Catching up with Diana

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for over a month now, largely thanks to my thesis and the opportunity to teach a Summer course. But things are coming back to normal and the Ides of August are right around the corner, which means I can get back to some regular posting and have to start preparing things for the day of Diana Nemorensis or Of the Woods.

I have to admit that I never imagined things with Her would reach the level of devotion that’s taking shape. Little more than a year ago, a female hunting deity was way out of my worshiping radar, but then one of my dogs had to go through surgery and the likelihood of it being fatal led to a vow to Diana, which in turn originated the erecting of this altar. Since it’s close to my hometown, I’ve been keeping an eye on it, using it to present offerings and rebuilding it whenever necessary. Especially on the anniversary of the fulfillment of the vow, in mid-June, and this year it will also be the focal point of a picnic to celebrate Diana Nemorensis on August 13th, together with family members and our dogs. Should the weather allow it, of course. And this has been reminding me of the antiquity of lunar cults in my native area.

Of course, today the best known is that of the Catholic Our Lady of Conception. She’s often mistaken with the Immaculate Conception, but the former is earlier than the latter. At least in central Portugal, where there’s evidence for a cult to Our Lady of Conception since the 7th century, long before its official adoption by the Church. It’s a popular tradition, born out of popular devotion and with traces of earlier pre-Christian lunar cults. The link between the two is actually preserved in Catholic iconography, where both the Lady that has been immaculately conceived (the Virgin Mary) and She who has the power to conceive (an atribute of ancient goddesses) are often depicted with a crescent at Their feet (see here, here and here, for instance; also a full moon version here). There’s a degree of syncretism between the two Ladies, especially since the late Middle Ages, when the Church began adopting the cult.

Now, I’m not saying that Diana was worshiped in my native area in the pre-Christian period. The only major academic study that has ever been made on the topic actually points to an eastern cult, probably Ishtar or Tanit and assuming a Phoenician or Carthaginian presence in the region. What I am saying is that there’s a feeling of resonating with the past and whatever numens inhabit the area that’s kind of strengthening my own practices. And it makes sense, if you think about it: this place probably has wights who have been here for ages, seen the coming and going of different peoples and cultures, but with a more or less stable lunar continuum.

It's an old river, so to speak, and there's a sense of both adding to it and receiving strength from it by worshiping Diana in the local woods. She is, after all, a lunar goddess, a protector in pregnancy and infancy, which resonates with over one thousand years old practices in the region where my altar to Her stands.

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