July 24, 2013

Skadi: The Norse Goddess of Winter

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , at 10:02 pm by Babs

Skadi [Kaw-dee] is also known as Skade, Skadhi or Skathi.  She is a giantess, also called the “snow-shoe goddess”, and the embodiment of winter.  She is the wife of the god Njord.  When her father Thiazi was slain by the gods, Skadi wanted to take revenge.  The gods thought it wiser to reconcile and offered her a marriage with one of them.  She was free to marry and god, but while she made her choice she was only allowed to see the feet of the potential candidates.  She noticed a very elegant pair and, convinced that their owner was the fair god Balder, she chose them.  Unfortunately for her, those feet belonged to the older god Njord.

Skadi (sometimes spelled Skathi – the name of one of Saturn’s moons) appears to be the most independent of the Norse Goddesses.  She is a giantess whose father Thiazi was killed for stealing the Goddess Idun (and therefore the God’s apples of immortality).  Her recompense was to choose a God to be her husband, but she could only judge them by their feet, the rest of their bodies being hidden.  She chose the most lovely pair, thinking that they belonged to the beautiful and good Balder, but instead got Njord, the Vanir sea-god.

Well, they tried living together, but Skadi wanted to live in her father’s hall, Thrymheim, and Njord wanted to live in Noatun, his seaside hall.  They tried to compromise by switching between halls every nine days, but it didn’t work out, and they finally got a divorce.  Rumor has it that Skadi then got together with Ullr, the God of winter and archery (among other things).

Skadi is called a “snowshoe Goddess” but scholars argue over whether these were actually snowshoes as we know them, or if they were instead skis.  I’d prefer to think she was a snowshoe Goddess.  She is also the Goddess of winter, but no one seems to know why.

To me, Skadi is a tall and strong with white-blonde hair (like Sunna) but with pale, icy-blue eyes and pale skin.  She wears her long hair in a thick braid and carries with her always a staff/ spear (I’m not sure which).  She may or may not have wolf/ dog friends.  I’m not sure which because wolves have a bad rap in Norse mythology (see Fenrir, Skoll, and Hati), but the Norwegian Spitz, for example, resembles a wolf/ husky type dog.  At any rate, she probably has some sort of animal companion who helps her hunt, maybe even a snowy owl.

Thrymheim, Skadi’s father’s home, is a big granite thing cut into the face of a cliff.  It is, after all, a giant’s dwelling.  Perhaps due to her upbringing, Skadi is definitely a Goddess of the mountains and perhaps her favorite place is in the boreal forest near the treeline.

Even though she is a winter Goddess she does not appear to spend a great deal of time on the tundra and/or with reindeer.  That is too much of a Saami domain.  She is said to affect the winter weather and like many winter Gods she has something of a short tempter.  However, I don’t think she tends to hold a grudge.  She did give up her revenge against her father’s killer for the prospect of love and marriage.  For some reason she is also associated with hunting which is probably why she was such a good match for Ullr.  This means she takes away but can also give and/or spare life.  She is likely more concerned with keeping the balance than wreaking havoc even when she is in a less than cheerful mood.

Herstory: Skadi

In Norse mythology, Skadi is the daughter of the giant Thiazi.  It is said that Thiazi kidnapped the youthful Goddess Idun and while the God Aesir came to rescue her, he killed Thiazi.  Skadi wanted revenge for the death of her father.  When she found Aesir they agreed she would not kill him if one of the gods could make her laugh and that she could pick a god to marry.  The first condition was met when trickster Loki made her laugh.  To meet the second condition she was only allowed to look at the god’s feet to pick her partner.  She was secretly in love with Balder as he was the most handsome god of them all, so she went for the cleanest and best looking feet but was disappointed to find they were not Balder’s.  Instead she had picked the Sea God Njord and not long after, married him.  Their marriage was difficult and after a while they separated because he loved to leve near the sea whereas she loved the mountains.  Later in life she remarried but there are conflicting stories of who she married; Ullr, the God of Skis or Odin, the god of War and Death.  Skadi ruled over mountains, wilderness, winter, revenge, knowledge, damage, justice and independence.

