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Candelifera: The Roman Goddess of Childbirth

Candelifera the Roman Goddess of Childbirth

In ancient Roman religion, Candelifera was the goddess of childbirth and newborn babies. As her name suggests, she was associated with candles and light, bringing the new light of life into the world. Though not as well-known today as some other Roman deities, Candelifera played an important role in the lives of Roman women and families. Let’s explore the origins, symbols, rituals, and modern significance of this goddess of birth.

Who is Candelifera?

Candelifera was a minor Roman goddess who presided over childbirth and the protection of newborn infants. She was called upon by pregnant women as they prepared to go into labor, and again during the childbirth process itself.

Candelifera’s name comes from the Latin words “candela” meaning candle or taper, and “fero” meaning to bring, carry, or bear. Thus, the goddess’s name translates to “she who brings/bears candles.” This connects Candelifera to the light and illumination of childbirth.

She was sometimes conflated or associated with other childbirth goddesses like Lucina, though they were seen as separate figures. Candelifera was purely concerned with safe childbirth and newborns, while Lucina had broader associations with motherhood and women’s lives.

What is the Origin of Candelifera?

Candelifera: The Roman Goddess of Childbirth

The origins of Candelifera are not entirely clear, but there are a few key theories about her beginnings.

Some scholars believe that she developed from the plebeian or common people’s reverence for Angerona, an older goddess whose festival day coincided with the winter solstice. Angerona was associated with rebirth and renewal, which are also themes of childbirth.

Others think that Candelifera was brought into Roman religion through cultural contact and exchange with the Etruscans, who as Rome’s northern neighbors had several deities concerned with childbirth and new life. The Etruscans placed great emphasis on interpreting prodigies and signs, so a goddess of good fortune in childbirth made sense.

Early Italian folk religion focused on birth and babies may also have contributed to Candelifera’s attributes and cult. The hearth, where a central fire burned, was the heart of the home, and the fire represented life, light, and the generation of offspring. Candelifera inherited some of this symbolism.

What are the Symbols of Candelifera?

As a goddess connected to childbirth and fire/light, Candelifera was associated with several key symbols in religious art, ritual, and even amulets or charms used by Roman women:

  • Candles – Candelifera’s name highlights her link to candles, which represented her role bringing new life and light into the world. Candles lit during childbirth called upon Candelifera’s aid.
  • Torches – Similarly, torches represented the glowing illumination Candelifera provided over childbirth, driving away darkness and danger.
  • Fire – The hearth fire that burned as new life came into a home fell under Candelifera’s domain. As a source of light and warmth, fire was vital.
  • Swaddling clothes – Candelifera watched over newborns as they were wrapped in swaddling clothes, blessing and protecting them.
  • Ritual cakes – Offerings like cakes or breads blessed by Candelifera were thought to ease labor and delivery if consumed by pregnant women.
  • Flowers – Bright spring flowers like violets represented Candelifera’s fertile, nurturing powers.

What is the Role of Candelifera in Roman Mythology?

Candelifera the Roman Goddess of Childbirth

Candelifera played a smaller but meaningful role in Roman mythology and religion. She had no grand epic myths, but she served an important practical purpose for Roman women and families.

Her primary role was to help bring babies safely into the world through divine blessing of childbirth. This gave her a niche significance. While a major goddess like Juno was invoked for general protection of all women, Candelifera had a specific domain.

Candelifera also protected new mothers recovering from childbirth, and stood as a patron of newborn babies – especially those born to poorer or more vulnerable families. She seemed to have filled an everywoman or “common” goddess role.

She had no known temples or centralized worship, but was called upon in Roman homes, especially the sleeping quarters where births took place. Women likely appealed both privately and communally to Candelifera before and during pregnancy for her favor.

What are the Rituals and Offerings for Candelifera?

