by Tracy Boyd

© 1978 & 2010



“. . . be in no hurry; thy daughter will better wed 

  when Vesta's fire shall shine on a clean floor.”




As the goddess of the blazing hearth, Vesta’s presence was at the very center of every household in Rome.  She was revered on a far grander scale at her formal dwelling-place, the holy center of the official State religion, where the sacred fire of the State was maintained by Vesta’s virgin priestesses for at least eleven-hundred years.  The keeping of her eternal flame was in fact far older than that, for it is known that such a fire was maintained by Vestals at that same site in the Roman Forum long before the supposed founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, the date for which is variously given as sometime between 814 and 729 B.C.E., (2) depending on which version of the myth one follows.

Owing to the fact that the mother of these mythical twins, Rhea Silvia, was herself a Vestal, (3) there is every reason to believe that Vesta was a very long established local deity.  But her worship is far older even than that, for Vesta’s fire rites are said to have been transferred from Alba Longa, “the mother-city of Rome,” (4) which according to Livy, was the oldest Latin colony in Latium. (5)  Legend maintained that the Vestals were originally the virginal daughters of the king, or their representatives, who were charged with the maintenance of an eternally-burning sacred fire at the king’s hearth. (6) We know that Alba Longa was dedicated in 1152 B.C.E. by Ascanius, who claimed to be the son of Aeneas, (7) and although we do not know exactly when Vesta’s worship began there, we can say with certainty that it predated the establishment of Vesta’s formal temple in Rome by at least five centuries. 

Ovid ascribes the building of Vesta’s temple in 713 B.C.E. to Numa, (8) but he is clear, also, that “the worship of Vesta . . . was very much older than the most ancient of her temples in Rome,” (9) and that the Aedes Vestae, as it is called, was itself the oldest temple in Rome. (10) Its prehistoric forerunner was a round hut woven of wattled osiers, or willow beds, that were held down with clay.  The sandstone hearth was, of course, at its center. (11) Vesta's Roman shrine, which maintained the original rounded form on an imposing scale, was supported by four pillars, (12) the same in number as the priestesses who served her in the earliest periods of her worship. 

The sanctity of the Aedes (‘a dwelling-place, abode, temple, sanctuary, shrine’) (13) was distinguished by the fact that it was not called a templum (‘the area . . . defined in words by the augur’) (14) in the strict sense, as it remained unconsecrated by the augurs who performed such blessings.  Its recognition as a holy shrine actually preceded these ceremonies of state, but additionally, its precincts were considered so sacrosanct that they were “far above the necessity of any such ceremony.” (15) Any notion of consecration by priests was unthinkable, in addition to which, males were strictly forbidden to enter Vesta's portals.

In view of this prohibition, we were astonished to discover what was allegedly secreted behind these closed doors.  We are informed with absolute certainty that “there was no statue of Vesta within the shrine: (16) it contained only the fire [– the fire being Vesta herself –] and, in the penus (inner sanctum), the ‘sacred things that may not be divulged’ –esp. the Palladium, (17) [the very ancient and most holy wooden statue of Pallas Athene], and the fascinum, the [image of an] erect phallus that [was believed to] avert evil.” (18)

The male member is obviously a late addition to what was an otherwise exclusively female and explicitly virginal domain.  The fascinum, whether of the male or female variety, is a primitive and highly effective magical means of warding off evil of every kind. (19) This particular fascinum is the property of Fascinus, which is another name for Priapus and sometimes an alternate title of Mars, who plays a significant role in Vesta’s biographical account.  In addition to the apotropaic intent, the phallic presence of Mars in this setting should be viewed from the perspective of his earliest and especially important manifestation as a spirit of fertilization. (20)

The elements of war for which Mars is better known, are represented in the precious objects of State, the “sacred things that may not be divulged,” not as symbols of this warrior god, but as relics of Rome’s claim of direct descent from Trojan roots.  Owing to their secrecy and their extreme sanctity, much has been made as to the nature of the sacred objects, among which the fascinum is distinctly not numbered, but we are told by a most reliable source that:

        The seven sacred objects on which the safety of Rome depended were the  

        Palladium, the statue of Pallas Athene from Troy, which was believed by some

        to have fallen from heaven; the acus, a conical image of the Mother of the            

        Gods; the earthen chariot taken at Veii; the ashes of Orestes; the sceptre of

        Priam; the veil of Ilione, the eldest daughter of Priam; and the ancile, or sacred

        figure-eight shaped shield, said to have fallen from heaven in the reign of Numa

        for the protection of Rome. (21)


Although Vesta and her attendant Vestal virgins became connected with the protection of the Roman State in later times, her original function was that of goddess of childbirth.  While this remains an area largely ignored in the study of her worship, virtually every aspect of her service points to this as her primary role.  Her etymology, which is nearly as obscure as the acknowledgement of her guardianship over birth, offers a few subtle indications of this aspect of the fire deity.  Some scholars have related Vesta’s name to the Indo-Germanic root, vas, variously interpreted as ‘to dwell’, (22) ‘to inhabit’, (23) or ‘to shine’. (24)  Vesta is distantly related by name and by deed to two other goddesses, namely the Assyrian Ishtar, and the Hebrew Esther, (25) but she is quite clearly identified with Hestia, the Greek hearth goddess. (26)  

The origin of her name is reflected in the Latin word vestis, which is directly related to the Greek esthes, (27) from which Hestia is derived.  Vestis means ‘a covering for the body’, (28) generally thought of as a garment of some sort, such as a vestment, or robe. (29) In English, a vest is a vestment or robe, while to vest means ‘to clothe with or as with a vestment or garment . . . hence, to surround, or encompass closely’. (30) And this is suggested also by Cicero’s amplification of the word vestis as “the skin of a snake.” (31) Such a usage presents not only the idea of being clad in a close-fitting vestment, but also of being wrapped in something as natural as one’s skin.  Snakeskin is also some-times laid across the belly as a magical aid to assure a smooth delivery.

In nearly every one of the varied and richly layered meanings of the name Vesta, there is the implication of childbearing.  It is remarkable that scholars have overlooked this central aspect of her worship, which becomes all the more transparent when viewed in the context of her rites.  It is really through her rites that the name of Vesta takes on its true meaning, for, as we shall show, what was offered to this goddess by the married women of “civilized” Rome were the placentas of their new-born children.  Whether as the result of disinterest, taboo, injunctions of silence, the inadvertent glossing over of glaring clues, cover-up, or ignorance of women's rites, scholars are singularly unaware of these placental gifts that inextricably link Vesta with her worshippers.  These gifts are part and parcel of a religious focus that is entirely centered on the continuity of life, and therefore, on conception and birth. 

To gain insight into the hidden implications of Vesta’s rather thinly veiled secret rites, we must take a close look at certain of the days in the Roman calendar that are specif-ically marked for her, or that bear a relationship to her June festival, or that pertain to the rites of other goddesses whose worship shows a direct bearing on our inquiry.  The complexities of such an examination limit the presentation of a strict chronological adherence to the order of the annual rites which would pose an impossible and, in the end, unproductive task.  Much of what we shall learn will be accomplished by a counting of days, both backwards and forwards.  The actual chronological sequence is provided in APPENDIX I at the end of the Notes to this article as a clear point of reference for the dizzyingly complicated counting of days in the Roman calendar.


In the Roman calendar that was revised by Caesar in 46 B.C.E. in his role as pontifex maximus, whose job it was to regulate the calendar, (32) Vesta’s festival, the Vestalia, is given as June 9th, with the days of June 7th through the 15th, during which all public business was suspended, (33) being reserved for Vesta and her women suppliants.  This “period of cleansing” as it is most frequently described, was the only time in the year that any but her attendant priestesses were permitted access to the temple.  As Ovid tells us, only married women were allowed this privilege, and they were required to enter the precincts of this ancient sacred ground barefooted.  Men were forbidden entry at any time.

Let us begin backwards with the last day of the Vestalia, which fell on the 15th, the Ides, the full moon of June.  This day was noted on the calendar with a sacred designation stipulating that the day, unlike any other in the calendar, (34) was to be regarded as “Q. ST. D. F.,” (35) the abbreviation for Quando Stercus Delatum Fas. (36) Quando means ‘at the time when’; Stercus, a term of reproach, is invariably translated as ‘dung, muck, or manure’; Delatum is ‘to destroy or annihilate’; and Fas, ‘of that which is allowed under divine law’.  Fas is the root of fascia, which is a woman's girdle, or binding;  fasciculus, ‘a little bundle or packet’; and fascino, which means ‘to bewitch’, derives from fascinum, the evil eye of witchcraft. (37)  Each of these words in some way relates to the female realm of birth from which men were expressly excluded, and it was the specifically female constellation of religious observances celebrating women's blood rites that originally determined that which was allowed under divine law.

If, for the moment, we concur with the highly respected scholars who have scrutinized the Vestalia – that this is the day, the most sacred of days in the calendar, that was set aside under divine law for the sole purpose of ridding the Vestal temple of stercus, as meaning ‘dung’ – then we are nowhere in the pursuit of truth.  Surely the matrons of Rome were not dumping manure at the sacred portals of Vesta's holy temple.  This, therefore, is an obvious clue that the pontifices, or royal priests, charged with the drawing of the calendar, either knew not the secret of what the women “annihilated” in Vesta's honor – something that the women had done since time immemorial – or that if they did have knowledge of it, were prohibited from speaking publicly of these offerings, or that they knew and were repulsed.  Hence the use of euphemistic terminology.

In his discussion of this solemn day in Archaic Roman Religion, Georges Dumezil  clarifies the meaning of stercus.  He states that when the temple was swept out on this last day of Vesta's festival, the stercus was removed from the sanctuary and carried to a predetermined place at the waters of the River Tiber where the purgamina Vestaewere disposed of.  The purgamina, literally, the ‘filth, dirt, sweepings from the Temple of Vesta’, or to be specific, the stercus, “has been thought [to refer] to the ashes and debris from the hearth, but stercus has never meant anything but ‘animal droppings’.” (38) Dumezil mentions almost in passing, that “the solemnity with which this annual act was performed proves that it was a very archaic rite, with a meaning which was both symbolic and peculiar to the ideology of this sanctuary.” (39)  And there he stops.

Of course, by “peculiar,” he means that it was unique, but what was indeed peculiar –

in the sense that it was strange – was that such a holy rite should be so scatalogically portrayed.  For this solemn and archaic rite on the Ides of June, the time when "animal droppings" were offered at the most ancient and sacred site in Rome, and disposed of under divine decree, could be none other than the time when the placentae of children born during the year were given over to the goddess of childbirth.  Every aspect of the Vestalia hints at these placental gifts. 

But it is much more than this alone which establishes the conviction of such a view in place of any other "animal droppings," or of the commonplace belief that the stercus consisted of ashes and debris from Vesta’s hearth.  It is the particularly out of place emphasis on “filth and dung” which first attracts attention, for the Vestalia occurs at the time of the full moon when all is shimmering under the illusion of whiteness and purification, and Vesta’s priestesses, themselves, are the vision of glowing purity par excellence

These extremes stand in such stark contrast that is is impossible to imagine a recon-ciliation.  Indeed, there can be none.  We can attribute much of the dirtiness imagined here to a reflection of men’s horror and revulsion and ignorance of women’s bodily functions.  There is also, as another part of this irreconcilable dichotomy, the element of the “filth” that one thinks of as the final product of a burning fire – the cinders and ashes and other detritus – incongruously framed against the aura of whiteness which encom-passes everything that we know about the Vestals. 

This point is neatly clarified in a discussion of the important distinction between the whiteness and purity of ashes and the “blackness and dirtiness” of cinders in Bruno Bettleheim’s elucidating analysis of the situation in which Cinderella suddenly finds herself after the death of her beloved mother – a position that he finds comparable to that of the Vestal Virgins. (40) He reasons that, to begin with, the name of this young keeper of the hearth, ‘Cinderella’, is a grossly inaccurate English mistranslation of her French name,

        ‘Cendrillon’, which, like the German name of the heroine [Aschenputtel],

        stresses her living among ashes. ‘Ashes’ and not ‘cinders’ is the correct

        translation of the French cendre, which is derived from the Latin term for

        ashes, cinererh. . . . This is important in regard to the connotations that attach

        themselves to the name of ‘Cinderella’, since ashes are the very clean powdery

        substance . . . of complete combustion; [and] cinders . . . the quite dirty rem-

        nants of an incomplete combustion. (41)

Furthermore, as to the inherent meaning and use of ash as a sacred substance, we are informed that ash, having been purified by the fire, is itself the greatest of purifiers, and that the symbolism of its purity, of the whiteness of ash, is one of the rationales for its use in the rituals of mourning.

        The purity of the priestess responsible for the sacred fire, and fire itself, which

        purifies, evoke appropriate connotations also to ashes.  In many societies ashes       

        were used for ablutions, as a means of cleansing oneself. . . . [An]other conno-

        tation of ashes is to mourning. Sprinkling ashes over the head, as on Ash

        Wednesday, is still a sign of bereavement as it was in ancient times. . . . By

        making Cinderella sit among cinders, and basing her name on it, these conno-

        tations to purify and to deep mourning which are connected with her original

        name . . . have become changed in English to the exact opposite connotations,

        referring to blackness and dirtiness. (42)

The author effortlessly convinces us that despite the view that we might hold of Cinderella as a poor thing “among the ashes of the hearth,” (43) she is, in fact, in “a very desirable, even exalted position” as were the highly esteemed Vestal Virgins of the ancient world, (44) upon whom at least some part of this tale seems to be based. (45)


The importance of the Vestals to the welfare of Rome cannot be overstated, but there is something far more primitive beneath the surface.  That they were beloved by all is acknowledged even in their initiation ceremony, which occurred when they were between the ages of six and ten.

        The selected child had her hair cut off, and was solemnly admitted by the

        pontifex maximus, who held her by the hand, and addressing her by the name

        amata, [‘loved one’] pronounced an ancient formula of initiation . . . (46)

The honor of serving as a Vestal was so great that few refused.  They dedicated themselves to their goddess and to the guardianship of their State for thirty years, during which time their vows of chastity were strictly enforced.  Although much has been made of this, these vows were observed by all but a few, and in those rare instances, there is some doubt as to their guilt. (47) For many, no doubt the rewards outweighed the sacrifices, for the far-reaching rights and privileges and position of “semi-royal” (48) influence that was bestowed upon the Vestals by the State in deepest gratitude for their indispensable services was the antithesis of the lack of freedom imposed on the other women of Rome. 

The Vestals were exempted from any father authority and in most respects were considered above Roman law, and therefore not subject to it.  They could dispose of their property at will; were exempt from taxes; were handsomely paid by the State; had the power to pardon criminals condemned to execution, thus releasing them from their bonds; enjoyed the right of burial within the walls of the city – a right otherwise reserved only for emperors; they were the keepers of the emperors' wills and of other legal documents of State; they served the all-important role of  guardians of Rome’s Fate – secreting and protecting the mysterious seven sacred objects on which the fortune and destiny of the State rested; and they lived in great luxury a short distance from the circular Aedes in their splendidly appointed Atrium Vestae. (49)

Descriptions of these highly esteemed women have survived by curious way of literary reference to the Roman marriage ceremony.  We have the details, thus, of the actual everyday dress of the Vestal virgin as a kind of living icon of the veiled bride.

        On the day fixed for the wedding the bride, whose hair had been imprisoned 

        the night before in a crimson net, put on the costume which custom dictated:    

        a tunic woven in the ancient way (tunica recta), secured round the waist by a  

        knotted girdle of wool (cingulum herculeum). Over this she wore a cloak or  

        palla of saffron colour; on her feet sandals of the same shade; round her neck

        a metal collar. Her coiffure was protected by six pads of artificial hair (seni

        crines) separated by narrow bands, such as the Vestal’s wore during the whole

        period of their service; and over it she wore a veil of flaming orange - hence

        called the flammeum - which modestly covered the upper part of her face.

        On top of the veil was placed a wreath, woven simply of verbena and sweet

        marjoram in the time of Caesar and Augustus, and later of myrtle and orange

        blossom. (50)

But what of Vesta’s connection with the bride?  And why should married women make offerings to a “virgin” goddess?  Well, there is the view of certain male scholars, begin-ning with James G. Frazer in 1905, that “the Vestals may have been regarded as the wives of the fire-god and therefore bound to chastity.” (51) Countering the arguments of those scholars who disagreed with this position, Frazer used circular reasoning by suggesting that “if . . . the official costume of the Vestal Virgins was the ordinary costume of a Roman bride, this would accord perfectly with the theory.” (52)  The thing is that the fire-god in this case is a fire-goddess and, despite the bridal clothing of her devoted priestess-brides, Vesta herself was anything but a bride.  Following Ovid’s lead, we have noted that her shrine contained no statue of her, only the fire itself – or herself. (53) 

There is something abstract and illusive about this goddess despite her constant presence in, and as, the ever-burning fire.  But precedent for the absence of her human imagery is to be found in the mythology of her ancient Greek counterpart, Hestia, goddess of the hearth who, as hearth, lived at the very center of the Greek house.  Some attribute to Hestia an even wider circle of reverence and fame.

        The archaic white aniconic image of the Great Goddess, in use throughout the

        Eastern Mediterranean, seems to have represented a heap of glowing charcoal,

        kept alive by a covering of white ash . . . . At Delphi the charcoal-heap was  

        translated into limestone . . . and became the omphalos, or navel-boss . . .

        which marked the supposed centre of the world. (54)

We have an extraordinary statement about Vesta which places her at the center in the same way.  It was recorded by Plutarch (46-120 C.E.) in his biography of Numa Pompilius, second King of Rome.  We must preface this quotation with the little-known fact that Plutarch was not only a respected historian, but an interpreter of the Oracle at Delphi, where he served as a Priest of Apollo. 

        As Vesta, who herself typified the earth, was to be regarded as the centre of

        the universe, so fire, which is sacred to her, was placed in the centre of the

        City. (55)

And Ovid, having discovered after many years that there was “no effigy of Vesta nor

of the fire” (56) within or without the precincts of her dome-roofed circular shrine, reverently advised that one must, “conceive of Vesta as naught but the living flame.” (57)  Regarding the state of purity of that fire and the raison d’être for her virginity, he added: “you see that no bodies are born of flame . . . rightly, therefore, is she a virgin

. . . .” (58)  Both Plutarch and Livy concurred. (59)

To complicate the matter of Vesta’s nature even more, we learn from James G. Frazer’s very dependable accounts of Vesta’s worship that “Vesta always bore the official title of Mother, never that of Virgin.” (60)  The appellation “Vesta Mater” even appears on coins issued to celebrate the re-building of the Aedes Vestae after it was destroyed by fire in 191 B.C.E. (61) According to Frazer, there is the ancient belief, also, that because of her preoccupation with the fire, which has many archaic connections with the making of children, (62)  Vesta “made women to be mothers.” (63)

We have a fine example of this in the story of one of the earliest priestesses of the fire, the Vestal Rhea Silvia, who was the victim of rape by Mars. (64)  The mythological purpose of this tale was to ensure the inclusion and continuation of Vesta’s indispensable fire rites in the newly founded male-dominated culture of Rome.  Her “ill-gotten” sons, the twins Romulus and Remus, became the celebrated founders of this patriarchy, and she, their distinguished mother – despite the fact that she was forced to abandon them at birth so as to maintain her status at the hearth.  There is not the merest hint of a bride in this mythological bridge between matriarchal and patriarchal custom.   

