Brouwer (1989) regards the wine as a substitution for earlier sacrifices of milk and honey.
  65. ^ Staples, pp. 85 – 90.
  66. ^ Versnel, p. 45.
  67. ^ Staples, pp.125 – 126.
  68. ^ Versnel, p. 44.
  69. ^ Versnel, p.45, citing Graf F., “Milch, Honig und Wein. Zum Verstindnis der Libation im Griechischen Ritual’, In G. Piccaluga (ed.), Perennitas. Studi in onore di A. Brelich, Rome, 1980, pp.209 – 21. Some myths credit Liber-Dionysus with the discovery of honey; but not its invention.
  70. ^ Versnel,p. 45: “On the other hand, the mimicry may also have functioned as fuel for ‘laughter of the oppressed”… “‘say, dear, would you be so kind as to pass on the milk?'”.

References and further reading

  • Beard, M., Price, S., North, J., Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Brouwer, Henrik H. J., Bona Dea, The Sources and a Description of the Cult, Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’Empire romain, 110, BRILL, 1989. googlebooks partial preview.
  • Herbert-Brown, Geraldine, Ovid and the Fasti, An Historical Study, Oxford Classical Monographs, 1994. ISBN 978-0-19-814935-4 googlebooks partial preview.
  • Parker, Holt N., Why Were the Vestals Virgins? Or the Chastity of Women and the Safety of the Roman State, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 125, No. 4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 563–601.
  • Staples, Ariadne, From Good Goddess to vestal virgins: sex and category in Roman religion, Routledge, 1998. googlebooks partial preview.
  • Versnel, H. S., “The Festival for Bona Dea and the Thesmophoria”, Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association, Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Apr., 1992), pp. 31–55.
  • Wildfang, Robin Lorsch, Rome’s vestal virgins: a study of Rome’s vestal priestesses in the late Republic and early Empire, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2007, googlebooks partial preview.



Brighid (Celtic)

Brighid (Celtic)

This Celtic hearth goddess was originally a patron of poets and bards, but was also known to watch over women in childbirth, and thus evolved into a goddess of hearth and home. Today, she is honored at the February celebration of Imbolc

Over the centuries, the stories of two women named Brigid (or Brigit or Bride or Brighid) have become intertwined in an intricate Celtic knot of myth and miracle. The Celtic Goddess Brigid and the Catholic Saint Brigid of Kildare both personified similar spiritual practices of their times in Ireland. Many scholars believe that the two are the same mythological person. The saint was necessary to mollify the native Irish population while not falling within the realm of worship of Pagan gods and goddesses. The transition from goddess to saint allowed Brigid to survive throughout the Christianizing world. At this time, the worship of a pantheon of gods – and any religious or spiritual belief system that existed outside of Christianity – was no longer acceptable in Europe.

Celtic Goddess Brigid

The Celtic goddess Brigid is one of the most venerated deities in the Pagan Irish pantheon. The name Brigid means exalted one, while her most ancient Gaelic name, Breo-Saighead, means fiery power or fiery arrow. As a solar goddess, she embodies the element of fire and is commonly depicted with rays of light or fire emanating from her head. Irish mythology relates that she was born at sunrise of Dagda, the earth god, and Boann, the goddess of fertility. They belonged to an ancient tribe of gods, called Tuatha Dé Danann (people of the Goddess Danu), who practiced magic. After they lost their mysterious islands in the west, they traveled to Ireland in the misty clouds and settled there.

When Brigid was born she had flames shooting out from her head, and through them, she was united with the cosmos. As a baby, Brigid drank the milk of a sacred cow that came from the spirit world.

Fiery Aspects

Worshippers sometimes call Brigid the “Triple Goddess” for her fires of the hearth, inspiration, and the forge. She is a powerful being and through her fires, she is the patroness of healing arts, fertility, poetry, music, prophecy, agriculture, and smithcraft. Many people also call her the Goddess of the Well, as she also has ties to the element of water. The well is sacred because it stems from the womb of the earth, and Brigid is also Mother Earth or the Mother Goddess. Her association with the sacred cow reflects the Celtic reliance on the animal for sustenance; milk was an important theme throughout the year, especially during the cold winter months when hardship threatened.

Worship of the Celtic goddess Brigid was widespread among Celts of Ireland, the highlands and islands of Scotland, and also of Western Europe. Amongst the warring clans, Brigid was a unifying theme and common bond. However, in the 5th century, the goddess faced an immense wave of religious change and pressures that swept through her devotees. She had to evolve, otherwise, her followers would have to banish her from their lives.

