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
The Veneralia (April 1) was the Ancient Roman festival of Venus Verticordia (“Changer of hearts”), the goddess of love and beauty. The worship of the goddess Fortuna Virilis (“Bold fortune”) was also part of this festival.
In Rome, jewelry was ritually removed from the statue of the goddess, her image was then taken from her temple to the men’s baths, where it was undressed and washed in warm water by her female attendants, then garlanded with myrtle.
Similarly, women bathed themselves in the public baths wearing wreaths of flowers and myrtle on their heads. It was generally a day for women to seek divine help in their relations with men. Men also asked Venus Verticordia for her help in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage.
Here’s a nice ritual for the Day of Venus:
- Color: Sea green, golden, and pink
- Element: Water
- Altar: Upon cloth of sea green, golden and pink, set many shells, flowers, beautiful ornaments, pink candles, hearts, doves, incense of rose and violets, and a great chalice of white wine.
- Offerings: Hearts and flowers. Giving a gift of love to someone.
- Daily Meal: Seafood. Angel hair pasta. Sweet breads, cakes, and desserts.
Invocation to Venus
Hail, Lady of the Morning Star!
You who rose form the sea foam,
Born of the impersonal severed phallus of the sky
Immersed in the impersonal womb of the sea,
You who rode to shore on a shell of pearl
And whose powers no one can resist
Save the virgin goddesses,
You who bring the glow of gold
Into the lives of all whom you touch,
Lady, we revere you as the avatar
Of the love between equals
Who look each other in the eye,
The attraction and pursuit
Between every particle in the universe.
Hail, Lady of the Evening Star!
You who rule the night
With its darker passions,
You who tempt the wistful heart,
You whose hands reach out
To all the world and more,
Lady, we revere you as a force of nature
Far greater than merely the human heart,
For you are the force that binds together
All that dances with another of its kind
In the endless dance of creation.
(The wine is passed around, and poured as a libation to Venus. Each takes a flower and wears it in honor of Venus.)
The goddess Bona Dea also had a May festival, which is better known. The winter festival 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.
Men were not allowed to know Her name, never mind speak it, and they were also forbidden from Her secret festival. There were other taboos concerning the worship of the Bona Dea: neither wine nor myrtle were to be mentioned by name during Her secret festival, likely because they were both sacred to Her and therefore very powerful.
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.
The Winter festival is known primarily through Cicero’s account, supplemented by later Roman authors. First, 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 honored guest. The goddess’ meal was prepared: the entrails of a sow, sacrificed to her on behalf of the Roman people, and a libation of sacrificial wine.
The festival continued through the night, a women-only banquet with female musicians, fun and games, 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.
The festival of Juno begins on June 1st and continues through June 2nd.
- Themes: Femininity; Love; Relationships; Romance; Kinship; Time; Protection (Women and Children); Leadership.
- Symbols: Cypress; Peacocks; Cuckoo; Luxurious Clothing; Figs; Moon (or Silver Items)
The supreme goddess of the Roman pantheon, Juno offers a helping hand in every aspect of our relationships, especially the safety and happiness of women and children in those settings. Juno is also a very modern minded goddess, taking an active role in public life and finances. Beyond this, she rules women’s cycles, giving her connections with the moon. Art depicts Juno always wearing majestic clothing befitting the “Queen of Heaven.”
To do today:
According to Roman folklore, marrying during the Festival of Juno (June 1st or 2nd) ensures a long, happy relationship. So, if you’re planning a wedding or an engagement, or even moving in together, Juno can bless that commitment if you time the big step for today! As part of your devotion ritual, don’t forget to wear special clothing (perhaps something your partner especially likes) to invoke Juno’s attention and loving energy.
If you’d like to connect with Juno’s feminine force, her leadership skills, or her sense of timing within yourself, eat some fig-filled cookies today (or just some figs), saying:
Juno, bring _______ to my spirit, my wish fulfill.
By your power, through my will.
Fill in the blank with whatever aspect of Juno you most need to develop.
Found in: 365 Goddess
At dusk on January 8th, the Haloa (῾Αλῶα) starts. Haloa took place every year, during the month Poseideon (Ποσειδέωνας), after the first harvest was over. The festival took place around the threshing floor (αλώνια) at the same time throughout Attica. At Eleusis there was a festival called Haloea on the 26th of the month Poseideon.
All women were expected to attend this event, but men were almost always excluded. Interestingly enough, men had a legal and moral expectation to pay for their wives’ expenses in these festivities. The strange timing of the harvest festival—mid-winter—is significant as well.
The Haloea, a festival for Demeter and Dionysus, included a procession for Poseidon. The Haloea is thought to have been a time for merriment. There is mention of a women’s rite in connection with this holiday: Women are provided with wine and food, including cakes in the shapes of sexual organs. They withdraw to themselves and “exchange scurrilous banter, and are teased with suggestions of promiscuity whispered in their ears by ‘the priestesses’.” The women are thought to have stayed secluded throughout the night and then to have joined the men the next day. While the women were off eating, drinking, and sounding much like the women of Lysistrata, the men are thought to have created a big pyre or a bunch of little bonfires.