The bride whom we seek and to whom the Roman women pay silent homage, is Vesta’s sister Juno, the Roman Hera, in whose month the Vestalia occurs.  As Juno herself informs the shivering and speechless Ovid as she stands before him in all her radiant glory:

        “. . . lest thou should be ignorant and led astray by vulgar error, know

        that June takes its name from mine. . . . I am celebrated at a hundred

        altars, and not the least of my honours is that of the month (named

        after me).(65)


And not only is Juno Vesta’s sister, but she is the mother of Mars to boot!  As the archetypal wife of all time, Juno is the goddess of the married woman.  Before she devolved to the exalted position of patriarchal wife (!), she was one of the oldest and most highly revered pre-Hellenic deities.  Her name was Hera.  Her only prototype was the ever-changing moon.  In the original stages of Hera’s worship, which date to about 2000 B.C.E., (66) she was simply the panton genethla, the “‘origin of all things’.” (67) 

She is described, as are her priestesses, by the epithet Parthenos, or ‘virgin’, a title that expresses her self-contained autonomy rather than her physical experience.  The latter, very narrowly constrained definition, came very much later with the infusion of the patriarchal Olympian religion.  This new male mindset relegated Hera to a subservient position as the quintessential jealous wife (originally the sister) of the all-powerful Zeus.  And it is most unfortunate that that is how most people know her today.

Through patriarchal protocol Hera becomes the perpetual bride whose “virginity” is periodically renewed in a rite of ritual bathing in preparation for the so-called “sacred marriage” rite.  In Boeotia, the oak-carved image of the goddess was accompanied by fourteen similarly carved “priestesses” in a “bridal” procession that wended its way to the sea in whose salted waters Hera was immersed.  When she emerged purified, she was wrapped in a heavy shroud of veils and placed in a cart drawn by white heifers. 

With her train of priestesses following behind, Hera was wheeled upward to the mountain peak where, in close proximity to the sky, the moon goddess and her fourteen escorts who represented exactly half a lunar month, were set afire in a house-shaped altar. (68)  Because each of the symbolic elements in this mysterious enactment is specifically linked with the lunar cycles and with the corresponding and inextricably bound menses of women, the whole thing retains its original function as an exclusively female rite –  marriage, or no.  Patriarchy be damned!

There is little mystery as to Juno’s function as a goddess who presides over the functions of women, assisting in menstruation (69) and childbirth. (70)

        The Romans openly assigned the periodicity measured by the lunar month to  

        the woman’s nature–provinciam fluorum menstruorum–of their Juno. They  

        speak of a “Iuno Fluonia,” and even recognize a period of the “abstinence of 

        Juppiter,” “castus Iovis,” which becomes intelligible only in this context--as   

        abstinence by the married couple, Juppiter and Juno. Their anthropomorphism

        in this case even goes beyond that of the archetypal couple Zeus and Hera. (71)

In fact, Juno’s responsibilities as guardian of women and children are unparalleled in number and detail.  Over time, her deep concern with “the life and functions of women” (72) resulted in her assimilation of “lesser” goddesses who quietly watched over the needs of women.  Juno's absorption of sister deities attendant on women is revealed in the numerous epithets attached to her name. 

As Iuno Pronubia she “watched over the arrangement of marriages,” (73) and was then transformed into Iuno Interduca who escorted the bride to the bridegroom’s house, (74) followed by Iuno Domiduca who “saw that she crossed the threshold” (75) with all due speed.  In the meantime, she had appeared under the guise of Iuno Nuxia, to “coat the doorposts with perfume,” (76) and was present as Cinxia, who magically untied the bride's knotted girdle of wool. (77)

Her oldest titles, those of Lucetia and Lucina, show her association with light; and it is Iuno Lucina who not only protects the pregnant woman, but shows her child the light of day. (78) As Opigena, she assists women in childbirth (79) with the help of Iuno Sospita, ‘the Saviour’, who, receiving fervent invocations from women in labour, delivers the child to safety. (80) Juno’s role as protector of confinements was broadened so that she became, in the general sense, a liberator and saviour. (81)


After Iuno Lucina had “introduced new-born infants ‘in luminas oras’,” (82) (‘to the light of day’), the life and progress of childhood was guarded by excessive means in obsessive proportions.  Among the protecting goddesses we find Cumina, who watches over the babe in its cradle; Cuba, the guardian of the child’s sleep; Iuno Rumina, the goddess who fills the breast with milk; Iuno Ossipaga, “who hardens and solidifies the bones of little children”; and Carna, who strengthens their flesh; Diva Potina, who watches over their drink; and Diva Edusa, who sees to their food.

Once the baby had survived the perils of infanthood, Levana raised the child from its crawling on the earth, while Dea Statina helped it to stand; Abeona and Adiona were complementary goddesses of the child’s “goings out and comings in.”  Dea Mens protected the mind while Minerva helped it to remember, and Numeria taught the counting of numbers.  The goddess for making wishes is Voleta; the goddess of “things to come,” Venilia. (83)  Iuno Interduca served two interconnected functions, for she not only escorted the apparently unwilling bride to her new home, but marched the wee ones to their places of learning as they dawdled along the way. (84)

Regarding these all-inclusive designations, W. Warde Fowler contends that such very specific deities were the result of a late, and therefore decadent phase of pontifical classification designed to remove the numinous feelings naturally arising from such events of life.  He cites this mode of thinking as “an example of the process by which a religious system was gradually killed by the exaggeration of its own methods.” (85)  While this is most certainly the case, such continuing dependence – albeit overblown – upon these various aspects of Juno, or we should more accurately say, upon deities who were subsumed by and operated under the mantle of the greater goddess, offers substan-

tial proof that Juno’s protection of women and their young progeny survived full-blown into late antiquity.


That Juno, even more than Janus, with whom she is sometimes ritually associated, is a deity of beginnings, is reflected in the thin sliver of the new moon with which she is always identified.  Her name “is a feminine form of iuvenis,” meaning ‘new’, an allusion to the young moon. (86)  Her name is related also to iunix, or ‘heifer’, (87) a young cow that has not borne a calf, hence virginal and, therefore, symbolically constellated with the crescent moon.  An etymological relationship has been established also with the Latin aeuum, and Greek aion, or ‘eternal’, a word that Dumezil believes “closely concerns ‘the vital force’.” (88)  We can, without question, attribute all of these meanings of Juno’s name to the ever-renewing moon.


In fact, it is Juno who “causes the month to be born.” (89) and the first days of the lunar crescent, which the Romans called the Kalends, are dedicated to this goddess of the newborn month (90) and to no other. On occasion, though, other deities claim a right to her monopoly, as for example, Cardea, goddess of hinges who is the pivot-point around which everything turns – most especially doors, but also “the ends of the earth’s axis” and “the four cardinal points.” (91)  As the guardian of those who are about to give birth, who “by her divine power . . . opens what is closed, and closes what is open,” Cardea also claims the first day of June as hers. (92) 

But Juno allows such pleasant interlopers if they are beneficent to her sphere of influ-ence, because at the first sighting of the crescent in the sky the pontifex pronounces the new month by calling her holy name, and hers alone.  She is summoned in the heavens as Juno Covella; this obscure epithet being a reference to the concept of the moon's crossing of the skies in a chariot (93) with Juno, Queen of Heaven, as the orb’s charioteer and guide.


At the moment that the crescent became visible, the pontifex publicly proclaimed the times of the Nones, that is, the ninth day before the Ides, and recited the festivals of the coming month.  As he did so, he chanted the sacred formula: “dies te quinque (or septum) calo, Juno Covella,” which means, “I call the fifth (or seventh) day to you, Juno Covella.” (94)  This touching dedication to the goddess is reminiscent of other ancient ceremonies which summoned the Queen of Heaven from her dark underworld realm, as was the custom in the women's rites of Hera, Hekate, Persephone and other goddesses of the moon. 

An historical record of such callings to the virgin moon has been passed down to us in the myth of Inanna, and in the actual Jewish Sabbath practices of Rosh Chodesh, which are still observed, at least by women, in honor of the moon. (95) And the Latin language even provides a basis for these greetings that are called out at the rising of the new moon in the word Kalend, or Kalendae (from calo, calare), from which ‘calendar’ derives, and which means exactly that: ‘to call’, or ‘summon’. (96) The Greek equivalent, which we have touched upon in the article, “I Am Baubo: The Acorn Fool,” stems from Keleos, ‘to cry’ or ‘call’, and Keleai, which is the place-name of ‘the crying women’ (97) who call to the moon at the crossroads.


An unearthly silence veiled all of Rome in the days that followed the rising of the moon.  One scholar – who literally “wrote the book” on the Roman calendar (98)  and who should, therefore, have known better – attributed this taboo on religious activity to the confusion of the calendar.  He claimed that “owing to the uncertainty about the date of the Nones, there were no other religious festivals in the interval between Kalends and Nones.” (99)  But there was nothing equivocal about the Roman calendar.  There was no mystery, per se, about the dating of the Nones; each month being assigned its very specific fifth or seventh day, depending upon the number of days in the given month. 

The Nones of each month is the ninth day before the Ides, or full moon, counted so as to include both the Kalends and the Ides.  In the months of March, May, July, and October, which were months of thirty-one days in the earliest Roman calendar of the twelve month lunar year (arranged by Numa, c. 710 B.C.E.), the Nones fell on the seventh and the Ides on the fifteenth.  In all the other months, they occurred on the fifth and thir-teenth respectively. (100) 

What lurks behind the stillness of those days, and which is the usual cause for such silence, is the well-known but largely unspoken fact that women menstruated during the dark of the moon.  All of Rome was privy to the public knowledge that that same exact period of time was specifically dedicated to Juno who was called upon to rise out of her darkness each month, and that she, above all others, was “the special object of worship by women at all the critical moments of life.” (101)   And yet, among classical scholars, there would seem to be a universal silence surrounding this ancient reality.  They know, but they dare not say.  We have just witnessed this conflict as the erudite W. Warde Fowler tied himself up in knots trying to explain away the silence which followed the rising of the new moon by befuddling us with the confusion of the calendar. 

In our present example of the obfuscation of facts known, he has rightly said that Juno

is the goddess to whom women appeal “at all critical moments of life”; these “critical moments” being a euphemism for menstruation and childbirth – both of which are calculated by the cycles of the moon.  But then he backtracks, and in so doing, con-founds the issue by saying that Juno’s “real or supposed connexion with the moon is explained by the alleged influence of the moon on the lives of women; thus she became the deity of the Kalends, or day of the new moon.” (102) 


On the first day of the new moon, an offering of a blood sacrifice of a ewe or a sow is made to Juno by the regina sacrorum, the ‘queen of the holy place’.  The site of this new moon sacrifice is the regia, or royal dwelling, which lies within the precincts of Vesta’s temple complex.  Juno was here represented in human form in the person of the flaminica Dialis.  And, as patriarchs would have it, her husband, the flamen Dialis, who was the Priest of Juppiter (Juppiter or Iuppiter, being the Roman name for the Greek Zeus, as Juno is for Hera), “occupied the position of head of the college of sacred priestesses” of Vesta. (103)

The need for an assembly, or ‘college’ of Vestals in place of a single priestess, has been explained by reputable scholars as having its basis in the blood cycles of the Vestals themselves.  Along this line of thinking, Frazer has compared the practices of the virginal guardians of the flame in Central Africa with those of the Vestal virgins.  He concludes that:

        . . . at Rome the duty of tending the sacred fire was never entrusted to a single

        virgin but always to a group or college of virgins; [for] we may suppose that

        during mature life each of them was temporarily disqualified for the discharge

        of her ordinary duties by the periodic recurrence of her womanly weakness,

        and that so long as it lasted her place at the sacred hearth had to be taken by

        another. . . . The Romans themselves, as we know from Pliny, were deeply

        imbued with this horror of menstruation, and it would be strange if they had

        exempted the Vestal Virgins from the disabilities which it must have entailed

        on other women. (104)


We know of no injunctions whatsoever against a menstruating Vestal or Flaminica, such as those designed to control “the guardians of the flame” in the excessively masculine dominated arch-patriarchal rites cited from Central Africa. (105)  These are the reactions of males with a “horror of menstruation” and of all things female, and of the fear rooted in an absence of knowledge of the female mysteries, which were so purposefully veiled from men’s eyes.  An extreme example of such male control over women’s bleeding appears in the sacred Vedic texts of the Satapatha Brahmana, where Agni, the fire and sun god, is himself a symbol of the menstrual blood of women. (106) But this would appear not to be the case in Rome.


What gets lost in all of this superimposition is the original matriarchal structure of the mysterious rites celebrated exclusively by women at the time of their synchronous menses, and after the birth of a child.  Needless to say, the assumptions about both of these colleges of fire priestesses are negated by the fact that in their sharing of a singular life, they, too, would have bled together and in unison, as all women do who live in close proximity to each other, even in our own time.  By our count, that would have left no one to tend the fire.    

Such faulty thinking additionally ignores the fact that the Vestals were in a perpetual state of taboo, a condition that was sanctified by the “undying fire” (107) of Vesta which purified them of any normal “uncleanliness.”  It was the Vestals themselves, who were continually exposed to pollution from the outside.  Precautions were taken to protect them from the pollution of death.  Cypress branches or bundles of fir twigs were hung on the doors where deaths had occurred as a warning to the priestesses of childbirth not to enter. (108)  The regulation of behavior was focused solely on and directed towards the flamen Dialis himself as the masculine intruder into a strictly female realm.

In the provinces, where older custom always predominates, there were instances of an unmarried woman serving in the role of head priestess. (109)  In Rome itself, one of the rules governing the conduct of the marriage of the flamen explicitly stated that if the flaminica predeceased her husband, then he “automatically ceased to hold office and at once lost his sacred character . . . and was moreover strictly debarred from marrying again.” (110)  In his acknowledgment of this rather stern condition of priestly powers,

Carl Kerenyi has suggested that “this has a matriarchal ring, as if it were a survival of

a system in which the woman was the real holder of the priesthood.” (111) 

Kerenyi follows his logical appraisal with a half-hearted attempt to dispute it, but his original argument endorsing a matriarchal background is too convincing, even for him.  Robert Briffault, too, writing years earlier in The Mothers, comes to the firm con-clusion that these rules provide solid evidence of remnants of matriarchal custom.

        It would be quite impossible to account for those strange rules if we were

        content to accept the old conception that Roman society had from the first    

        been strenuously patriarchal, and that priestly functions had accordingly been

        chiefly exercised by male priests. Had that been the case it would be incon-

        ceivable that priestesses, such as the Vestals and the Flaminicae, should have

        come into existence at all and should have come to occupy the sacrosanct and

        exalted position which they held in the most essential rites of Roman cult. (112)


The strict taboos that were directly imposed on the flamen Dialis stemmed from ancient practices relating to childbirth.  Among the religious laws governing his behavior were those that forbade him to wear a knot on any part of his garment or headdress.  This prohibition extended also to the presence of knots within the precincts of his dwelling, for “anyone who entered his house in bonds had to be unbound and the fetters taken out again through the impluvium, the unroofed section of the atrium, or inner court.” (113)  As Frazer has amply demonstrated, the untying of knots and the releasing of bonds is the universal custom preceding a birth so as to assure easy delivery. (114) 

How fitting then, that the Dialis of Vesta’s temple should be required to observe what some have described as “negative rules” (115) in order that the only male presence in an exclusive world of women not be allowed to interfere in any way with the powers attributed to Vesta as a goddess of childbirth.  That these were rules instituted by women themselves for the implementation of fortuitous deliveries cannot be refuted.  Such was the purpose of the requirement of those who took part in the rites of Juno Lucina, the deliverer of children to the light of day, that they “should have no knot tied on their persons.” (116)  None were admitted to the temple of Junonis Lucinae without first untying their knots, for this was the sacred place where Lucina was especially invoked for confinements. (117)

In direct conflict with the specific injunction against knots near Vesta’s precincts, is the presence of the cingulum herculeum, the bride's knotted woolen girdle, which is worn by the Vestal’s themselves.  The bride’s girdle, which was consecrated to Juno at all Roman weddings, (118) was used in many parts of the ancient world as a sacred amulet to facilitate childbirth.  This would account for the identical cognates (‘words related by birth’) in many languages of the words for ‘girdle’ and ‘pregnant’.

        The Latin word incincta means ‘girdled,’ sometimes ‘ungirdled,’ and, in the

        vulgar tongue, ‘a pregnant woman’; from this is derived the Italian incinta,

        ‘pregnant,’ Spanish estar encinta, ‘to be pregnant,’ French enceinte, ‘preg-

        nant,’ and probably German entbinden, ‘to unloose’, and ‘to deliver’.” (119)


Numerous goddesses wear the knotted amuletic girdle as an indication of their powers over childbirth.  The Babylonian Ishtar, whose name etymologically relates to Vesta’s, was revered as the protector of pregnant women and was called upon by women in labour.  She wears the girdle as her emblem of this special province as does the Nordic Frigga, whose girdle was woven of gold. (120)  In Greece, women dedicated their girdles to goddesses whom they propitiated in travail, as for example Athene Apaturia and Artemis Lochia, who was often confused with Eileithyia. (121) The Greeks believed that:

         . . . a birth was forwarded or retarded by divine beings, the Eileithyiai, hand-

        maidens of Hera; there seem to have been two Eileithyiai, one advantageous

        and one unpropitious . . . the former is called ‘the girdle-loosing’ (lusizonos).

        Later the two Eileithyiai were merged into one, who became the Roman

        Lucina. (122)


The resemblance of Eileithyia, ‘She who has caused to come’, to Juno Lucina poses the question as to her correspondence to Vesta specifically as a goddess of parturition, for in Crete as in Rome, a political aspect was attached to Eileithyia in the use of her temples as the repositories of official state decrees. (123) Lewis Farnell maintains that her name was at first an epithet of Hera in her aspect as goddess of childbirth and that later, the title was transferred to Hera’s parthenogenic daughter, Eileithyia, as a separate deity. (124)  But Eileithyia is also seen as the leading figure in a triadic grouping of goddesses

of birth, with Artemis and Hera as her associates, both of whom share the spindle as their emblem, while Eileithyia’s sacred emblem is the cord. (125) 

Eileithyia was so completely identified with her pre-eminent function of aiding women in the throes of birth that she was believed “to play a direct physical part in assisting the process of birth.” (126)  At Argos, Hera Eileithyia was depicted in a statue, now lost but recorded by Suidas, “with a pair of shears in her hand.” (127) This image “can only be interpreted as alluding to the cutting of the umbilical cord,” (128) and to her unmistakable role as a dispenser of Fate who cuts the thread of life at the apportioned time.  Eileithyia was viewed in exactly this same way on the formidably barren island of Delos, the myth-ical birthplace of Artemis, where she was invoked with the epithet Eulinos, meaning ‘with the goodly thread’. (129)  Today Delos is a wasteland of fallen temple debris, but its former glory is still evident in its place-name which means ‘to become visible suddenly, and without warning’. (130)


It is distinctly possible that Eileithyia's extensive reputation was an influence on Vesta’s worship, for Eileithyia was a goddess of great antiquity, “primaeval” and “older than Cronos,” (131) who was acknowledged not only throughout all of Greece, but in parts of Italy as well.  The extreme secrecy that shrouded the daily activities in the Aedes Vestae was present also in the temples of Eileithyia.  At Hermione, only the priestesses of her shrine were permitted to approach her holy image within its sacred precincts.  One of her statues that Pausanias was privileged to view at Aegium, was “covered from the head to the feet with a lightly woven garment,” as were her xoana, her carved wooden priestesses, at Athens. (132)  Like the Vestals themselves who daily wore the garments of the bride, the images of Eileithyia are those of a veiled goddess whose extreme sanctity is guarded from public view.  This is the image, also, of the earthly woman in a state of taboo. 