Saint Brigid of Kildare

As Christianity spread throughout the Celtic lands, many properties of the older religions were Christianized rather than eliminated. Brigid was an integral part of the lives of Celts, and the solution was to create a version of her that would fit into the Catholic religion. Hence, a new story emerged.

St. Brigid of Kildare was “born” around 450 AD to a Pagan family. Her family converted to Christianity with the help of St. Patrick, an equally important saint in Ireland. The Lord inspired Brigid as a young girl and her generosity and compassion reflected her unusual virtue. She gave everything away to the poor. So overly charitable was the young girl that her own father, Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster, wanted to give or sell her away because she had gifted the impoverished with many of his valued possessions.

St. Brigid’s Church of the Oak Tree

The king recognized her holiness and gave her a plot of land where she built a church under an oak tree. It was called Kill-dara (cill dara) meaning church of the oak tree (the area is now called Kildare). Seven girls soon followed her to Kill-dara and they started a convent at the tree.

This is one of the ways Brigid sanctified the Pagan with the Christian: The oak was sacred to the druids, and in the inner sanctuary of the Church was a perpetual flame, another religious symbol of the druid faith, as well as the Christian. Gerald of Wales (13th century) noted that the fire was perpetually maintained by 20 nuns of her community. This continued until 1220 when it was extinguished. Gerald noted that the fire was surrounded by a circle of bushes, which no man was allowed to enter.

Female worshippers tended to Brigid’s sacred fire for many hundreds of years. Other sources indicate that 19 maidens rotated over 19 days to keep the fire lit, and then on the 20th day, Goddess Brigid tended the fire herself.

The Legends of St. Brigid

According to the same story, St. Brigid of Kildare had many mystical powers, performed many miracles and healed innumerous sick people. Thus, the colorful tales about the goddess-saint quickly spread to other lands. Her popularity grew in Celtic devotions to the point where she became closely associated with the Virgin Mary and Jesus. In fact, other names for her was “Mary of the Gaels” and “Foster Mother of Jesus,” and myths placed her centuries earlier than her “known” 5th-century life. Those myths described her as the midwife attending Mary or as the wife or daughter of the innkeeper who had no room for Mary and Joseph.

The story of Saint Brigid tells us that she passed away in the year 523.

The Celebration of the Goddess and Saint

The hardest evidence of a mixture of the goddess and the saint is the date of February 1st. This is the Celtic festival day of Imbolc, which was an important event that included much worship of the goddess Brigid. That same date is when the annual Saint Brigid Feast Day takes place. The Irish still celebrate this day. As part of the festivities, they make Saint Brigid’s crosses (St. Brigid) of rushes or reeds (Goddess Brigid) and put them in houses for protection and luck (both). The cross, one of Brigid’s most important symbols, looks very much like the swastika motif, which ancient proto-Germanic people used as a symbol of life, fortune, and blessings.

Resurgence of Paganism

Hundreds of years passed since the Celtic goddess Brigid converted to sainthood. And yet, her worshippers had maintained many of her goddess qualities. Because Ireland was separate from mainland Europe, they were able to keep some their own culture and practices intact. Therefore, even the nature of their worship still had Pagan aspects.

Wells of Resistance

Pagan roots still exist today at many Irish wells that Christians had dedicated to St. Brigid. Those wells were originally connected with the Celtic goddess Brigid. As noted, she is also the Goddess of the Well, which is historically very sacred as the womb of Mother Earth from which flows life-giving waters. The most significant wells are those that exist near a large tree, as there is deep reverence and old mythology about world trees and wells. Even today, the wells have pre-Christian significance.

For example, worshippers mostly visit between dusk and dawn. This is the time of day when the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and of spirits is thinnest. The Irish annual pilgrimage to many of Brigid’s wells falls on the first Sunday in August. This day is a pre-Christian Gaelic holiday called Lughnasadh, after the god Lugh. Lughnasadh is one of the four seasonal holidays of the ancient Celts, and celebrations abound in honor of Lugh and the fall harvest.

The Burning Flames That Endure

Brigid started as the Great Goddess, exalted and inseparable from the everyday activities of the Celts. Although the Church rewrote her story, they were never able to completely supplant the tenacious goddess. Each Brigid reflected the essential spiritual values of her era, whether Pagan or Christian. She still endures so strongly that it is now impossible to tell where the goddess ends and the saint begins.

In 1993 a group of female followers re-lit Brigid’s fire, and her spirit still burns fervently in hearts and minds, as she continues to move through time as the enduring Celtic Goddess of the flame.