When do you call upon Skadi?  Call upon her when you need help moving from the dark into the light.

She is often depicted hunting while on skis/ snowshoes or on a snow-capped mountain.

Skadi is a huntress, a dark magician and in some stories she is depicted as a troll woman but Skadi is not an evil Goddess.  She symbolizes the many dark times that we all go through.

July 16, 2013

Pandora: The First Woman

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 7:45 am by Babs

In Greek mythology, Pandora (“all gifted”) was the first woman, fashioned by Zeus as part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire.  According to the myth, Pandora opened a container releasing all the miseries of mankind – greed, vanity, slander, envy, pining – leaving only hope inside.

The myth of Pandora is very old, appears in several distinct versions, and has been interpreted in many ways.  In all literary versions, however, the myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.  Hesiod, both in his Theogony (briefly, without naming Pandora outright, line 570) and in Works and Days, ca. 700 BCE, has a very early version of the Pandora story.  In modern times, Pandora’s Box has become a metaphor for the unanticipated consequences of technical and scientific development.  The evidence of the vase-painters reveals another, earlier aspect of Pandora.

The Myth According to Hesiod

The titan Epimetheus (“hindsight”) was responsible for giving a positive trait to each and every animal.  However, when it was time to give man a positive trait, there was nothing left.  Prometheus (“foresight”), his brother, felt that because man was superior to all other animals, man should have a gift no other animal possessed.  So Prometheus set forth to steal fire from Zeus and handed it over to man.

Zeus was enraged and decided to punish Prometheus and his creation: mankind.  To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained him in unbreakable fetters and set an eagle over him to eat his liver each day, as the eagle is Zeus’s sacred animal.  Prometheus was an immortal, so the liver grew back every day, but he was still tormented daily from the pain, until he was freed by Heracles during The Twelve Labors.  Another possible reason for Prometheus’s torment was because he know which of Zeus’s lovers would bear a child who would eventually overthrow Zeus.  Zeus commanded that Prometheus reveal the name of the mother, but Prometheus refused, instead choosing to suffer the punishment.

To punish mankind, Zeus demanded that the other gods make Pandora as a poisoned gift for man.  Pandora was given several traits from the different gods: Hephaestus molded her out of clay and gave her form; Athena clothed her and the Charities adorned her with necklaces made by Hephaestus; Aphrodite gave her beauty; Apollo gave her musical talent and a gift for healing; Demeter taught her to tend a garden; Poseidon gave her a pearl necklace and the ability to never drown; Zeus made her idle, mischievous, and foolish; Hera gave her curiosity; Hermes gave her cunning, boldness, and charm.  Thus the name Pandora – all gifts – in Hesiod’s version derives from the fact that she received gifts from all deities.

The most significant of these gifts, however, was a pithos or storage jar, given to Pandora either by Hermes or Zeus.  Before he was chained to the rock, Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to take any gifts from the gods.  However, when Pandora arrived, he fell in love with her.  Hermes told Epimetheus that Pandora was a gift to the titan from Zeus, and he waned Epimetheus not to open the jar, which was Pandora’s dowry.

Until then, mankind lived life in a paradise without worry.  Epimetheus told Pandora never to open the jar she had received from Zeus.  However, Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened it, releasing all the misfortunes of mankind: “For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills [kakoi] and hard toil [ponoi] and heavy sickness [nosoi argaleai] which bring the Keres [baleful spirits] upon men; for in time to keep one thing in the jar: hope.  The world remained extremely bleak for an unspecified interval, until Pandora “chanced” to revisit the box again, at which point Hope fluttered out.  Thus, mankind always has hope in times of evil.