In the numerous representations of this shrouded goddess, only her hands are visible, “upraised with the palm opened outwards, [in] a gesture which belonged to a sort of natural magic or mesmerism, and was supposed to assist child-birth.” (133) Of course, there was also the unpropitious Eileithyia, whose “reverse gesture, which retarded birth, was the 'digiti inter se pectine iuncti'.” (134)  A very rough translation of this would be something like ‘fingers between themselves combing the joints’.  Ovid describes this gesture as “the clasping, or knotting of the hands in trouble.” (135)  While the aspects of entanglement and knotting are terrifyingly present in every nuance of its meaning, there is the suggestion also of trying desperately to comb out the knots.  This single gesture makes perfectly clear that the untying of knots is inextricably bound with the fate of the child.


While the girdle-loosing Eileithyia exemplifies a goddess directly facilitating or retard-ing the birth process, in other instances, the girdle itself takes on the personality of a goddess.  In present day India, during the investiture with the sacred thread, in which the young Brahman boy is initiated into manhood as a twice-born being, an incantation is recited as the girdle, woven of three strands, each of which is composed of nine threads and knotted with a triple knot, is tied from left to right in three successive twists. (136)  As this symbolic umbilical cord is tied round, the incantation is recited three times:

        Here has come to us, protecting us from evil words, purifying our kin as

        a purifier, clothing herself, by the power of inhalation and exhalation,

        with strength, this friendly goddess, this blessed girdle. (137)

To imagine these words being recited by an exclusively male group, chanting “clothing herself,” et cetera, is a difficult task, but females are expressly prohibited from this most sacred of Hindu ceremonies.  The girdle itself is the clue that this rite of the twice-born is a male adaptation of an earlier exclusively female birthing rite.  The bride’s girdle, or cincture, has been adopted in other ways by male-dominated religions, where the most ancient symbol of the forgotten female realm proliferates.  On ecclesiastical garb, even the lowliest monk adorns a rope that hangs knotted from his waist.


Wherever the knotted girdle was employed by women, whether formed of a simple bandage, woven of rope, skillfully shaped from the skins of serpents or she-asses, or

laid out on the woman's belly in the shape of “an equilateral triangle or a collection of magic[al] words arranged in three rows of three,” or three upon three, (138) its purpose was the amuletic easing of parturition. 

The she-asses’ assistance in childbirthing may have been the real rationale for the animal’s front-and-center presence at the Vestalia, although their participation is traditionally ascribed to the braying of the ass who awoke Vesta (or Hestia, as the case may be), thereby preserving her state of purity as her virginity was about to be violated by Priapus.  It is said that the phallic god’s act of sacrilege was so contemptible that “even the ass, a symbol of lust, proclaimed Priapus’s criminal folly.” (139)  Whatever one wishes to believe, we may be sure that they were she-asses only who were adorned with garlands of violets and miniature loaves of bread hanging about their necks in wreaths as they led the procession of Vesta’s festival on June 9th. (140)


When the untying of knots was not enough, there was a special goddess to whom the mothers who had had unsuccessful births could turn.  Her feast fell in December, on the very opposite side of Vesta’s summer rites.  The movements of the sun, and the rites that follow its path, provide us with further clues into the mysteries of Vesta’s connection with the married women of Rome.

        There is no public festival marking the equinoxes or the summer solstice,

        and no divinity patronizes them, but the winter solstice has its own goddess. 

        These shortest days of the year are a pathetic period, a crisis in nature, which is

        climaxed on 21 December by the bruma. (Bruma is the aspect of death rep-

        resented by the shortest day of the year.) But if bruma . . . designates the  

        solstice, a particular point in the curve of time, the uneasiness and disquiet       

        . . . caused by the gradual shortening of the daylight hours [it] is better ex-

        pressed by another root, which has also produced the word angor. At every

        stage of the language it is good Latin to use angustiae to denote a period of

        time which is felt to be too short, to be distressingly or grievously short. . . . 

        Religion experienced these angustos dies. A goddess and a cult therefore

        guaranteed that they would pass. (141)

In the instance of the Winter Solstice, that goddess is Angerona.  Georges Dumézil,

in his prodigious study of Archaic Roman Religion, lists several goddesses in whose province such relief fell, such as Orbona who “seems to have taken care of parents

who had lost their children.” (142)  In his description of Diva Angerona's feast, the Angeronalia, which was celebrated on December 21st, the usual date of the Winter Solstice, he makes particular and pointed mention of the statue at whose feet the pon-

tiffs offer sacrifice on that day.

        . . . her mouth [was] bandaged and sealed, and also, according to one witness,

        with one finger on her lips in the gesture enjoining silence. . . . The Romans

        would not have portrayed Angerona in such a particular way unless the band-

        age and the finger on her lips had corresponded to something they knew about

        her, which could only be her determination to maintain silence. Nor do we have

        a right, on the pretext that silence is sometimes a characteristic of death, to at-

        tribute to the goddess an infernal meaning . . . . (143)


On the basis of a further investigation of the Latin words relating to her name, however, one finds that each is explicitly indicative of death resulting from difficult birth or pre-maturity.  The root ango, with specific reference to the throat, means ‘to press tightly, to strangle, or throttle’.  In a general sense, it implies ‘to hurt, or to cause distress’.  When used with reference to the mind, it means ‘to torment, or make anxious’.  Angor is both ‘the compression of the throat, hence suffocation’, and ‘mental distress, anguish or trouble’.  Of place, Angustiae means ‘narrowness, or a narrow place’; and of time, ‘shortness’.  Angustus, when referring to space, suggests areas that are ‘narrow and confined’.  Describing other physical restriction, it translates as ‘tightly drawn reins’;

of any other kinds of restriction, it specifies ‘limited and confined’; while, of circum-stances, Angustus describes situations that are ‘precarious, critical, and uncertain’. (144) 

In every respect, the etymologies of Angerona’s name definitively point to difficult births.  Her sealed and bandaged lips allude to the restrictions spoken by her name.  Angerona’s silence is the silence of the dead child.  But this goddess of constricted time and place and life, is credited, also, with angerere, ‘raising up’, an identification which specifically refers to the course of the mid-winter sun as the day begins to lengthen following the shortest day of the year. (145) This, the darkest and most dangerous day of the year, is the unspoken day of Angerona, the unnamed Winter Solstice goddess who helps the sun out of its dark and wintry silence.  Like Orbona, she, too, raises the spirits and soothes the souls of the anguished women who have lost their babies.


Angerona’s solstitial complement and opposite is a goddess of growth, Mater Matuta, or ‘Mother Dawn’.  Matuta's name stems from maturus, meaning ‘ripe, mature, perfect, developed and timely’. (146) The name, like the word, is derived from the concept of “being just in time.” (147)  Eventually the word Matuta “came to be the deified name for the ‘break of the day’.” (148) “As the welcomer of the newborn Sun, Mater Matuta could naturally be prayed to for fortunate births and successful confinements.” (149)  Outside of Rome, where her identity was merged with the propitious Eileithyia, “the midwife god-dess,” (150) her sanctuaries were the repositories of enormous quantities of votive offer-ings in imitation of infants bound in swaddling clothes. (151) These long, narrow band-ages of cloth, which were wrapped around the baby after the umbilical cord was cut and tied, were the thank offerings to a timely goddess of birth to whom the child was now unbound by virtue of the gift of life. 

On occasion, these dichotomous goddesses of the solstices appeared together, as they do on the sarcophagus of a child, whom we can assume was timely born through the graces of Matuta, and must have lived but a short space of time before its untimely delivery into the hands of Angerona.  The image speaks with eloquence in its depiction of the draped Matuta who stands before her temple with torches aloft in each hand in the gesture of Eileithyia.  Just beyond the temple, on the sinister, or left side, stands Angerona who holds her right hand to her lips. (152)


All of the angeronian elements are driven out at the strange rite of the Matralia, which was celebrated ten days before the Summer Solstice on the 11th of June at the exact midway point of the Vestalia.  The Matralia honored Matuta, the nurturing mother of the warming summer sun, whose light of longer days suggests growth and long life.  In light of our evidence, we would venture to call her the goddess of the Summer Solstice.  The antiquity of her rite is verified by its listing as a day of sacred observance as early as 710 B.C.E. in the agriculturally based calendar of Numa. (153)  The mysterious doings of the festival have been obscured both by its age, and by the failure and/or refusal of scholars to connect the dots between one to another of the rites of women, even those so closely bound in time as those under discussion here.

The stated purpose of Mater Matuta’s June rite, which was conducted by women who had been married only one time, (154) was to offer prayers for pueri sororii, their sisters’ children.  The specificity of these prayers has puzzled Classical scholars for years because they have sought parallels by focusing, in vain, on the role of the aunt in other cultures.  That “no satisfactory solution of the problem has yet been found,” (155) is owing to a failure to recognize the secondary meaning of sororii, which refers to not only a blood sister, but can extend to a close friend also.  The “sisters” then, offered prayers to Matuta for the children of their friends who, most fortunately, had not found it necessary to call upon Angerona to soothe their grief and loss. 


Of the two main elements that comprised the rite, the primary aspect was that of the physical holding of infants, not by their mothers, but by friends or “sisters” of the mothers, who commended the children to this goddess of timeliness. (156)  The name of the rite is itself self-explanatory, for Matralia, from mater-alia, means, ‘other than the mother’.  It is possible also, that in their prayers for their sisters’ children, they imple-mented a form of sympathetic magic, a kind of mysterious exchange, which was meant to emanate directly through the child of the successful mother to her less fortunate childless “sister” in whose arms the babe was held.


The second element of the rite was a thing that was ordinarily forbidden at Matuta's temple, namely, the inclusion of a woman of the “servile class,” who was slapped and then driven out of their midst. (157)  Despairing of an explanation of the slave woman’s highly visible presence in the midst of this otherwise elitist gathering, and in an effort to “restore” “the earliest Romans . . . to their proper intellectual dignity,” (158) one tradi-tional scholar has attempted to establish a correlation between the matriarchally inspired rite of Matuta with that of Usas, the patriarchal Goddess of Dawn who appears in the Vedic Indian Rg Vedas. (159) 

The images expressed in the hymns, those of the brilliant light of dawn dispelling the dark and foreboding shadows of night, are projected onto the Roman rite as an aristo-crats vs. slave scenario.  Despite the fact that there is no correlation whatsoever between the two rites, in this contemptuous interpretation, the women in the Matralia are viewed as beating up on “a slave woman who must represent, in contrast with themselves, the wicked and base-born element.” (160)  The unformulated inference underlying these sentiments is that the slave is dark-skinned as night.


Setting such unashamedly blatant sexism and racism aside, one finds that there are perfectly reasonable interpretations more in keeping with the matriarchal tone of this solemn rite that are closer to home in their reliance upon the actual Roman and Greek practices surrounding birth, of which we have voluminous documentation.  The most obvious conclusion is that as a slave, the woman normally tabooed from such a gathering of women is a woman fettered and bound, at least in the figurative sense.  The exclusion of slaves from the rites of the Greek Demeter and Persephone was undoubtedly based on such thinking, as was their ostracism from the temple of Hera, Juno’s Greek counterpart, when sacrifice was offered. (161) 

The Roman slave in Matuta’s rite is surrounded and driven away by women whose con-finements have ended unproductively.  The slave represents the knots that hinder easy delivery.  She is the angeronian element with bandaged lips who strangles, suffocates, and tightly draws the reins of the lifeline that bonds mother and child, thus cutting short the life of the fetus in the womb.  The figuratively shackled slave must be expelled, as must all that is knotted and bound, so that a future delivery can be assured, so that next time around, a placenta can be offered to Vesta in Juno’s month.


Throughout all of these rites concerning the births and deaths of children, we are dealing with the element of timing.  The propitiousness of time is the secret that hides beneath the Latin names of “three hooded figures” (162) known as the Parcae.  Their collective name derives from parere, literally translated as ‘to bring forth’, (163) ‘to appear, be-come evident’, (164) and is thus employed as “a common noun meaning ‘childbearing’.” (165) 

Like the Greek Moirai, with whom they are completely identified as goddesses of Fate, each member of this Roman triad is differentiated with respect to function.  Whereas the Moirai appear as Clotho, ‘She who spins the thread of life’, Lachesis, ‘She who meas-ures the length of the thread’, and Atropos, ‘She who cuts the thread at its determined time’, (166) the Parcae derive their individual names from specific terms of pregnancy.  Nona brings a nine-month premature birth, Decuma, a ten-month normal delivery, and Morta, a stillbirth. (167) 

Although the normal term of pregnancy is commonly described as being nine (solar) months, the 280 day term is actually calculated in lunar months.  Counting from the last menstrual period before conception to the day of birth on a normal 28 day cycle, the pregnancy lasts for ten lunar months.  The chilling reality of the Parcae’s nomenclature strikes at the hard facts of life and death in the ancient world.  A goddess was needed at every turn.


To see the nearly invisible thread that binds the rites of the solstitial goddesses of Silence and Dawn with those of Vesta and Juno, we must examine a very well-documented pro-cession of the Vestals that occurred each year on the day before the full moon Ides of May.  As the rite preceded the Vestalia by exactly one moon, it bears a direct prepara-tory relationship to the final rites of purification held in June.  The Argei, as the rite was called, was attended not only by the Flaminica Dialis and her train of Vestals, but also by the pontifices (‘bridge-makers’), the official priests of the State religion.  Their majestic procession halted at the oldest bridge in Rome, a wooden bridge of oak that spanned the River Tiber.  There the Vestals cast into the waters (168) twenty-seven human-shaped figures fashioned from tied reed bundles.  The Argei, as the figures central to the rite of the same name were called, were firmly “bound hand and foot”

by ropes. (169)


Since its earliest mention, ancient observers and modern scholars alike have puzzled over the intent of this rite whose only offering was that of so many identical images serving, according to the majority of writers, as surrogates for human sacrifice. (170) As Frazer has stated, the “various and discrepant explanations . . . only tend to show that the true meaning of the rite was forgotten, apparently lost in the mists of antiquity.” (171)  A cloud still permeates the grim presence of the twenty-seven bound and fettered human-shaped victims of the river’s flow.  Admittedly there are questions, but the answers are not to be found in human sacrifice.  The one thing that all are agreed upon is that the very public mid-May rite of the Argei was the "greatest of the purifications” of the year. (172) 

This is Plutarch’s view, which is supported by Frazer, who additionally supposes that “the Argei represented the accumulated demons and ghosts of the whole year, including the spirits of all the human dead who had died in that time.” (173)  We note that Ovid has made a definitive connection between the casting of effigies into the river by the Vestals, and the purging of the temple of Vesta in the month following. (174) Is it not then likely that amongst the ghosts of the “human dead” are Angerona's host of fetal spirits, sym-bolically disposed of in May in order to purify the city and to clear the way for the presentation of the placental souls of the living in Vesta’s shrine on the immediately following Ides of June?


It is Frazer's contention that the effigies represent an annual sacrifice to the river god, who in may places favors innocent children as his victims. (175)  He also expounds the theory that the quality of whiteness suggested in the meaning of the word Argei is but a hidden reference to the ashen pallor of the “Sheeted Dead.” (176) He bases his position on the dating of the Argei rite, following, as it does, on the heels of the Lemuria, a three day festival of the expelling of ghosts that ends on May 13th. (177)  In the context of our tentative interpretation, however, the innocent children whom Frazer supposes are the subjects of the surrogate offerings, could only be those of Angerona’s innocent victims. 

In other places, as perhaps, too, in Rome, the favored times of the river spirit’s thirst for unwitting sacrifices are those of Walpurgis Night, that is, the Eve of May 1st, or May Day; and Midsummer’s Eve, or Day, which is celebrated three days after the Summer Solstice of June 21st (178) over which Matuta rules.  Matuta is, in fact, a divinity of the sea, (179) and by means of a simple method, namely the counting of days in the religious calendar, it would appear that it is she to whom the Argei are offered.


According to Ovid, whose evidence is based on “sure authorities,” (180) summer begins on the day preceding the Ides of May, that is, on the 14th, the day when the twenty-seven figures are given up to the river.  The beginning of this season calls for the clearing away, or purification, of things left behind from the dangerous period of the Winter Solstice.  Angerona’s premature and stillborn shades are a harsh reminder of this dark winter time, and they, like the effigies, were bound and constricted in the darkness of the maternal sea-womb. 

Furthermore, each figure represents a day in the calendrical counting.  Exactly twenty-seven days after the May 14th Argei, follows the rite of Mater Matuta on the 11th of June, during which women who have lost their babies to Angerona offer up their prayers to Matuta, the goddess of the Summer Solstice, bringer of timely births, by showing her their “sisters’” babies to whom she has shown the light of day.  Ten days hence, possibly in deference to Decuma, the goddess of Fate named for the ten month term of pregnan-cy, we have the solstice itself.  (This may account for the addition of the ten laurel-wreathed men at the end of the train of twenty-seven virgins in Juno's procession of purification.  Another plausible explanation is that the ten decemviri were in some way connected originally with Decuma and the ten month term of pregnancy.) 

Kerenyi, alone, has seen a connection to Juno in the name Argei, meaning ‘those of Argos’; Argos being the major site of worship of Juno’s identical twin, the Greek Hera. (181) But he does not pursue his own line of inquiry.  In seeking definitive solutions to the issues raised by the Roman Argive “rush dolls,” (182) one must follow his insightful clue along its logical path to the very end.  The pieces thus fall into their natural place by the tracing of this route, which not surprisingly leads us directly to the moon rites of Hera-Juno herself.  Hera’s sacred land of Argos offers the first hint, for the name of her highly esteemed province means ‘shining’, ‘bright’, or ‘glistening’, (183) as if to suggest a bathing in the silvery white light of the full moon.  Swift movement and ‘flickering light’ (184) are also implied in the place name.


