Originally written on January 12, 2021. Updated 2023
The name “Carmentalia” indicates the festivals in honor of Carmenta and her nymphs, the Camene, called Antevorta and Postvorta, in reference to their ability to see the past and the future.
Carmenta, who in ancient Rome had her temple atop the Capitoline Hill, was the goddess of everything that comes to light and therefore also of children who are born, for this reason she was considered the protector of childbirth.
Her feasts were held from 12 to 15 January, linked not only to gestation, but also to rural worship and prophecy. These dates should be considered as two separate festivals, rather than one festival extending over this period, yet it is not clear to us today.
Carmenta was also said to have invented the Latin alphabet.
Her name is derived from Latin “carmen”, meaning something as a magic spell, oracle or song, (and it is also the root of the English word charm).
With her songs she would soothe the ill and taught women how to care for themselves and their children. Her sanctuaries thus became places for women and children to receive traditional medical treatments using herbs and music.
Carmenta takes us back to a very early period, a time well before the beginnings of Rome around three thousand years ago, back into the Italian Bronze Age.
The sacred grove of Carmenta, the most ancient sanctuary in all of Rome, was located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, and It is still visited today where people gather waters from her sacred spring. It was in this very grove that Carmenta appeared to Numa Pompilius in his dreams as the nymph Egeria. So she instructed one of the the legendary kings of Rome on how to commune with the Gods, including the laws which he handed down to the Romans and which still govern some sacramental rituals today.
One of the laws of Numa states:
“The Gods are not to be represented in the form of man or beast, nor are there to be any painted or graven image of a deity admitted (to your rites).”
And, not by chance, as one of the oldest Goddesses of Rome, Carmenta was never represented by an image. It was sufficient to feel Her presence in the sacred grove below the Capitoline.
Another law holds that:
“Sacrifices are not to be celebrated with an effusion of blood, but consist of flour, wine, and the least costly of offerings.”
And the restriction against the use of blood sacrifices was so strong in the worship of Carmenta that no one was allowed to enter Her sacred grove wearing anything made of leather or animal hide, as It is not right to take the life of another creature in worshiping the Goddess who helps birth life into the world.
And thus it follows that people offer Carmenta bay leaves as incense, a libation of milk, and popana cakes made of soft cheese and flower.
According to the legend, the cult of Carmenta predated Rome itself. In some accounts, her original name was Nicostrate, but it was changed later to honor her renown for giving oracles. She was the mother of Evander and, along with other followers, they founded the town of Pallantium which later was one of the sites of the start of Rome.
Latin author Gaius Julius Hyginus mentions the legend that it was she who altered fifteen letters of the Greek alphabet to become the Latin alphabet which her son Evander introduced into Latium. It seems that she introduced also agriculture, poetry and music to the savage race found in Italy.
Images from web – Google Research