Fauna is the goddess of wildlife, forests, and fertility. She is Faunus’ daughter and among those spirits who possessed Mysteries, meaning that while certain of their rituals were open to the general public, others (the Mysteries) were reserved solely for initiates. Fauna is among the spirits known as Bona Dea, literally the “Good Goddess,” but also indicating that their interaction is solely with women. (See Also:Bona Dea)
Fauna was an extremely important goddess. She was enshrined on Rome’s Aventine Hill, but her annual Mystery was held in the home of Rome’s leading magistrate under the direction of his wife, who was assisted by Vestal Virgins. A women-only event, even representations like sculptures or portraits of men or male animals were covered or removed. Fauna’s Mysteries were secret upon pain of law. Were men curious? They must have been. Legal records exist of men prosecuted for attempting to sneak into her rites. Her Mysteries remain secret and thus unknown today.
In 62 BCE, Publius Clodius Pulcher dressed in drag and tried to sneak into the Mysteries, held that year in the home of Julius Caesar. He was caught. The scandal resulted in a trial, but he was acquitted via bribery. Rumour on the street was that he was conducting or attempting to conduct an affair with Pompeia, Caesar’s wife. Although no evidence indicated this to be true, Caesar divorced her, famously saying that the wife of Caesar must be above suspicion. Pulcher was assassinated in 52 BCE.
In addition to secret, mystic rites, Fauna was also very publicly a goddess of physical healing. The sick were tended in her temple’s garden of medicinal herbs, essentially a sacred hospital. In Rome, snakes were associated with healing in general, but especially with women’s reproductive health. Snakes, Fauna’s sacred creature, were housed in her temple gardens.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Fatua and Bona Dea
Fauna is portrayed seated upon a throne, holding a cornucopia.
December 4th commemorates the anniversary of her Mystery.
There is controversy as to whether wine is forbidden from Fauna’s rites. One theory is that, because wine was once taboo for Roman women, any wine brought into Fauna’s temple was euphemistically called “milk.” Alternatively, the legend goes that wine and myrtle were banned because Faunus once got drunk and beat Fauna with a myrtle branch. That may be a euphemism for the myth in which Faunus rapes his daughter (who may also be his consort).
- Roman Mythology
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.