Daily Archives: May 1, 2017
The Bona Dea had a festival on the first of May that commemorated the date her Aventine temple was founded. Its date connects her to Maia; its location connects her to Rome’s plebeian commoner class. At the ceremony, prayers were made to Her to avert earthquakes. She also had a secret festival, attended only by women, that took place over the night of the 3rd and 4th of May.
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.
On this night the festival was held in the house of the consul (the chief elected official), and no men were allowed. This taboo extended even to paintings or statues of men, which were required to be covered during the rites—and one assumes the consul himself crashed at a friend’s place for the night. The Vestal Virgins officiated, led by the wife of the consul (probably symbolic of the ancient Queen, on whom fell certain sacred religious duties), and the house was decorated like a temple with garlands of leaves and flowers of all kinds, except for myrtle of course, and the women wore wreaths of grape leaves.
A great jar of wine was placed in the room, though it must be referred to as “milk”, and the jar itself was called a mellarium, or “honey jar.” After making libations to the Goddess, music was played and the women drank and danced.
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. 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 (see it here), it was held in December during the Faunalia, and was referred to as the sacra opertum, (“the secret or hidden sacrifice”): at this ritual sacrifices were made for the benefit of all the people of Rome, something proper to the realm of a mother or Earth Goddess who is concerned with the well-being of all of Her children.
Ritual for Bona Dea:
- Color: Green
- Element: Earth
- Offerings: Leave a pig-shaped cookie out for the wild things.
- Daily Meal: Soups or stews, preferably with herbs. Herbal tea.
Upon a green cloth set five candles in different colors, a chalice of milk mixed with honey, incense of sandalwood and myrrh, the figure of a snake, a plate of cookies shaped like pigs, a pot of medicinal herbal tea, cups, and pots of dried herbs gathered throughout the year.
Invocation to Bona Dea
O Bona Dea,
Good Goddess of the Earth
Whose name is mystery,
Whose name is a hundred names,
Whose spirit lives in us all
And in every goddess who touches the soil,
And in every mortal who sprang from the clay,
Be with us on this day!
You have made the Earth spring forth
With many green goods for us,
Not merely those with which me feed our bellies,
But also those which heal our bodies.
Lady who heals us, godmother of Hygeia,
Daughter of Faunus who tracks in the wild,
We find your gifts both in our gardens
And on the wild paths where you have trodden.
We see the healing herbs springing up
In each of your passing footprints,
And we are grateful for our lives.
O Bona Dea,
Good Goddess of the Earth
Whose name is mystery
But whose gifts are so concrete,
We revere you and ask that you bless this day
Your plants which you have so generously given us,
That we may always be healed
And always help to heal others.
The names of the herbs that were collected and placed on the altar are called out one by one, in this manner:
“For the power of Rosemary, we are grateful!”
All reply in turn, “We are grateful!”
Pass the tea and cookies and eat them.
Sources: Pagan Book of Hours and Wikipedia