Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire. – Virgil
Spring was a festive time of year for Roman prostitutes. April was the month of their patron goddess, Venus, and opened with Veneralia, the festival of Venus Verticordia; the 23rd was Vinalia Urbana, on which whores made offerings of myrtle, mint and roses to Venus Erycina at her temple outside the Colline Gate. Five days later Floralia began, and lasted until today; this was the festival of the goddess Flora, who because of her association with fertility (and an identification or confusion with Acca Larentia) was also revered by prostitutes. And on the last day of Floralia, May 3rd, a group of them would strip in the arena and perform erotic dances until young men in the audience were enough overcome by lust to throw off their clothes and inhibitions and join them for ritual public sex.
Flora was, as you probably guessed, the Roman goddess of flowers; she was, like her Greek counterpart Chloris, a fairly minor deity until the mid-3rd century BCE. At that time a disastrous crop failure occasioned a consultation of the Sibylline Books, which directed that a new festival be established in her honor; after a few years the celebration was allowed to lapse, but it was reinstated in 173 BCE after a series of violent storms destroyed many crops, and this time it caught on and was celebrated until the end of the Empire and beyond. During Floralia, Romans of both sexes eschewed their normal white garments for colorful ones, especially green; they also wore floral wreaths and decorated their homes and other buildings with even more flowers. Offerings of milk and honey were made to the goddess, and people gave gifts of fruit to one another; hares and goats (both symbolic of fertility) were released into gardens and fields and allowed to run freely about the city. As one might expect there was also tremendous consumption of wine, accompanied by boisterous singing and dancing (intended to awaken nature), plus games and theatrical performances culminating in the spectacle of the whores I described above.
By the time of the Caesars the festival had grown as popular as Saturnalia, and spread to all corners of the Empire; since nearly all ancient cultures had spring festivities around the same general time, each province made its own contributions and so the celebration survived the advent of Christianity. In pre-Roman times these May festivals were timed by the phases of the moon or the blossoming of certain plants, but the establishment of the Julian calendar synchronized them with Floralia, and after the Roman decline they became fixed on May Day all over Europe. Hence the appearance of Flora in the graphic I used for Beltane on Tuesday; the artist obviously wished to acknowledge the origin of the holiday in Flora’s festival. It’s impossible to tell which traditions other than the crowning of the goddess with flowers came specifically from the Roman observance and which were independent fertility traditions, which are generally sexual in every culture for sympathetic magical reasons. But it’s good to know that the ritual orgy first celebrated by Roman prostitutes almost 2300 years ago is still remembered specifically in the sexual Neopagan Beltane rituals, and generally in the reputation of May as the month of lust.
One Year Ago Today
“No Fun Shall Be Had” reports on the incredibly asinine behavior of humorless neofeminists who felt compelled to crucify a respected surgeon for making a silly joke they didn’t like.