In another, more philosophical version of the myth, hope [Elpis] is considered the worst of the potential evils, because it is equated with terrifying foreknowledge.  By preventing hope from escaping the jar, Pandora in a sense saves the world from the worst damage.  The daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora was Pyrrha, who married Deucalion and was one of the two who survived the deluge.

Problems and Mistranslation

Most scholars contend that Pandora’s “box” is a mistranslation, and her “box” may have been a large jar or vase, forged from the earth, perhaps because of similarities in shape between a jar and a woman’s uterus.  There is also evidence to suggest that Pandora herself was the “jar”.

The mistranslation is usually attributed to the 16th Century Humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Hesiod’s tale of Pandora.  Hesiod uses the word “pithos” which refers to a jar used to store grain.  It is possible that Erasmus confused “pithos” with “pyxis” which means box.  The scholar M.L. West has written that Erasmus may have mixed up the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche.  The original Greek text from 700 BC of Hesiod’s Works and Days, whence we get the earliest extant story of Pandora and the jar, does not specify exactly what was in the box Pandora opened.

M.L. West has written that the story of Pandora… pandoapoakdook… and her jar is from a pre-Hesiodic myth, and that this explains the confusion and problems with Hesiod’s version and its inconclusiveness.  He writes that in earlier myths, Pandora was married to Prometheus, and cites the ancient Catalogue of Women as preserving this older tradition, and that the jar may have at one point contained only good things for mankind.  He also writes that it may have been that Epimetheus and Pandora and their roles were transposed in the pre-Hesiodic myths, a “mythic inversion”.  He remarks that there is a curios correlation between Pandora being made out of earth in Hesiod’s story, to what is in Apollodorus that Prometheus created man from water and earth.  (Appolodorus, Library and Epitome, ed. Sir James George Frazer.)


The story of Pandora’s Box can be interpreted in more than one way, but is often thought to be a version of “curiosity killed the cat”.  Various feminist scholars believe that in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was the Great Goddess, provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible, and that Hesiod’s tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status.  For an alternate view of Pandora, see Charlene Spretnak’s Lost Goddesses of Early Greece; A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Mythology, 1978.  The presence of hope in a jar full of evils for mankind raises questions about whether Hope is a comfort for the evil mankind experiences, or whether the hope for something better must be interpreted as the damnation of mankind.

Pandora As Depicted By the Vase-Painters

Jane Ellen Harrison turned to the repertory of vase-painters to shed light on aspects of myth that were left unaddressed or disguised in literature.  The story of Pandora was repeated on Greek ceramics.  On a fifth century amphora in the Ashmolean Museum the half-figure of Pandora emerges from the ground, her arms upraised in the epiphany gesture, to greet Epimetheus.  A winged Ker with a fillet hovers overhead: “Pandora rises from the earth; she is the Earth, giver of all gifts,” Harrison observes.  On another vase showing the fashioning of Pandora she is inscribed with her alternate name: [A]nesidora (“who sends up gifts”).  “Pandora is form or title of the Earth-goddess in the Kore form, entirely humanized and vividly personified by mythology.”  and she quotes a scholium on a passage of Aristophanes mentioning a sacrificed white fleeced ram to Pandora: “to Pandora, the earth, because she bestows all things necessary for life”.  Thus Harrison concludes “in the patriarchal mythology of Hesiod her great figure is strangely changed.  She is no longer Earth-born, but the creature, the handiwork of Olympian Zeus.”

In Summary

Pandora plays an intriguing role in Greek mythology.  According to the most well-known legend, she was the first woman, created by the ruler of the gods, Zeus.  Zeus was assisted in this task by other Greek deities, including Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, who used her powers to bestow upon Pandora grace and loveliness; Hermes, messenger of the gods, gave Pandora persuasion; and Apollo, god of music and the arts, favored the woman with musical skill.  Because of the gifts of the gods, Pandora was very attractive – her name even means “all gifts”.

