Deity of the Day for December 17th – Minerva, Roman Goddess

Deity of the Day


Minerva (Etruscan: Menrva) was the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. She was born with weapons from the godhead of Jupiter. From the 2nd century BC onwards, the Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena. She was the virgin goddess of music, poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, and magic. She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl usually named as the “owl of Minerva”, which symbolizes that she is connected to wisdom.

Stemming from an Italic moon goddess *Meneswā (‘She who measures’), the Etruscans adopted the inherited Old Latin name, *Menerwā, thereby calling her Menrva. It is assumed that her Roman name, Minerva, is based on this Etruscan mythology, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools and commerce. She was the Etruscan counterpart to Greek Athena. Like Athena, Minerva was born from the head of her father, Jupiter (Greek Zeus).

By a process of folk etymology, the Romans could have linked her foreign name to the root men- in Latin words such as mens meaning “mind”, perhaps because one of her aspects as goddess pertained to the intellectual. The word mens is built from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- ‘mind’ (linked with memory as in Greek Mnemosyne/μνημοσύνη and mnestis/μνῆστις: memory, remembrance, recollection, manush in Sanskrit meaning mind).

Minerva was part of a holy triad with Tinia and Uni, equivalent to the Roman Capitoline Triad of Jupiter-Juno-Minerva. Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter.

As Minerva Medica, she was the goddess of medicine and doctors. As Minerva Achaea, she was worshipped at Luceria in Apulia where votive gifts and arms said to be those of Diomedes were preserved in her temple.

A head of “Sulis-Minerva” found in the ruins of the Roman baths in Bath

In Fasti III, Ovid called her the “goddess of a thousand works”. Minerva was worshiped throughout Italy, and when she eventually became equated with the Greek goddess Athena, she also became a goddess of war, although in Rome her warlike nature was less emphasized. Her worship was also taken out to the empire — in Britain, for example, she was conflated with the local wisdom goddess Sulis.

The Romans celebrated her festival from March 19 to March 23 during the day which is called, in the neuter plural, Quinquatria, the fifth after the Ides of March, the nineteenth, an artisans’ holiday . A lesser version, the Minusculae Quinquatria, was held on the Ides of June, June 13, by the flute-players, who were particularly useful to religion. In 207 BC, a guild of poets and actors was formed to meet and make votive offerings at the temple of Minerva on the Aventine Hill. Among others, its members included Livius Andronicus. The Aventine sanctuary of Minerva continued to be an important center of the arts for much of the middle Roman Republic.

Minerva was worshipped on the Capitoline Hill as one of the Capitoline Triad along with Jupiter and Juno, at the Temple of Minerva Medica, and at the “Delubrum Minervae” a temple founded around 50 BC by Pompey on the site now occupied by the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva facing the present-day Piazza della Minerva.



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Deities of the Winter Solstice

Deities of the Winter Solstice


While it may be mostly Pagans who celebrate the Yule holiday, nearly all cultures and faiths have held some sort of winter solstice celebration or festival. Because of the theme of endless birth, life, death, and rebirth, the time of the solstice is often associated with deity and other legendary figures. No matter which path you follow, chances are good that one of your gods or goddesses has a winter solstice connection.

  • Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful.
  • Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshipers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe.
  • Baldur (Norse): Baldur is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Baldur and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki – the resident trickster – took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Baldur was later restored to life.
  • Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility goddess was worshiped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. Her annual festival was held early in December.
  • Cailleach Bheur (Celtic): In Scotland, she is also called Beira, the Queen of Winter. She is the hag aspect of the Triple Goddess, and rules the dark days between Samhain and Beltaine.
  • Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter’s grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter’s return.
  • Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus.
  • Frau Holle (Norse): Frau Holle appears in many different forms in Scandinavian mythology and legend. She is associated with both the evergreen plants of the Yule season, and with snowfall, which is said to be Frau Holle shaking out her feathery mattresses.
  • Frigga (Norse): Frigga honored her son, Baldur, by asking all of nature not to harm him, but in her haste overlooked the mistletoe plant. Loki fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe but Odin later restored him to life. As thanks, Frigga declared that mistletoe must be regarded as a plant of love, rather than death.
  • Hodr (Norse): Hodr, sometimes called Hod, was the twin brother of Baldur, and the Norse god of darkness and winter. He also happened to be blind, and appears a few times in the Norse Skaldic poetry. When he kills his brother, Hodr sets in motion the string of events leading to Ragnarok, the end of the world.
  • Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.
  • Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.
  • La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.
  • Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia.
  • Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.
  • Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.
  • Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a week-long celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated.
  • Spider Woman (Hopi): Soyal is the Hopi festival of the winter solstice. It honors the Spider Woman and the Hawk Maiden, and celebrates the sun’s victory over winter’s darkness.
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Deity of the Day for December 16th – La Befana, The Italian Good Witch

