Published November 29, 2007 by
Good things begin to happen with the Good Goddess, Bona Dea. In December, just before the winter solstice when the sun's progression into darkness is complete, Roman women gathered together in the private house of the appointed priestess, a woman of unblemished virtue. They gathered on this dark winter night to celebrate a mystery rite to a goddess whose name was so secret that we know her only as the Good Goddess, or Bona Dea. Her real name was never stated publicly.
Bona Dea. also known as Damia (Da Mater or Demeter), was an earth goddess who promoted fertility in women. Her rites were secret. as was her true name. The woman officiating as her priestess during the ritual was called Damiatrix.
A play, music. and sacred objects revealed only to attendees were part of the ritual. The room for the service was decorated with vine leaves. a pig was offered. and wine that was named "milk" was offered to Bona Dea and then drunk by the worshipers.
This rite to the Good Goddess was considered of a private nature as it took place not in a temple, but in the home of the consul, whose wife served as priestess. The public rite at the temple of Bona Dea was held on May 1. In contrast, the December ritual was not paid for at state expense and the high priest did not attend; nor, however, did any males, for this was strictly a female ritual.
The rites were desecrated in 62 B.C.E., when Clodius, dressing as a woman, attended the rites at the house of Julius Caesar, whose mother, Aurelia, and wife, Pompeia, presided. Aurelia recognized Clodius and ended the rites, quickly covering up the sacred objects that were forbidden to male view. When the sacrilege was discovered, Clodius was driven from the house and the Vestal Virgins began the rites again. Regardless, Caesar divorced his wife on these grounds, saying that the wife of Caesar had to be above suspicion.
Mystery rites for women only, involving sacred objects displayed only to women, held in a private house where all pictures of men are covered with veils ... Just what went on in that house where the room was decorated with vine leaves and wine was renamed "mother's milk" and drunk?
Music, plays, and dancing for women only? The men were very suspicious, curious, and perhaps a little jealous or fearful, for nothing seems to threaten and intrigue men more than deep, dark female secrets. Clodius sneaks in, Cicero wants to know the exact date and location, and]uvenal, a Roman satirist, wrote a ridiculous description of the Bona Dea rite, even though he never attended. He assumes that when women share ritual alone in a private house for the Good Goddess, their central theme must be sexual exploitation of men. Wild women can never trusted!
The secret rites of the Good Goddess are pretty well known:
When a flute stirs their loins and the Maenads of Priapus groan And how I in frenzy from music and wine and toss their hair. Oh, how they bum for intercourse, what cries declare their throbbing lust ... They're females without inhibitions and around the ritual den Rings a cry from every comer: "We're ready! Bring in the men!"
(Juvenal 6.314 ff.)
Modern Ritual to Wild Women and the Good Goddess, Bona Dea
Women's personal time together and women's private rites will always remain a mystery to men. Gather with your women friends to perform a ritual to the wild side, that part of your being that identifies with the holiest goddess, She Who Can Never Be Named. Offer her some wine, drink in some "mother's milk," and share secrets with women friends. We can all use a beneficent nod from the Good Goddess, Bona Dea. Â