Gather your girlfriends and get your groove on, December 1-5 is time for the festival of the Good Goddess Bona Dea, traditionally a girls-night-in led by ancient Rome’s priestesses of fire.
Get five top tips for hosting your own Bona Dea goddess party, here.
This mysterious Earth Mother of ancient Rome represents all things goddessy and feminine, from our wild, fierce and flirty to our nurturing, smart and sensual. She loved the forests, and her temples contained herb dispensaries.
In ancient Rome, this secretive celebration was held on 1-5 December (it’s too ancient to know exactly which date and seems to have varied) in the home of the chief magistrate or consul (who was sent away with the boys) and presided by the famous Vestal Virgins. With this privacy, women partied like they were rarely allowed with loads of wine and food, music, blood sacrifice and offerings.
Bona Dea’s festival invites you to reconnect, re-energise and revive all that you love about being woman (sans live sacrifice).
1. Invite guests to dress like a goddess
This is a celebration of the feminine so encourage guests to wear something that feels fabulous and honors our bodies just the way they are. Roman goddess gowns feel gorgeous but remember Bona Dea is down-to-earth so guests needn’t go ‘woo woo’ if it isn’t comfortable: flirty, flouncy, floral, bling, goth, warrior or onesies all do it too. Anything goes!
2. Set the mood
Out under the moon is ideal for this nature goddess. Either outdoors or in, decorate from her forests and gardens: string vines; bunch herbs and wildflowers; scatter cinnamon sticks, seed pods and pine cones; you name it. Nature is abundance so pile the table high with luscious plant and animal foods like juicy berries and grapes, olives, dates, cheeses and cured meats. Red wine can represent the blood of the sacrifice as well as all things living, and the creative powers of women.
3. Bring fire
Fire is another powerful way to connect to the feminine and our ability to nurture, provide, destroy, and attract. People are always drawn to the fireplace, right!? Who doesn’t want to be that girl!?
An open fire or BBQ also honors the Priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire, who originally conducted Bona Dea’s festival. If you can’t do a fire (or even if you can!) bring it with loads of candles, incense and party fave sparklers.
4. Invite your guests to share
What we know of the ancient celebration included votive offerings, which were gifts to the goddess and/or called on her for help. Encourage your guests to share and come away feeling great by asking around the table for affirmations or statements of gratitude. Mix it up with anonymous wishes written on paper or represented by a small item, thrown in your fire or held in a candle flame. Alert your guests before the evening so they can come prepared.
What better way to celebrate those curves and that mysterious, miracle-creating body than to dance. Shimmy off those stresses! Any music will do. If it’s more your style, a yoga session, drumming and chanting, or even a pre-dinner workout all represent empowering movement.
More about Bona Dea
Undefined in historical record, Bona Dea is thought to represent all goddesses in one, though is linked most to Fauna for her love of the forests, as well as to healing, women’s issues, divination and the underworld or the darker side of Mother Nature.
It is said that her temple in central Rome on the Aventine Hill is among Rome’s most ancient, and began as an open-air shrine at a cave or rock shelter. It is said, too, that snakes roamed freely about the temple (snakes are symbols of healing), and her priestesses were commoners rather than social elite as were others.
The Priestesses of Vesta
The famous Vestal Virgins lived at the Temple of Vesta which you can see in the Roman Forum today. Mostly aristocrats, they were among Rome’s most powerful, independent and wealthy women but paid a high price, taken into the temple as children and forced to serve and remain virginal for at least 30 years. Breaking their vows was punishable by death.
Their goddess Vesta is goddess of the hearth fire. Her temple housed a sacred fire that burned almost constantly for up to 1000 years and which was considered to represent the hearth of the empire and therefore its prosperity and security. Sitting modestly in the city centre while the Roman armies conquered the known world, her temple honoured the knowledge that a strong foundation and heart remained crucial to worldly success. In this position, the priestesses were often scapegoats for military or political defeats.
Victoria Collins is author of Fire and Sacrifice among other books, and is a communications professional, visual artist, and self-confessed witchy woman based in Canberra, Australia. Yep, she has a black cat.