The Greeks regarded the festival as sacred to not only Demeter but also to Dionysus. With the inclusion of Dionysus in the festival worship, the date shifted towards the winter as “he possessed himself of the festivals of Demeter, took over her threshing-floor and compelled the anomaly of a winter threshing festival.” In many ways, the festival was just as connected, if not more so, with Dionysus than with Demeter. Thus, we see the power and influence of the incoming god and of the importance of wine to Greek cult activity. Practically, Greeks were able to coax out a harvest just early enough to revel with Dionysus.
Despite being among the most documented of Greek festivals, very few records of what exactly occurred during Haloa. Because it was a predominantly, if not exclusively, women’s festival, little information has survived, or was recorded at all, about its characteristics and rituals. In fact, one of the most detailed sources of Haloa actually consists of marginal notes from the 13th century AD on the Roman writer Lucian’s works.
According to these notes, the women’s ritual practices involved “pits, snakes, pigs, and models of genitalia, all of which have a more or less marked sexual significance.” We also know that the festival “is said to have comprised Mysteries of Demeter, Kore, and Dionysus.” Another source singled out these women’s festivals as “containing the germ of ‘Mysteries,’” referencing here the Eleusinian Mysteries—annual initiation ceremonies devoted to the cult of Demeter and Persephone.
In the earliest times the religious part of the festival might have been restricted to married women, but after the fourth century BCE its celebration may have been limited to hetairai (ἑταῖραι, female companions, a term used non-sexually for women, about women, but used by men to indicate a woman hired for entertainment, often leading to sex), or they were simply also allowed to hold their own symposium during the Haloa, either at home or at Eleusis. The Haloa would have been the day on which they were initiated into the Mysteries. The Eleusinian Arkhontes (Ἄρχοντες, male magistrates of the Mysteries) prepared a huge banquet on this day, with a huge variety, including phallus- and vagina-shaped cakes, but not foods forbidden in the Mysteries: pomegranates, apples, eggs, fowls, some types of fish were out. Animal sacrifice was also disallowed on this day: Demeter received offerings of fresh fruit.
After preparing the food, the Arkhontes left, leaving the women to eat, to drink lots and lots of wine, and to celebrate being a woman and fertile (or the wish to be fertile). The Arkhontes went to the men who were waiting outside of Eleusis for their part in the Mysteries, and told them the story of Eleusis, and how the Eleusinians had discovered nourishment for the entire human race. A giant phallus is often assumed to have been set up on the hálōs, and the women would dance around it carrying clay models of phalli and vaginas, but it is more likely the phallus was never there, but depicted on art work about the Haloa to indicate the fertility aspects of the festival and the dances that occurred there. As part of the festivities, the women engaged in sexualized conversation with each other. As part of the sacrifice, the women carried kernoi (κέρνοι, offering dishes) on their heads, containing incense, grains or other offerings, which they tipped onto the giant phallus or, and this is probably far more accurate, onto the altar.
After the feast and sacrifice, the men who had been waiting were admitted to the grounds, and the women were encouraged by each other–including the priestesses–to take secret lovers for the night. A priest and priestess–with torches representing Demeter and Persephone–apparently sat watch on chests as they presided over the fertility celebration.
To Do Today:
The Haloa is the perfect time to organize an adult ‘girl’s night’ with your closest female friends. Watch a movie with erotic tones, drink wine together, gorge yourselves on chocolate and gossip about your partners. If you have an agreement about it with your partner, you could find a lover for the night. If not, go home to him or her and spend the night together in your own ‘fertility rite’. If you’re single and have no one to fill your bed… well… a girl can get creative, can’t she?
For the men, the Haloa might have had an extra ritual part as well; honoring Poseidon as an agricultural Theos. There is evidence that the men built a huge bonfire and had their own conversations around it. Afterwards, they joined the women, when possible (and desired). Single men; I’m sure you can be as creative as the single women reading this.
It’s Distaff’s Day (Jan 7th) and time to get back to work after the holidays. (According to Old English tradition, that is.) A distaff is the wooden rod (staff) that holds the flax or wool on a spinning wheel. The term distaff came to refer to both women’s work and the female branch (distaff side) of the family. The women’s husbands did not go back to work until the following Monday (see below), so they would mischievously try to set fire to the flax on their wives’ distaffs, while the women, lying in wait, would douse them with buckets of water.
From Chambers Book of Days, we have this explanation:
As the first free day after the twelve by which Christmas was formerly celebrated, the 7th of January was a notable one among our ancestors. They jocularly called it St. Distaff’s Dag, or Rock Dag, because by women the rock or distaff was then resumed, or proposed to be so. The duty seems to have been considered a dubious one, and when it was complied with, the ploughmen, who on their part scarcely felt called upon on this day to resume work, made it their sport to set the flax a-burning; in requital of which prank, the maids soused the men from the water-pails.
“Partly work and partly play.
Ye must on Saint Distaff’s day;
From the plough soon free the team,
Then come home and fother them;
If the maid a spinning goe,
Burn the flax and fire the towe,
Bring in pails of water then
Let the maids bewash the menne;
Give Saint Distaff all the right
Then bid Christmas sports good-night,
And next morrow every one.
To his own vocation.”
This is an excellent day for spells involving sewing, weaving, mending, and also for practical jokes and family fun.
Here is more information about St. Distaff Day for those who are interested: