Diana, Roman Goddess of the Hunt

The Goddess Diana
Statue of Diana, Gallery of Statues, Ducal palace, Lucca, Tuscany. Image by A. Pistolesi/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

Many Pagans honor the goddess Diana (pronounced di-ANN-ah) in her various aspects. Particularly in feminist and NeoWiccan traditions, Diana holds a place in the heart of a number of modern magical practitioners. Her name is believed to come from an early Indo-European word, dyew or deyew, meaning “sky” or “heaven.” This same root word later gave us variants such as the Latin deus, meaning “god,” and dies, which meant “daylight.”

Origins & History

Much like the Greek Artemis, Diana began as a deity of the hunt who later evolved into a lunar goddess. Honored by the ancient Romans, Diana was known as an accomplished huntress, and stood as a guardian of the forest and of the animals who resided within. Despite her virginal status, Diana later became known as a protector of women in childbirth, and other vulnerable people.

A daughter of Jupiter, Diana was the twin sister of Apollo. Although there is significant overlap between Artemis and Diana, in Italy itself, Diana evolved into a separate and distinct persona.

In Charles Leland's Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, he pays homage to Diana Lucifera (Diana of the light) in her aspect as a light-bearing goddess of the moon, and details the birth of her daughter, Aradia. Obviously, there is some discrepancy between Leland’s interpretations of Diana as mother, versus the traditional Roman mythology that names her as a virgin.

Many feminist Wiccan groups, including the aptly named Dianic Wiccan tradition, honor Diana in her role as the embodiment of the sacred feminine.

Appearance

She is often associated with the powers of the moon, and in some classical artwork is portrayed wearing a crown that features a crescent moon. She is typically presented carrying a bow, as a symbol of her hunt, and wearing a short tunic.

It is not uncommon to see her as a beautiful young woman surrounded by wild animals such as the stag. In her role as Diana Venatrix, goddess of the chase, she is seen running, bow drawn, with her hair streaming behind her as she takes pursuit.

Mythology

Don't let Diana's lovely appearance fool you into thinking she's all kindness and beauty. In one myth about Diana, the goddess is out hunting in the woods and takes a break so she can bathe in a stream. While doing so, she is observed by a young man, Actaeon, who has wandered away from his own hunting party. Foolishly, Actaeon reveals himself, and confesses that Diana is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. For whatever reason - and scholars tend to vary on this - Diana turns Actaeon into a stag, and he’s promptly chased and torn to bits by his own hounds.

Worship & Celebration

Diana’s worshipers honored her in a beautiful temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and she was celebrated at a special festival, called the Nemoralia, each year around August 13. Offerings were made in the form of small, carved tablets, statuary, and intricately woven fabric tied along a fence in a sacred valley.

The Nemoralia festival, which typically fell around the time of August’s full moon, takes its name from the place at which it was held.

Lake Nemi was a sacred lake in a valley, surrounded by dense forests. Adherents of Diana would arrive at the lake at dusk, carrying torches in a processional. The reflected torchlight appeared in the surface of the water, along with the light from the evening’s full moon.

As part of the preparation for a visit to Lake Nemi, women went through an elaborate ritual that involved washing their hair and decorating it with wreaths of flowers. The day of the Nemoralia was a day sacred to women.

Honoring Diana Today

How can you honor Diana today, as a modern Pagan? There are a number of ways you can celebrate Diana in her many aspects. Try one or more of these as part of your magical practice:

  • Are you a Pagan who is also a hunter? Honor Diana before you set out, by making an offering to her of bread or fruit, or clay images. She seems to appreciate song as well – why not sing a song in her honor, asking for assistance with your hunt?
  • If your hunt is successful, make sure you thank Diana afterwards. You can do this by singing her praises as you dress your kill.
  • If you’re pregnant, and want her to watch over you in childbirth, create an altar to Diana. Include requests for protection on a small clay tablet tied with ribbon, or images of motherhood and children.
  • Write prayers to Diana on ribbons or strips of fine cloth, and tie them to trees in the forest.
  • Celebrate Diana at the time of the full moon with an altar full of candles designated in her name, or by calling upon her in a Drawing Down the Moon ritual.