Some of the earliest gods and goddesses from ancient cultures are associated with heavenly bodies — the Sun, the Moon and the stars— and with the Earth itself, each attributed with a specific energy (feminine or masculine) and with specific functions, not unlike today’s Christian saints and their “patronage” (e.g. Saint Cecilia, patroness of musicians; Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of animal welfare; Saint Joseph, patron of carpenters and craftsmen; Peter the Apostle, patron of fishermen).
Their functions and myths changed over time reflecting the changes in those cultures, the assimilation by or of other cultures, and the syncretization with newer spiritual or religious beliefs.
An example from ancient times would be the adoption of the gods and goddesses from “foreign” cultures by the Romans. The Roman spirituality was already polytheistic and, as their Empire spread across the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, they incorporated many gods and goddess from the Greek and other cultures into their own. It is unlikely that Diana was always associated with the Moon, but her association with the Greek goddess Artemis (and possibly Hecate) forged that link.
Mythology quickly became religion, with temples to many of these gods and goddesses built in Rome and throughout the Empire. The names of these gods and goddesses and their festivals influenced our Western culture, down to the names of the planets (Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, etc), many of the days of the week (Saturn-day, Moon-day) and months of the year such as those named for Janus (January), Mars (March) and Juno (June).
Diana and Artemis
In the Roman pantheon, Diana — goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility and the Moon — was the twin sister of Apollo, god of the Sun. The origins of her name are rooted in words meaning heavenly, bright sky, bright one, luminous, and divine. To some, she was known as Diana the Bright. Elsewhere in the Roman Empire, especially with the Celtic tribes of Gaul, she became known as Nemetona, goddess of the Sacred Grove.
Many modern-day pagans see Diana as a goddess of pagans and witches, as did those in the Stregheria tradition of Italy . The Dianic Wiccan tradition founded by Z Budapest in the 1970s honours her and goddesses of many cultures, as aspects of a monotheistic goddess. There are other Dianic traditions; for more info, click here.
The Greek equivalent of Diana was Artemis, also a twin to the Sun God Apollo aka Apollo Helios. It would seem that both Artemis and Apollo had even earlier roots in Greek mythology, as the Titan god of the Sun (Helios) and goddess of the Moon (Selene). Some scholars say that the cult of Diana pre-dates that of Artemis, most likely as a goddess of the woodlands, and somehow these two were merged, conflated. Diana-like and Artemis-like goddesses are found in many cultures. With their antiquity, either/both may be the original triple goddess of Maiden-Mother-Crone.
History and Ancient Practices
The sanctuary for Diana of the Wood aka Diana the Bright and Diana Nemorensis (“Diana of Nemi”) was built in the Aricia sacred grove dedicated to her on Lake Nemi, about 35 kms south-east of Rome. There is also some evidence that the same grove was dedicated to the goddess Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, home and family (per Wikipedia).
Although the grove was for women, it was also associated with a familiar myth, that of the death of the fertility god (in this case, the High Priest of the Sacred Grove, known as Rex Nemorensis), to be replaced by a younger challenger who first had to take a “golden bough” (the inspiration for Frazer’s book of comparative mythology, “The Golden Bough”) from one of the trees in the sacred grove. We also see this in the tales of the battles between the Oak King and the Holly King at mid-summer and mid-winter in Celtic and Druidic beliefs.
In the pre-Christian era of the Roman Empire, Diana was celebrated with a week-long festival, typically at the Full Moon in August. Over time, like many astronomical-based dates, the annual festival became fixed and was celebrated on August 13th (the Idea of August). I choose to celebrate with the Full Moon, because of Diana’s association as goddess of the Moon.
During the Nemorensis festival — aka the Nemoralia, aka the Festival of Torches — much around the same time as the Celtic Harvest Festival of Lughnasadh, the Romans prayed for a bountiful harvest. They provided offerings in her Sacred Grove at Lake Nemi, or in forests or at a cross-roads, the latter perhaps a link to Hekate? Diana was also the protector of enslaved people, and household slaves were given the day off for the Nemorensis festival.
Women, in particular, worshipped Diana as she was also a goddess for women’s fertility and a healthy childbirth. Women prepared for the festival by washing their hair with water and a small amount of milk to represent the Moon. They scribed their wishes onto strips of cloth and affixed them to trees in the sacred grove, very much like the Brat Bridhe (strips of Brighid’s Mantle) that many of us put out at Imbolc Eve for Brighid.
In honour of Diana’s brightness, torches were lit and bonfires started throughout the festival.
There are many ways we can honour Diana at the Full Moon, on our altars and in the simplest of rituals such as:
- write prayers for Diana on a strip of cloth or paper and tie to a tree
- ask Diana for protection for your companion animals, and all wild animals
- light a white candle for Diana on your personal altar to represent the fires and torches in her Sacred Grove, and even bring in some elements of the grove itself with boughs, leaves and tree berries
- add the Drawing Down the Moon ritual to whatever you are planning for the Full Moon
Light a candle or torch for Diana on the Full Moon.
Message from the Artemis card, “Guardian”
You and your loved ones are safe and spiritually protected.
Message from the Diana card, “Focused Intention”
Keep your unwavering thoughts, feelings, and actions focused on your target, and you will make your mark.