Deity of the Day

La Befana


In Italy, the legend of La Befana is one that is popularly told around the time of the Epiphany. What does a Catholic holiday have to do with modern Paganism? Well, La Befana happens to be a witch.

According to folklore, on the night before the feast of the Epiphany in early January, Befana flies around on her broom, delivering gifts. Much like Santa Claus, she leaves candy, fruit, or small gifts in the stockings of children who are well-behaved throughout the year. On the other hand, if a child is naughty, he or she can expect to find a lump of coal left behind by La Befana.

La Befana’s broom is for more than just practical transportation – she also will tidy up a messy house, and sweep the floors before she departs for her next stop. This is probably a good thing, since Befana gets a bit sooty from coming down chimneys, and it’s only polite to clean up after oneself. She may wrap up her visit by indulging in the glass of wine or plate of food left by parents as thanks.

So, where did La Befana come from? How did a kindly old witch become associated with the celebration of the Epiphany? Many of the stories behind La Befana involve a woman who is searching but unable to find the newborn infant Jesus.

In some Christian legends, it is said that Befana had been visited by the three Magi, or wise men, on their way to visit the baby Jesus. It’s said that they asked her for directions, but Befana wasn’t sure how to find the newborn infant. However, being a good housekeeper, she invited them to spend the night in her tidy little home. When the Magi left the next morning, they invited Befana to join them in their quest. Befana declined, saying she had too much housework to do, but later she changed her mind. She tried to find the wise men and the new baby, but was unable to, so she now flies around on her broom delivering gifts to children. Perhaps she is still searching for the infant Jesus.

In other tales, La Befana is a woman whose children have died in a great plague, and she follows the wise men to Bethlehem. Before leaving her house, she packs up some simple gifts – a doll that belonged to one of her children, and a robe sewn from her own wedding dress. These plain gifts are all she has to give to the infant Jesus, but she is unable to locate him. Today, she flies around delivering gifts to other children in hopes of finding him.

Some scholars believe that the story of La Befana actually has pre-Christian origins. The tradition of leaving or exchanging gifts may relate to an early Roman custom that takes place in midwinter, around the time of Saturnalia. Befana may also represent the passing of the old year, with the image of an old woman, to be replaced by a new year.

Today many Italians, including those who follow the practice of Stregheria, celebrate a festival in La Befana’s honor.




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Deity of the Day for December 15th – Saturn, The Roman God

Deity of the Day

The Roman God, Saturn

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Deity of the Day for December 14th is Mithras, Early Roman Sun God

Deity of the Day


The Legend of Mithras

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Deity of the Day for December 12th is Frau Holle

Deity of the Day

The Legend of Frau Holle

In some Scandinavian traditions, Frau Holle is known as the feminine spirit of the woods and plants, and was honored as the sacred embodiment of the earth and land itself. She is associated with many of the evergreen plants that appear during the Yule season, especially mistletoe and holly, and is sometimes seen as an aspect of Frigga, wife of Odin. In this theme, she is associated with fertility and rebirth. Typically, she is seen as a goddess of hearth and home, although in different areas she has clearly different purposes.

Interestingly, Frau Holle is mentioned in the story of Goldmary and Pitchmary, as compiled by the Grimm brothers. In this context — that of a Germanic Cinderella-type tale — she appears as an old woman who rewards an industrious girl with gold, and offers the girl’s lazy sister an equally appropriate compensation. Legends in some parts of Germany portray her as a toothless hag who appears in the winter, much like the Cailleach of Scotland.

In the Norse Eddas, she is described as Hlodyn, and she gives gifts to women at the time of the Winter Solstice, or Jul. She is sometimes associated with winter snowfall as well — it is said that when Frau Holle shakes out her mattresses, white feathers fall to the earth. A feast is held in her honor each winter by many people in the Germanic countries.