“Celtic Goddess, Christian Saint”, Celtic Heritage, February/March 1997.
St. Brigid’s Well
Wicca Spirituality, “Brigid: Goddess of the Flame and of the Well”
Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries

Published On Historic Mysteries

Cybele (Roman)

Cybele (Roman)

This mother goddess of Rome was at the center of a rather bloody Phrygian cult, in which eunuch priests performed mysterious rites in her honor. Her lover was Attis, and her jealousy caused him to castrate and kill himself.

Cybele (Greek Κυβέλη) was a Phrygian goddess originating in the mythology of ancient Anatolia, whose worship spread to the cities of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. She represented the Mother Earth and was worshiped as a goddess of fertility, nature, caverns, and mountains, as well as walls and fortresses. Like other ancient goddesses, such as Gaia (the “Earth”), she was known as potnia theron, referring to her ancient Neolithic roots as “Mistress of the Animals.”

The goddess was known among the Greeks as Meter (“Mother”) or Meter oreie (“Mountain-Mother”), possibly in connection to the myth that she was born on Mount Ida in Anatolia. Her Roman equivalent was Magna Mater, or “Great Mother.” Additionally, she was worshiped as a deity of rebirth in connection with her consort (and son), Attis.


The traditional derivation of Cybele as “she of the hair” is no longer accepted because an inscription found in one of her Phrygian rock-cut monuments has been rendered, matar kubileya,[1] meaning “Mother of the Mountain.”[2] The inscription matar occurs frequently in other Phrygian sites.[3]

Others scholars have proposed that Cybele’s name can be traced to Kubaba, the deified queen of the Third Dynasty of Kish, worshiped at Carchemish and Hellenized to Kybebe.[4] With or without the etymological connection, Kubaba and Matar certainly merged in at least some aspects, as the genital mutilation later connected with Cybele’s cult is associated with Kybebe in earlier texts; but in general she seems to have been more a collection of similar tutelary goddesses associated with specific Anatolian mountains or other localities, and called simply “mother.”[5]


Cybele’s origins are debated by scholars. Ancient texts and inscriptions clearly associate the goddess with Phrygian origins in Anatolia. It was well known that an archaic version of Cybele had been venerated at Pessinos in Phrygia, before its aniconic cult object was removed to Rome in 203 B.C.E. However, if the theory on the Kubaba origin of Cybele’s name is correct (as addressed in the Etymology section above), then Kubaba must have merged with the various local mother goddesses well before the time of the Phrygian Matar Kubileya inscription made around the first half of the sixth century B.C.E.[6] Burkert notes that by the second millennium B.C.E., the Kubaba of Bronze Age Carchemish was known to the Hittites and Hurrians: “[O]n the basis of inscriptional and iconographical evidence it is possible to trace the diffusion of her cult in the early Iron Age; the cult reached the Phrygians in inner Anatolia, where it took on special significance.”[7]

In Phrygia, Cybele was venerated as Agdistis, with a temple at the great trading city Pessinos, mentioned by the geographer Strabo. It was at Pessinos that her son and lover, Attis, was about to wed the daughter of the king, when Cybele appeared in her awesome glory, and he castrated himself.

The worship of Cybele spread from inland areas of Anatolia and Syria to the Aegean coast, to Crete and other Aegean islands, and to mainland Greece. Her cult moved from Phrygia to Greece between the sixth century B.C.E. to the fourth B.C.E. Cybele’s cult in Greece was closely associated with, and apparently resembled, the cult of Dionysus, whom Cybele is said to have initiated, and cured him of Hera’s madness. The Greeks also identified Cybele with the Mother of the Gods, Rhea. Her cult had already been adopted in fifth century B.C.E. Greece, where she is often referred to euphemistically as Meter Theon Idaia (“Mother of the Gods, from Mount Ida”) rather than by name. Mentions of Cybele’s worship are found in Pindar and Euripides, among others. Classical Greek writers, however, either did not know of or did not mention the transgendered galli; although they did know of the castration of Attis.

The geographer Strabo (Book X, 3:18) noted that the goddess was welcomed at Athens:

Just as in all other respects the Athenians continue to be hospitable to things foreign, so also in their worship of the gods; for they welcomed so many of the foreign rites … the Phrygian [rites of Rhea-Cybele are mentioned] by Demosthenes, when he casts the reproach upon Aeskhines’ mother and Aeskhines himself, that he was with her when she conducted initiations, that he joined her in leading the Dionysiac march, and that many a time he cried out evoe saboe, and hyes attes, attes hyes; for these words are in the ritual of Sabazios and the Mother [Rhea].

In Alexandria, Cybele was worshiped by the Greek population as “The Mother of the Gods, the Savior who Hears our Prayers” and as “The Mother of the Gods, the Accessible One.” Ephesus, one of the major trading centers of the area, was devoted to Cybele as early as the tenth century B.C.E., and the city’s ecstatic celebration, the Ephesia, honored her.

