As a Harvest Sabbat, Mabon is a time to honor the goddesses and gods that are the patrons of agriculture. Some bless agriculture as a whole, some are specific to the harvest, and others have particular focuses such as grain or wine grapes. Pomona, a goddess of the Roman pantheon, is the goddess of fruits and orchards. Unlike most deities of the Roman pantheon, Pomona has no Greek counterpart. She is often associated with Demeter, but while there are similarities, they are not the same. Pomona is not a harvest deity but one of cultivation. She oversees and blesses the growing of orchards, protecting them and helping them flourish. She and her husband Vertumnus had a join festival held around August 13th each year.
Name and Depictions of Pomona
Her name, Pomona, is derived from the Latin word pomum, meaning fruit. This connection continues in modern languages. The French word pomme means apples. Pomona’s history is not as fleshed out as other gods of the Roman pantheon, so any other names she might have been referred to are lost to time.
She is depicted as youthful. Fruit is obviously a key component to any depiction, either having her in an orchard, holding fruit, or with a horn of plenty. She is also depicted holding a pruning knife because cultivation is such a pivotal aspect to her patronage.
Pomona’s Role in the Pantheon
Pomona was a virginal wood nymph who had little time for the many advances she received. She rejects the proposals of Silvanus and Picus, preferring to focus on her work. She ultimately marries Vertumnus, the god of gardens. There are conflicting origins to how that occurred. In one story, he disguises himself as an old woman and councils Pomona on whom she should marry. The “old woman” advises Pomona to marry Vertumnus. Thus, Vertumnus tricks Pomona into marrying her. In another story, the one preferred by many modern witches, Vertumnus comes to her as she is planting apple seeds. They speak about cultivation – grafting, soil. He shows her how to make sour cherries sweeter. She shows him how to double their yield. He tells her how much he loves the smell of moist soil, how privileged he is to care for and protect plants and growth. It is then that she falls in love with him because of their shared interests. Their union is said to be lustful and the cause of the overabundance of fruit on apple trees. The fruitful earth is what their union embodies, and are responsible for that which gives us physical and spiritual sustenance.
Pomona and her husband Vertumnus are part of the Numina, the guardian spirits of the Roman pantheon. Each member of the Numina watches and protects a different area of life – specific jobs types, parts of the field, or parts of the home. Pomona and Vertumnus not only help orchards and gardens flourish, but are also responsible for their protection. Pomona is a goddess to invoke to prevent damage to your orchards before the harvest and to provide a bountiful crop. Thanks should be given to her at the harvest for the resulting crop.
She had her own priests in Rome, called the Flamen Pomonalis. Though they were caretakers of her rituals year-round, their largest worship of her came on her ritual days. These were the shared ritual day with her husband, August 13th, and her own ritual day, November 1st.
Symbols and Associations of Pomona
Though she is the goddess of all fruits and orchards, she is most closely associated with the apple. The cornucopia is a common feature in depictions, representing the bountiful crop she cultivates. The horn of plenty is sometimes replaced with a platter or basket for holding the fruit, but those have less common association with her.
The pruning knife she holds is her tool of cultivation. She slices away dead, damaged, or imperfect branches, removing all that would slow or prevent a fruitful harvest. It is with this tool of precision that she carefully tends and guards her orchards.
Her sacred grove, Pomonal, is not far from the ancient port of Rome. Depictions of groves or orchards are associated with Pomona, for they would not flourish without her blessing.
Pomona in Modern Practice
Unfortunately, a great deal of knowledge of Pomona has been lost to time. More significant figures in the pantheon likely absorbed her rituals and patronage. But her contribution to society is still felt. Some cities bear her name (such as Pomona, California). The Grange, a farmers’ solidarity organization, gives honorary positions to three women known as Flora, Ceres, and Pomona. Though they likely do not worship her as a goddess, they honor her place in agriculture by keeping her name alive. She also appears in numerous forms of art, from sculpture and painting to poetry and novels. Even the Harry Potter series has a character, one that teaches Herbology, named Pomona.
Because of her meticulous dedication to helping growth flourish, Pomona can be used as more than a patron deity for actual fruits and orchards. If you do not have your own fruit trees, but are working towards personal growth, Pomona is a patron that can be invoked. Call to her to help you prune the aspects of yourself that are a detriment to growth, allowing you to be fruitful in your pursuits. Pomona can be invoked to bless any part of a harvest feast that includes fruits. She should especially be invoked if apples are being used.
Though her specific rituals and rites have been lost to time, you can still create your own based on your knowledge and connection to Pomona. Having a sister tree to root yourself to in the name of Pomona will help with growth and strength. Being thankful for the fruit bounty each year, even if you merely shop for them at a supermarket, will help the farmers that supply it continue to be successful. You can ask for her blessing, and that of her husband’s, on small gardens in your home.
Craft your own connection to Pomona and watch yourself blossom and grow!