From the Oak: Let’s hear it for the God!
Many are those that focus on female divinities, leaving male divinities in the shadows if they get mentioned at all. This is a shame. Here I will share my thoughts, stories and prayers on male divinities.
Laverna the Thief
This week’s tribute (#7) is to the goddess, Laverna, the Roman goddess of thieves, frauds, plagiarists, hypocrites and ne’er-do-wells.
Modern scholars say she was probably an Etruscan underworld goddess but no one seems to be sure which one. Laverna is associated with the Roman Goddess Furina (also a goddess of thieves) who in turn is associated by some with the Furies. That is an interesting association as the Furies or Erinyes where believed to avenge crimes. Maybe a case of going to a divinity for help in an area opposite of their typical purpose, much like Apollo who could harm or heal. This would certainly account for the lack of information on this goddess. Leland’s Arcadia had the most information upon her that I could find and he relies upon Virgil, Horace and Platus. Though as the goddess of society’s underbelly, it makes sense that details of her would be scarce. No one would want to admit to honoring her.
Laverna’s worshippers would ask for her help in appearing law abiding or in the success of their illegal endeavors. She was honored in a temple or a grove of trees near the Avenine Hill. The statue of the goddess was sometime described as a head without a body or a body without a head. Virgils states (from Arcadia, link below):
“Whenever anyone planned or intended any knavery or aught wicked, he entered her temple, and invoked Laverna, who appeared to him as a woman’s head. But if he did his work of knavery badly or maladroitly, when he again invoked her he saw only the body; but if he was clever, then he beheld the whole goddess…”
Virgil also tells tales of Laverna swindling mortals out of property by swearing on either her body or her head. When the mortal would come for payment that part which she swore upon was not apparent, so she would declare the agreement invalid. As part of that tale Jove states:
“I command that in future Laverna shall be the goddess of all the knaves or dishonest tradesmen, with the whole rubbish and refuse of the human race, who have been hitherto without a god or a devil, inasmuch as they have been too despicable for the one or the other.”
Interestingly enough, Laverna is said to have aided unwed pregnant women, in the secret delivery of her child with the child being taken away. There was also a ritual where the mother could get the child back by threatening the goddess with volcanic tortures until the child was returned. (In classical Italian witchcraft, the deity is threatened with torment by a higher power until the favor is granted. Not the way I would want to get a divinity’s help.) The ritual incantation asks the goddess to restore the child, protect her (the mother) all her life and protect the ritual from intruders. It uses herbs representing Pavor (variously described as the God or Goddess of Fear depending on the source) and Concordia (the Goddess of Harmony) to help with these ends.
In one of Platus’ plays, a cook calls upon Laverna to get his revenge on thieves who stole his cooking implements. Laverna is called upon when one breaks the law or when one has been on the receiving end of one of her devotees. Not a bad goddess to honor in these times, where our politicians are every bit as untrustworthy as the thieves in the night.
Arcadia by Charles Leland: http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/aradia/ara17.htm#fn_29
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