Forgotten and Underrated Goddesses – Cloacina, Goddess of the Sewers
Find out more about Cloacina, the ancient Roman goddess of Filth, Purification and Cleansing who presides over the sewers…
Love. Death. Wisdom. There is a rightful abundance of goddesses for so many of the biggest concepts we’ll ever experience. The names of these goddesses live on in everything from academic texts to TV shows and the scripted charms of people who venerate such goddesses to this day.
What of the other dieties, the ones who live in the shadows? What of those whose names are not on everyone’s lips?
One such goddess is Cloacina, the ancient Roman goddess of the sewers.
She’s so important, yet rarely mentioned in the same breath as Minerva or Venus. How did she come about, and why does she still hold such relevance today?
It’s rare that a society bestows divinity on the process of waste disposal. Then again, the ancient Romans were practical by nature. In the same way that an army marches on its stomach, a city (or body, or soul) is nothing without a system that disposes of accumulated waste.
Rarely will you see occult rituals detailing the need to be held in a bathroom. No, we like our shrines and sacred places to feel special. We like them to hint of the ethereal, not the mundane.
And yet. Waste disposal. Perhaps you’ve never used your bathroom as a ritual space, but who among us has never sought to remove toxicity from our lives? Haven’t we all at some point willingly undergone a process relating to cleansing and purification? If so… Cloacina.
Cloacina… Roman Goddess of the Sewers
Cloacina’s name means The Cleanser or The Purifier, stemming from the Latin cloaca (drains, sewer) and cluo (to cleanse). Originally an Etruscan water goddess, later adopted by the Romans, she was believed to preside over the Cloaca Maxima (The Greatest Drain) which was the main meeting point of all the sewers in Rome.
Well-maintained sewers (and latrines) mattered greatly to the smooth running of Rome. There was risk of flooding, of infestation of vermin, of diseases. In fact, the Romans kept statues of Fortuna in their latrines, but it may have been just as revelant to venerate Cloacina. In his book Change of Air, James Johnson wrote:
“Of all the divinities to whom incense rose in the Eternal City, Cloacina was the most practically useful. Hygeia, like some of her descendants, might occasionally stumble on a cure – but Cloacina went nearer the root of the evil – she aimed at the prevention of diseases.”
Cloacina did a dirty job, but she was treated with the greatest of respect. She was venerated as both a Goddess of Purity and a Goddess of Filth with art, with statues, and a shrine (Sacrum Cloacina) was built in her honour. It’s said that the shrine even contained a manhole leading to the sewers beneath the sacred space. Unfortunately, only the foundations remain today.
Foundations of the Shrine of Venus-Cloacina in the Roman Forum
Offerings predominantly included incense (not only was incense a great Roman tradition, but it might also have related to sweetening the putrid air around sewers, drains and latrines). Cloacina’s face was also minted onto Roman coins, which could have been tossed into water as offerings. Too little is written on the precise nature of rites and rituals associated with Cloacina, but it’s reasonable to assume she was venerated much like any Roman goddess – with offerings, prayer, ritual and supplications. It’s too easy to get lurid and scatalogical, but the likelihood is that all veneration was conducted with respect. Because no-one wants a problem with their plumbing. Cloacina is one goddess you don’t mess with.
Modern Cloacina rites and rituals
Here are some thoughts on how Cloacina might relate to our needs today:
- Architectural plumbing and waste disposal (home bathrooms, toilets and flooding risks)
- Physical plumbing (e.g. digestive systems)
- Emotional, mental and spiritual plumbing (e.g. cleansing and purification)
How can one pay respect to Cloacina in the modern age? Here are some suggestions which centre on her role as a goddess of purity and filth, water and waste, and movement without blocking or flooding:
- Build a shrine to cleansing and purification in your bathroom or toilet
- Invite Cloacina to preside over your household (and definitely supplicate her if your bins don’t get collected)
- Toss coins into water in her name
- Leave a white flower on a manhole cover
- If you live in a city with a main river, discover where its smaller rivers join the great one and conduct rituals relating to cleansing, purification or ease of movement there.
Here’s to Cloacina and the world she presides over, often unnoticed. And isn’t that the way of so many things that matter?