Nov 14, 2015

Posted by in Feronia, Goddesses | 0 Comments

The Festival of Feronia

A denarius struck in 19 BC during the reign of...

A denarius struck in 19 BC during the reign of Augustus, with the goddess Feronia depicted on the obverse, and on the reverse a Parthian man kneeling in submission while offering the Roman military standards taken at the Battle of Carrhae See Brosius 2006, pp. 137–138 for more information on Roman coins depicting Parthians returning the lost military standards to Rome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Ancient Roman times, November 13-14 was the Festival of Feronia. A goddess that was worshipped by the Sabine tribe even before the founding of Rome, Feronia ruled fertility, health, abundance, prophecy, and the wilderness. While not popular in the city of Rome itself, the Cult of Feronia flourished in the smaller communities of central Italy, specifically Latium (Lazio) and Campania.

There are several mentions of Feronia in the literature of the era. In Virgil’s Aeneid, soldiers from Lucus Feroniae (Feronia’s Grove) fought against Aeneas. Feronia’s son Erulus had three bodes and three souls, which made it necessary for the King of Arcadia to kill him three times.

While Feronia was a goddess of wild places, it was she who enabled people to find nourishment in the wilderness. Thus, though her shrines tended to be off the beaten path, the offerings were things like the first fruits of the season. According to the Sabine scholar, Varro, Feronia was also the guardian spirit of liberty.

There were two main shrines to Feronia in the Italian countryside. Lucus Feroniae was at the base of Mount Soracte, near Capena; there, a yearly festival was held in her honor. This festival became more like a trade fair, where tribes from all over could meet, worship, and do business on neutral ground. One highlight of the rites in Lucus Feroniae was the priestesses walking barefoot across burning embers, without suffering any ill effects. The other main shrine was in a forest three miles from what is now Terracina, in Latina. A 5th century diary recounts that when the wood was destroyed by a fire, and the faithful were getting ready to move the goddess’ statues elsewhere, the charred forest suddenly became green again. It was at this shrine that slaves who had just been freed could go to receive their pileus, the hat that symbolized their new status.

While the Cult of Feronia appears to have faded in subsequent centuries, Charles Godfrey Leland, in Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition, wrote about its remaining vestiges in 19th Century Tuscany. Described initially as an ancient goddess of marketplaces and fairs, Feronia had seemingly morphed into a witch goddess who haunted marketplaces in disguise, begging for alms. Those who did not give would suffer misfortune. Those whose poverty would not allow them to give, would find abundant gifts waiting for them after sunrise the following morning. It would be interesting to learn who Feronia is now.

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