Venus Cloacina — the purification goddess… and poo

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Venus Cloacina was the Roman goddess of sewers and she is a darn useful Goddess to have a contact with.

She originally came from Etruscan mythology and is a truly ancient force was a spirit of a small stream called the Cloaca which ran through the early Roman Forum. Rome was city built on a marsh and the Cloaca stream, which drained into the Tiber, was said to have seven tributary brooks that drained all the valleys of the Esquiline and Quirinal hills.

Where now the Forum lies, were pools of water and marshland,
Streams from the Tiber’s flood swelled high the banks of this brook…
Where now through the Velabrum processions move toward the Circus,
Was nothing but willows and reeds that shook in the wind. Ovid’s Fasti (VI, 401ff.)

The Tarquins, early Kings of Rome dredged the stream and lined it with stone to make a drainage canal and eventually covered it over to become the main drain of Rome. The course of the original waterway and tributary streams dictated the layout of the buildings and streets of the Forum.

The name Cloacina means “the Purifier”, and the word cloaca became the word for “drain” or “sewer”; in time Cloacina became the Goddess of Sewers the Cloaca Maxima (a huge network of sewers that kept the huge city of Rome clean.

While sewers are smelly and horrible, Venus Cloacina was the goddess of purity, because she cleaned it all out. She was also the goddess of all filth and the protector of sexual intercourse in marriage.

Rape of the Sabine Women

This might have something to do with the Sabine wars, in which the early men of Rome, who had few women among them, raided the nearby Sabine people, kidnapping and raping their women and forcing them to become their wives.

The Sabine King Tatius attacked Rome but was later reconciled to peace by the kidnapped women and the participants were purified with myrtle branches, a plant very sacred to Venus.

To commemorate the occasion, a statue of Venus Cloacina was later put up in the Forum called the Sacrum Cloacina in front of the Basilica Aemilia; directly above the Cloaca Maxima. Pliny says that before the shrine was built there had grown a myrtle-tree on the spot, and myrtle is sacred to Venus.

It was little more than a platform, eight feet in diameter. As the Forum’s street level was slowly raised, and many successive layers of stone have been found at the base of Cloacina’s shrine. It was remodelled or raised several times.

This shrine was located right over one of the main drains of the Cloaca Maxima, where two branches met up. Rectangular stairs led up to the platform on the north-western side; the platform itself was edged with a low openwork railing, and within this were small statues. There was a manhole directly into the sewer in the small temple.

They were of two draped Goddesses, either both Cloacina, or Cloacina and Venus, each with Her right hand on an incense-burner or small column; one of them held a flower in Her left hand.

Only the circular foundation of this shrine remains; but it was depicted on several coins of the first century BCE, so we know what it looked like. Romans like Julius Caesar were happy to share her image on their coins.

One Prayer offered by a Roman to Cloacina included:

Cloacina, goddess of the tide,

Whose sable streams beneath the city glide

Indulged the modish flame, the town she roved

A mortal scavenger she saw she loved.”

Terry Pratchett set his novel Dodger in early Victorian London based around a kid who lives in the sewers. The Goddess of Sewers, called the “Lady” plays a big part in his life and is based on Cloacina.

A magician with a Cloacina contact can use her remove blocks, shadow aspects of personality and shitty things.

Another practical use is that after a brief invocation you can tip stuff down which need to end up in the underworld down the loo or into a storm drain. All those wax smudges left over from candle burnings and intention papers which normally require a trip to a cross roads for Hekate or Mercury to handle.

Cloacina can be an underworld guide and is particularly useful at psychological work.  Basically, she can help you process your shit, particularly if you are full of it.

6 thoughts on “Venus Cloacina — the purification goddess… and poo

  1. Isn’t she, in your own terms, a genius loci? I mean, isn’t she the spirit of THE roman canalization, and hence her powers can be used only there?

    1. She could have started out like that… in the same way that Vesta might have started out like that. But she was a hybrid a fusion of Venus Cloacina (“Venus the Purifier”) and Etruscan water goddess Cloacina. This makes her portable. Spirits like her exist in other places with extensive sewers. She is unique to rome but as Venus embodies those often un-named spirits. She seems to be able to adapt to foreign parts.

      1. Oh yes, of course, a hybrid to Goddess… They, of course, know no limits. How stupid of me not to think of it in the first place. Thank you very much. I’ll have to try this method here in Russia as an experiment… Though I am not sure wherever it will be right for a christan/cabalist magician to use such spell for ritual leftovers, but it is worth a try. 🙂

  2. There’s and hindu (shakta) deity called Matangi who performs a very similar function (she’s even tied with the arts, in her aspect of Raja-Matangi – very much like Venus also is).

  3. Thanks for the background Nick. Have you come across the Rivers of London fictions (Ben Aaronvitch). I think there were 7 of those too. A popular number..

    1. Very good fantasy fiction, if you ask me. But they were no Gods, stictly speaking. The whole magic system of that universe is rather far from real magic (yet rather spectacular. Besides the phrase about Crowley “Charlatane. Even in death” is rather good).

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