The brightness of the full moon is that which illuminates and which is reflected in Juno's Argei on the day prior to the Ides of May.  This rite, which is one of lustration, is one also of illumination and enlightenment.  In Roman religious belief, water, which is the element of the Argei, and fire, which is the element of Vesta and the Vestalia, both had "lustral power," (185.) that is, the power to purify.  That fire possessed this power is evident in the roots of the word lustrum itself.  Its associations, which are specific to illumination, derive from a base meaning ‘to light and to shine’. (186)  This is evident also in its related language roots, which variously refer to ‘fire, flame, and a ray of light’. (187)  Vesta’s keepers of the flame are thus at the very center of this rite of purification.


Because the same means of purification apply to the newly delivered woman as to the menstruous woman, the taboos and accompanying fears of “pollution” are identical. (188)  Likewise, the goddesses who rule over women’s monthly bleeding, who are bound, as are their human counterparts at the dark of the moon, and who are presumed to bleed with them, are the very same sympathetic deities who rule over and attend to the business of childbirth.  Juno, as we know, is one so favored. 

So if we follow Kerenyi’s thread, it leads us to the conclusion that it is Juno’s shadow entourage who appear at the Argei rite, imaged in the form of “rush dolls” tied with ropes to show the nature of their binding to the moon, the orb that rules the counting of days in the natural calendar of all women.  The twenty-seven Argei’s number is thrice nine, each division of nine days standing for one aspect of the three-phased moon.  Juno herself as the new moon, the shinning Queen of Heaven, would be the first day of the twenty-eight day cycle.  The twenty-seven idols represent the remaining days. (189)

The idols are purified by water in the swift moving currents of the River Tiber, having been cast off by Vesta’s holy priestesses, who are also charged with the regulation of the river’s flow. (190)  The rush figures are purified yet another time as the river’s fast course wends its way to Ostia, the repository of the Roman world’s richest salt beds some sixteen miles away, and then they float out into the brackish Tyrrhenian Sea.  As we shall see, salt was an indispensable element in the lustral rites of the Vestalia, for which this May rite was, in most every respect, but an elaborate preparation.


The preparations for the purification rite of the Argei itself were actually begun on the 16th and 17th days of March, directly following the Ides of that month. (191) On those days, the twenty-seven Argei figures were carried in solemn procession to the chapels, of which there were the same number and name, each representing a district of Rome. (192)  There they remained secreted, each in her respective chapel, until May 14th, the day before the Ides, when they were brought forth out of hiding and carried through the streets in the company of Vesta’s priestesses, who were led by the Flaminica Dialis. (193)  The Flaminica, who “was thought of as in the closest possible relationship to the goddess . . . [Juno,] mourned as the twenty-seven rush dolls . . . were thrown into the Tiber.” (194)


These days of elaborate procession have been viewed as sad and mournful for the reason that the Flaminica Dialis was forced to observe rules of celibacy, and was forbidden to comb her hair, or to cut her nails during this period.  This same taboo was in force also from the first day, or Kalends, of June, until the sweeping of the Vestan temple on the 15th day, or Ides, (195) a fact that shows the unequivocal connection of these rites one to the other.  That the Flaminica was, by way of sympathetic magic, under the strictest of rules in these instances, she enumerates to the ever-inquisitive Ovid:

        “Until the calm Tiber shall have carried down to the sea on its yellow

        current the filth from the Temple of Ilian Vesta, it is not lawful for me

        to comb down my hair with a toothed comb, or cut my nails with iron,

        or touch my husband . . . .” (196)

The Flaminica, under whose province the favorable and unfavorable days for solemnizing marriages was determined, (197) then advises,

        “Thou, too, be in no hurry; thy daughter will better wed when Vesta’s

        fire shall shine on a clean floor.(198)

During the Vestalia, all of Rome stood under the protection of a taboo.  The imposition of such strict observances points emphatically in the direction of the binding aspects of women’s blood rites.  In this way, the ancient rites are accomplished in the sacred calendar of a male-dominated warrior state – before their very eyes, and without the slightest clue as to the harmonious flow of women's bodies with the natural universe here reflected.



In time, Juno’s sacred blood rites were themselves purified and extended into the secular life of the State and its attendant militaristic bloodshed.  Her rites of purification were felt to be essential “in times of national disaster.” (199)

        On one notable occasion the irregular shedding of blood in political strife at 

        Rome spread a sense of impurity among the people, which the senate thought

        it well to remove.  The murderers of Tiberius Gracchus (a sacrosanct tribune)

        professed to have secular justification for their crime, but, on the advice of the

        keepers of the Sibylline books, a sacred embassy was sent to the temple of

        Ceres at Henna in Sicily, and a choir of twenty-seven maidens sang in pro-

        cession at Rome. (200)

In these periods of grave portent for the nation, it was the thrice-nine virgins’ appeal to Juno that always saved the day.  Again and again, they were called upon to purify Rome of its gloomy shroud.

        At Rome in 207 B.C.[E.], during the long struggle with Hannibal, when the

        popular mind was more than usually perturbed by the report of alarming 

        portents, the pontiffs decreed that thrice nine virgins should march through the

        city singing a hymn in honour of Queen Juno. (201)

All manner of ominous horrors and occurrences of “unnatural phenomena” befell the populus of this period, not the least of which included reports of rivers of blood flooding the town gates; rains of stones, blood, and chalk; swarms of bees in the forum; attacks by wolves; black crows, symbolically identified with death, nesting in the shrine of Juno Sospita, the saviour-goddess of women in labour; the striking of temples and of sacred groves by lightning; yet-to-be-born babies bellowing from the womb; androgynous births in great numbers; a woman who changed her sex; visions of altars suspended in the sky; and simultaneous collective visions of foreign soldiers mounting the hills of Rome, the conviction and seriousness of which, caused the alarm to be sounded through-out the city. (202)  Panic and fear dashed through the streets as rumor spread.  It was as though the whole population was dreaming aloud and all its dreams were nightmares.  In point of fact, there was an element of truth in at least some of what they saw.


On one typical day during which this mass hysteria gripped Rome, the twenty-seven virgins had been called upon to purge the city of the pollution caused by the birth of a baby of abnormally monstrous size and indeterminate sex.  The young priestesses were learning the words to a recently composed hymn dedicated to Juno by the poet Livius Andonicus (c. 284-204 B.C.E.) when the temple of Juno in which they stood was struck by lightning.  “To expiate the prodigy the soothsayer took measures proportioned to the gravity of the occasion.” (203)  An edict was issued summoning all married women living within a ten mile radius of Rome to gather in solemn conclave on the Capitol.  Together, the women decided to give contributions from each of their dowries towards the pur-chase of a golden bowl to be presented to Juno at her temple. (204)


Upon their presentation of the gleaming bowl, the women purified themselves and offered sacrifice to their goddess.  This was followed by an elaborately detailed public rite of lustration.  Two shimmering white cows, in reflection of Juno as the new-born crescent in the sky, were led into the city through the Gate of Carmentalis, (205) the gate named for the ancient goddess Carmenta, the prophetic chanter of spells and incantations from whom women sought knowledge of their fortunes in childbirth. (206) 

Behind them were carried two images of Juno carved from cypress wood, followed by the twenty-seven virgins clad in long robes who were joined together by each taking hold of a long rope which extended from one to the other.  And as they marched, beating out the rhythms of the hymn, they chanted to their virgin goddess.  Trailing behind were the decemviri, the religious commissioners, ten in number, who were crowned with wreaths of laurel.  Wending its way through the streets of the city, the illustrious procession mounted the hills to the temple of Queen Juno, where the cows were sacrificed and the sacred images of the goddess placed in her shrine. (207)


The extent to which the elements of the ancient blood rites remained in the hearts of patriarchally dominated women is unknowingly here described down to the last detail of the ever-present rope that binds.  Sad to say, the words of the solemn chant are nowhere recorded.  Livy’s “regrettable decision” (208) to omit the poet’s words on the basis that “the words of the hymn were no doubt good enough for those rude and uncultivated days, but . . . they would sound unpleasing and graceless” (209) in his time, (59 B.C.E.-

17 C.E.) is proof enough of his abhorrence of things female.  Livy is echoed by a male chauvinist of our own time who, with sacrilegious condescension, has paraphrased and expanded upon Livy’s words far beyond the call of duty, saying that they “sang in Juno’s honour a song which to later taste seemed barbarously uncouth, beating out the time with their feet.” (210) 


Although the ancient origin of such gatherings of women to conduct “rites of purifica-tion” was known in Livy’s time, it was a subject tabooed; an uncomfortable remnant of matriarchy persisting, and still powerful, in excessively patriarchal times.  And how useful the adaptation of these early blood rites to their own purposes of ridding pollu-tion.  At the very least, the usurpation of these rites acknowledges women’s steadfast control of the sacred realm under even the most extreme conditions of patriarchal domination, euphemisms, or no.


As one digs more deeply, it becomes unmistakably obvious that the central focus of the Roman calendar, albeit sometimes hidden, is the clearing away of pollution so as to remove any obstacles from the path of birth and/or rebirth through the Feminine.  The celebrations of the New Year are no exception.  Ovid remarks that the Kalends of March announce the beginning of the new year, (211) at which time “a new fire is lighted in her [Vesta's] secret shrine.” (212)  This day marks the celebration of the Matronalia, a feast restricted to married women.  By way of patriarchal domination, it is also the birthday of Mars.  Ovid, who is well-versed in the origin of such rites, inquires of Mars, “why matrons keep thy feast [on this day], whereas thou art apter to receive service from men?” (213)  Mars offers the self-satisfied explanation that “mothers duly observe the rites on my day, because Ilia [Rhea Silvia, priestess of Vesta] was happily made a mother by me.” (214) 


Mars here refers to his rape of the first Vestal, Rhea Silvia, whose state of innocence is revealed in the very meaning of her name: ‘born in the woods’.  The story runs, that as she paused awhile for respite from the heat of the day, she fell asleep under the cooling boughs of a willow tree.  We know that she was on anciently established sacred ground beneath this billowing tree, whose purifying effects on women were well-known.  The willow's Latin name of agnus castus, was etymologically descended from the Greek word agnos, (215) meaning ‘pure, chaste, unsullied, holy, sacred’. (216) 

With all the solemn respect due in the telling of such a story, Ovid explains that:

        Silvia the Vestal . . . went in the morning to fetch water to wash the holy

        things. When she had come to where the path ran gently down the sloping

        bank, she set down her earthenware pitcher from her head. Weary, she sat her

        on the ground and opened her bosom to catch the breezes, and composed her

        ruffled hair. While she sat, the shady willows and the tuneful birds and the

        soft murmur of the water induced to sleep. Sweet slumber overpowered and

        crept stealthily over her eyes, and her languid hand dropped from her chin.

        Mars saw her; the sight inspired him with desire, and his desire was followed

        by possession, but by his power divine he hid his stolen joys. Sleep left her;

        she lay big, for already within her womb there was Rome's founder. (217)


And as if in a dream, but not quite sure whether it was a dream, the sleepy Vestal afterwards describes her experience as “Useful and fortunate, I pray, may that turn out which I saw in a vision of sleep. Or was the vision too clear for sleep?(218)

The intense morning heat and the fullness of the shady willows suggest May as the time of this unknowing conception.  Ovid describes her term of pregnancy in the language of solar astronomy, but calculates the due date by using the ten month form of lunar reck-oning: “When two heavenly signs remained for the bright god to traverse, before the year could complete its course and run out, Silvia became a mother.” (219)  Modern calculations are only slightly more precise, so that if we were to count backwards two-hundred-sixty-six days, the number of days considered as a normal term of pregnancy from the moment of conception, we would arrive at the time of conception approxi-mately one week prior to the Vestalia. 

But Rhea Silvia, in her ignorance of the act, would have had to count backwards two-hundred-eighty days (which equals ten lunar months of twenty-eight days each) to the first day of her last menstrual period, as was the accepted custom among the Roman women.  She would have arrived at a conception date of May 16th, the day after the Ides, which immediately followed the rite of the Argei.  Ten lunar months later, on March 1st, the day on which, as Mars has told us, "mothers duly observe the rites" of the Matronalia, the holy Vestal went into labor at the rising of the March moon, whereupon,

        the images of Vesta are said to have covered their eyes with their virgin hands;

        certainly the altar of the goddess trembled, when her priestess was brought to

        bed, and the terrified flame sank under its own ashes. (220)

And so the eternal flame was extinguished as a result of this brazen act of Mars, and

also thus rekindled on this day every year.  This myth relating the birth of the twins, Romulus and Remus, the official patriarchal founders of Rome, born of an unwitting virgin who had dedicated herself to the guardianship of the sacred fire, was shockingly contrary to ancient matriarchal tradition.  The reverberations were still being felt in Ovid's time, as is clear in his telling of the offense of sacrilege, for he imagines the gravity of this act to be so severe that Vesta's altar trembled and her "terrified" flame flickered to dust.  This is all very dramatic – which is Ovid’s endearing style – but the fact is, that a new fire was always rekindled on the first day of the New Year.  Mars just inserted himself (no pun intended) into an age-old practice.


Mars is the proud intruder, also, at the Matronalia on this first day of spring, the begin-ning of the new year that celebrates Juno's new moon aspect of rebirth.  On this Kalends of March, while women propitiate Juno Lucina with offerings and invocations, Mars, it would seem, inappropriately claims this day as his own.  Because all the Kalends are sacred to Juno alone, and to those few other like-minded deities who share her power over new beginnings, it would appear that the god of war and strife must steal this new moon day by way of conquest, hence the rape of the virgin priestess. 

As Ovid addresses Mars, we learn that it was not in his capacity as a deity of war that Mars was overcome with lust for Silvia, “but in his more primitive quality of a fertili-zation spirit.” (221)  The great chronicler of the sacred Roman year is a most persuasive man.  We hear Ovid almost pleading with Mars to return to this ancient and honored role:

        Come, warlike Mars; lay down thy shield and spear for a brief space, and from

        thy helmet loose thy glistening locks. . . . From thee the month which now I

        sing doth take its name. . . . After the pattern of Pallas take a time to put aside

        the lance. Thou shalt find something to do unarmed. Then, too, wast thou

        unarmed when the Roman priestess captivated thee, that thou mightest bestow

        upon this city a great seed. (222)

The Roman calendar, which still mirrored the ancient ways in Ovid’s time, noted the first day of March simply as femineae kalendae, or ‘feminine callings’. (223)  This would normally be the day, as it was with the opening of every lunar month, that Juno’s faint crescent of a moon would be called upon to come forth from her darkness in the heavens. But the 1st day of March is doubly hers because it is, additionally, the first day of the old New Year.  In very ancient Rome, the day began as an annual celebration of Juno Lucina who assists women in bringing forth new life and, by extension, it was also a celebration of the spring earth which brings forth all of creation.  As one observer has noted along a more abstract psychological thread, the elements of rebirth in the festival of the New Year “occurring nine months after the Vestalia mysteries” (224) imply a “par-taking of one's own feminine nature . . . essential to the experience of regeneration and rebirth." (225) 

Unwavering in his curiosity about the petty details of the calendar, Ovid continues his line of questioning, quoting Mars word for word about what he has to say regarding the festivities of this day.  Mars is rather surprisingly sentimental about it all, but we must keep in mind that Juno is his mother and, after all, it is his birthday!  This is what Mars tells us, not only about his personal involvement in the first day of the month named for himself, but about the original cause for the ancient celebration of the Matronalia on this first day of spring and first day of the year:

        ‘tis right that Latin mothers should observe the fruitful season, for in their

        travail they both fight and pray. Add to this that where the Roman king kept    

        watch, on the hill which now bears the name of Esquiline, a temple was

        founded, if I remember aright, on this very day by the Latin matrons in honour

        of Juno [Lucina]. . . . The answer that you seek stands out plainly before your

        eyes. My mother loves brides; a crowd of mothers throngs my temple; so pious

        a reason is above all becoming to her and me. Bring ye flowers to the goddess;

        this goddess delights in flowering plants; with fresh flowers wreathe your heads.

        Say ye, "Thou, Lucina, hast bestowed on us the light (lucem) of life"; say

        ye, "Thou dost hear the prayers of women in travail." But let her who is with

        child unbind her hair before she prays, in order that the goddess may gently un-

        bind her teeming womb. (226)


By a circuitous route that has taken us back and forth through the counting of calendrical days and their attendant rites, we now return to the proceedings of the Vestalia, to the morning of June 9th, the day on which the doors of the storehouse of the temple of Vesta were opened to the married women of Rome.  The heroic she-asses were there to lead the procession, bedecked with violets and tiny little loaves of bread wreathed about their necks. (227)  On that morning, and in the days to follow, the women entered in great numbers, each with a special offering for their goddess.  Within the sacred precincts stood large wide-mouthed vessels with narrow-angled bases.  These futiles, as they were called, contained the holy water that, each day, the Vestals brought from a spring, the same spring that Rhea Silvia had visited on the day of her rape by Mars.  The arduous task of water-carrying assured that water would not overflow from pipes on site, spilling over onto the hallowed ground of the fire temple. 


Classical scholars have attributed this supposed horror of allowing water to touch the earth to the notion that the floor must be kept dry so as to assure that the fire would remain eternally lighted.  The explanation is absurd.  Ovid tells of an earlier time when Vesta's holy altar was surrounded by water and the women entered her precincts bare-footed, as they did still in his time.  A woman of great age, whom he meets in the neighborhood of the temple during the festival of Vesta, sits him down, and shaking her head in the negative, explains in trembling voice:

        “This ground, where now are the forums was once occupied by wet

        swamps: a ditch was drenched with the water that overflowed from

        the river. . . . Where now the processions are wont to defile through

        the Velabrum to the Circus, there was naught but willows and hollow

        canes . . . . Here, too, there was a grove overgrown with bulrushes

        and reeds, and a marsh not to be trodden with booted feet. The pools

        have receded, and the river confines its waters within its banks, and

        the ground is now dry; but the old custom survives. (228)

The rest of the venerable old woman's tale he passes over in silence in deference to the protection of the sacred mysteries. (229)  From his conversation with this eyewitness, we learn that water, per se, was not repugnant to the Vestals.  As archaeologists have since verified, the temple was situated amidst the damp and marshy swamps, just as she de-scribes.  But why was so much trouble taken in the placement of water in the futiles, the special wide-mouthed vessels?  The vessels themselves contain the answer, for futile lit-erally means, ‘that which easily pours out’.  In the metaphoric sense, emphasis is placed on quantity. as for example, ‘to pour out, shower with, give abundantly, rush out, give birth to’.  When emphasizing distribution, it takes on the meaning of ‘to spread, extend, flow freely’. (230) 


In other words, every aspect of the word futile implies a direct connection with partur-ition.  This explains why negative associations have attached to the word in patriarchal usage, where futility is synonymous with things fruitless, abortive and useless.  Its original usage as an abstracted literal description of the act of giving birth, graphically illustrates the rationale behind the presence of the wide-mouthed futiles which stood in the Vestan temple.  They represented the womb of the pregnant woman whose child had easily poured out, and who had now come to offer thanks to Vesta with the gift of its placenta.  These vessels, which gave the appearance of schematic models of the uterine chamber, were purposefully designed to contain the placentas which, on June 15th, were swept from the temple, carried through the Porta Stercoraria‘The Filthy Gate’, as it was called – and then deposited into the Tiber River. (231)


The priestesses, too, made thank-offerings to their goddess.  The sacra consisted of flat cakes made of grain and salt, the mola salsa, or salted mill-stone, specially prepared by the keepers of the flame.

