Here is a little bit about Bona Dea, the Good Goddess. Tonight and tomorrow are the nights associated with Her December rites.
Bona Dea is an ancient goddess of women and healing, identified with the Great Goddess, the Serpent-Goddess, Artemis, Aphrodite, Persephone, Demeter and Hekate. She is alternately described as sister, wife or daughter of Faunas and called Fauna, Fatua or Oma. An earth and fertility goddess, She is a great protectress of women, She guides us through all phases of female life including sexuality, birth and death. She also was considered a goddess of the Underworld, divination, wealth and abundance, as well as healing.
Bona Dea was worshipped exclusively by women, men being forbidden to participate in Her rites or even to speak or know Her name. Male animals, even paintings of male animals or men were not permitted in Her temple. Her rites, conducted in December and May were secret and little is known about them, but were likely related to agricultural activities. However, the early December nocturnal rites likely had other associations that remain a mystery to us. The Vestal Priestesses were participants in these rites. It is interesting to note that wine was also forbidden in Her rites and temples, yet the women of Rome libated and drank wine, but called it "milk" - wine was never mentioned in the temple or during the rites which were celebrated at the homes of various Roman matrons.
Bona Dea tended the sick in Her temple garden with healing herbs. The myrtle plant however, was forbidden in both Her temple and garden. Consecrated snakes were kept in Her temple in Rome. The snake is one of Her symbols, a symbol of healing.
Max Dashu, on her Suppressed Histories website (www.suppressedhistories.net) includes the following:
Diana had another grove at Tibur, where she was called Opifera, “help-bringing.” [Palmer, 58, 77; Ogilvie, 65-7]
Opifera was also a title of Bona Dea, the “good goddess,” whose temples nourished a culture of female sovereignty and outright resistance. Tradition said that women built the sanctuary of Bona Dea in the distant past, and its association with the women's mysteries endured. [Drinker; Goodrich, 256] No men were allowed in this temple or the nearby temple of Diana, the headquarters of plebian women. Diana was seen as a protector of the oppressed classes, especially the enslaved. This was true of Bona Dea and Ceres as well. [Spaeth, 92, identifies Ceres as the goddess of the plebeians.]
Bona Dea's Roman temple was built over a cave where the priestesses kept sacred serpents. An ancient source says that these snakes “neither felt nor inspired fear.” [Scheid, 391] Statues of the goddess show a snake coiling around her right arm, drinking from an offering bowl in her hand. Her left arm cradles a cornucopia, the attribute of Fortuna and Terra Mater. Her priestesses ran an herbarium: “... all kinds of herbs are found in her temple, from which the priestesses mostly make medicines which they distribute...”[Hurd-Mead, 49; quote, Brouwer, 224] Snakes and healing herbs were also kept at the grove of the goddess Angitia or Anguitina at lake Fuscinus. [Piscinus, online]
From Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, the following information is found: Fauna was also regarded as a goddess possessed of healing powers, as might be inferred from the serpents being part of her worship; but we know that various kinds of medicinal herbs were sold in her temple, and bought largely by the poorer classes. (Macrob., Plut., Arnob. ll. cc.) Greek writers, in their usual way, identify the Bona Dea with some Greek divinity, such as Semele, Medeia, Hecate, or Persephone. The Angitia of the Marsians seems to have been the same goddess with them as the Bona Dea with the Romans.
The women who celebrated the festival of Fauna had to prepare themselves for it by abstaining from various things, especially from intercourse with men. The house of the consul or praetor was decorated by the Vestals as a temple, with flowers and foliage of every kind except myrtle, on account of its symbolic meaning. The head of the goddess's statue was adorned with a garland of vine-leaves, and a serpent surrounded its feet. The women were decorated in a similar manner. Although no one was allowed to bring wine with her, a vessel filled with wine, stood in the room, and from it the women made their libations and drank. This wine, however, was called milk, and the vessel containing it mellarium, so that the name of wine was avoided altogether.
Epithets: Fatuella/Fatua (from fatum, oracle, fate, destiny)
Aurita ( healer of ear diseases)
Oculata Lucifera (She Who Brings Light to the Eyes - healer of eye disorders)
Restituta/Restitutrix (She Who Heals or Restores)
Symbols: Cornucopia, snakes (a symbol of healing), coins
To honor Bona Dea in December, over the nights of the 3rd and 4th, light candles both dark and light: brown and yellow or green and gold; an earthy incense of cypress, evergreen or pine may be burned. A libation of milk laced with wine and offerings of barley, seed from pumpkin or squash, eggs and apples may be offered. Give thanks for all that She has bestowed upon you over the past year.
Bona Dea, both dark and light,
Mistress of the Fertile Earth and the Lands beneath,
I give thanks for the abundance You have bestowed upon me & mine.
May You heal my loved ones and myself and all others with great need.
For You are Mother of us all, Queen of many realms, Mistress of Healing
And I bow before You, Great One, I give these offerings with honor and thanks,
May You find them pleasing for they are truly given in the spirit of love.
Leave the offerings and spill the libation at some quiet and natural place if possible. Let your candles burn themselves out.
(copyright E A Kaufman, 2009)