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…
One thing that’s always puzzled me about the theory that Indo-European languages are a guide to the mythologies of the peoples who speak them is the reluctance to take up the question of Diana and other “Divine” goddesses. After all, if *Dyéus is the sky-father, are Diana, Divona, Dione and Divuša sky-mothers?
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.
Dione, whose name means Divine or Goddess, is mainly known as Aphrodite’s mother, but she had her own cult, centred around the oracle at Dodona. She was probably a Mycenean goddess, but her origin is somewhat mysterious.
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.
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.