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Deity of the Day for December 11th is Sunna, Goddess of the Sun

Deity of the Day


Goddess of the Sun


Sunna s (Sol) is the Sun personified in Norse mythology. She is described as the sister of the personified moon, Manni, the daughter of Mundilfari and is foretold to be killed by a monstrous wolf during the events of Ragnarok. She was a human who rose to the rank of Goddess due to the Gods. Sunna has blonde hair with golden curls that looked like rays of sunshine. Sunna like the ‘sun’ was always kind and generous to her people brining light wherever she went.


Rudolf Simek stated that Nordic Bronze Age archaeological finds, such as rock carvings and the Trundholm Sun chariot, provide evidence of the Sun having been viewed as a life giving heavenly body to the Bronze Age Scandinavians and that the Sun likely received an amount of respect.


The Sun is approximately 4.5 billion years old. As the largest object in the sky, the Sun is the source of light, heat, and life. It can also be a symbol of destructive power. Since earliest times, people in all parts of the world have observed the position of the Sun and its rising and setting throughout the year. Many cultures have created solar calendars to govern such things as the planting of crops and the timing of religious festivals. They have also given the Sun a major place in their mythologies, often as a deity.


When the world was created from the body of the dead giant Ymir by the triad Gods of Odin, Vili and Ve – the Sun, Moon and Stars were made from the gathered sparks that shot forth from Muspellsheim, the Land of Fire. Sunna drives the chariot of the Sun across the sky every day. Pulled by the horses Allsvinn and Arvak, the Sun chariot is pursued by the wolf Skoll. It is said that sometimes he comes so close that he is able to take a bite out of the Sun, causing an eclipse.


On Midsummer Eve, Sunna’s strength begins to decline, and those who honor her gather to celebrate this passage. For the Pagan religions of Northern Europe, this is the Sabbat of Midsummer. Songs are sung, poems are read, libations and toasts fill the air. In honor of the strength of light and warmth that are Sunna’s blessing, fire is a central part of the celebration at this Sabbat.

Despite the wolf Skoll catching and killing Sunna, not all is lost. Like the other Gods at the end of Ragnarok, light still shines on the Earth. Before her death, she gives birth to a daughter as beautiful as her mother and she shall ride her mother’s road. The daughter survives with the Sun to aid and guide humanity after the destruction of the world as we know it. She heals the world, knitting together the fragmented pieces of life after the chaos of Ragnarok.


Nordic Wiccan

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Deity of the Day for December 9th – Lilith

Deity of the Day


Lilith is the divine lady owl and the original bad-ass chick. She is often portrayed as a dark, winged, beguiling sorceress. Our most familiar image of Lilith comes from a terra-cotta relief from Sumer, dating back to about 2000 B.C.E. She is shown as an attractive winged woman with clawed feet. In modern times, she is popularly imagined as the beautiful vampire and the ultimate femme fatale. It is easy to envision Lilith as a raven-haired seductress draped in flowing black, her ebony wings swirling around her. She is thought to be ethereally beautiful, with pale skin, dark red lips, and perhaps a small flash of elongated teeth. Seductive, aggressive and dangerous—Lilith is all of these things.

According to the Zohar, a Kabalistic work from the thirteenth century, Lilith is described as a seductive redhead draped in crimson, wearing many “ornaments.” Oh, and there are also some passages about her having white skin, rosy cheeks and a seductive mouth, which seems to me like they are describing makeup and jewelry. While this make us roll our eyes and giggle today, that was very scandalous—downright provocative and dare we say, titillating—back in the thirteenth century. This version of Lilith illustrates her as a woman standing at the crossroads, waiting for some hapless male to wander into her trap so she can then pounce on him. (Gee, sounds like somebody in the old days was absolutely terrified of a woman’s sexuality and power, doesn’t it?)

To modern practitioners Lilith is a patroness of Witches and a goddess of sexuality, wisdom, female equality, power, and independence. While Lilith is not traditionally linked to a Tuesday, I don’t see why we couldn’t work with her on this day. Perhaps it’s time to make some new traditions. Sometimes you gotta go with your gut—personalize your witchery and magick! Go with what you think will work best for you. After all, Lilith’s feisty and fiery qualities are perfect for a Tuesday. Today is the ideal day for a big dose of in your face female empowerment! These aggressive and strong characteristics are just what is called for.


Book of Witchery
Ellen Dugan

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