The goddess was not welcome among the Scythians north of Thrace. From Herodotus (4.76-7) it is made clear that the Scythian Anacharsis (sixth century B.C.E.), after traveling among the Greeks and acquiring vast knowledge, was put to death by his fellow Scythians for attempting to introduce the foreign cult of Magna Mater.

Atalanta and Hippomenes were turned into lions by Zeus or Cybele as punishment for having sex in one of her temples, because the Greeks believed that lions could not mate with other lions. Another account says that Aphrodite turned them into lions for forgetting to do her tribute. As lions they then drew Cybele’s chariot.

Walter Burkert, who treats Meter among “foreign gods” in Greek Religion (1985, section III.3,4) puts it succinctly: “The cult of the Great Mother, Meter, presents a complex picture insofar as indigenous, Minoan-Mycenean tradition is here intertwined with a cult taken over directly from the Phrygian kingdom of Asia Minor” (p 177).

In 203 or 205 B.C.E., Pessinos’s aniconic cult object that embodied the Great Mother was ceremoniously and reverently removed to Rome, marking the official beginning of her cult there. Thus, by 203 B.C.E., Rome had adopted her cult as well. Rome was then embroiled in the Second Punic War. The previous year, an inspection had been made of the Sibylline Books, and some oracular verses had been discovered that announced that if a foreign foe should carry war into Italy, he could be driven out and conquered if the Mater Magna were brought from Pessinos to Rome. Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica was ordered to go to the port of Ostia, accompanied by all the matrons, to meet the goddess. He was to receive her as she left the vessel, and when brought to land he was to place her in the hands of the matrons who were to bear her to her destination, the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. The day on which this event took place, April 12, was observed afterwards as a festival, the Megalesian.[8]

In 103 B.C.E., Battakes, a high priest of Cybele, journeyed to Rome to announce a prediction of Gaius Marius’s victory over the Cimbri and Teutoni. A. Pompeius, plebeian tribune, together with a band of ruffians, chased Battakes off of the Rostra. Pompeius supposedly died of a fever a few days later.[9]

Under the emperor Augustus, Cybele enjoyed greater prominence thanks to her inclusion in Augustan ideology. Augustus restored Cybele’s temple, which was located next to his own palace on the Palatine Hill. On the cuirass of the Prima Porta of Augustus, the tympanon of Cybele lies at the feet of the goddess Tellus. Livia, the wife of Augustus, ordered cameo-cutters to portray her as Cybele.[10]The Malibu statue of Cybele bears the visage of Livia.[11]

In Roman mythology, she was given the name Magna Mater deorum Idaea (“great Idaean mother of the gods”), in recognition of her Phrygian origins (though this title was also given to Rhea).

Roman devotion to Cybele ran deep. Not coincidentally, when a Christian basilica was built over the site of a temple to Cybele to occupy the site, it was syncretistically dedicated as the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. However, Roman citizens were later forbidden to become priestesses of Cybele, who were eunuchs like their Asiatic Goddess.

The worship of Cybele was exported to the empire, even as far as Mauretania, where, just outside Setif, the ceremonial “tree-bearers” and the faithful (religiosi) restored the temple of Cybele and Attis after a disastrous fire in 288 C.E. Lavish new fittings paid for by the private group included the silver statue of Cybele and the chariot that carried her in procession received a new canopy, with tassels in the form of fir cones.[12] The popularity of the Cybele cult in the city of Rome and throughout the empire is thought to have inspired the author of Book of Revelation to allude to her in his portrayal of the mother of harlots who rides the Beast.

Today, a modern monumental statue of Cybele can be found in one of the principal traffic circles of Madrid, the Plaza de Cibeles.

Ritual worship

Cybele was associated with the mystery religion concerning her son, Attis, who was castrated and resurrected. Her most ecstatic followers were males who ritually castrated themselves, and then assumed “female” identities by wearing women’s clothing. These eunuchs were referred to by the third-century commentator Callimachus in the feminine Gallai, and who other contemporary commentators in ancient Greece and Rome referred to as Gallos or Galli.

These castrated “priestesses” led the people in orgiastic ceremonies with wild music, drumming, dancing and drink. The Phrygian kurbantes or Corybantes, expressed her ecstatic and orgiastic cult in music, especially drumming, clashing of shields and spears, dancing, singing and shouts, all at night. Additionally, the dactyls (Greek for “fingers”) were small phallic male beings associated with the Great Mother, Cybele, and part of her retinue.


