The Order of the White Moon Goddess Gallery presents


Venus Erycina

The Sicilian Goddess Who Persisted


A Level I Final Project for The Sacred Three Goddess School by Initiate Jenai May

(©2020. All original material in this work is under copyright protection and is the intellectual property of the author.)


Figure i Head of Venus Erycina, Municipal Museum "Antonio Cordici"

Figure i Head of Venus Erycina, Municipal Museum "Antonio Cordici"


Perched high upon the triangular precipice of Mt. Eryx, Sicily (modern-day Erice), once stood a magnificent temple whose deity was revered for two millennia across the span of at least three ancient cultures. Venus Erycina is her most familiar name (of several), and her reputation is one of lasting intrigue and scandal; the priestesses in her wealthy temple seemingly practiced “sacred prostitution.” However, as we will discover, much more lies behind this claim and the goddess to whom so many worshipped from the most ancient times through the late 16th Century CE.


Figure ii Erice, SicilyEryx is a mountain on the sea on that side of Sicily which looks towards Africa. It is … much the biggest mountain in Sicily after Etna. On its summit, which is flat, stands the temple of Venus Erycina, which is indisputably the first in wealth and general magnificence of all the Sicilian holy places.”  
- Polybius of Megalopolis (c.
200BCE – c.118 BCE)[i]







    Figure ii Erice, Sicily


Venus Erycina is the Goddess of Love, Beauty, Passion, and Fertility. Through Her love, we feel loved and spread our love. Through her Beauty, we see beauty and are beautiful. Through Her passion, we feel passion and follow our passions. Through her fertility, the earth is fertile and so are we. Venus Erycina is Life and Light.

The peak of Erice was the first sight of land spotted by sailors coming from Africa, and they relied on the fires lit by Her priestesses there. These sailors would also look to the skies above Erice for signs of the Goddess’s mood. Blue skies meant Venus Erycine’s mood was favorable. If fog (known as the “Veils of Venus”) concealed the mountaintop, the Goddess was angry and must be appeased.[ii]


Figure iii "Slaves of the Temple of Mt. Eryx" by E. Rosset Granger. C. 1895 Once these sailors arrived safely upon the shores of Sicily, some would make the trek up the mountain to visit the priestesses there. For, they are said to have been sacred prostitutes. This term is misleading, and Romans likely diluted it of its original spiritual meanings. Only a few sites in the ancient world are known to have practiced this. Some scholars, including myself, believe these priestesses, sometimes called hierodule (meaning “temple slave”, another misleading term being as they were priestesses), were not mere prostitutes and instead likely practiced “sacred sex.” To honor the Goddess, travelers from all over would climb the mountain, make a monetary offering to the Goddess’s temple, and then, while symbolizing a god, they engage in a ritual of sex with a priestess who at that time was the very embodiment of the Goddess Venus Erycina. This ritual was meant to both honor the Goddess and ensure abundant crops and healthy babies, because she was, above all, an ancient goddess of fertility.

To the ancient mind maintaining the earth’s fertility was a matter of survival, and it entailed a prescribed set of religious observances - among them the mating of exalted personages such as kings with high priestesses. It was believed that these ritualized acts would call down the divine spirit, making the fields fruitful and the herds productive.[iii]

Legend says Venus Erycina was brought from Troy by Aeneas, Aphrodite’s Trojan son. Archaeology and DNA has confirmed the Anatolian origins of these people. However, Venus Erycina’s story is older than historians have thus far been able to trace, and likely began among the native Sicilians who worshipped a Mediterranean Great Mother Goddess. Over the centuries, her worshippers called her Astarte, Tanit, Aphrodite, Venus Erycina, and likely other, much earlier names.

Beginning circa 1200 BCE Phoenicians from Carthage (a Phoenician colony on the North African coast, visible from Erice), occupied Erice and its surroundings in Sicily. These people became the Elymians. The Elymians occupied Erice for many centuries and named the Goddess after their own goddess, Astarte (also known as Ishtar, and worshipped since Mesopotamian times).













