Article by Denton Walter.
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Most people probably know of goddesses of the ancient world such as Athena, Isis, Astarte the Queen of the Stars, or the cat goddess Bast, or at least their names may be somewhat familiar even if not anything very much about them, but I would think not many people would recognise the name Lasa. However, Lasa was by no means a minor deity. She was a goddess of the Etruscans in Italy from well before the rise of the Roman Empire or even the Roman City State for that matter. They actually founded the city of Rome, turning what had been little more than a collection of huts into a city that, unknown to them, would eventually throw off their rule and later conquer them.
The Etruscans occupied a region of Italy that roughly corresponds with Tuscany and parts of Lazio and Umbria, bounded by the Arno and Tiber rivers, the Apennine Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea, from c.1200 B.C. according to Herodotus in The Histories, to their final assimilation into the expanding Roman domain around 264 B.C. The Romans called them Tuscī or Etruscī, from which derived the name of modern Tuscany, though they called themselves Rasenna. The Greeks knew them as Tyrrhenians. Much of our knowledge about them comes from outside sources, Greek and Roman, since their own language has been only partly deciphered.
Lasa was a goddess of fate and destiny (not the goddess of fate, that was Nortia), the generic meaning of her name being ‘Spirit’ or ‘Nymph’, and was very closely associated with Turan, the goddess of love, vitality and fertility. The two were frequently depicted together, which could give the impression that she was merely an assistant, a side-kick of Turan, a Divine Batman and Robin so to speak, but that was not the case. She was also often shown on her own, a favourite representation being engraved on the back of a mirror or even used as a statuette to form the handle of a mirror, further proof that she was no mere servant to Turan, and the mirror is significant, as we shall come to in a moment.
She was usually depicted as a beautiful woman with wings, naked save for jewellery such as a necklace and a bracelet, with boots or soft slipper-like shoes, often holding an alabastron, a Greek type of perfume vase often associated with funerals and made of alabaster, hence the name, its contents either used to anoint the dead or left as an offering. But this item had another use besides that of funeral rituals, since it was also used by the living, women keeping their perfume in it, which, along with mirrors, ties in with the dual aspect of Lasa’s role in Etruscan religion, as does another symbol associated with her.
She had a sort of sisterhood, a group of lesser goddesses known by the plural form of her name as the Lasae, and like her often depicted naked with wings and carrying an alabastron or a mirror. They were regarded as a form of spiritual protector, a sort of guardian angel, helping to guide the personal destiny of those they watched over, looking after them and helping them along their way, giving them a gentle push you might say from time to time while they were alive and protecting their tomb after they were dead.
There seems to have been nothing particularly forbidding or foreboding about the connection of Lasa and the Lasae with death, or indeed death itself, unlike the gloomy Greek ideas on the subject, where the underworld was somewhere you really didn’t want to go to, not that you had any choice of course, or the Norse Hel (which had nothing to do with punishment as the later Christian version with two ‘l’s did), it being just rather boring. All the symbols of the Lasae linked to the realm of the dead had a double meaning, both joyous and sorrowful, life and death intertwined, indicating perhaps that to the Etruscans these were simply acceptable albeit unavoidable opposites of a whole, a Ying and Yang, or what might today be called ‘the circle of life.’ Certainly, if we go by the superb wall murals found in the very elaborate Etruscan tombs, the afterlife wouldn’t seem to be somewhere you would be afraid of, quite the contrary in fact, since it seems to have started off with jolly family reunions and then gone on with everlasting music, dancing, games and lots of food. Maybe being dead wasn’t so bad.
The alabastron could be used both for funeral rights and for holding a woman’s perfume, the latter function being something that would most certainly be helpful in romantic matters, especially in an age when odours of various less than pleasant kinds were pretty common, and tying in with her closeness to the love goddess Turan. As does the frequency of her association with mirrors, again the dual role, on one hand a tool assisting in feminine beauty, male too for that matter, and therefore very helpful in matters of the heart, and on the other hand it was yet another symbol of death, the appearance of the spirits of the dead in mirrors being a widespread belief, even down to the present day/ sport, I think the Romans got the effeminate part wrong. They just liked to look good.
Another frequent and again double symbol associated with the goddess and her Lasae was a wreath, which could of course be a symbol of joy at weddings or festivals and an acknowledgement of great victory, triumph in war, but could also be equally associated with funerals and gave offerings. The duality of her position, the relativity of fate to both life and death, seems quite obvious given this degree of symbolism.
So, there we have Lasa. Perhaps not as famous as Aphrodite or Athena, nor as dominant as The Morrigan or as influential in world affairs as Freya, but an interesting deity in her own right, especially in her role as a divine representative of things that could be both immensely joyous or profoundly tragic, depending on the twists and turns of fate.
The Arcana Wiki, page revision 4, last edited 30th Nov. 2016
Chianti.info, Chianti Italy Tourist Information, public. https://www.chianti.info/etruscan_mythology.htm
A list of the gods and goddesses of the Etruscans with their Roman equivalents if known
The Mysterious Etruscans. http:www.mysteriousestruscans.com/index.html
Saunders, Chas, and Peter J. Allen, eds. "LASAS - the Etruscan Goddesses of Fate (Etruscan mythology)." <em>Godchecker</em>. Godchecker.com / CID, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 3 April 2018.
Wikipedia Contributors Wikipedia Free Encyclopaedia, ‘Lasa’, page last updated 28th Jan. 2017, 1603. (Accessed 03/04/2018)
About the author:
Denton Walter was born in Bentonville, Arkansas, 1949 and has lived in Dublin, Ireland since 1963. He worked as actor/ASM in the Dublin Theatre from 1968-1975, and as Security officer from 1975-2014, now retired. Denton spent many years as contributing writer with Astronomy & Space Magazine, and the Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates. He is interested in many aspects of history and mythology, with a particular emphasis on Old Norse and Celtic subjects.