Since most women in ancient Rome gave birth at home, the cult practices for Candelifera were based around domestic rituals:

  • Lighting candles and torches in the bedchamber or birthing room both purified the space and invoked Candelifera’s presence through fire/light.
  • Burning incense was another way to honor the goddess. Myrrh and frankincense were considered birthing incenses.
  • Offerings of food might be made to Candelifera, especially ritual cakes like the popana, baked with grain from a recent harvest. Some loaves were shaped into breasts or babies as symbols.
  • Wealthier women might dedicate a plaque, fresco, or altar in Candelifera’s name either before or after a birth, while poorer families offered simple flowers.
  • Amulets and bracelets worn during pregnancy called upon Candelifera and other birth goddesses for their powers of protection. Certain plants were considered holy to Candelifera and used in charms.
  • Songs, chants, and invocations were likely part of ritual practice, though very few surviving examples exist. But women probably sang to Candelifera during labor like a birthing chant.

What are the Modern Interpretations of Candelifera?

Though she is not widely known today, Candelifera still has significance in modern Pagan, witchcraft, and Goddess Spirituality movements. As the Divine Feminine has been revived, so have ancient birth goddesses and their cults.

Some modern Pagans consider Candelifera a patroness of midwives and those who practice natural childbirth. They may light candles and consecrate a birthing room to her before a home labor like ancient Roman women once did.

She also represents the cycle of birth, growth, death, and renewal embodied in Mother Earth. Just as Candelifera’s candles lit up the darkness of the womb and childbirth, her powers can illuminate other shadows and transitions.

Feminist scholars and writers are interested in reclaiming “minor” or locally-venerated goddesses like Candelifera whose stories were sidelined from male-centered history. To them, she represents the lives and concerns of ordinary women who have often been forgotten.

Conclusion

In summary, Candelifera was an ancient Roman goddess who oversaw the perilous journey of childbirth and protected the most vulnerable – new babies and mothers. While not as famous as some immortals, she held an important place in the domestic religion of families.

The spirit of Candelifera – a guardian of life, light, and the feminine mysteries of birth – continues to inspire those for whom birth is sacred, not medicalized. Though rituals and cultures change, families still need the blessing of birth goddesses like Candelifera in times of hope and anxiety. She represents the profound light every new child brings to the world.

Key Takeaways

Candelifera the Roman Goddess of Childbirth

  • Candelifera was the Roman goddess of childbirth and newborns, bringing the light and illumination of new life.
  • She originated from older Italian birth goddess cults and Etruscan religion. Her name means “she who bears candles.”
  • Candelifera was associated with fire, light, candles, torches, and swaddling clothes as symbols.
  • She had no formal myths, but played a key protective role in childbirth rituals in Roman homes.
  • Offerings, chants, incense, candles, and amulets were used to honor Candelifera for safe births.
  • Today, Candelifera represents female mysteries of birth and the cycles of Mother Earth to some.

FAQs

Who worshipped Candelifera?

Candelifera was worshipped primarily by pregnant Roman women, their families, midwives assisting birth, and those praying for healthy children. She offered comfort during an anxious time.

Did Candelifera have a festival?

No known major festival to Candelifera existed. But Roman women likely honored her collectively on her sacred day – December 21, the winter solstice, a date associated with rebirth and mother goddesses.

What plants and herbs were sacred to Candelifera?

Rosemary, myrtle, and sage were plants thought to be blessed by or pleasing to Candelifera. Women utilized them in charms, rituals, offerings, and their birthing chambers.

Was Candelifera worshipped only in Rome?

As with many Roman gods, Candelifera’s cult spread to the provinces as Roman culture expanded. Provincial women under Roman rule adopted Candelifera and asked for her blessings in childbirth.

How is Candelifera associated with the goddess Juno?

Candelifera is one of the many Roman goddesses who assisted during childbirth. She was associated with Juno, the queen of the gods and the patroness of marriage and motherhood, because both of them shared the function of protecting and blessing the mother and the child. Candelifera was also considered an aspect of Juno Lucina, a title of Juno that means “the one who brings to light”. Juno Lucina was invoked by lighting a candle or a torch, which was also the symbol of Candelifera.

Could Candelifera also be invoked for protection of children?

Yes, while her domain was childbirth and newborns, Candelifera could be called upon later to continue protecting infants from health issues, accidents,

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