        From the Nones of May to the day before the Ides, that is, from the seventh to

        the fourteenth of May, the three senior Vestal Virgins gathered on alternate

        days (probably on the odd days, omitting the even days as unlucky) ears of

        spelt, which they deposited in baskets . . . . These ears the Virgins with their

        own hands roasted, pounded, and ground, and . . . laid the grist up in store . . .

        [until] the festival of the Vestalia on June 9, [when they] made a sacrificial

        cake or meal (mola), mixing or sprinkling it with the salt which had also been

        prepared in a special way. (232) 

Thus, the gathering and preparation of grain and salt, the two ingredients used in the flat cakes, immediately preceded the purification rite of the casting of the twenty-seven idols into the river.  Another name by which these sacrificial cakes were known is, casta mola, an indication of their ‘pure, chaste and holy’ status. (233)  The cakes, which were white and perfectly round, like the full moon, were baked on the 9th day of June for this next solemn rite of purification.  Ovid reports that on the morning of the 9th, "the mills are empty and silent" throughout Rome. (234)  Only the Vestals produce cakes on this solemn day, and there is an implicit and direct relationship, a symbolic constellation, between the baking – or rising – of these pure, painstakingly prepared cakes in the oven, and the rising belly of the pregnant woman.  As Erich Neumann has so rightly observed, “baking, like weaving, is one of the primeval mysteries of the Feminine.” (235)  And it becomes clearer and clearer, the closer one looks, that this is a day reserved for the celebration of the mysteries of pregnancy and birth.


It is also understood, certainly it is implied, that the religious intent of the mola salsa is to be construed as one of a consubstantial merging of flesh and blood symbolized by the elements of its composition, namely, grain and salt.  The flat salt cakes offered to the goddess of childbirth by her virgin priestesses, and presumably exchanged with her sup-plicants, are a “like for like” literal equivalent and symbolic token of the actual flesh and blood offerings of the placentas of the new-born.  This is explicitly clear in the meaning of the Latin word placenta, derived from the Greek, which quite literally means ‘a flat cake’.  The flat salt cakes of the afterbirth are given as thank-offerings.  As a gift of thanks for the child each represents, they bespeak the true meaning of a eucharistic communion, or ‘thanksgiving’, with the godhead.  While the women celebrated this most ancient rite of communion, all of Rome stood in solemn silence.  Thousands of years later, we see this exact attitude in the suppliants who, with hands folded and heads bowed, stand silently during the Eucharist, or Mass of Holy Communion. 

We note with great interest, that in the year 730, the English monk Bede documented objections by the Church to an identical offering of flat cakes made to the ‘Mothers’ on Christmas Eve.

        During the eighth century at least one Church decree (from the Council of 

        Trullus, 706) had forbidden some rather crude ceremonies carried out by the

        faithful honouring the confinement of the Mother of God. The round flat 

        cakes or placentae, once used at the Roman domestic festivals, were baked

        in honour of the afterbirth of the Divine Mother. Christmas Eve was her

        night. (236)

Despite the fact that the Church fathers persisted in obliterating so much of what was special in the ancient world, much of it endured.  Many “crude ceremonies” are still carried out by people who regard the placenta in a special relation with the moon.  The conjunction stems from the belief that the placenta, as well as the child that it nourishes in utero, is formed from the menstrual blood, and that it, like the menses, is controlled by the forces of the moon. (237)  In our so-called “refined,” “civilized” world which is said to have ‘brought us out of our former condition of savagery and barbarism’, (238)

the period of gestation is still counted as ten lunar moons, not as nine solar months, as

is commonly believed.


In his thorough inquiry into our matriarchal roots, which became the three-volume masterpiece titled The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Insti-tutions, Robert Briffault found that in the primitive construct, the placenta is sometimes seen as an egg laid by the maternal moon in which the embryo develops.  The egg is the “container of the immortal and divine double” of the soul. (239) It was for this reason, he explains, that “the placentas of the kings were the object of extraordinary care, special temples being erected for their keeping.  At the new moon the royal afterbirth was brought out, exposed to the rays of the luminary, and anointed with butter.” (240)  The eternal bond with the placenta was in evidence also among the tribes of the Upper Nile, whose beliefs demanded that “the sacred kings had to be buried where their placenta had been deposited at the time of their birth, so as to be reunited [in death] with that portion of their spirit.” (241)

This connection of the placenta as a kind of twin of the new-born child is still very much in evidence.  I must admit that I was surprised to learn that among today’s most educated classes of Europe, it is a common practice for mothers to preserve the umbilical cord, which is either “worn as a talisman, or given to the child at different crises of life to suck.” (242)  Perhaps as a result of a renewed interest in a return to nature, this idea of placenta as twin has surfaced in America also, as is evidenced by a reference to the “birth of the placenta” in the widely respected women's health guide, Our Bodies, Ourselves. (243)   

Throughout the more “superstitious” communities of the modern world – which is to say, those that are grounded in the sacred – the placental afterbirth and the umbilical cord are guarded or disposed of with painstaking care.  In most of these cultures, the midwife has always seen to the safe placement of the placenta in earth, air, fire or salt-water, according to the demands of cultural custom.  And while the rules governing the ritual actions vary from place to place, the intent is the same throughout the world.  There is a very “primitive” feel of magic to all of this, which becomes quite evident with but a few examples. 

In Haiti, where extremely elaborate rules pertain, the midwife was required to bury the placenta during the hours of daylight only.  She was called upon to dig a special hole for the burial of the placenta in the earth of the birthroom, either directly under the bed where the mother was delivered of her child, or beneath the threshold entrance, which is the place of new beginnings.  Salt was added, as both a precaution against the Evil Eye of jealousy and envy that so threatens the new-born, and as a means of stimulating its rapid dissolution. (244)


A meticulously elaborate Southeast Asian birth rite was imbued with similar protective measures and magical incantations on the part of the midwife.  She ritually measured the umbilical cord after stroking it three times; tied it off by knotting it with a ritual cord of unspun cotton; placed it on a traditional healing root, which lay on a bed of soil, and then cut the cord.  A chicken feather was then obtained from a bird cautiously chosen from among the many who freely walked in the mother's yard.  With the feather, the midwife gathered spider webs from the high places of the house.  This served as a re-minder of the act of creation, which the spider continuously performs as she spins her web.

Then, from a coconut, which is most often called a coco-de-mer, and which is worshipped as a natural form of the vulva of the goddess which brings forth all of life, the midwife extracted oil.  This she mixed with paint which, although we are not told, was in all likelihood a variety of red ochre traditionally used in the sacred rituals of goddess-worshipping cultures to represent blood.  The mixture was applied to the severed cord, and after the careful cleansing of the placenta, the two were placed to-gether in a heavily salted pot, and left at the back of the holy fire to dry.  The "Mothers of the Fire" were among the deities to whom prayers and supplications were then ad-dressed. (245)


In Vesta’s Rome, there was a so-called “minor” goddess who acted as a midwife, and with very little thanks, too.  Her name was Sterculina, known in some circles as “the dunghill spirit.” (246)  She was, in truth, the guardian of the child's placenta – the stercus – as it was referred to in the calendar marking Vesta’s festival day of the 15th.  Such was the attitude of the patriarchal priests of Rome, who attached a negative or, at the very least, concealed, euphemistic meaning to the placental remains by referring to them as “dung,” and “filth,” and “animal droppings.”  Their pejorative appellations were of little consequence.  Nothing changed in the observance, by women, of their matriarchal rites.  Their concerns were not the concerns of men.  The women conducted themselves as they always had.  They were enslaved in every aspect of their secular lives by patri-archy, but in religious practice, they were virtually autonomous.  The placentas of their new-born got washed out to sea by whatever name the priests chose to call them.

Nineteen centuries after the writing of Ovid's painstaking record of the Roman festival of Vesta in his Fasti, the careful disposal of the spiritual remnants of childbirth was an openly observable practice on the other side of the world in the Hawaiian Islands where, “in every district and on every island there were places reserved for [the] disposal of navel cords.” (247)  Almost always, these were located in areas where the tidal action of the salt water would wash them out to sea. (248)

The “purifying” elements of salt, fire, and water, so purposefully visible in Vesta's rites, would seem to be a formulaic requirement of the universal rites attending afterbirth.  Of the power of salt, a sacred substance whose actions to ward off evil forces one can plain-ly see at work here, there, and everywhere, the highly-informed scholar of all things magical, E. A. Wallis Budge, has said that “its efficacy was greatly increased if it [was] heated . . . .” (249)

In Christianized England, as in many other places, it was believed that:

        The time between birth and baptism was especially dangerous, and both

        mother and child were open to attacks from evil spirits. The child par-

        ticularly was liable to be stolen by fairies, and a changeling left in its 

        place. To avert these perils, a piece of iron, or some salt, or the father’s coat

        were put on the bedfoot, or the bed itself was ‘sained’ by carrying a lighted

        torch or candle round it. The protective power of fire and salt against all 

        forms of evil was very great. (250)


The wide-spread belief that “where a mother and new-born child are lying, fire and light must never be allowed to go out” (251) lest the evil spirits cause them harm, is evidenced on a grand scale – like all things Roman – in the eternal flame of Vesta as goddess of childbirth.  It is said of Vesta that “she sees all things by her light that never fails.” (252)  This undying devotion is present also in a number of symbolic associations pertaining to the esoteric essence of salt, namely: immortality, permanence, fidelity, wisdom, knowl-edge, and life itself. (253)

Strange as it may seem, the elements of salt, blood, moon, fire, and water, which merge to become one in the purifying rites of the birth-goddess Vesta, are found also in the distilling fires of the exceedingly misogynist alchemists of the Medieval period.  We will not bore you with the explicitly sexist details of the gynophobic alchemical commen-taries on salt as it functions in the “Great Work”.  Suffice it to say that there is a conflu-ence of these very same elements through its three stages of nigredo, albedo, and rubedo, the progressive phases of blackening, whitening, and reddening. (254)  It is not surprising, really, that these works of transmutation provide further insight into the inner workings of the Feminine mysteries, for they are based on the identical three stages of the lunar cycles of women: Virgin (white), Mother (red), Crone (black).

The flat, white, perfectly round, full moon cakes of the Vestalia are echoed in the al-chemical equation of salt and moon, which itself amplifies the mystical phenomenon of what C. G. Jung describes as “similia similibus curantur,” or “like cures like”. (255) 

He tells us also, that salt was simply a “term for the moon, another manifestation of the more general principle of ‘the feminine’.” (256)  And like the moon, which regulated women’s monthly bleeding and controlled terms of gestation, salt was believed to represent “the reproductive power of the feminine.” (257)  And to complete the alche-mists’ identification of the salt-moon-female connection, who should we find as the primary representative of the many manifestations of the alchemical Luna, Lady of the Moon?  None other than Juno as archetypal wife, who was, after all, one with the moon. (258)


The theme of purification of women, by women, which arises again and again in the rites of Rome, is precisely that which the Vestalia annually addresses under the light

of the full moon.  There is the implication of a communion, of the sprinkling of holy water, of an offering and a thanksgiving.  These very elements which form the core of the Vestalia, survive in a corrupted and debased form in a rite known in the High

Church sectors of Christianity as the "Churching of Women."  And what a far cry it is from Vesta’s woman-centered rites.  This wholly dematriarchalized Christian rite pro-jects a simultaneous state of uncleanliness and sanctity on the woman who has given birth.  It directs that the tabooed woman who presents herself to the priest to be purified shall wear a white veil, a “custom” that was originally enforced by law in the reign of James I. (259) 

In the Anglican rite she is enjoined to remain just within the church door, being forbid-den entry to the church proper until after she has been “purified” with the lustral water by the silent priest who stands before her in his pure white vestments.  Following the blessing and a thank-offering, the left end of the priest's stole is placed in her hand, by which she is led to the altar to receive Communion. (260)  Despite the unbelievable level of sexism inherent in this rite, we must not fail to point out the still lingering, though barely perceptible, matriarchal presence in the taking of the left end of the stole, for the left side is always representative of the distaff, or maternal side.

Until fairly recently, in many parts of Europe, there were superstitiously charged restric-tions engendered by folk-belief that were also imposed on newly delivered women ven-turing outside their homes before they were "churched", or "purified of their issue." 

        Before that ceremony she is distinctly regarded as impure.  Special precau-

        tions must be taken to drive away the powers of evil. . . . When she goes to

        be churched (usually on the fortieth day), she steps over a hatchet or a knife

        fixed in the threshold of the house; a flaming brand or a packet of salt is

        thrown after her. On her return a feast is provided to celebrate her re-entry

        into ordinary life. (261)

The custom of “churching,” whose oldest extant forms date from the Middle Ages, is based on the Jewish rite of purification, as directed in Leviticus 12:1-8, in which a young lamb and a turtle-dove are offered for sacrifice forty days after the birth of a child. (262)

        And when the days of her purification are fulfilled for a son, or for a

        daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and

        a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the

        tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: who shall offer it before the

        Lord, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the

        issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.  


This, too, is the exact purpose of the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed on February 2nd in the Christian Church, forty days after the Winter Solstice birth of Christ on December 25th.  These dates of observance were not there from the beginning, for it was not until the year 353 or 354 C.E. that Pope Liberius formally established the date of Christ’s birth.  Henceforth, the Feast of the Nativity, as it was now to be called, was to be observed in Rome on the 25th day of December, (264) and it was to be entirely separated from the January 6th celebration of Epiphany which, from about 325 C.E. onwards, served as a commemoration of the baptism and the birth of the Christ child. (265)

A prime example of how the virulent erosion of the Pagan faiths was accomplished by the new religion of Christ is to be observed in the invention and introduction of Christmas into the ecclesiastical calendar for the 25th day of December.

        This was also the date in the Julian calendar of the winter solstice, the

        day on which the sun is reborn, also celebrated by adherents of the oriental

        cult of the sun-god Mithras. It was the practice at the time of Emperor 

        Constantine (312-37) to syncretize pagan and Christian beliefs. As Christ            

        was the sol verus, ‘the true sun’, it was appropriate that his birth should be

        commemorated on that day. It had the added advantage of being nine

        months from 25 March, the assumed date of the Incarnation . . . . (266)

If one counts the number of days from conception to birth here made dogma, the ex-cessively overlong term of pregnancy is way beyond the realm of possibility, miracle, or no.

Now, many scholars, including myself, have long been under the impression that since the dating of Mary’s Christian feast was determined solely by the requirements of Jewish Law, which mandated that she be purified on the fortieth day following the birth of her son, – that date of birth having been established as, or at the very least, observed on, January 6th (Epiphany) prior to the institution of Christmas – that the Feast of the Purification would necessarily fall forty days after Epiphany, around the timing of the Ides of February. 

There is, in fact, an entry in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica to that effect which describes this “most ancient of all the festivals in honour of the Virgin Mary." (267)

        A description is given of its celebration at Jerusalem in the Peregrinatio of

        Etheria (Silvia), in the second half of the 4th century. It was then kept on

        the 14th of February, forty days after Epiphany, the celebration of the

        Nativity (Christmas) not having been as yet introduced . . . . The celebration

        gradually spread to other parts of the church, being moved to the 2nd of

        February, forty days after the newly established feast of Christmas. (268) 

The unsigned author of the Britannica “Candlemas” article goes on to say that, although Justinian established Candlemas in 542 “throughout the entire East Roman empire, . . .  its introduction in the West is somewhat obscure.” (269)  To be sure, there is a great deal of confusion about it, but the erudite author of the article on “Christmas” in the 1911 Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, from whom we learned the surprisingly precise specifics of the dating of Christmas, has this to say about the introduction of Candlemas in Rome:

        . . . Reference must be made to the Procession with Lights on the Feast of

        the Purification (Candlemas [q.v.], Feb. 2). The facts cannot be established

        with certainty, but, according to Belethus . . . , [Pope] Liberius instituted this

        litany, which clearly marks the end of the Christmas season and could not

        have existed until Christmas was fixed on Dec. 25. (270)   

There can be no question that the Pagan celebration of Candlemas after which the Christian interpretation was patterned, marks the end of the winter season and the beginning of a new day in the calendar.  There is a sweeping away of the old and the lighting of fires on a new floor, as it were.  The folk record provides a plethora of examples to show that it is the Eve of Candlemas, and not the Twelfth Night after Christmas –also known as “Epiphany” – that is thought of as “the last day of the Christmas revels.” (271)

Shakespeare stretched the merriment of the season to the limits by presenting the first performance of his Twelfth-Night; or, What You Will on Candlemas night at the Middle Temple in London on February 2, 1602. (272)  One might say that he was sorely tempting the Fates by such a late presentation, for in his day, superstitions reminiscent of Pagan beliefs about the turning-points of the year still prevailed, and even some two hundred years later, it was held that “if every remnant of Christmas decoration is not cleared out of church before Candlemas-day, there will be a death that year in the family occupying the pew where a leaf or berry is left.” (273)

As for the precise date on which the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin was celebrated with processions of candlelight, there can be no doubt that it varied from place to place and time to time; and that these variations between the fourteenth and the second of February depended solely upon whether Epiphany or Christmas was observed as the birth date of Christ, and on nothing else.

There were, however, those within the Church who objected to the establishment of any day of purification dedicated to the Virgin Mary, despite the abundant biblical evidence for both the requirement for and the accomplishment of Mary's ritual purification after childbirth.” (274)  The rationale for their objection was that the need for purification was in direct conflict with the concept of her inherent purity and with that of the incarnate god’s whom she miraculously conceived.  Behind this argument, we hear the Council of Trullus once again opining on the issue of purification – the very same subject that arose in our earlier mention of their taking exception to the offerings of flat cakes on the occasion of Mary’s lying-in on the Eve of Christmas.

        There is a canon . . . in the Council of Trullus, against those who baked a

        cake in honour of the Virgin’s lying-in, in which it is decreed, that no such

        ceremony should be observed, because she suffered no pollution, and there-

        fore needed no purification. (275)

Over a period of many centuries, the observance of Candlemas was plagued with so many alternate permutations that the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics devotes over four densely detailed pages to its discussion of this feast. (276)  Changes in the inter-pretation of the ultimate purpose of this sacred day are still being implemented by the Roman Catholic Church.  Since John Paul II’s Second Vatican Council, this day of purification and blessing of the light “has been referred to as the Feast of Presentation of the Lord, with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasised in favor of” (277) the secondary incidents of the Presentation, and of Simeon’s prophecy that resulted from that appearance.  This thinking is now so ubiquitous that if you search for “Candlemas” in Wikipedia, you will be involuntarily redirected to an entry titled “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.” 

Oh, how the light grows dim!