Various aspects of Cybele’s Anatolian attributes probably predate the Bronze Age in origin. A figurine found at Çatalhöyük, (Archaeological Museum, Ankara), dating about 6000 B.C.E., depicts a corpulent and fertile Mother Goddess in the process of giving birth while seated on her throne, which has two hand rests in the form of lion’s heads. No direct connection with the later matar goddesses is documented, but the similarity to some of the later iconography is striking.

In archaic Phrygian images of Cybele of the sixth century, already betraying the influence of Greek style, her typical representation is in the figuration of a building’s facade, standing in the doorway. The facade itself can be related to the rock-cut monuments of the highlands of Phrygia. She is wearing a belted long dress, a polos (high cylindrical hat), and a veil covering the whole body. In Phrygia, her usual attributes are the bird of prey and a small vase. Lions are sometimes related to her, in an aggressive but tamed manner.

Later, under Hellenic influence along the coast lands of Asia Minor, the sculptor Agoracritos, a pupil of Pheidias, produced a version of Cybele that became the standard one. It showed her still seated on a throne but now more decorous and matronly, her hand resting on the neck of a perfectly still lion and the other holding the circular frame drum, similar to a tambourine, (tymbalon or tympanon), which evokes the full moon in its shape and is covered with the hide of the sacred lunar bull.

From the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E., the goddess appears alone. However, later she is joined by her son and consort Attis, who incurred her jealousy. He, in an ecstasy, castrated himself, and subsequently died. Grieving, Cybele resurrected him. This tale is told by Catullus in one of his carmina (short poems). The evergreen pine and ivy were sacred to Attis.

Some ecstatic followers of Cybele, known in Rome as galli, willingly castrated themselves in imitation of Attis. For Roman devotees of Cybele Mater Magna who were not prepared to go so far, the testicles of a bull, one of the Great Mother’s sacred animals, were an acceptable substitute, as many inscriptions show. An inscription of 160 C.E. records that a certain Carpus had transported bull’s testes from Rome to Cybele’s shrine at Lyon, France.

Cybele in the Aeneid

In his Aeneid, Virgil called her Berecyntian Cybele, alluding to her place of birth. She is described as the mother of the gods.

In the story, the Trojans are in Italy and have kept themselves safe in a walled city according to Aeneas’s orders. The leader of the Rutulians, Turnus, orders his men to burn the ships of the Trojans.

At this point in the story, there is a flashback to mount Olympus years before the Trojan War. After Cybele had given her sacred trees to the Trojans so that they could build their ships, she went to Zeus and begged him to make the ships indestructible. Zeus granted her request by saying that when the ships had finally fulfilled their purpose (bringing Aeneas and his army to Italy) they would be turned into sea nymphs rather than be destroyed.

So, as Turnus approached with fire, the ships came to life, dove beneath the sea and emerged as nymphs.


  1.  C.H.E. Haspels, The Highlands of Phrygia (1971).
  2.  Roller 1999, p. 67–68.
  3.  Ibid.
  4.  Munn 2004, Motz 1997, p. 105-106.
  5.  Lotte Motz, The Faces of the Goddess (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
  6.  Vassileva 2001.
  7.  Burkert, III.3.4, p. 177.
  8.  Livy, History of Rome, 29.10-1,1 .14 (c. 10 C.E.).
  9.  Plutarch, “Life of Marius,” 17.
  10.  P. Lambrechts, “Livie-Cybele,” La Nouvelle Clio 4 (1952): 251-60.
  11.  C. C. Vermeule, “Greek and Roman Portraits in North American Collections Open to the Public,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 108 (1964): 106, 126, fig. 18.
  12.  Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, p 581.


    • Burkert, Walter. 1982. Greek Religion Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
    • Emory University. Kybele as Kubaba in a Lydo-Phrygian Context. Retrieved April 7, 2008.
    • Lane, Eugene, ed. 1996. Cybele, Attis, and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M.J. Vermaseren. E.J. Brill.
    • Motz, Lotte. 1997. The Faces of the Goddess. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN=0195089677
    • Roller, Lynn Emrich. 1999. In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele. Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN=0520210247
    • Vassileva, Maya (2001). Further considerations on the cult of Kybele. Anatolian Studies 5,1 2001: pp. 51-63.
    • Vermaseren, Maarten Jozef. 1977. Cybele and Attis: The Myth and the Cult Trans. by A. M. H. Lemmers. Thames and Hudson.
  • Virgil. 2003. The Aeneid. Trans by West, David. Penguin Putnam Inc. ISBN 0-14-044932-9


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Demeter (Greek)

Demeter (Greek)

Demeter is one of the best known goddesses of the harvest. When her daughter Persephone was kidnapped and seduced by Hades, Demeter went straight to the bowels of the Underworld to rescue her lost child. Their legend has persisted for millennia as a way of explaining the changing of the seasons and the death of the earth each fall.