However, Pandora had a flaw.  She was curious.  When she encountered a jar that belonged to Epimetheus, she could not resist learning about its mysterious contents, and so she therefore opened it.  This jar contained all of the evils, which were then released into the world.  The only thing that remained in the jar was hope.

She, as the first woman, created after man, is sometimes compared to Eve in Hebrew myth.  Pandora was originally a title of the goddess Rhea (the name means all gifts) – but the story of Pandora and her jar (not box) was more the anti-feminine invention of the poet Hesiod.

But even if Pandora had a jar and not a box, women as portrayed in ancient art are forever putting things tidily away in boxes of various kinds.  There’s even the myth of Danae, where she and her son Perseus were themselves tidied away in a box and dumped at sea.  Francois Lissarague has discussed the idea that the box is symbolic of women’s life in Athens – she was to a large extent herself seen as a container – for the sperm, for the child, who spent most of her life in a container (house) designed for the purpose of allowing no unauthorized person to open the box.

There is a second myth which is less known that says Zeus created Pandora, in good faith, to be a blessing to man.  Zeus sent with her box containing the marriage presents, which were given by every god.  Pandora, being curious, opened the box and all the blessings flew out, save one, Hope.

It is said that the second myth seems more logical, for how could Hope be stored in the same container as all manner of evil and illness.  Unlike today’s associations with Pandora, we need to remember that this goddess’ name mans “all-giver” or “sender of gifts”.  And when the evils of the world threaten, let us not forget that Pandora’s box still, and always, holds hope.

July 9, 2013

Pele: The Hawaiian Goddess of Fire

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 10:38 am by Babs

Described as “She Who Shapes The Sacred Land” in ancient Hawaiian chants, the volcano goddess Pele was passionate, volatile, and capricious.  In modern times, Pele has become the most visible of all the old gods and goddesses.  Dwelling in the craters of the Big Island’s Kilauea Volcano, she has been sending ribbons of fiery lava down the mountainside and adding new land around the southeastern shore almost continuously since 1983.

Pele was born of the female spirit Haumea, or Hina, who, like all other important Hawai’i gods and goddesses, descended from the supreme beings, Papa, or Earth Mother and Wakea, Sky Father.  Pele was among the first voyagers to sail to Hawai’i, pursued, legends say, by her angry older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha’i because Pele had seduced her husband.  Pele landed first on Kaua’i, but every time she thrust her digging stick into the earth to dig a pit for her home, Na-maka-kaha’i, goddess of water and the sea, would flood the pits.  Pele moved down the chain of islands in order of their geological formation, eventually landing on the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, which is considered the tallest mountain on earth when measured  from its base at the bottom of the ocean.  Even Na-maka-kaha’i could not send the ocean’s waves high enough on Mauna Loa to drown Pele’s fires, so Pele established her home on its slopes.  Here, she welcomed her brothers.  A cliff on nearby Kilauea Mountain is sacred to her eldest brother, to this day, Pele never allows clouds of volcanic steam to touch this cliff.

Her other brothers also still appear on the Big Island mountain; Kane-hekili as thunder, Ka-poho-i-kahi-ola as explosions, Ke-ua-a-kepo in showers of fire, and Ke-o-ahi-kama-kaua in spears of lava that escape from fissures during eruptions.

Of all her siblings, Pele favored her youngest sister Hi’iaka, the most.  Pele, Hi’iaka and another sister, Laka,  goddess of hula, were all patronesses of the dance, but Hi’iaka was said to have hatched from an egg that Pele kept warm during the long canoe ride to Hawai’i by transporting it in her armpit.

After Hi’iaka grew to womanhood on the Big Island, Pele traveled in spirit form to the north shore of Kaua’i to witness a dance performance at a pahula, or dance platform, that still exists near Ke’e Beach.  Here she manifested herself as a desirable young woman, and quickly fell in love with a handsome young chief named Lohi’au.  She dallied with Lohi’au for several days, but eventually her spirit had to return to her sleeping body on the Big Island.  Upon awakening, Pele sent Hi’iaka to convince Lohi’au to come to her.

