These words by Thomas Babbington Macaulay succinctly sum up the deadly duel of life and death to decide the Rex Nemorensis, the legendary High Priest of Diana Nemorensis of the Sacred Grove of Lake Nemi. The Rex Nemorensis was a shadowy figure in ancient Greek and Roman myth and legend. Most versions of his story agree that he earned his title and role by winning a fight to the death to become the “ghastly priest” of the above verse. Here we shall briefly discuss the mythical goddess of the Sacred Grove, Diana Nemorensis, followed by a look at her high priest and his deadly duel…
Those of us who know Iphigenia only from Euripides’ tragedies (Iphigenia in Tauris, Iphigenia at Aulis) may be surprised to know that she also had a presence in Greek religion, with temples or shrines at various sites where she received prayers and offerings.
You may remember, if you read my post on Taranis, how the Roman writer Lucan compared his cult to that of the “cruel” Diana of the Scythians. I wondered at the time who Diana of the Scythians was, and what was cruel about her cult.
To all the gods, honey
To the mistress of the labyrinth, honey.
The civilization at Knossos, on the island of Crete, preceded that of the Greeks. While it is hard to say exactly how much of the later Greek culture reflects that of the Cretans, both considered honey a gift worthy of the gods.
The bow and arrow were so useful that the Norse had two different deities associated with them: Ullr and Skadi. Ullr skiied, travelled across the ice, and shot game with his bow. The giantess Skadi also skiied and lived in the mountains, like the indigeneous Sami, whose lifestyle was so different from that of the sea-faring and farming Norse.
Hunting with a bow was a Sami trait, along with the use of magic. Norse sagas don’t come right out and condemn archery, but in Norse myth Tyr and Thor use close-combat weapons, although Odin uses the arrow’s near relative, the spear.
Before Christmas I wrote about Holda, Berchta and Perchta, who led the wild hunt and perhaps received children in the afterlife. For the new year, I want to look at another trio of goddesses, who oversaw birth, and the infant’s journey into the light of life.
I thought I was done with deer-goddesses, after the posts on Flidias, hunting goddesses and horned goddesses. Sometimes, however, you’re only done with a subject when it’s done with you. I couldn’t leave this topic without mentioning Carvonia, a Celtic goddess from Central Europe.
Besides Flidais, there are many Celtic goddesses of the hunt and the wild. I have listed several continentsl ones below, as well as the evidence for the cult of Diana in Britain.
These goddesses are easier to read, because they appear under their own names, while Diana may or may not be hiding a native goddess. (The god Silvanus presents the same problem.) Ironically, the only real evidence we have for Diana being assimilated into a native cult is from the continent, in the form of Diana Mattiaca and Abnoba.
Where did the idea that Flidais rode in a chariot drawn by deer come from? It’s not in her main legend, the Táin Bó Flidais, nor in the follow-on story, the Táin Bó Cúailnge. It’s an attractive image, bringing to mind the Middle Eastern goddesses with their lion-drawn chariots, Freyja with her cats, and Nerthus in her wagon drawn by heifers.