Demeter, the middle daughter of Cronus and Rhea, was the Ancient Greek goddess of grain and agriculture, one of the original Twelve Olympians. Her grief over her daughter Persephone – who has to spend one-third of the year with her husband Hades in the Underworld – is the reason why there is winter; her joy when she gets her back coincides with the fertile spring and summer months. Demeter and Persephonewere the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most famous secret religious festival in Ancient Greece.

Demeter’s Role


Demeter’s name consists of two parts, the second of which (-meter) is almost invariably linked with the meaning “mother,” which conveniently fits with Demeter’s role as a mother-goddess. However, there are still debates over the meaning of the first part (De-), which most scholars associate with “Ge,” i.e., Gaea (making Demeter “Mother Earth”); others, however, prefer to link it with “Deo,” which is a surviving epithet of Demeter and may have been, in an earlier form, the name of one of few grains.

Portrayal and Symbolism

Demeter is usually portrayed as a fully-clothed and matronly-looking woman, either enthroned and regally seated or proudly standing with an extended hand. Sometimes she is depicted riding a chariot containing her daughter Persephone, who is almost always in her vicinity. The goddesses – as they were endearingly called – even share the same attributes and symbols: scepter, cornucopia, ears of corn, a sheaf of wheat, torch, and occasionally, a crown of flowers.


Demeter was known mostly as the Giver of Food and Grain, or “She of the Grain,” for short (Sito). However, since she presided over something as vital as the cycles of plants and seasons, the Ancient Greeks also referred to her as Tesmophoros, or “The Bringer of Laws,” and organized a women-only festival called Tesmophoria to celebrate her as such. Other epithets include: “Green,” “The Giver of Gifts,” “The Bearer of Food,” and “Great Mother.”

Demeter’s Family

Demeter was one of the six children of Cronus and Rhea, their middle daughter, and their second child overall – born after Hestia, but before Heraand her brothers: HadesPoseidon, and Zeus. Just like all of her siblings, she was swallowed and later, following an intervention by Zeus, regurgitated by her father.

Demeter’s Consorts: Iasion, Poseidon, and Zeus

Demeter didn’t have many partners and was rarely portrayed with a male consort. The mortal Iasion and her brothers Poseidon and Zeus are the most noteworthy – if not the only – exceptions.


Early in her life, Demeter fell in love with a mortal named Iasion. She seduced him at the marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia and lay with him in a thrice-plowed field. Zeus didn’t think appropriate for such a respected goddess to have a relationship with a mortal, so he struck Iasion with a thunderbolt. But, by then, Demeter was already pregnant with twins: Ploutos and Philomelus, the former the god of wealth, and the latter, the patron of plowing.


Next, Demeter’s brother Poseidon forced himself upon her (once transformed into a stallion), and the goddess, once again, became pregnant with two children: Despoena, a nymph, and Arion, a talking horse.


Finally, Demeter became Zeus’ fourth wife. From their union, Demeter’s most well-known child was born, Persephone.

Demeter and Persephone

The most important myth involving Demeter concerns her daughter Persephone’s abduction by Hades and Demeter’s subsequent wanderings.

The Abduction of Persephone

Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, fell in love with Demeter’s virgin-daughter and decided to take her into marriage. So, one day, as she was gathering flowers with her girlfriends, he lured her aside using a fragrant and inexpressibly beautiful narcissus, and then snatched her up with his chariot, suddenly darting out of a chasm under her feet.

Demeter Finds Out

Inconsolable, Demeter walked the earth far and wide for nine days to find her daughter – but to no avail. And then, on the tenth day, Hecate told her what she had seen and Helios, the All-Seeing God of the Sun, confirmed her story. Demeter wasn’t just brokenhearted anymore. She was now angry as well. And with everybody! Especially with Zeus who, the rumors claimed so, had approved the whole operation and even aided Hades throughout.

The Institution of the Eleusinian Mysteries · Iambe, Demophon, and Metanira

So, Demeter left Mount Olympus and went to grieve her daughter among the mortals, disguised as an old woman. She ended up at the court of King Celeus of Eleusis, where his wife Metanira hired her to be the nurse to her baby son, Demophon. Iambe, the old servant woman of the house, cheered her with her jokes, and Demeter laughed for the first time in many weeks. In gratitude for the kindness, Demeter devised a plan to make Demophon immortal, so she started bathing him in fire each night, thus, burning away his mortality.