The sisters extracted vows from each other: Hi’iaka promised not to encourage Lohi’au should he become attracted to her  and in return, Pele promised to contain her fires and lava flows so as not to burn a grove of flowering ohi’a trees where Hi’iaka danced with her friend Hopoe.

On Kaua’i, Hi’iaka found that Lohi’au had died of grief after Pele disappeared, but the graceful younger sister was able to restore his spirit to his body, bringing him back to life.  Together, the two of them began the journey to the Big Island, but Pele’s suspicious nature got the best of her.  Because forty days had passed since Hi’iaka had set out on her assign mission, Pele decided she had been betrayed, and so sent a flood of lava into Hi’iaka’s ‘ohi’a-lehua grove, killing Hopoe in the process.  When Hi’iaka saw the smoldering trees and her dancing friend entombed in lava, she flung herself into the arms of Lohi’au.  In retribution, Pele set lose another stream of lava, which killed the mortal Lohi’au, but Hi’iaka, a goddess could not be destroyed.

The legend has a happy ending, however, as yet another brother of Pele’s, Kane-milo-hai, reached out and caught Lohi’au’s spirit when he saw it floating past his canoe.  He restored the spirit to Lohi’au’s body, and once again, the chief was brought back to life.  Hi’iaka and Lohi’au returned to Kaua’i to live contentedly.

Legends about Pele, her rivals and her lovers abound.  Most of the lovers she took were not lucky enough to escape with their lives when she hurled molten lava at them, trapping them in odd misshapen pillars of rock that dot volcanic fields to this day.

One lover who proved a match for Pele was Kamapua’a, a demigod who hid the bristles that grew down his back by wearing a cape.  The pig god could also appear as a plant or as various types of fish.  He and Pele were at odds from the beginning; she covered the land with barren lava, he brought torrents of rain to extinguish her fires and called the wild boars to dig up the land, softening it so seeds could grow.  Pele and Kamapua’a raged against each other until her brothers begged her to give in, as they feared Kamapua’a’s storms would soak all the fire sticks and kill Pele’s power to restore fire.  In Puna, at a placed called Ka-lua-o-Pele, where the land seems torn up as if a great struggle had taken place, legend says Kamapua’a finally caught and ravaged Pele.  The two remained tempestuous lovers, it is said, until a child was born, then Kamapua’a sailed away and Pele went back to her philandering ways.

Pele’s greatest rival was Poliahu, goddess of snow-capped mountains and a beauty who, like Pele, seduced handsome mortal chiefs.  Pele’s jealousy flamed after she had a fling with a fickle young Maui chief named ‘Ai-wohi-ku-pua, as he was traveling to the Big Island to court a mortal chiefess, Laie.  Paddling along the Hana Coast, ‘Ai-wohi-ku-pua saw Pele in human form as a beauty named Hina-i-ka-malama, riding the surf.  He paused for a brief affair.  Then he went on to the Big Island, where Poliahu seduced him.  He convinced his personal goddess to release him from his promise to his first love, and went back to Kaua’i with the snow goddess.  Pele (as Hina-i-ka-malama) chased after them, eventually winning back the fickle chief, but Poliahu was so vindictive, she blasted the lovers with cold and heat until they separated, and ‘Ai-wohi-ku-pua was left with no lover at all.

