Nemoralia

Nemoralia was the chief festival honoring the goddess Diana. As Cicero noted (De Natura Deorum, 3.58), there are many Dianas, many “faces” or “roads” by which this mighty Goddess was known and worshipped. Nemoralia celebrates nearly all of the many facets of Diana, glorifying Her as the Lady of the Wilds, Mistress of the Beasts, Goddess of the Moon, Guardian of the Oak, Friend of the Nymph, Grand Midwife, and the Protector of Maidens.

Ancient Romans performed the festival either on the 13th of August (later moved to the 15th) or upon the full moon of August. The festival was also known as the Festival of Torches, so called because worshippers assembled by torch or candlelight at Lake Nemi. According to Plutarch, everyone assembled had made a special ritual of washing their hair before dressing it with flowers. Dogs were also honored and likewise adorned with flowers. Worshippers wrote prayers and wishes upon ribbons, which were then tied to trees. Sacrifices were made of fruits, tiny sculptures of stags, tiny sculptures of mothers and children, and bread or clay in the shape of body parts in need of healing. The hunting or killing of any beast was forbidden during Nemoralia. Slaves and women were free from their duties during the time of the festival, and while men and masters did participate in the festival, they were required to be on equal terms with women and slaves.

Ovid, in Fasti 3: 259-275, wrote this of the Nemoralia, “Inform me, thou nymph who on Diana’s grove and lake dost wait; thou nymph, wife of Numa, come tell of thine own deeds. In the Arician vale there is a lake begirt by shady woods and hallowed by religion of old. Here Hippolytus lies hid, who by the reins of his steeds was rent in pieces: hence no horses enter that grove. The long fence is draped with hanging threads, and many a tablet there attests the merit of the goddess. Often doth a woman, whose prayer has been answered, carry from the City burning torches, while garlands wreathe her brows. The strong of hand and fleet of foot do there reign kings, and each is slain thereafter even as himself has slain. A pebbly brook flows down with fitful murmur; oft have I drunk of it, but in little sips. Egeria it is who doth supply the water, goddess dear to the Camenae; she was wife and councillor to Numa.”

The festival proved so popular that the Catholic Church chose 15 Aug. as the date of the Feast of the Assumption, the chief festival honoring Mary.

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