… for ‘Rosmertalia’! (I’ll explain, I promise!) In the meantime, please observe and marvel:
The above image is from a prayer-card of the goddess Rosmerta by the excellent Grace Palmer, now available for pre-order from the website of the equally excellent Galina Krasskova. Permit me to point out some of the significant symbolism of this image. As in other depictions of Rosmerta going back to ancient times, the goddess bears a caduceus and holds out a patera in a gesture of giving. She is also shown with a cornucopia, which together with the caduceus identifies her as a goddess of peace and plenty.
Her outfit—a long ungirt tunic and a shawl—is consistent with Gallo-Roman fashions of the late first or second centuries CE. (The way the shawl is wrapped here is based on a grave monument from the land of the Treveri, roughly Luxembourg and adjacent parts of Germany, Belgium, and France. We do know that Gaulish women wrapped this in a variety of ways, depending on the fashion.) The largest concentration of inscriptions that mention Rosmerta is in this part of Gaul and the adjacent territories. The landscape shown in the background might also evoke this area (in fact, it reminds me a bit of the Tëtelbierg in present-day Luxembourg).
No less significant are her age and general demeanour. Few surviving monuments evoke these clearly, and those that do typically imply a woman of middle age who looks stern and vaguely pissed off. In my opinion, such portrayals are misleading (and some indeed may be discounted as unfinished, while others have certainly suffered from the passage of years). Rosmerta, as I see her, is wizened, witty, big-hearted, and benevolent. The clearest way to evoke these traits is to portray a grandmotherly figure; in fact, Grace Palmer’s portrayal closely resembles one of Rosmerta in the museum at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. And while we’re on the subject, how many grandmotherly goddesses does one actually know? Wicca engrained in us the habit of portraying goddesses as necessarily sex symbols (however much the maiden may eventually turn into the crone). But grandmothers are fantastic. There was recently, I believe at PantheaCon 2015, a presentation whose premise was precisely that grandmothers are our first goddesses. Older, plumper female figures amply deserve a place in our religious imagery.
Be that as it may, you might be thinking, ‘Okay, but don’t we want a Rosmerta who can plausibly be married to Mercury?’ This is a fair point, but I don’t think it’s a decisive one. I’ve been back and forth in my mind for years over the sleeping arrangements, as it were, between Mercury and Rosmerta, and my conclusion is that the cultus of neither requires us to declare definitively one way or the other. The prayer on the reverse of the card describes Rosmerta as Mercury’s “partner”, and the ambiguity in that word is deliberate. Modern scholars, to be sure, have been happy to assume that the two must be wedded, but there is no evidence that I’ve ever seen that would exclude the alternative hypothesis that the Gauls thought of Rosmerta as Mercury’s mother (or conceivably even as his sister). On the contrary, Rosmerta and Maia (the mother of Mercury in classical mythology) were portrayed identically in Gaul; inscriptions tend to use ‘Rosmerta’ in areas wherever ‘Maia’ is not found, and vice versa, implying that the two might have been seen as the same, only with different local names. (À la “What his right name is, I’ve never ’eard, but round ’ere folks call him Strider.”)
We know that Rosmerta was not the only goddess in Gaul that Mercury was involved with (again, the ambiguity in my phrase is deliberate)—Visucia being another such who’s known by name. One comparatively racy portrayal (the only one from Gaul that I’ve come across) at Saint-Germain-en-Laye depicts a mostly naked goddess caressing a bearded Mercury—but the statue is anepigraphic. The goddess might be Rosmerta, but there is neither inscription nor iconography to identify her as such, and the more careful scholars have tended to identify her as a nymph rather than as Rosmerta. Conceivably, there might even have been some myth in which Rosmerta reappears across multiple generations (I’m thinking of Étaín as a comparison), first as mother and then as wife, but there’s just no ancient evidence for this. I think it’s safest to leave open the possibility of Rosmerta-as-mother without excluding that of Rosmerta-as-wife. The thing that really matters is that Mercury and Rosmerta work closely with each other, and the strengths of each complement the other’s.
I mentioned above that this prayer-card is just in time for ‘Rosmertalia’, which, of course, is a holiday that does not exist on any calendar known from antiquity. To be sure, I honour Rosmerta a week before the kalends of each month, but this is just my own initiative, privately undertaken for my own reasons. There is, however, some reason for holding July 1 as sacred to Rosmerta. The Equites Singulares Augusti, a cavalry corps whose religious practices are frankly awesome (they helped introduce the cult of Epona to the world, and were also early adopters of that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus), were recruited from Gaul to a major extent (though also from the Danubian provinces, the Spains, etc.). Their religious monuments in Rome generally invoke Felicitas directly after Mercury (and directly before Salus and the Fates)—Felicitas being a goddess of prosperity and good fortune, depicted with a caduceus and a cornucopia. Nothing would have been more natural than for Gauls transported to Rome to ‘translate’ the name of their goddess Rosmerta to Felicitas. Now, it so happens that the altar of Felicitas in the Capitol was dedicated (and thus commemorated) on July 1.
Too indirect? Well, how about a monument from the heart of Belgic Gaul? At Suromagus (Wasserbillig), in the territory of my belovèd Treveri, an inscription tells of a temple dedicated (in honour of the divine house) to the god Mercury and Rosmerta (CIL XIII 4208). The year is 232 (the consulship of Lupus and Maximus), and the date … Well, it’s not 100% clear, but it’s read as […] / Iulias, with room for three missing letters. Three missing letters excludes the possibility of any numbers (or prid.) preceding Kal. or Non. (or Id., unless conceivably it’s V Id.); it probably cuts out the Ides, which would likely be either too short if abbreviated or too long if expanded. So the date on this inscription was either Kal. Iulias (July 1) or Non. Iulias (July 7). Take your pick. Heck, burn incense to Rosmerta on both days. I’ll certainly be observing the kalends as a day in her honour. (It’s also Canada Day, and I suspect Rosmerta would find that rather a felicitous coincidence than otherwise!)