According to Hawaiian historian David Malo in his book “Hawaiian Antiquities,” in old Hawai’i, some gods and goddesses, including Pele, were believed to be akua noho, gods who talked.  They could take possession of an earthly being, who became the god’s kahu.  Malo writes, “The kahu of the Pele deities also were in the habit of dressing their hair in such a way as to make it stand  out at great length, then, having inflamed and reddened their eyes, they went about begging for any articles they took a fancy to, making the threat, “If you don’t grant this request, Pele will devour you.”  Many people were imposed upon in this manner, fearing Pele might actually consume them.”  Naturally, people who had seen others destroyed in Pele’s fiery lava flows, were terrorized by such a kahu.  Pele has continued to intrigue contemporary men.  Not long after the old religion was abolished in 1819, the high chiefess Kapi’olani defied Pele by eating ‘ohelo berries at the edge of Halema’uma’u caldera without first offering them to or requesting Pele’s permission.  In open defiance, Kapi’olani threw stones into the molten lava below.  When she was not harmed, she insisted it proved Pele had no power and it was time for Hawaiian people to accept Christianity as their religion.  In 1823, when Reverend William Ellis became the first white man to visit Kilauea, most Hawaiians accompanying the expedition were still in awe of the volatile goddess.  The hungry missionaries began to eat ‘ohelo berries, but were quickly warned to give Pele an offering.  Ellis wrote, “We told them… that we acknowledge Jehovah as the only divine proprietor of the fruits of this earth, and felt thankful to Him for them, especially in our present circumstances.” …We traveled on, regretting that the natives should indulge in notions so superstitious.”  At the crater, the Hawaiian guides “turned their faces toward the place where the greatest quantity of smoke and vapor issued, and, breaking the (‘phelo) branch they held in their hand in two, they threw one part down the precipice, saying:

E Pele, eia ka ‘ohelo ‘au; (Oh, Pele, here are your branches)

e taumaha aku wau ‘ia ‘oe (I offer some to you)

e ‘ai ho’i au tetahi (some I also eat).

To this day, tales of Pele’s power and peculiarities continue.  Whispered encounters with Pele include those of drivers who pick up an old woman dressed all in white accompanied by a little dog on roads in Kilauea National Park, only to look in the mirror to find the back seat empty.  Pele’s face has mysteriously appeared in photographs of fiery eruptions, and most people who live in the islands, whether Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan or other religion, speak respectfully of the ancient goddess.  After all, she has destroyed more than 100 structures on the Big Island since 1983, and perhaps even more awesome than that, she has added more than 70 acres of land to the island’s southeastern coastline.

Personal Note:  When visiting Kilauea National Park with my Mom a few years ago… I picked up and pocketed 3 small chunks of lava stone; one for me and the others for friends who would appreciate the stone for its association with Pele.  When the tour was moving on, the guide explained about the “woman in white” and how she frowned upon those taking bits of her island (and hard work) away.  It is said that she will visit you and bring all the wrath she could to punish you for your actions.  Here I am with three chunks of her work in my pocket!  Not wanting to attract attention to myself at the time… I kept quiet and returned to the cruise ship.  When I could, I slipped out to the deck railing… quietly explained to her what I had done, apologized, and tossed the stones over the rail stating that I hoped reaching the ocean helped her work rather than hindered it.  It is important to realize that I risked getting caught throwing things off of a cruise ship which they frown upon greatly.  I thanked my lucky stars for not getting caught, returned to the cabin… and dressed for dinner.  All these years later I have not had a visit from the Woman in White or her little dog and feel that she accepted my apology!  I was sure it is a story told to keep people from weighing down airplanes and cruise ships with chunks of lava… I wasn’t taking any chances!  When I told this story to my High Priestess she explained that people have often resorted to mailing back the stones to the Big Island to escape the bad luck associated with stealing the stone.  Packages are sent from all over the world… so Pele has far reaching affects!  To this day, offerings are made to Pele at the edge of the crater in the form of fruits, flowers and even alcohol.

July 1, 2013

Acca Larentia: Roman Mother Goddess

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , at 10:46 pm by Babs

Acca Larentia is a Roman Goddess who is most famous for being the foster-mother of the mythical twins Romulus and Remus.  She is an Earth Goddess and protectress, and the divine ancestress of Rome, associated with wolves, the Underworld, and the fertility of the earth and fields.

