Mana - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Also known as Mania, Manuana.

This is where the term “mania” comes from. Mana or Mania began her incarnation as the Italian deity who supervised the Manes, Spirits of the Dead. Mania is the Mother Superior of the Manes, their leader and overseer, Goddess of the Dead. Her “mania” (lunacy, moon-illness, lunar-inspired madness) was perceived as a conduit to the divine.

The Manes were originally envisioned as the “benevolent dead” who must, however, be consistently propitiated to stop them from becoming the threatening dead, like the Lemures. Manes eventually became a looser term and incorporated assorted spirits of the dead in addition to dead souls, such as guardians of tombs and burial grounds. Mana supervises them all.

Mania governs the subterranean Land of the Dead. This wasn’t just some abstract realm someplace underground. An entrance to the realm could be located in the pit beneath the lapis manalis in the Roman Forum. This stone was lifted three times a year in order to release the Manes who emerged to accept offerings from the living. Mania leads them wearing a mask; her face is never revealed.

Although the Manes were sometimes described as the “benevolent dead” they weren’t always that benevolent, and neither was Mania. At the New Moon near November 1st, windows were shuttered, houses sealed up, and mirrors turned to face the wall: the Manes were loose. It was feared that these wandering spirits of the dead would steal children.

Speculation exists that in ancient days, young boys were sacrificed to Mania at the Festival of the Crossroads (Compitalia) in exchange for her protection of the remaining family. The custom was allegedly abolished by Lucius Junius Brutus following the expulsion of the Etruscan kings in 510 BCE and the establishment of the Roman Republic. Garlic and poppies were then substituted for human sacrifice. At the Feralia festival, corresponding to February 13th, the Manes were offered beans, bread, eggs, honey, milk, oil, wine, and roses.

One version of her myth suggests that Mana began her incarnation as a naiad (water spirit) using the name Lara or Larunda. She had a liaison with Mercury (Teramo, Hermes), which produced the guardian spirits, the Lares. Lara/Mana was perhaps not as discreet as she could have been: overheard criticizing Jupiter’s infidelities, the chief deity punished her by cutting her tongue out. She evolved into Muta, a fierce, frightening spirit, used to frighten Italian children ever since.

Post-Christianity, Mana would lose her goddess status but would survive in Italy as a feared night-witch who haunts people’s dreams.