     Figure iii “Slaves of the Temple of Mt. Eryx” by E. Garret Granger, C. 1895

However, it’s important to note that the Sicilian Astarte was not identical to her Phoenician and Mesopotamian guises. She held her own unique traditions, festivals, and myths, carried down from her earliest beginnings in Bronze Age Sicily. Details of these early Sicilians are murky at best, so what we know is gleaned from the later cultures who assimilated their beliefs and traditions with those native to the region.

Therefore, the traditions of most importance are those that are unique to Venus Erycina alone. These are most likely to be the oldest. Similar to her Near Eastern counterparts, the dove was sacred to Venus Erycina. Her worshippers believed that, every year in August, the people of Erice would release hundreds of white doves (a symbol of Venus Erycina). Nine days later, they would return, being led by a red dove who was said to be the Goddess Herself.[iv] The dovecotes are some of the few remains of the Goddess’s temple.

The Greeks believed Aphrodite rose from the waves at the base of Erice and lay with The Beekeeper, Butes. She then gave birth to the Elymian king, Eryx. The legendary Cretan architect and inventor, Daedalus, crafted a honeycomb of pure gold and dedicated it to Venus Erycina’s altar and built the great wall that surrounded the temple at Erice. Therefore, bees and honey are sacred to Her.


Figure iv Ancient coins from Erice showing the Goddess' face. Various dates. Author's private collection It’s important to note that, even when the Greeks arrived and Hellenized the area in the 8th century BCE, Carthage continued to occupy it. So, while the culture was eventually Hellenic Greek, the people were still Elymians. The Carthaginian presence wasn’t defeated until the Romans came along. At that point, two Roman emperors discovered and coveted the wealth of Venus Erycina’s temple. They wished to steal her from Erice and built two replicas of Her temple outside Rome. They even stole Her statue from Erice! This was the beginning of the end of Venus Erycina’s famed temple. Eventually, it fell into decline and the Normans built a castle upon its ruins (aptly named the Castle of Venus).

“Some inscriptions found in the ruins of the Norman castle, but also in the area of the town of Erice, inform us about the continuity of life of the Sanctuary adapted to the different cultural influences of this area. Thus we have a dedication in Phoenician to Astarte, one in Greek to Aphrodite and some fragments in Latin with a dedication to Venus. This epigraphic evidence show a continuity of worship and a substantial identity between the three deities.”[v]

Her worship continued centuries longer. In 1554, it was recorded that the Catholic Church established mid-August festivities (the time of Venus Erycina’s main celebrations) in honor of the Madonna of Custonaci, who eventually replaced Venus in Erice as the dominant figure of worship in that area.[vi]






     Figure iv Ancient coins from Erice showing the Goddess’ face. Various dates. Author’s private collection


This is not to say Venus Erycina vanished entirely. To this day, Venus’s sacred cookies, a version of Mylloi, are popularly served at Erice-area weddings, a sign that She continues to live on among Her people. I would not be surprised to learn that She merely assumed the identity of another culture’s goddess and, for now, is hiding under the guise of the Madonna of Custonaci. I wonder, what name will She take next?


Symbolism: That Which is Sacred to Venus Erycina


Stone statue of Venus Erycina

·         Fog

·         Red

·         Pink

·         Shells

·         Doves

·         Water

·         Hearts

·         Pinecones

·         Rose Quartz

·         The Pentacle

·         Girasol Quartz

·         Clear Milky Agates

·         Mylloi Biscuit Cookies






Recipe: Mylloi


Figure v Mylloi An ancient recipe, these are honey-sweetened bread biscuits with sesame seeds. Traditionally, these were made in the shape of female genitalia. They were described by poet Theocritus and were said to be sacred to Venus Erycina. (Elsewhere on the island, they were also sacred to Persephone and Demeter and made during Thesmophoria.) It’s nearly impossible to find a recipe for Mylloi that’s survived. However, there are similar recipes that are supposed to have descended from Mylloi. Therefore, I combined some of these recipes with what we know of Mylloi; they were sweetened with honey, had sesame seeds, and were made in the shape of female genitals. I went with a simple triangular shape. They are a plain biscuit, having no salt or oil, with a delicately pleasant flavor.







