Hail Mother, who art the Earth,
Hallowed be thy soil, rock and flora
that nourish and support all life.
Blessed be thy wind that gives us breath
and thy waters that quench, bathe and refresh
all living things.
Holy Earth – as one – we praise your majesty,
grace and wonder.
~ Bill Faherty
At this week’s turning of the Wheel that we celebrated as Beltane, we might remember that around this same time, the ancient Romans also celebrated the rites of the Floralia.
The Floralia honors the Goddess Flora, Roman Goddess of sexuality and flowering plants, especially those that bear fruit. Spring, naturally, is Her season.
Goddess scholar Patricia Monaghan writes of Flora, “Apparently forgetting that flowers are the sex organs of plants, most mythographers express shock and puzzlement that the blooming Flora was the patron of prostitutes, worshiped in public orgies from April 26 to May 3.
“But this very ancient Roman Goddess was the embodiment of the flowering of all nature, including human nature. Thus it was presumed that the best way to honor Flora was to pass obscene medallions around, scatter beans and lupines, and make love to passersby.”
Flora is a Goddess of love, giving freely of Her blessings that include fertility, sex, and blossoming. She presides over the flowering of the living world that eventually culminates with the blessings of Pomona, the Goddess of Fruit and the Harvest.
Researcher Thalia Took agrees with Patricia that Flora is remarkably ancient. She writes that the Sabines (approximately 7th century B.C.E.) are said to have named a month for Her (which corresponds to both the modern and ancient Roman month of April). She was known among the Samnites (circa 600 B.C.E.) as well as the Oscans (also known as the Ausones), where She was called Flusia.
She was originally, specifically, the Goddess of the flowering crops, such as the grain or fruit trees, and Her function was to make the grain, vegetables and trees bloom for an abundant Autumn harvest.
In later times Flora became the Goddess of all flowering plants, including ornamentals. Her name is related to the Latin floris, meaning, literally, “a flower,” but also refers to something being “in its prime.” Other related words have meanings like “prospering”, “flourishing,” “abounding,” and “fresh or blooming.”
At the Floralia, the female body was especially honored. Until the 3rd century C.E., when the Roman authorities grew prudish and demanded they be clothed, women celebrated in the nude.
It is hard for us in our time, with our Puritanical values and our Hollywood-fueled images of jaded Roman debauchery, to imagine that such unbridled, joyful celebrations of physical pleasure were also considered profound and holy.
Led by prostitutes, who were not given the extremely low status of our day, and highlighted by dancing, unabashed sexuality, colorful clothing, drinking, and garlands of flowers everywhere, Patricia reminds us that this was not simply frivolous partying.
Flora’s rites honored nothing less than the mighty renewal of the cycle of life itself.
“Flora was the queen of all plants, including edible ones,” Patricia writes, “for flowers lead to fruit as intercourse to conception, a basic truth that the Romans recognized by calling Flora the secret patron of Rome, without whose help the city would die.”
Because She is so important, next week, I’ll share some more about powerful Flora, as well as how She can be an important ally to all who garden and love the Green Earth today.