In a late but widely known legend, Acca Larentia is the wife of Faustulus, a shepherd to the King of the time, who found the abandoned infants Romulus and Remus being miraculously nursed by a she-wolf.  They were really sons of the God Mars, who had come to their mother, the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia in the form of a wolf.  Faustulus took them home to his wife, who then acted as their wet-nurse.  Acca Larentia and Faustulus had twelve sons; since one of them had died, Romulus took his place.  These twelve brothers under the supervision of their mother sacrificed annually in the fields (the arvae) to bring fertility to the crops, and were said to be the foundation of the twelve-man brotherhood of the Arval priests.

Sometimes Romulus and Remus were said to have been nursed by the wolf-goddess Lupa or Luperca, who was identified with Acca Larentia.  In this version Luperca’s husband is the wolf and shepherd god Lupercus who brought fertility to the flocks and through his rapport with the wolves, kept them from harming the sheep.  The Lupercalia was the festival of Lupercus and was concerned with fertility and purification of both the flocks and the City of Rome.  Wolves and sheep come up a lot in these legends concerning and glorifying the origins of Rome for the city was believed to have been founded by a clan of shepherds who settled on the Palatine Hill, and Romulus and Remus were shepherd kings.

In another tale, Acca Larentia is a notorious and beautiful prostitute who was shut up in the temple of Hercules overnight.  There She dreamed that Hercules came to Her, and promised a gift from the first man She met the next morning.  Accordingly, the next day She met a wealthy man who fell in love with Her and married Her, leaving his great fortune to Her at his death.  At Her own death, She bequeathed the fortune to the city of Rome.  In a variation of the same tale, Acca Larentia gains the wealth not through marriage but through Her own career as a prostitute in which She is known as Lupa, or “she-wolf”, ancient slang for a prostitute.  In either case, the people of Rome were to grateful to Her that they instituted a festival on December 23rd, called the Larentalia, where sacrifices were made at a site in the Velabrum (the low-lying little valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills) by the Flamin Quirinalis, the Priest of Quirinus, aka Romulus, as His foster-mother.  This spot was said to be either the location of Her tomb, or the spot where She disappeared when She ascended as a Goddess.

Although in most of the Roman tales Acca Larentia is said to be a deified mortal, She is actually a very old Goddess of Etruscan origin.  She is connected with the Lares (also Etruscan in origin), the household Gods who protected the family and were sometimes thought of as the spirits of the benevolent dead.  In earliest times, the dead of a household were usually buried on the family’s property, hence the localized nature of the Lares.  Her name among the Sabines is Larunda, to whom She was a house-goddess like the Lares, and whose festival in December became the Roman Larentalia.  As Lara or Mater Larum She was considered the Mother of the Lars and an Underworld Goddess.  In yet another myth, Lara was a nymph who talked too much; Jupiter cut out Her tongue, and afterwards She was known as Muta (“the Silent”) or Tacita (“the Secret”), also a name for one of the Camenae, a group of four prophetic Roman Goddesses.

So it seems that Acca Larentia is an old benevolent Earth Goddess, with both chthonic and fertility aspects.  In Her role of Underworld Goddess, She watches over the beloved dead, protecting them and their living families, as well as the larger family of the people of Rome, whose mythical founder Romulus She nourished and sheltered.  As Wolf-Goddess She watched over the shepherds and their kings and brought fertility to the flocks; as Mother of the dead She also has connections to prophecy.  As the fertile Earth She brings abundance and bounty to the fields, and in the reference making Her a courtesan one sees a hint of a Goddess of Springtime and Love; for Acca Larentia was also honored on the last day of April, a day that fell within the springtime festival of the Floralia, a wild joyous celebration where prostitutes were especially honored.

Alternate names: Acca Laurentia, Acca Larenta, Larentia, Laurentia, Lara, Larunda, Larenta, Larentina, Mater Larum (“Mother of the Lares”).  Equated with  Faunda (wife of Faunus, who had an oracle on the Aventine hill), the Bona Dea, Lupa, Luperca, Dea Dia.

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