      Figure v Mylloi


·         1/4 cup honey

·         1 egg

·         ½ teaspoon almond extract (Sicilian almonds have a much stronger flavor)

·         ½ cup almond flour

·         1 cup all-purpose flour (or more, until the right consistency)

·         2 Tablespoons sesame seeds (or more, to taste)


1.       Combine honey, egg, and extract. You may need to warm the honey first to thin it. Be careful not to warm it too much or you might cook the egg!

2.       In a small separate bowl, combine the almond flour, all-purpose flour, and sesame seeds.

3.       Add the flour mixture, bit at a time, until the dough is thick. You may need to add extra plain flour.

4.       Knead briefly, until smooth.

5.       Wrap or place in Ziploc bag, and rest the dough in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

6.       With your hands, make triangular shapes, about ¼ inch thick. These will round out a bit while baking, so don’t bother with perfection.

7.       Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet at 300F until very lightly browned on the bottoms, approximately 20 minutes (depending on the thickness).


Ritual: Honoring Venus Erycina and Loving Yourself

Gather as many of the following as you feel drawn to:

·         White and Red Candles

·         Lemon Verbena (either fresh leaves, essential oil, or tea) – My Sicilian great grandpa (from Erice) said fresh lemon verbena leaves rubbed behind the ears was perfume; it is often used in love magic. It’s also a honeybee nectar plant. For this ritual, it will be used for purification, calming, and focus.

·         Red Carnation or Red Poppy – can be art or silk flowers, depending on the season and availability.

·         Doves (figurines, drawings, paintings, photos, sound recordings)

·         Pinecones

·         A Pentacle

·         A paper and pencil


Figure vi "Astarte", vintage postcard, Author's private collection Prepare any food or tea you intend to consume during or after the ritual.

Take a bath or shower to cleanse your body, mind, and spirit. Please do not skip this, as this is directly connected to the cleansing baths that people had to take before entering Venus Erycina’s temple. Also remaining is a sacred well in which the priestesses would bath. These are some of the temple’s very few archaeological remains that have survived the millennia.

Light the candles and rub Lemon Verbena leaves behind your ears, on your heart, and on your womb. If possible, keep some leaves simmering nearby, perhaps in a wee crock pot.

Cast the circle and call upon the directions and elements. Now, also call upon Venus Erycina, Goddess of love, passion, fertility, and heart magic. Imagine you’ve taken an ancient mask of Her and placed it over your face. You become Her and She becomes you.

Together with Venus Erycina, perform a self-blessing. Touch yourself and feel Venus Erycina love and bless each sacred part of you. Take your time and repeat if necessary, until you truly feel the love and blessing of your entire self.

Raise energy. Dance and celebrate the energy. Feel Her in the energy.

When you are ready, think of the gift Venus Erycina could give you, right now, that would fill you with the greatest healing, self-love, and inner abundance. Perhaps She can imbue you with eyes that see your own beauty, or a voice that speaks loving words to yourself. Keep in mind, you and She are one right now, so this is also a gift to yourself. Draw and/or write this wish on the piece of paper. Receive the gift and love it. Kiss the paper and thank Her for it. Leave the written gift on your altar to be seen and reminded of daily.

Now, with the energy still raised, send this gift outward, sharing it with others. You can share it with your family, community, or even the entire world.

Thank Venus Erycina and step out of her mask. Open the circle and ground. If you made Mylloi cookies, now is a good time to nibble on them.





      Figure vi “Astarte”, vintage postcard, Author’s private collection



[i] Eryx,

[ii] Best of Trapani, Inside the Normal Castle,

[iii] ibiCASA Magazine,

[iv] Soetens, Katinka, “The Temple of Astarte at Erice”, Goddess Alive!

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Simeti, Mary Taylor and Grammatico, Maria, Bitter Almonds; Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1994, p. 3.



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