In better times, the celebrations of Mary's Candlemas feast bore a distinct relationship to the sacred day of the highly esteemed Celtic fire-goddess whose name is variously spelled Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Bridget, Bride (‘the Exalted  One’), (278) and many other ways besides, depending on the place of her worship.  Her fire festival was celebrated on February 1st.  Brigid’s presence was required also at the Purificatio Sanctae Mariae, at one time considered one of the “Greater Festivals” of the ecclesiastical year. (279)  This Mass, which celebrated Mary’s purification, was also the day on which the sacred can-dles used throughout the year were anointed and blessed and which, since its inception in ancient Rome, had been called festum candelarum sive luminum, or Candlemas, (‘Candle Mass’). (280) The underlying intent of each of these festivals can be summed up in the Latin root of the word ‘candle’, candere, which means ‘to shine with whiteness’.

There exists definitive proof that in the earliest part of the 11th Century, the Archbishop of Canterbury, former Bishop of London, regularly employed a Missal for this Mass in which St. Bridget’s former role as goddess of the eternal flame was very much in evidence.

        The prayers for the Blessing of the Fire and Candles and the prayers for the

        Mass are both in the Sanctorale. The Blessings come immediately after the

        Collect for the Festival of St. Bridget on Feb. 1, and as there is a leaf want-

        ing in the MS before the ad Missam of the Purification, . . . [there are  

        scholars who] think it possible that the candles were blessed on St. Bridget’s

        day [because the page has been removed. The earlier 10th cent.] Leofr. A

        has no mass for S. Brigid’s Day . . . – a fact which is important in its bearing

        on customs of Candlemas Eve [particularly with regard to its dating]. (281)

Before Brigid became a revered Christian saint, she was one of the most important goddesses in all of Ireland, and certainly the most beloved.  She is listed in Cormac’s late 9th century Glossary as “a goddess whom poets worshipped.” (282) The poet Robert Graves adds that “it was in her honour that the ollave [poet] carried a golden branch with tinkling bells when he went abroad.” (283)  But she is far, far more than this.

Long ago, when such information was hard to come by, Graves, in his The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, gave us but the merest glimpse of her greatness:

        In mediaeval Irish poetry Mary was equally and plainly identified with

        Brigit the Goddess of Poetry . . . . Brigit as a Goddess had been a triad: the

        Brigit of Poetry, the Brigit of Healing and the Brigit of Smithcraft. In Gaelic

        Scotland her symbol was the White Swan, and she was known as Bride of

        the Golden Hair, Bride of the White Hills, mother of the King of Glory. In

        the Hebrides she was the patroness of childbirth. (284)

For a goddess of such renown, there is surprisingly little about her in the mythological record.  But without knowing a thing about her other than that she was revered by poets, we would know that she must be a Druid, because in Ireland, only Druids were poets (and healers and smiths).  Being possessed, additionally, of the extraordinary Druidic skills of divination and prophecy, (285) she would be a poet of the very highest order.  She was, indeed, a poet’s poet.  Evidently her words hit their mark, for some assert, in spite of a somewhat questionable etymology, that her name, Breo-Saighit, means ‘fiery arrow’. (286)

We know for certain that the fiery Brigid is a member of the illustrious tribe of faerie known as the Tuatha Da Danaan (‘Tribes of the goddess Danu’).  Her father, Dagda (‘the good god’), a solar deity so powerful that he was said to have made the sun stand still, is its chief.  Other names by which he is known tell us something about the nature of the daughter as well as that of the father.  “He is also called Aed (aed=fire), . . . and Ruad Rofessa (‘Lord of Great Knowledge’), and described as the god of druidism or magic (draidecht) of the Tuatha.” (287)

Brigid’s brother, the famed Aengus, or Oengus in Mac Oc, is the god of the Winter sun who presides over the dark half of the solar year and calls the glorious temple of Newgrange his home.  His belovèd is Caer, the extraordinarily beautiful woman of his dreams who visited him every night for a year entertaining him with sweet music, and then vanished as suddenly and as mysteriously as she had arrived.  At long last, her hiding place was discovered at Loch Bel Dracon where, on the Eve of Samain (‘Summer’s End’), Aengus found her leading a circle of enchanted swan-maidens and rescued her from this curse by diving into the waters to join her.  As they embraced, he transformed himself into a beautiful white swan, the pair took to the air, and Caer re-mained with him always at Bruig-na-Boinne (‘Fairy-mound of the Boyne’), more familiarly known as Newgrange. (288)

There are commonalities among the members of this family everywhere one looks. Constellations of familial symbols and shared traits quietly weave in and out of these stories, the cumulative effect of which is to tie its members together, whether explicitly linked or no.  One such example that comes immediately to mind is the shared attribute of the swan.  Brigid, too, is sometimes seen as a white swan, most noticeably in Scots Gaelic tradition, where she declares unequivocally:

        “I am the White Swan,

        Queen of them all.(289)  

Aside from the distinctly Druidic ability to transmogrify, which is shared by numerous members of this solar-cult, Brigid’s association with the swan as a bird of prophecy and destiny additionally has a wider, more universal symbolism which is part and parcel of her role as a goddess of childbirth.  This significant aspect of her solar-identified myth-ology is further enlarged by her position in the calendar as the goddess of the new-born year. (290)

Although we know that Brigid is the daughter of Dagda, and that her brother Aengus is the result of a steamy love affair between Dagda and Boand, her mother is nowhere named.  There is a mysterious silence surrounding her identity.  She remains a complete unknown.  And though I have not read of it anywhere, and it just came to me in a flash, I can say with absolute certainty that her mother is Boand, or Boann as she is also known, for whom the River Boyne is named. 

There are very many obscure clues which lead, finally, to this conclusion, but one must have a clear understanding of the underlying symbology, not only of the stories sur-rounding the very accomplished Boand herself, but of the mythologies of these other family members as well.  We have presented a detailed analysis of the extraordinary feats of all three in “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus”, (291) so shall not recount them here, except, of course, as they may illuminate us with regard to Brigid. 

The illustrious Boand is a fierce proponent of the ways of matriarchy.  The most telling of all the tales about her is the story of her defiance of her husband’s rule that none but a select few were permitted to approach a carefully guarded secret well, that same mysteri-ous well that we hear of many centuries earlier in the ancient tale of Fionn, where it is known as Boann’s wellThe learned Druids believed that all of the knowledge of the world resided in her sacred well which was shaded by nine magic hazel-trees whose crimson nuts dropped into the water and were then eaten by the salmon who thus gained knowledge of all things.  The Druid who could catch such a salmon and eat of its flesh would attain the wisdom of the world. (292) 

In the opening lines of Boand’s story in the Dindshenchas (‘The Lore of Places’), we are told of her purposeful counter-clockwise left-handed circumambulations around this well so sacred that the most noble rivers of the world were said to have originated from it.  Their meandering geographical paths are enumerated to show that the majestic rivers flow effortlessly from one to the other until, finally, they return to their source of origin which has, in the meantime, overflowed its bounds to become the sacred river named for Boand.  This is the same river from which the Druids seek the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, and it is Boand herself who is the ultimate source of that wisdom. (293) 

Even with the crucial details left out, just knowing these few highly condensed facts of Boand’s extraordinarily rich mythology allows us to see the indisputable connection between two seemingly isolated facts: first, that it is the sacred hazel which poets seek when there is a fire burning in their heads (294) and, finally, that it is the daughter of this source of wisdom whom they worship and whom they honor with the tinkling of bells. 

This goddess of poetry, goddess of fire – who has a fire in her own head – has too many such intrinsic links to her unacknowledged mother for their mother-daughter relationship not to be a mythological reality.  The very meaning of Boann’s transparent name, ‘white cow’, provides another unmistakable bond, for it seems that cows, as well as ewes, were especially sacred to Brigid.  We have this evidence not from what we know of the god-dess herself, but from what we know about the later saint of the same name who, with the onslaught of Christianity, was patterned after Brigid to such an extent that the orig-inal goddess all but disappeared except in the remotest of places.  We have not lost complete sight of Brigid only because we are able to perceive her greatness through the imitation of her glory by the highly revered saint who bears her name.

This is what Miranda Green has said about the saint in her Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend:

        As a saint, Brigit took over many of the attributes of the pagan goddess. Her

        birth and upbringing were steeped in magic: she was born in a druid’s house-

        hold and fed on the milk of magical, Otherworld cows. . . . She supplied

        limitless food without her larder ever dwindling; she could provide a lake of

        milk from her cows, which were milked three times a day . . . . (295)

The author of a Middle Irish homily on St. Brigit as translated by the respected 19th century Celtic scholar of Irish texts, Whitley Stokes, took pains to emphasize the saint’s connection with the Pagan world of Faerie by offering an exact description of these “magical, Otherworldly cows.”  He says of Brigit that “she is fed from the milk of a white red-eared cow.” (296)  This detail is not an insignificant bit of information because it is generally, though not always, the case in the Irish stories that “the chthonic cow is depicted as red with white ears.” (297)  Based on this specific description and the context in which it is given and, in view of the fact that there can be no mistaking that Boann’s name means ‘white cow’, it would not be in the least far-fetched to conclude that the white otherworldly cow is none other than the great Druid faerie queen Boand. (298)

Of the saint, we know also that in Roman Britain and Gaul, “her healing powers . . . [were] exercised largely through poetic incantation at sacred wells.” (299) Clearly, this, too, was a direct inheritance from Boand to Brigid to Brigit.  And though St. Brigit’s wells are still there in Ireland for all to see, the ultra-patriarchal demands of Christianity require that her suppliants walk clockwise around her healing waters, thus stifling the original and authentic intent.  Inasmuch as that purposeful intent had not a little to do with the calendar as it traced the apparent movements of the sun through the course of the year, we must not fail to point out that the very strong calendrical ties of this solar family were also severed with the introduction of a saint to replace a goddess. 

With the Christian construct blocking the view, no longer could one easily connect the dots from Aengus, the god of Winter who rules over the dark half of the year, and whose sacred day of November 1st is Samain (‘Summer’s End’), to the goddess Brigid and her February 1st day of Imbolc, which brings a dramatic changing of the light and the first hopeful sign of Spring.  Each stands on exact opposite sides of the Winter Solstice, the precise point at which the sun makes a dramatic reappearance inside the darkened chamber at the temple of Newgrange.  The monolithic stone that marks the entrance with its clockwise-counterclockwise spirals of the sun speaks unequivocally of the ancient ways. (300)

It has been remarked, as though it had been an astonishing coincidence, that it is “most significant . . . that the feast day of St Brigit took place on 1 February, the pagan Imbolc, which was the festival of Brigit the goddess.” (301)  Let us be clear.  There was nothing at all coincidental about the church’s methodical appropriation of the goddess’s sacred day.  This quarter-day of Imbolc, falling midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, was a most significant day in the Celtic calendar.  It was, and is, the first day of Spring in the Celtic year. (302)  It was, and is, a time of new begin-nings, a time when huge bonfires – fires of purification – are lit on the hillsides through-out the land.  On this day, Brigid “was said to ‘breathe life into the mouth of the dead winter’,” (303) a beautiful thought which no doubt expanded into the belief about this goddess of healing, that “her breath revives the dead.” (304)

This time of the year is the season for the birthing of lambs, (305) and as these animals were considered to be under Brigid’s special care and protection, she was, by extension, "traditionally associated with the lactation of ewes." (306)  And although the exact meaning of the word Imbolc has yet to be definitively defined, all of its presumed meanings circle ‘round a single theme, for it “has been translated variously to mean ‘ewe-milk’, ‘parturition’, ‘lustration’, or ‘purification’.” (307)  Not only is each of these interpretations of considerable relevance to our discussion of the keepers of the flame, but each, in its own way, highlights the fact that Brigid's day was an occasion for pro-pitiating this revered goddess as the patroness of childbirth. (308)  This is the very sticking point over which the Church fathers tripped in their long skirts in their efforts to obscure the direct source of their newfound mythologies.

When Christian doctrine overpowered heathen belief and an eponymous saint was named to assume the goddess Brigid's powers, Imbolc was pushed aside to become in its stead, the day dedicated to the Feast of St. Brigit.  One scholar, with what is to be hoped is a typically Irish flair for self-deprecating humor, has charmingly described the forced conversion of the Irish to Christianity.  She has said, “so entrenched was the devotion of the Irish to their goddess that the Christians 'converted' her along with her people.” (309)  With this transfer of power, St. Brigit became the Blessed Virgin's midwife, (310) a substantially reduced thematically appropriate designation for a renowned former goddess of childbirth once removed.  There was a merging also of Brigid’s and the Virgin Mary's Feasts of Imbolc and Candlemas, which we have earlier described with reference to the rites conducted within the church itself. 

The way in which the considerably less formal rituals of this unified holy day were celebrated by women in their homes, is told in early eighteenth century descriptions

of the “folk practices” of the remote western islands of Scotland.  It is said that on Candlemas Eve before going to bed,

        the mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up

        in women's apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and

        this they call Briid's Bed; and then the mistress and servants cry three times,

        'Briid is come, Briid is welcome.' (311)

A variant of this ritual from the same period conveys similar, but less elaborate, preparations of the childbirth bed on the Eve of Candlemas:

        A bed was made of corn and hay near the door.  When it was ready, some

        one went out, and called three times: 'Bridget, Bridget, come in; thy bed is

        ready.' One or more candles were left burning near it all the night. (312)

Traces of the ritual practices of the former goddess of childbirth were openly displayed on a more conventional “civilized” level by the prevalence of taboos against the entry of males at St. Brigit's shrines.  These were restrictions of an exactly similar nature to those which had been strictly enforced at Vesta's holy site.  Brigit has been described as “a divinity so intensely related to the feminine force that no man was allowed to pass be-yond the hedge surrounding her sanctuary.” (313) Through centuries of transformation, Brigit's fires burned bright.  Like Vesta's shimmering flame of eternity, Brigit's sacred fire at Kildare (‘the Church of the Oak’), some thirty miles west of Dublin, was “tended by the Daughters of the Flame . . . who lived inside the fence of Bridget's shrine and could be looked upon by no man, to insure that the purity and sanctity of the fire would be protected.” (314)

St. Brigit’s virgin priestesses numbered nineteen, in reflection of the nineteen-year cycle of complete lunation that the moon follows before repeating her exact cycle again.  While Brigit’s keepers of the flame were thus reconciled with the cycles of the moon, she herself, as the numen of the flame, was, like her goddess predecessor, identified with the sun.  She was even said to have been born at the moment of the rising of the sun (315) on the threshold of a doorway, “neither within nor without a house.” (316)  Thus is the timing and placement of her birth between two worlds a situation which not only typifies the mystical world of faerie, but establishes a direct familial link between the goddess Brigid and her brother Aengus whose birth story is entirely framed between two worlds. (317)

On a more Christian note, it was widely-rumored that when the fiery saint took the veil and pledged her vows of chastity, “a pillar of fire rose from her head.” (318) There would seem to be at least a trace of her former life as a poet in this allusion, and this is true also of another story told of the saint, something that could be said of her sanctuary as well, that “the house in which she dwelt blazed into a flame which reached to heaven.” (319)  These powerful associations with fire were echoed in one of the earliest hymns that was sung in her honor, a song that was sung for at least a thousand years until it was silenced in the 18th Century:

        Brigit, excellent woman, sudden flame,

        may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom. (320)


On numerous occasions, the lingering birth-fires of Brigit threatened the Church's prevailing anti-Pagan attitude, and so the flames were extinguished by official decree.  Such was the case in the year 1220 C.E., when the nuns, who had long since replaced Brigit's priestesses at Kildare, were ordered to abandon their duties as guardians of the Pagan flame. (321)  As the politics of the Church turned to other matters, Brigit's fire was quietly rekindled under the guardianship of the church sisters.  Some say that her per-petually burning fire was kept alight until the reign of Henry VIII, (322) when Pope Leo X excommunicated his "Defender of the Faith" over matters of divorce, and then, all of England.  In an act of retaliation, Henry was named as absolute Head of the Church of England by the Act of Supremacy.  Between the years 1536 and 1539, Henry's Vice-regent over Church matters, Thomas Cromwell, vigorously suppressed the monasteries throughout the land and confiscated their property. (323)

The dousing of Brigit's flame and the desecration of her sanctuary was doubtless joy-

fully executed, but despite the harsh measures taken to eradicate all traces of the Roman Church in England, the "Popish ceremonie of burning Candles to the honour of our Ladye" (324) continued to illuminate the land.  In the north of England, Candlemas became known simply as a festival of married women, (325) while in the more remote places, such as we have seen in Scotland, Bride long continued to be propitiated as a goddess of childbirth with no apparent break in tradition.  The Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary was comfortably embraced, being but a continuation of the celebra-tions of her ancient Pagan predecessors. 

The perpetuation of Vesta's holy fires did not fare so well.  After the Emperor Constan-tine's edict making Christianity the official State religion of the Roman Empire in 313 C.E., the celebration of her rites slowly began to wane.  It took almost seventy years for Vesta’s rites to grind to a complete halt.  The end could not have been easy.  We know the name of the last Vestal.  She was virgo vestalis maxima Coelia Concordia, who, to the best of our knowledge, stepped down from her official duties in 380 C.E., (326) two years before the confiscation of the temple by the Christian Emperor Flavius Gratianus (Gratian), the sworn enemy of Rome’s ancient polytheistic religions who ruled from 375-383 C.E.  She must have stayed on though, and she must have personally witnessed the wanton destruction of her holy shrine over a period of many years.

The final dissolution of the Order of Vestals was handed down in 394 C.E. by the next Pagan-hating Christian emperor, Theodosius I.  The sacred fire that had burned for more generations than anyone knew for certain, was no more.  We are told that towards the close of the 4th century, the Aedes Vestae, which had "fallen into decay, its valuable marble linings and other ornaments having been stripped from its walls," (327) was liter-ally “vandalized” for the last time.  The unconscionable sacrilege was perpetrated by a woman, one Serena, niece of Theodosius and “wife of the Vandal Stilicho, who took a valuable necklace from one of the statues, in spite of the remonstrances of an aged woman, the last survivor of the Vestal virgins.” (328)

That aged woman was, of course, the heroic virgo vestalis maxima (‘Chief Vestal’, ‘greatest of Vestals’) Coelia Concordia, who “upbraided her severely for so impious an action.  Serena not only returned very violent language, but commanded her attendants to drive or carry her away.” (329)  But the Vestal had the last word, for

        as she was leaving the place, [she] prayed that whatever was due to such

        impiety might fall on Serena, her husband, and children. Serena did not

        notice what she had said, but left the temple pleased with the ornaments she

        had obtained. Yet afterwards she was frequently visited by an appearance,

        not only imaginary, in her dreams, but real, when she was awake, which

        predicted her death. Other persons likewise beheld the same appearance. (330)

As you may have hoped, the Vestal’s prayer was granted.

The Vestals preparing the mola salsa offerings in the sacred fire








This article was begun in 1978, as were many on this site, as a single chapter for The Death of Matriarchy.  I am delighted to have finally brought Vesta and Her Brides to the light of day.  In the process of doing so, I was pleased to discover Brigid’s perpetually burning fires of inspiration and here present my findings for the first time.

1. The flaminica dialis’s advice to Ovid.  Ovid, Fasti, Book VI, 233-34, p. 337.

  1. 2.H. H. Scullard, “Rome”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard, eds. (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 2nd edition, 1977), p. 926.)