However, one day, Metanira witnessed the ritual and, not realizing what was happening, started screaming in panic and alarm. This disturbed Demeter’s strategy, so she revealed herself at once and told Metanira that the only way that the Eleusinians will ever win her kindness back is by building a temple and establishing a festival in her glory.

The Return of Persephone and the Establishment of the Cycles

King Celeus did just that, and Demeter spent a whole year living in her newly built temple, grieving, and, in her grief, neglecting all her duties as a goddess of fertility and agriculture. As a consequence, the earth turned barren, and people started dying out of hunger. After unsuccessfully sending all the gods, one by one, to Demeter with gifts and pleas, Zeus realized that he would have to bring Persephone back to her mother if he didn’t want to see humanity wiped out from the planet.

So, he sent Hermes to Hades, and the divine messenger fetched back Persephone to her mother. However, the gods soon realized that Demeter’s daughter had already eaten one seed of pomegranate in the Underworld, which obliged her to remain in the Underworld. Knowing that Demeterwouldn’t allow such thing to happen, Zeus proposed a compromise: Persephone would spend one-third of the year with Hades and the other two-thirds with Demeter.

The former, the period during which Demeter is grieving, corresponds to the winter months of the year when the earth is infertile and bare; the latter, when she rejoices, overlaps with the abundant months of our springs and summers. The myth likewise explains the growth cycle of the plants. The grain, just like Persephone, must die and be buried under the earth in order to bear much fruit above it.


The best sources for the principal myth of Demeter are the “Second Homeric Hymn,” and the fifth book of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” where, naturally, the names of the main protagonists are changed to their Roman counterparts: Ceres, Pluto, and Proserpine.

Published on Greek Mythology

Frigga (Norse)

Frigga (Norse)

Frigga was the wife of the all-powerful Odin, and was considered a goddess of fertility and marriage within the Norse pantheon. Like many mothers, she is a peacemaker and mediator in times of strife.


Strangely for a goddess of her high position, the surviving primary sources on Norse mythology give only sparse and casual accounts of anything related to her personality, deeds, or other attributes. The specifics they do discuss, however, are not unique to Frigg, but are instead shared by both her and Freya, a goddess who belongs to both the Aesir and the Vanir tribes of deities. From these similarities, combined with the two goddesses’ mutual evolution from the earlier Germanic goddess Frija, we can see that Frigg and Freya were only nominally distinct figures by the late Viking Age, when our sources were recorded, and that these two figures, who had formerly been the same deity, were still practically the same personage in everything but name.Frigg (pronounced “FRIG;” Old Norse Frigg, “Beloved”[1]), sometimes Anglicized as “Frigga,” is the highest-ranking of the Aesirgoddesses. She’s the wife of Odin, the leader of the gods, and the mother of Baldur.

Frigg and Freya

Like Freya, Frigg is depicted as a völva, a Viking Age practitioner of the form of Norse magic known as seidr. Seidr involved discerning the course of fate and working within its structure to bring about change, often by symbolically weaving new events into being.[2] This power could potentially be put to any use imaginable, and examples that cover virtually the entire range of the human condition can be found in Old Norse literature. In the Old Norse poem Lokasenna, after Loki slanders Frigg, Freya warns him that Frigg knows the fate of all beings, an intimation of her ability to perform seidr.[3] Frigg’s weaving activities are likely an allusion to this role as well. Freya owns falcon plumes that she and the other Aesir use for shapeshifting into that bird, and Frigg possesses her own set of falcon feathers that are used for the same purpose.[4]

In the Viking Age, the völva was an itinerant seeress and sorceress who traveled from town to town performing commissioned acts of seidr in exchange for lodging, food, and often other forms of compensation as well. Like other northern Eurasian shamans, her social status was highly ambiguous – she was by turns exalted, feared, longed for, propitiated, celebrated, and scorned.[5]

During the so-called Völkerwanderung or “Migration Period” – roughly 400-800 CE, and thus the period that immediately preceded the Viking Age – the figure who would later become the völva held a much more institutionally necessary and universally acclaimed role among the Germanic tribes. One of the core societal institutions of the period was the warband, a tightly organized military society presided over by a chieftain and his wife. The wife of the warband’s leader, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, held the title of veleda, and her role in the warband was to foretell the outcome of a suggested plan of action by means of divination and to influence that outcome by means of more active magic, as well as to serve a special cup of liquor that was a powerful symbol of both temporal and spiritual power in the warband’s periodic ritual feasts.[6][7]

