Family Deities: Sylvanus

There are so many images of green men and wild, woodsy creatures throughout mythology and modern Paganism. Many of these come from ancient sources, and the God Silvanus is one such source. A Roman forest God turned protector of farmland, Silvanus is the very essence of “growing with the times.” However, he’s never lost his wild streak — and surely never will.

Who is Silvanus?
Silvanus, sometimes written as Sylvanus, means of the woods and He was and is the God of wild and uncultivated places. From the deep forest to a dusty, roadside wasteland, Silvanus has a presence in these places. At some point, Silvanus also became associated with cultivated land: plantations, fields, and farms. Was this because Romans increasingly needed to know that their Gods were following them forward into more advanced agricultural practices? Perhaps! Or perhaps Silvanus simply felt the essence of the wild in what humans assumed was tamed.

Interestingly Silvanus is sometimes conflated with other deities who, at first glance, seem mostly unrelated. Silvanus is occasionally referred to as Mars Silvanus, suggesting a connection to the Roman God of war. However, could it be that Mars as a protector and defender occasionally presents Himself as a guardian of agriculture?

Similarly, one tale associated with Silvanus is sometimes told with Apollo as the central deity. Cyparissus (Kyparissos or Κυπάρισσος in Greek) was beloved by one of these gods, and possibly romantically involved. He also had a deer who was a constant companion. Depending on which version of the story you read, either Cyparissus or Silvanus accidentally killed the deer. The boy’s sorrow was too much to bear, so the God transformed him into a cypress tree — now a symbol of grief.

Why is Silvanus One of Our Family Deities?
Silvanus is a great reminder of the wonders of the wild and the marvels of human-powered agriculture. Although He is “of the woods,” He also rules over fields, plantations, and farm animals. It’s as if his nature-based powers and authority have continued to hold sway even as humans have tried to bring nature under their thumb. In this way, Silvanus is also a great reminder of two things: We cannot fully control nature, and also that we are a part of nature — not apart from it.

This is a wonderful lesson for growing children — to appreciate the wild world and walk in it lightly, but also that it’s okay to take what we need as long as we give something back.

Silvanus is also a protector of people, particularly those lost in the woods. There’s a 16th-century poem by Edmund Spenser that tells how a Lady is saved from molestation and taken to Silvanus for protection.

Silvanus may also be more than one God or being. One source states that each estate (the lands and buildings someone owns) would have had three Silvani, the plural of Silvanus. One would delineate the borders of the land. One was worshipped by shepherds and associated with fields. The final one was called Silvanus domesticus and presumably, this was a household deity or home protector.

Silvanus in these forms represents the multiple roles we have as family members. We might be focused on food and nurturing one day, but the next, we might be teaching kids how to set healthy boundaries. Or, we may be doing these things and more all at the same time! Silvanus can also be seen as a protector of LGBTQ+ youth, via his relationship with Cyparissus. He wanted what was best for the young man, even if it meant no longer being close to him. Providing our young people with what they need is an essential aspect of family life.

Honouring Silvanus
Silvanus loves music, so if you want to sing Him a song, or play a favourite instrument, that would surely be welcomed. His sacred instrument is a syrinx, another name for a set of pan pipes. Any other flute or wind instrument would be fine — even your voice!

Wandering in the woods (safely!) could be an effective way to connect to Silvanus. Alternatively, find a well-worn track along the edge of a field. These are the spaces He guards, and you may feel His presence.

Offerings for Silvanus may include grain, particularly in “ears,” grapes, milk, or anything you’ve grown or cultivated yourself.

The Roman poet Virgil states that Silvanus had a grove dedicated to Silvanus, so finding an open space in the woods or even your own green space to worship Him would be highly appropriate. Even leaving an offering beneath a tree would show sincerity and dedication.

Sylvanus Correspondences

Animals
Deer
Pigs
Sheep
The wild animals of your local woods

Tools
Any cultivating tool
Musical instruments, particularly pipes

Images
Woodland scenes
Farmland
Wild places like grown-over wasteland
The cypress tree

Is Silvanus part of your path? Let us know in our Facebook group!

By Mabh Savage

Images copyright details:

Head of Silvanus crowned with pine, Centrale Montemartini, Rome, by Carole Raddato, shared under the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

A bronze of the Roman god Silvanus, now in the British Museum, by QuartierLatin1968, shared under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.