  2. 3.H. J. Rose, “Romulus and Remus”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 936.

  3. 4.Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, edited with a translation and commentary by Sir James George Frazer, (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., Five Volumes, 1929), Vol. IV, p. 185.)

  4. 5.John Henry Middleton, “Vesta” in The Encyclopedia Britannica, (Cambridge, England: The University Press, 11th edition, 1910-11), Vol.  XXVII, p. 1055.

  5. 6.The Oxford Companion To Classical Literature, Paul Harvey, Compiler, Editor, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937-1974), “Vestals”, p. 446.

  6. 7.See: “Alba Longa”, at <www.britannica.com>

  7. 8.Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 179.)

  8. 9.Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 181.

  9. 10. Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 176.

  10. 11. Ibid.., Vol. IV, pp. 184-87 passim.

  11. 12. John Henry Middleton, “Vesta”, The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.,Vol. XXVII, p. 1054.

  12. 13. Oxford Latin Dictionary, P. G. W. Glare, ed. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1985), “aedes”,    p. 61.

  13. 14. Ibid., “templum”, p. 1914.

  14. 15. John Henry Middleton, “Vesta”, The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.,Vol. XXVII, p. 1055, note 4.

  15. 16. Richard L. Gordon, “Vesta, Vestals”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 1999), p. 1591, quot.  Ovid, Fasti, Book VI, lines 295-298.

  16. 17. Ibid., quot. Livy, 26. 27. 14.

  17. 18. Richard L. Gordon, “Vesta, Vestals”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 1591.

  18. 19. For an in-depth discussion of various methods employed to avert evil, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Eye Goddess and the Evil Eye” at www.sacredthreads.net

  19. 20. For detailed discussions of the fertilizing aspect of Mars, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and the Boundaries Between Worlds” under the headings: “The Morris Dances” and “Fire Rites” at www.sacredthreads.net

  20. 21. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 352, note c. The very ancient and magical Palladium - a wooden statue of Pallas Athene - was said to have been taken out of Troy by Aeneas and brought to Rome for her safe-keeping and, most of all, for the powers of protection over a city that she was thought to possess.

  21. 22. Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language. W. T. Harris, F. Sturges Allen, eds. (Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Company, First Edition, 1909/1929), “Vesta”, p. 2279.

  22. 23. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States. Five Volumes. (Chicago: The Aegaean Press Inc., 1971), Vol. 5, p. 359.

  23. 24. Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 357.

  24. 25. Some of these ideas are explored in an unpublished manuscript chapter, “The Gates of Metamorphosis”, which appeared in Tracy Boyd’s The Death of Matriarchy.

  25. 26. See: Stephanie A. Demetrakopoulos, “Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth: Notes on an Oppressed Archetype”, in Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought. (Irving, TX.: University of Dallas, 1979, pp. 55-75. This is the definitive article on “The Forgotten Goddess”, as the author calls Hestia.

  26. 27. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary. (New York: Macmillan Co., Inc., 1977.) “vestis”, p. 639.

  27. 28. Charlton T. Lewis, An Elementary Latin Dictionary. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1891/1979), “vestis”, p. 915.

  28. 29. See: D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “vestis”, p. 639.

  29. 30. Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, op. cit., “vest”, p. 2279.

  30. 31. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “vestis”, p. 639.

  31. 32. W. Warde Fowler, “Calendar, Roman” in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 13 Volumes, n.d. [1912]) , Vol. 3, p. 134, and pp. 133-135 passim.

  32. 33. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, op. cit., “Vestalia”, p. 446.

  33. 34. W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic: An Introduction to the Study of the Religion of the Romans. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1933), p. 10.

  34. 35. See: Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library, 1931-1976), Book VI, Heading for 15 June, p. 372.

  35. 36. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion. Philip Krapp, Trans. (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press. Two Volumes, 1970), Vol. I, p. 317.

  36. 37. The translation of each of these terms is from D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit.

  37. 38. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p.318.

  38. 39. Ibid.

  39. 40. Bruno Bettleheim, “Cinderella” in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. (New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, 1977), p. 255 Note, and pp. 236-277 passim.  This book as a whole offers brilliant insight into magic and fairy tales, but Bettleheim’s writing on “Cinderella” is exceptionally fine.

  40. 41. Ibid., pp. 253-54 Note.

  41. 42. Ibid., pp. 254-55 Note.

  42. 43. Ibid., p. 254.

  43. 44. Ibid.

  44. 45. For a discussion of Cinderella and the hazel tree, see Tracy Boyd, “Titania, The Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “The ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, The ‘Hazel of Wisdom’, and The ‘Thumb of Knowledge’ ” at www.sacredthreads.net)

  45. 46. John Henry Middleton, “Vesta”, in The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.,Vol. XXVII, p.     1055.

  46. 47. Ibid.; see also: Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), p. 211, re: the notion that when things went wrong for Rome, the conduct of the Vestal virgins was considered suspect; and pp. 210-14 passim.

  47. 48. John Henry Middleton, “Vesta”, in The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.,Vol. XXVII, p. 1055.

  48. 49. See: Ibid.

  49. 50. Jerome Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire. Henry T. Rowell, ed., E. O. Lorimer, trans., (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940/New York: Bantam Books, 1971), p. 91.

  50. 51. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 183, and note 4.

  51. 52. Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 184, and note 1.

  52. 53. The absence of her image is pointedly noted by Ovid in his running commentary on the month of June in Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, lines 295-298, p. 341.

  53. 54. Robert Graves, “Hestia’s Nature and Deeds”, The Greek Myths. Two Volumes. (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1959), Vol. I, 20.2, p. 75.  This is but one of many theories about the omphalos and, therefore, not in any way definitive.  See a brief discussion of the Classicist Jane Ellen Harrison’s thinking about the omphalos in Tracy Boyd, “The     Oracular Oak at Dodona” and in “Teiresias, the Androgynous Seer: A Question of Balance” under the heading: “The Hermetic Evolution of the Serpent-Twined Caduceus” at www.sacredthreads.net

  54. 55. Dionysius, II, 66, and Plutarch, Numa XI, as quoted in T. Cato Worsfold, The History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome. (London: Rider & Co., 1934; Reprinted in facsimile by     Kessinger Publishing, p. 17.

  55. 56. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, lines 299-300, p. 341.

  56. 57. Ibid., Book VI, lines 290-291, p. 341.

  57. 58. Ibid., Book VI, line 292, p. 341.

  58. 59. See the various statements in T. Cato Worsfold, The History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome, op. cit., pp. 16-17.

  59. 60. Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Part I: The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings. Two Volumes. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1922), Vol. II, p. 198.

  60. 61. An image of the coin appears in T. Cato Worsfold, The History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome, op. cit., unpaginated page between pp. 152-153.

  61. 62. Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Part I: The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings Vol. II, p. 233-35.

  62. 63. Ibid., Vol. II, p. 230.

  63. 64. See below under the heading: “Spring Fires”.

  64. 65. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, lines 25-26, p. 321. . . . Book VI, lines 55-56, p., 323.

  65. 66. C. Kerenyi, Zeus and Hera: Archetypal Image of Father, Husband, and Wife. Christopher Holme, Trans. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series LXV.5, Vol. 5, 1975), pp. 132-34.

  66. 67. Ibid., p. 114.

  67. 68. See: Ibid., pp. 142-47.

  68. 69. George Thomson, Studies in Ancient Greek Society: The Prehistoric Aegean. (NY: The Citadel Press, 1965), p. 219.

  69. 70. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 291.

  70. 71. C. Kerenyi, Zeus and Hera: Archetypal Image of Father, Husband, and Wife, op. cit., p. 130.

  71. 72. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology: Including Its Extension to Rome. (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1959), p. 102.

  72. 73. F. Guirand & A.-V. Pierre, "Roman Mythology", in Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. (London: Batchwork Press Ltd., 1959), p. 217.

  73. 74. H. J. Rose, "Juno", in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 568.

  74. 75. F. Guirand & A.-V. Pierre, "Roman Mythology", in Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, op. cit., p. 217.

  75. 76. Ibid.

  76. 77. Ibid.

  77. 78. Ibid.

  78. 79. H. J. Rose, "Juno", in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 568.

  79. 80. F. Guirand & A.-V. Pierre, "Roman Mythology", in Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, op. cit., p. 217.

  80. 81. Ibid.

  81. 82. W. Warde Fowler, “Juno”, in The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., Vol. XV, p. 560.

  82. 83. Paraphrased and quoted from: Alexander Francis Chamberlin, “Gods and Goddesses of Motherhood”, in Birth: An Anthology of Ancient Texts, Songs, Prayers, and Stories. David Meltzer, Editor. (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), p. 47, quot. Alexander Francis Chamberlin, The Child and Childhood in Folk-thought, 1896.

  83. 84. See: W. Warde Fowler, "Roman Religion", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 832.

  84. 85. Ibid.

  85. 86. See: Karl Kerenyi, Goddesses of Sun and Moon: Circe, Aphrodite, Medea, Niobe. Murray Stein, Trans. (Irving, Texas: Spring Publications, Inc., 1979), p. 3.

  86. 87. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 291.

  87. 88. Ibid.

  88. 89. Ibid., Vol. I, p. 296.

  89. 90. W. Warde Fowler, "Juno", in The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., Vol. XV, p. 560.

  90. 91. See: D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “cardo”, p. 91-92.

  91. 92. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 102, p. 325.  Ovid calls her by her original name, “Carna” by which she was known prior to her rape by Janus who is said to have renamed her and granted her certain powers in exchange for, as Ovid so quaintly put it, “the price of thy lost maidenhood.”  Evidently J. G. Frazer, translator and commentator of the Fasti, was of the very mistaken opinion that Ovid had “confounded her [Carna] with Cardea, goddess of hinges.”  It is hard to believe that Frazer was not aware of this name change.  Ovid was not in the least confused.  He was simply calling her by her ancient name out of respect.  See: Ibid., p. 324, Note e. and pp. 324-327 passim.

  92. 93. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology, op. cit., p. 34.

  93. 94. W. Warde Fowler, “Roman Religion”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 825.

  94. 95. See: Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals: History and Observance. Samuel Jaffe, Trans. (New York: Schocken Books, 11th ed., 1977), pp. 272-76 passim.

  95. 96. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “Kalendae”, p. 332.

  96. 97. See also: discussions of Keleos, ‘to cry’ or ‘call’, and Keleai as the place of ‘the crying women’, in Tracy Boyd, “I Am Baubo: The Acorn Fool” at www.sacredthreads.net

  97. 98. The excellent book is: W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic: An Introduction to the Study of the Religion of the Romans. (London: Macmillan and Co. Limited, 1933.

  98. 99. W. Warde Fowler, “Calendar, Roman”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 134.)

  99. 100. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “nonae”, p. 396; and “Idus”, p. 284.

  100. 101. W. Warde Fowler, "Juno", in The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., Vol. XV, p. 560.

  101. 102. Ibid. Italics mine. Fowler’s scholarship is always brilliant.  I hold him in the very highest regard.  This would seem to be a blindspot for him and for his time: (1847-1921).  A note of interest: He died on June 15th, the last day of the Vestalia of ancient Rome.

  102. 103. Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions. Three Volumes. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927), Vol. III, p. 19.

  103. 104. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 213-14, and quot. Pliny, Nat. Hist. vii. 64 sq., xxviii, 77 sqq.

  104. 105. See: Ibid., pp. 212-215.

  105. 106. A. E. Crawley, “Fire, Fire Gods”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 6, p. 29, citing Satapatha Brahmana xlii.104; xiv.133; i.232; xxxiii.171.

  106. 107. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 311-48, pp. 341.

  107. 108. See: J. S. Reid, “Purification: Roman”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 501.

  108. 109. Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 20.

  109. 110. Ibid.

  110. 111. C. Kerenyi, The Religion of the Greeks and Romans. (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1962), p.231.

  111. 112. Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 20-21.

  112. 113. C. Kerenyi, The Religion of the Greeks and Romans, op. cit., p. 227.

  113. 114. Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion: Taboo and the Perils of the Soul. Two Parts. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., Third Edition, 1922), Part II, pp. 294-299.

  114. 115. See: C. Kerenyi, The Religion of the Greeks and Romans, op. cit., p. 228.

  115. 116. Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion: Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, op. cit., Part II, pp. 294.

  116. 117. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 294.

  117. 118. George Thomson, Studies in Ancient Greek Society, op. cit., p. 291.

  118. 119. Walter J. Dilling, “Girdle”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 6, p. 229.

  119. 120. See: Ibid., Vol. 6, p. 226.

  120. 121. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 609.

  121. 122. Walter J. Dilling, “Girdle”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 6, p. 229.

  122. 123. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 611.

  123. 124. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 608.

  124. 125. See: Tracy Boyd, "The Eternal Weaver" at <www.sacredthreads.net>

  125. 126. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 608.

  126. 127. Ibid.

  127. 128. Ibid.

  128. 129. Ibid., ‘eu’, p. 704, + ‘linon’, p. 1051; see also the discussion of Eileithyia and related goddesses in Tracy Boyd, "The Eternal Weaver" at www.sacredthreads.net

  129. 130. A Greek-English Lexicon. Compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 9th ed., with a 1968 Supplement, 1983), “del-os”, p. 385; and “Delos”, p. 384.

  130. 131. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 610.

  131. 132. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 613.

  132. 133. Ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 613-14.

  133. 134. Ibid., p. 614n., quot. Ovid., Met. 9.299.

  134. 135. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “pecten”, p. 428.

  135. 136. See: Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson, The Rites of the Twice-Born. (London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press, 1920), pp. 27-45, passim.

  136. 137. Walter J. Dilling, “Girdle”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 227-28.

  137. 138. Ibid., Vol. 6, p. 229.

  138. 139. See: Robert Graves, “Hestia’s Nature and Deeds”, in The Greek Myths. Two Volumes. (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1959), Vol. I, 20.1, p. 75.

  139. 140. See: Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, lines 311-48, pp. 343-45; Book VI, line 469, p. 355.

  140. 141. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 335.

  141. 142. Ibid.

  142. 143. Ibid., p. 336.

  143. 144. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “ango”, “angor”, “Angustiae”, “angustus”, pp. 44-45.

  144. 145. See: H. J. Rose, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., "Angerona", p. 64; Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 337.

  145. 146. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “maturus”, p. 364.

  146. 147. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 50.

  147. 148. Ibid.

  148. 149. Ibid., p. 339.

  149. 150. Ibid.

  150. 151. Ibid.

  151. 152. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 274.

  152. 153. See: Livy, The Early History of Rome, I.19.

  153. 154. Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 51.

  154. 155. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 283, and discussion pp. 280-83.

  155. 156. See: Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 51.

  156. 157. Ibid.

  157. 158. Ibid.

  158. 159. See: Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 51-55 passim.

  159. 160. Ibid., p. 52.

  160. 161. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 291.

  161. 162. Noel Robertson, "Fates", in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 432.

  162. 163. The Oxford Companion To Classical Literature, op. cit., “Fates”, p. 174.

  163. 164. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., “pareo-ere”, p. 423.

  164. 165. Noel Robertson, "Fates", in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 432.

  165. 166. See: Tracy Boyd, "The Eternal Weaver" at www.sacredthreads.net

  166. 167. Noel Robertson, “Fates”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 432.

  167. 168. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book V, 621.

  168. 169. Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 19, quot. Dionysius Halicarnassensis, i. 38.

  169. 170. For the differing arguments see: H. J. Rose and Herbert William Parke, “Argei”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 104; and The Oxford Companion To Classical Literature, op. cit., “Argei”, p. 41.

  170. 171. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 79-80; and varying arguments, pp. 79-109 passim.

  171. 172. Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 88.

  172. 173. Ibid.

  173. 174. Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 89.

  174. 175. Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 97.

  175. 176. Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 89.

  176. 177. Ibid., Vol. IV, pp. 89-90.

  177. 178. Ibid., Vol. IV, pp. 98-99.

  178. 179. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 543-544, p. 361.

  179. 180. Ibid., Book V, 601, p. 305.

  180. 181. C. Kerenyi, The Religion of the Greeks and Romans, op. cit., p. 229.

  181. 182. Ibid.

  182. 183. Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), “Argos”, p. 99.

  183. 184. Ibid.

  184. 185. J. S. Reid, “Purification: Roman”, in  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 502.

  185. 186. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, College Edition, 1959), “lustrum”, p. 874.

  186. 187. Ibid.

  187. 188. See: S. M. Cooke, "Purification: Hebrew", in  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 489; Leviticus 15:28-30.

  188. 189. About the symbolic significance of these twenty-seven figures, the author of the “Argei” entry in The Oxford Companion To Classical Literature has, not surprisingly, little to say, but nevertheless opines (parenthetically, of course) that the number might have something to do with the fact that “(the lucky number twenty-seven, thrice nine, is frequently met with both in Greek and Roman ritual).” (The Oxford Companion To Classical Literature, op. cit., “Argei”, p. 41.

  189. 190. See: Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 19.

  190. 191. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 791 sq., p. 179.

  191. 192. Ibid., James G. Frazer, Appendix, “The Argei (v.621)”, p. 425.

  192. 193. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 79.

  193. 194. C. Kerenyi, The Religion of the Greeks and Romans, op. cit., p. 229.

  194. 195. Ibid.

  195. 196. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 226-231, p. 337.

  196. 197. C. Kerenyi, The Religion of the Greeks and Romans, op. cit., p. 229.

  197. 198. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 233-34, p. 337.

  198. 199. J. S. Reid, “Purification: Roman”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 501.

  199. 200. Ibid., quot. Cicero, in Verr. iv. 108.

  200. 201. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 78, citing Livy, The History of Rome, Book xxvii. 37.

  201. 202. Livy, The War With Hannibal: Books XXI-XXX of The History of Rome from its Foundation. Aubrey De Selincourt, Trans. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1965-1981), Book XXIV.10, pp. 243-44, and Book XXVII.37, pp. 477-78; see also similar reports from actual newspaper accounts in more recent times as collected by Charles Fort, in Lo!, 1931, in The Books of Charles Fort. Tiffany Thayer, Intro. (New York: Henry Holt and Company for the Fortean Society, 1941.

  202. 203. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 136.

  203. 204. Ibid.

  204. 205. Livy, The History of Rome, op. cit., Book XXVII.37, p.478.

  205. 206. See: W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People From the Earliest Times to the Age of Augustus. The Gifford Lectures for 1909-10. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1933), p. 297.

  206. 207.Livy, The History of Rome, op. cit., Book XXVII.37, pp. 478-79.

  207. 208. Ibid., p. 479, and note 1.

  208. 209. Ibid., p. 479.

  209. 210. J. P. V. D. Balson, Roman Women: Their History and Habits. (N.Y.: Barnes & Noble, 1983), p. 243.

  210. 211. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 135-136, p. 131.

  211. 212. Ibid., Book III, 143-144, p. 131.

  212. 213. Ibid., Book III, 169-170, p. 133.

  213. 214. Ibid., Book III, 233-234, p. 137.

  214. 215. J. S. Reid, "Purification: Roman", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 502.

  215. 216. Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, op. cit., “agnos”, p. 6.

  216. 217. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 11-24, pp. 121-123.

