Earth Goddesses – FAUNA
Fauna, the Roman goddess of nature and animals, was most often called Bona Dea (“the Good Goddess”), which is a title, not a name. Sometimes she was referred to as Bona Mater, which means “Good Mother.” To say the actual name of Fauna was taboo in ancient Roman society. Fauna was a Earth Goddess and was worshipped primarily by women. She was the daughter (sometimes represented as consort) of the nature god Faunus. It was said that after her marriage, she never laid eyes upon another man. This chastity. Improved her ranking among the gods. She was a country goddess, the protector of cattle and farmlands. She also presided over virginity and fertility in women. Today the word fauna is used to encompass all animal life.
Fauna is depicted as an old woman with pointed ears. She is represented holding the horn of plenty, and a snake is her symbol. It is said that the snake represents her phallic nature; however, men were not allowed at her temples or festivals. Her image is often found on Roman coins.
Bona Dea had two major festivals, one in May and the other on December 3 or 4. (This feast was moveable.) The festival held in December was a secret rite. It was unique because it was often held in the homes of high-ranking Roman magistrates as opposed to public temples. It was an invitation-only affair. Men were not allowed, nor was any depiction of a man welcome. Paintings and statues that included a male figure were covered up or removed. This festival was said to be a lesbian orgy; however, it has been suggested that it was actually a purification rite. It was forbidden to use the word “wine” or “myrtle,” because Fauna’s father had beaten her to death with a myrtle stick upon finding that she had gotten drunk. Wine was forbidden to women under Roman law. However, it was also her father who gifted her with her divinity, be repenting of her killing and bestowing divinity upon her. Wine was served at her festival but was called milk. It was traditionally kept in a jar covered with cloth. The jar was referred to as the honey pot.
Fauna’s May celebrations took place in her temple and was held on May 1. Wine was served in the same manner as in the December rites. The temple was decorated with vines, flowers, and plants, with the careful exclusion of myrtle. This celebration was public and open to all women. The festival was rumored to included the ritual sacrifice of a pregnant sow.
Fauna’s temple was built over a cave that housed consecrated serpents. Enslaved women were prominent among the worshippers. In fact, Fauna was the only Roman deity to allow freed slaves to serve among her priestesses. Her rites were unique because she allowed high-ranking Roman women, poor women, prostitutes, and slaves to worship together side by side.
Fauna was also seen as the mother of the fairies. In this role she was a prophetess and seer. In addition, Fauna was the female essence of wildlife. In this role she was the companion of Faunus, who served as the male essence.
Fauna was a healing goddess and her temple garden was filled with medicinal herbs. The sick were brought to her temple gardens to be healed.