Anna Perenna: White magic in Rome

Anna Perenna: White magic in Rome
1st to 4th century CE. Findings from the Anna Perenna fountain (Piazza Euclide, Roma). ‘Museo Nazionale Romano delle Terme di Diocleziano’. Foto de Di Flazaza © Di Flazaza

Anna Perenna: White magic in Rome

I. Female divinities associated with magic

Rome has these things. One afternoon of sightseeing, at a museum of any kind, we may come across a showcase like this, whose objects baffle dozens of visitors every day.

The vitrine shows a display of Roman coins, as well as a collection of small oil lamps, all carefully decorated, and some even filled with curses and invocations written in lead. The picture does not show that there is also a copper cauldron in the room, burnt from multiple firings, and a series of dolls made of flour and other organic compounds. A more detailed look will also reveal six pinecones behind the glass, all well-preserved in liquid, as symbols of fecundity and abundance, as well as a few scattered eggshells: delicacy in its purest form contrasting sharply with its blatant durability.

This group of pieces was found almost twenty-five years ago, when the construction of an underground parking lot revealed the unknown fountain of Anna Perenna and the Nymphs, a basin with inscriptions from the 2nd century ACE, which bears witnesswe shall see nowto one of those spaces where religion, black magic, and folklore went hand in hand in ancient Rome.

The poetry of Ovid resounds in the fountain of Anna Perenna: the happy days of those who danced with jokes and wine to the sacred grove of this enigmatic deity are recounted in his Fasti. This popular festival was celebrated on the first full moon of March, the ides, which was the Roman new year, according to the first calendar, and the day when the Roman Republican order came to an end with the mass stabbing of Caesar in 44 BCE.

The remains of the showcase, however, do not point to a collective celebration of the spring equinox, but to those solitary practices of a more personal spirituality. Like the things we throw into our Midsummer bonfires nowadays in San Juan, Anna’s waters collected the fears and longings that every life cycle implies. It was in this way that a hopeful sorcery underpinned the endurance of an official festival.


Zoa Alonso Fernández