  217. 218. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 25-26, p. 123.

  218. 219. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 43-45, p. 123.

  219. 220. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 45-48, p. 123.

  220. 221. E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage. (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1966. Two Volumes as One unabridged republication of the 1903 edition.), Vol. I, p. 203; see also: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and the Boundaries Between Worlds” at www.sacredthreads.net for further thoughts on this aspect of the fertilizing agent.

  221. 222. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 1-2. . . 8-10, p. 121.

  222. 223. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., "Kalendae", p. 332.

  223. 224. Barbara Black Koltuv, "Hestia/Vesta", in Quadrant: Journal of the C. G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology. Winter 1977, Vol. 10, No. 2, p. 61.

  224. 225. Ibid., p. 62.

  225. 226. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book III, 243-258, pp. 137-139.

  226. 227. See: Ibid., Book VI, 311-48, pp. 343-45; Book VI, 469, p. 355.

  227. 228. Ibid., Book VI, 401-402. . .405-406. . .411-414, pp. 349-351.

  228. 229. See: Ibid., Book VI, 417-19, p. 351.

  229. 230. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., "Futilis", p. 259.

  230. 231. See: Georges Dumezil, Archaic Roman Religion, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 317-18.

  231. 232. Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum Libri Sex: The Fasti of Ovid, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 175.

  232. 233. D. P. Simpson, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, op. cit., "casta", p. 94.

  233. 234. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 348, p. 345.

  234. 235. Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Ralph Manheim, Trans. (Princeton: Princeton University Press Bollingen Series XLVII, 1970, p. 234; see also his discussion (on pp. 284-285) of the “transformative aspect” of the oven and its fire – which is the birth-giving, creative aspect – about which he observes that as sacred vessels, the form and function of oven and uterus are identical.

  235. 236. Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe. (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999), p. 91, and pp. 124-25.

  236. 237. Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 590.

  237. 238. See: Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, op. cit., “civilize”, p. 268.

  238. 239. Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 590.

  239. 240. Ibid.

  240. 241. Ibid.

  241. 242. E. Sidney Hartland, "Birth", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol.  2, p. 639.

  242. 243. Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2nd ed., 1979), p. 294.

  243. 244. Melville J. Herskovits, “Haitian Birth Customs”, in Birth: An Anthology of Ancient Texts, Songs, Prayers, and Stories. David Meltzer, ed. (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), p. 111; and pp. 108-114, passim. The details of this rite are paraphrased from this source. The interpretations are my own.

  244. 245. Jane Richardson Hanks, “The Birth of Duan and Song’s Baby”, in Birth: An Anthology of Ancient Texts, Songs, Prayers, and Stories, op. cit., p. 120-23; pp. 115-123 passim. The details of this rite are paraphrased from this source. The interpretations are my own.

  245. 246. W. Warde Fowler, “Roman Religion”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 832.

  246. 247. Mary Kawena Pukui, “Hawaiian Birth Customs”, in Birth: An Anthology of Ancient Texts, Songs, Prayers, and Stories, op. cit., p. 135; and pp. 129-136 passim.

  247. 248. Ibid., p. 136.

  248. 249. E. A. Wallis Budge, Amulets & Talismans. (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1968), p. 322.

  249. 250. Christina Hole, “Baptism Lore”, in Birth: An Anthology of Ancient Texts, Songs, Prayers, and Stories, op. cit., p. 197; and pp. 197-198 passim.

  250. 251. E. Sidney Hartland, "Birth", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 638.

  251. 252. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans., op. cit., Book VI, 436, p. 253.

  252. 253. These are just some of the associations identified in J. C. Cooper, “Salt”, in An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 144.

  253. 254. In keeping with the generally accepted practice of including the yellowing (citrinitas) phase with the red, we have not considered it as a distinct phase lying between the albedo and rubedo in our considerations here.  You can read parts of these treatises and a whole lot more, in C. G. Jung, “Sal” 5. in Part III “The Personification of the Opposites”, in Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy.  Trans. R. F. C. Hull. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XX, Second Edition, 1970), CW, Vol. 14, pp. 183-257, Paras. 234-348.  Despite the unbearable sexism of the alchemists (and their commentators), this entire volume of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung is a “must read” for anyone seriously interested in alchemy. There is much to be learned.

  254. 255. C. G. Jung, Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1968, p. 4.

  255. 256. James Hillman, “Salt: A Chapter in Alchemical Psychology”, in Images of the Untouched, op. cit., p. 132, citing C. G. Jung, CW 14, paragraphs 234, 240, 320-355.

  256. 257. C. G. Jung, “The Personification of the Opposites”, in  Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, op. cit., Vol. 14, para. 328, p. 244.

  257. 258. See: C. G. Jung, “The Personification of the Opposites”, in Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, op. cit., Vol. 14, para. 154, p. 129, note 171., quot. Macrobius, Saturnalia, Lib. I, cap. XV.

  258. 259. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. F. L. Cross, Ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), “Churching of Women, The”, p. 290.

  259. 260. Ritual Notes: A Comprehensive Guide to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Book of Common Prayer of the English Church.  (London: W. Knott & Son, Ltd., 10th ed., 1956), pp. 216-217.

  260. 261. E. Sidney Hartland, "Birth", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol.  2, p. 643.

  261. 262. See: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, op. cit., “Churching of Women, The”, p. 290.

  262. 263. Leviticus 12:6-7 King James Version.

  263. 264. See: Kirsopp Lake, "Christmas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 602, and pp. 601-608 passim.

  264. 265. See: Kirsopp Lake, "Epiphany", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 5, p. 331, and pp. 330-332 passim.

  265. 266. J. C. J. Metford, “Christmas”, in Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1983), p. 67.

  266. 267. Unsigned, "Candlemas", in The Encyclopaedia Britannica, op. cit., Vol. V., p. 179.

  267. 268. Ibid.

  268. 269. Ibid.

  269. 270. Kirsopp Lake, "Christmas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 602, and Note 1 about the “Procession with Lights,” which we here quote: “The present liturgy for the Candlemas procession represents a recension made by Pope Sergius (701) . . . , and the original character of a penitential litany is almost lost.  But violet vestments are still used, and the service is introduced with ‘Exsurge, Domine, adjuva nos’.”

  270. 271. Bonnie Blackburn & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-reckoning. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), “1 February: “Candlemas Eve”, p. 61.

  271. 272. The Illustrated Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s Plays: With His Life. Gulian C. Verplanck, LL.D., Editor. Three Volumes. (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1847), “Introductory Remarks” to Twelfth-Night or What You Will, Volume II.–Comedies, p. 6.

  272. 273. Bonnie Blackburn & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-reckoning, op. cit., p. 62, and quoting Chambers, 13 July.

  273. 274. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candlemas> This interesting entry provides an extremely detailed, well-presented, but very pro-Catholic account of Candlemas.

  274. 275. W. Carew Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore Of the British Isles: A Descriptive and Historical Dictionary . . . .  Two Volumes. (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965. Reprinted from the revised 1905 Edition originally issued in 1870, based on an 1813 compilation by John Brand, The Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain), “Candlemas Day (February 2)”, Vol. I, p. 85.

  275. 276. See: Thomas Barns, "Candlemas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 189-194.

  276. 277. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candlemas>

  277. 278. The translation of her name(s) is by Miranda J. Green, “Brigit”, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1992), p. 50.

  278. 279. Thomas Barns, "Candlemas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 191.

  279. 280. Unsigned, "Candlemas", The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., Vol. V., p. 179.

  280. 281. Thomas Barns, "Candlemas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 191.  With his meticulous thoroughness, the author further informs us that “The Leofric Missal [which was the Missal of Leofric, Bishop of Exeter (1050-1072)] represents the use of the English Church before the Conquest.  The earliest part of the Missal (Leofric A), c. 900-950, reproduces the order of the Gregorian Sacramentary, with, however, the Epiphany preface . . . . The Festival has the title ‘Purificatio Sanctae Mariae’. . . . The second part (Leofric B) is a calendar of the date 975-1000.  The ‘Purificatio Sanctae Mariae’ is distinguished by the letter F as one of the Greater Festivals . . . . The Third Part (Leofric C) is of the date of Leofric, Bishop of Exeter (1050-1072). There are several prayers which belong to the Candlemas Procession, and enter into the later Service Books.”

  281. 282. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), p. 30.

  282. 283. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974; 7th Printing of Amended and Enlarged Edition of 1966), p. 390.

  283. 284. Ibid., p. 394. The first edition was published in 1948.

  284. 285. Miranda J. Green, “Brigit”, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, op. cit., p. 50.

  285. 286. The translation is attributed to W. B. Yeats’s friend Lady Augusta Gregory, in her 1904 Gods and Fighting Men (see: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid>), but is also noted as a listing of questionable etymology in Cormac’s late 9th century Glossary by Irish scholar Mary Jones at <http://www.maryjones.us/jce/brigit.html>

  286. 287. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., p. 30.

  287. 288. For the details of their moving love-story, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” at www.sacredthreads.net

  288. 289. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 412, quot. Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica.

  289. 290. For a detailed discussion of the various aspects of the solar-identified swan and goose and their roles in destiny, see Tracy Boyd, “The Queen of Fortune” at www.sacredthreads.net

  290. 291. Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” at www.sacredthreads.net

  291. 292. We have spoken of this magic well in relation to Fionn and the Druids who sought this wisdom, in Tracy Boyd, “Titania, the Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe”, particularly under the heading: “The ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, the ‘Hazel of Wisdom’, and the ‘Thumb of Knowledge’ ” at www.sacredthreads.net

  292. 293. For a full telling of Boand, or Boann of the Boinne’s very dramatic story, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “The Waters of the Left-Hand Path” at www.sacredthreads.net

  293. 294. See Ibid., under the heading: “The Hazels of Poetic Wisdom and the Salmon of Knowledge”; the image, of course, being that of W. B. Yeats in his poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus.  His lines are:

    I went out to the hazel wood

    Because a fire was in my head, . . .

  1. 295. Miranda J. Green, “Brigit”, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, op. cit., pp. 50-51.

  2. 296. Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland. (San Fransisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1989), p. 65, quot. Whitley Stokes, Three Middle Irish Homilies on the Lives of SS. Patrick, Brigit, and Columcille. (Calcutta: Privately printed, 1877.) Mary Condren’s excellent book was published some many years after I had completed the section pertaining to Brigid in “The Keepers of the Flame”. But there were a few irresistible tidbits discovered along the way which were added belatedly because they could not be left out of the present article. This is one of them. Condren’s research on Brigit is exemplary. See pp. 44-127.  Coming back to this book so many years later allowed me to really “see” Brigid.

  3. 297. J. C. Cooper, Symbolic and Mythological Animals. (London: The Aquarian Press/HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), “Cow”, pp. 62-63.

  4. 298. For a discussion about the magical attributes of cows in Ireland, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, the queen of Faerie and the Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “Dancing the Cow” at www.sacredthreads.net

  5. 299. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 394.

  6. 300. For a detailed discussion, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “The Meaning of the Time” at www.sacredthreads.net

  7. 301. Miranda J. Green, “Brigit”, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, op. cit., p. 51.

  8. 302. Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1983), “Brigit, Saint”, p. 118.

  9. 303. Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland, op. cit., p. 58 and Note 61, page 231.

  10. 304. Ibid., p. 65, quot. Whitley Stokes, Three Middle Irish Homilies on the Lives of SS. Patrick, Brigit, and Columcille, op. cit.

  11. 305. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 394.

  12. 306. Nora Chadwick, The Celts. (New York: Penguin Books, 1976, p. 181; T. G. E. Powell, The Celts. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), p. 148.

  13. 307. Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland, op. cit., p. 58 and Notes 57, 58, 59 on p. 231.

  14. 308. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 394.

  15. 309. Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981), p. 49.

  16. 310. Nora Chadwick, The Celts, op. cit., p. 181.

  17. 311. Thomas Barns, "Candlemas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 192; and pp. 189-194 passim.

  18. 312. Ibid., pp. 192-93.

  19. 313. Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, op. cit., p. 50.

  20. 314. Merlin Stone, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: Our Goddess and Heroine Heritage. Two Volumes. (New York: New Sibylline Books, 1979), Vol. I, p. 64.

  21. 315. Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology Folklore and Symbols. Two Volumes. (New York: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1962), Vol. 2, p.1366.

  22. 316. Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland, op. cit., p. 65, quot. Whitley Stokes, Three Middle Irish Homilies on the Lives of SS. Patrick, Brigit, and Columcille, op. cit.

  23. 317. For a detailed discussion, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “The Meaning of the Time” at www.sacredthreads.net

  24. 318. Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology Folklore and Symbols, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 1366.

  25. 319. Ibid.

  26. 320. Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, op. cit., p. 50.

  27. 321. See: Merlin Stone, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 63.

  28. 322. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 143.

  29. 323. See: William L. Langer, An Encyclopedia of World History. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972), p. 398.

  30. 324. Thomas Barns, "Candlemas", in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 193.

  31. 325. Ibid.

  32. 326. Richard L. Gordon, “Vesta, Vestals”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, op. cit., p. 1591.

  33. 327. John Henry Middleton, “Vesta”, in The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., Vol. XXVII, p. 1056.

  34. 328. Ibid.

  35. 329. Zosimus, Hist. Nov. v. 38. from: Zosimos, New History. Book V. (London: Green and Chaplin, 1814), at <http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/zosimus05_book5.htm>. The Byzantine historian’s text was painstakingly transcribed in 2002 by Roger Pearse of Ipswich, UK, for which we are sincerely grateful.

  36. 330. Ibid. The following is the section of Zosimus’s text in full which pertains to this unthinkable act: “When Alaric was near Rome, besieging its inhabitants, the senate suspected Serena of bringing the Barbarians against their city. The whole senate therefore, with Placidia, uterine sister to the emperor, thought it proper that she should suffer death, for being the cause of the present calamity. They observed, that "Alaric, upon Serena being removed, will retire from the city, because no person will remain by whom he can hope the town to be betrayed into his hands." This suspicion was in reality groundless, as Serena never had any such intentions. However she suffered justly for her impieties toward the gods, which I am now about to relate. When the elder Theodosius, after defeating the rebel Eugenius, arrived at Rome, and occasioned in all persons a contempt and neglect of divine worship, by refusing to defray the charge of the holy rites from the public funds, the priests of both sexes were dismissed and banished, and the temples were deprived of sacrifices. Serena, insulting the deities with derision, was determined to see the temple dedicated to the mother of the gods. In this perceiving some ornaments around the neck of the statue of Rhea, suitable to the divine worship that was paid to her, she took them off the statue, and placed them upon her own neck. An aged woman, who was the only one remaining of the vestal virgins, upbraided her severely for so impious an action. Serena not only returned very violent language, but commanded her attendants to drive or carry her away. Notwithstanding, the old woman, as she was leaving the place, prayed that whatever was due to such impiety might fall on Serena, her husband, and children. Serena did not notice what she had said, but left the temple pleased with the ornaments she had obtained. Yet afterwards she was frequently visited by an appearance, not only imaginary, in her dreams, but real, when she was awake, which predicted her death. Other persons likewise beheld the same appearance. So far did that just power of vengeance, whose office it is to punish the wicked, discharge its duty, that although Serena knew what would happen, she was without caution, and submitted that neck which she had decorated with the attire of the goddess, even to a halter. It is likewise said that Stilico, for an impiety not much unlike this of which Serena was guilty, did not escape the secret hand of vengeance. He is said to have commanded the doors [164] of the capitol to be stripped of a large quantity of gold with which they were covered. They who were employed in that act found on some part of the doors this inscription, "These are reserved for a wretched prince." The veracity of the prediction contained in this inscription was proved, for he indeed died in the most wretched and miserable manner.”






MARCH 1:        

Old New Year.  Noted in calendar as femineae kalendae, ‘feminine callings’.  Feast of married women, the Matronalia, celebrated on this birthday of Mars, the rapist who fathered Romulus and Remus upon Rhea Silvia, the first Vestal.  Her flame extinguished itself as she went into labor at the rising of the March moon.  A new fire is lighted in Vesta’s shrine on this day. _____________________________________________________________________

MARCH 15:       

Ides of March.


MARCH 16-17: 

27 Argive idols carried in procession to 27 chapels in 27 districts of Rome for safe-keeping until May 14, when they will be carried, with Vesta’s priestesses in attendance, to the River Tiber.


MAY 1:           

Bona Dea’s women’s night festival at which Vestals sacrifice a sow in her temple.


MAY 7-14:      

From Nones (7th) to day before Ides (14th) three senior Vestals gather ears of spelt (on odd days only), which they roast, pound, and ground, and lay grist up in store until June 9th, when they will make sacrificial cakes.


MAY 9, 11, 13:

Lemuria, the festival of expelling ghosts.  Some have set this festival for the 11, 12, 13, but as even days are not acknowledged for days of festivals, W. W. Fowler, in Roman Festivals, argues for odd days.


MAY 14:           

Festival of Argei. On day before Ides, 27 Argive idols, bound hand and foot with rope, are carried in procession, with Vesta’s priestesses in attendance, from 27 chapels in 27 districts of Rome to oldest bridge in Rome, where they are thrown into the River Tiber.  W. W. Fowler dates this on the Ides, the 15th, an odd-numbered day; Frazer is sure that it the 14th is correct. (See: Ovid, Fasti. Appendix, p. 428.)


MAY 15:       



MAY 15 TO JUNE 15:

Flaminica Dialis observes rules of celibacy, and cannot comb or dress her hair.  Marriages ill-advised during this time period.


JUNE 1:       

Kalends named for Juno.  According to Ovid, Carna, the goddess of the hinge, or pivot-point around which things open and close, is also honored on this day.


JUNE 7-15:       

Vestalia.  All public business is suspended throughout Rome.


JUNE 7:       

Vesta aperit.  Official opening of the Vestalia not marked by anything but silent     observance of the day.


JUNE 9:       

Ovid says: “The mills are empty and silent.”  Asses wreathed with garlands of violets and loaves of bread lead the procession of Vesta’s festival.  Doors of Vesta’s temple storehouse opened to women only.  Sacrificial cakes made by Vestals today from spelt set aside on May 7-14.


JUNE 11:       

27 days after the Argei of May 14th, Mater Matuta’s festival, the Matralia, is cele-brated by mothers who have given birth in the year, and by those who have not.  Matuta, the mother of timely births is the unnamed goddess of the Summer Solstice.


JUNE 13:       

Continuation of Vestalia.  Nothing specific marked in calendar.


JUNE 15:       

Vesta cluditur.  Ides.  Calendar marked Q. ST. D. F., the abbreviation for Quando Stercus Delatum Fas.  “Stercum” (offerings of placentae) and ashes swept into the Tiber.  Vesta’s fire shines on a clean floor.  It is now safe to marry.


JUNE 21:       

Summer Solstice usually falls on this day.  No mention of it appears in the calendar for this day.  See: June 24th.


JUNE 24:       

The Solstice is both noted in the calendar and celebrated on this day. (See: W. Warde Fowler, Roman Festivals, p. 169.)


Vesta’s Temple in Rome with smoke rising from the opening in the roof

The flaminica dialis’s advice to Ovid (1)