One literary portrait of such a woman comes to us from the medieval Old English epic poem Beowulf, which recounts the deeds of King Hroðgar and his warband in the land that we today know as Denmark. The name of Hroðgar’s queen, Wealhþeow, is almost certainly the Old English equivalent of the Proto-Germanic title that Tacitus latinised as “veleda.”[8] Wealhþeow’s “domestic” actions in the poem – which are, properly understood, enactments of the liquor ritual described above – are indispensable for the upkeep of the unity of the warband and its power structures. The poem, despite its Christian veneer, “hint[s] at the queen’s oracular powers… The Hrothgar/Wealhtheow association as presented in the poem is an echo of an earlier more robust and vigorous politico-theological conception.”[9]

This “politico-theological conception” was based on the mythological model provided by the divine pair Frija and Woðanaz, deities who later evolved into, respectively, Freya/Frigg and Odin. Woðanaz is the warband’s chieftain, and Frija is its veleda.

Thus, in the Migration Period, the goddess who later became Freya (and Frigg) was the wife of the god who later became Odin. While somewhat veiled, this is ultimately still the case in Old Norse literature. Freya’s husband is named Óðr, a name which is virtually identical to that of Óðinn (the Old Norse form of “Odin”). Óðr means “ecstasy, inspiration, furor.” Óðinn is simply the word óðr with the masculine definite article (-inn) added onto the end. The two names come from the same word and have the same meaning. Óðr is an obscure and seldom-mentioned character in Old Norse literature. The one passage that tells us anything about his personality or deeds – anything beyond merely listing his name in connection with Freya – comes from the Prose Edda, which states that Óðr is often away on long journeys, and that Freya can often be found weeping tears of red gold over his absence.[10] Many of the surviving tales involving Odin have him traveling far and wide throughout the Nine Worlds, to the point that he’s probably more often away from Asgard than within it. Many of Odin’s numerous bynames allude to his wanderings or are names he assumed to disguise his identity while abroad. Thus, it’s hard to see Freya’s husband as anything but an only nominally distinct extension of Odin.

Freyja and Frigg are similarly accused of infidelity to their (apparently common) husband. Alongside the several mentions of Freya’s loose sexual practices can be placed the words of the medieval Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, who relates that Frigg slept with a slave on at least one occasion.[11] In Lokasenna and the Ynglinga Saga, Odin was once exiled from Asgard, leaving his brothers Vili and Ve in command. In addition to presiding over the realm, they also regularly slept with Frigg until Odin’s return.[12][13] Many scholars have tried to differentiate between Freya and Frigg by asserting that the former is more promiscuous and less steadfast than the latter,[14] but these tales suggest otherwise.

The word for “Friday” in Germanic languages (including English) is named after Frija,[15] the Proto-Germanic goddess who is the foremother of Freya and Frigg. None of the other Germanic peoples seem to have spoken of Frija as if she were two goddesses; this approach is unique to the Norse sources. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the Norse sources we find a confusion as to which goddess this day should have as its namesake. Both Freyjudagr (from Freyja) and Frjádagr (from Frigg) are used.

The names of the two goddesses are also particularly interesting in this regard. Freyja, “Lady,” is a title rather than a true name. It’s a cognate of the modern German word Frau, which is used in much the same way as the English title “Mrs.” In the Viking Age, Scandinavian and Icelandic aristocratic women were sometimes called freyjur, the plural of freyja.[16]“Frigg,” meanwhile, comes from an ancient root that means “beloved.”[17] Frigg’s name therefore links her to love and desire, precisely the areas of life over which Freya presides. Here again we can discern the ultimate reducibility of both goddesses to one another: one’s name is identical to the other’s attributes, and the other name is a generic title rather than a unique name.

Clearly, then, the two are ultimately the same goddess. Why, then, are they presented as nominally distinct in the late Old Norse sources? Unfortunately, no one really knows.



[1] Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 114.

[2] Heide, Eldar. 2006. Spinning Seiðr. In Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes and Interactions. Edited by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert, and Catharina Raudvere. p. 166.

[3] The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 29.

[4] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Skáldskaparmál 18-19.

[5] Price, Neil S. 2002. The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. p. 279-328.

[6] Tacitus, Cornelius. Germania 8.

[7] Enright, Michael J. 1996. Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age.

[8] Ibid. p. 192.

[9] Ibid. p. 66.

[10] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 35.

[11] Saxo Grammaticus. The History of the Danes.

[12] The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 26.

[13] Snorri Sturluson. Ynglinga Saga 3. In Heimskringla: eða Sögur Noregs Konunga.

[14] See, for example: Grimm, Jacob. 1882. Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. p. 302.

[15] Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. 1964. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. p. 111.

[16] Grimm, Jacob. 1882. Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. p. 300.

[17] Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 114.


Published on Norse Mythology for Smart People