First I am going to say that this will be nowhere near as thorough as I like which is why it is going to be thoroughly researched and written into a booklet on Apollo Luciferos, Diana Luciferia, Nemi and Italian Witchcraft Developing Hellenic Originating Deities.so this is a brief bloggy overview of some of my thoughts based on a significant period of devotional research in my life.
Yes I said Hellenic originating. Most recognize that despite cultural changes that transformed the borrowed Hellenic deity into one possessing a very Italic cult, this is more debatable regarding Diana. When I am asked about my broad answer is “it depends”. In general I say Diana is a Latin goddess that was brought into Rome. However her shift of cult bases from Nemi is not, in my opinion, wholely of Latin origin. Given temple laws kept written in the Greek language and the similarity in character of the Nemoralia with roughly August fullmoon feasts for Artemis as a goddess who successfully sustains infants through their youth when infant mortality was high makes a Hellenic colonial origin more likely as was occurring all over areas south of Rome. In fact whereas Nemi is just south of Rome, just north of it was the famous chthonic natured oracle of a priestess of Apollo and Diana featured in the Aeneid within Etruscan Territory. Etruscans having borrowed their Artumes and Apulu likely from trading with these southern colonies.
Greeting the local goddess as Diana Lucifera (as Cicero notes) is reasonable, even as she was also called Virbia and Nemorensis (of the grove). Yet the multutude of lamps found within the temple would suggest Diana Lucifera within the temple…and who would naturally delight in the reflect in the lake known as Dianas mirror. The woodland nature of Artemis would have translated well for a Latin forest goddess when the Latin League was determining a home base. The institution of Iuno Lucina (the birthing form of Iuno) on the local hillside further draws a localized balance between foreign and native deities as Cicero notes the close parallel between these goddesses.what is considered a more “vicious cult” and its legendary ties to Iphegenia, Orestes and Artemis Tauropolis could have easily been part of the early nature if the temple originally instituted as a Spartan temple as one of their many colonies in southern Italy. Sparta’s Artemis had this same mythic inheritance from Taurus. The local lore regarding Hippolytus revived and serving there as first priest may have been a later addition. It could have just as easily been viewed as Orestes as mythic variations have him accompanying his sister, in exile and never recovering from his miasma of blood guilt.
The Iphegenia and Orestes in exile narrative would fit well with local tradition of an escaped slave as someone outside the bonds of society. It would also fit Spartan customs of flogging boys at her temple as they approached adulthood…Orestes himself being near the age of a youth as a young man if memory serves me. Rex Nemorensis wouldnt be far from imagining a broken exiled more seasoned Orestes, if such were the case, hiding away in the woods. The adoration of Hippolytus for Artemis makes a charming narrative, and is linked to the forbidance of horses at the temple but appears otherwise disjointed from the nature if the cult in my opinion.
If you keep in mind this character if her cult, much like that of Apollon, as being friendly to outcasts and the exiled we can see how this translated in later periods associated with lore of Italian Witchcraft as recorded by Charles Leland as having a basis not too far off the mark when assigning her protection over the outcasts, which would have been even more so true in the advent of Christian rule. It clearly would have become a lot more inclusive.
I do think it is a mistake tho to suggest that this Diana was a Hekate. Or a triple goddess like Hekate. The interpretations of Frazer in his Golden Bough went a long way cementing this association in academic minds of the period and even currently. This is largely based on a coin of Nemi featuring what appears to be three goddesses. However it woukd be a mistake to assume this is Diana Triformis (Diana as Hecate). Rather there are two plausible explanatiins if this appearance. One us that it may represent three distinct forns the goddess takes at her sanctuary. This is not uncommon at Hellenic temples and sanctuaries to find the deity present in nultitude of forms. As such the flower one holds *could be* a torch representing Diana Lucufera, the bow with Diana Nemorensis and the third Diana Virbia. However it is more likely to my mind that this literally represents the three goddesses of the immediate vicinity: Diana (Lucifera not needing artistic differentiating), Iuno Lucina and the nymph Egeria with a flower. It would be a mistake to assume Diana here is a sorcery goddess like Hecate.
Rather as a goddess associated with witchcraft in Italy from this cult was likely responsive to many factors including Chrustian rule/authority. That said the witchcraft of Diana is different than what you might see with the chthonic (and what I see as more ceremonial) sorcery of Hecate. Most magic recorded by Charles Leland that he received if we are to take it completely at face value deals immediately with aid of nature spirits specifically addressed as faeries. Diana Nemorensis who led hunts with her train of nymphs has become queen of faeries. As such its magic is rustic focusing on needs of the common folk for protection, fertility, ward off storms, good health, gaining wealth. Her pairing with her twin Apollo Luciferos is natural, or even as Apollo of the wood if we may consider that thus may be the identity of Virbius as Diana was called Virbia. Of course many modern witches go with Frazer’s Diana and Dianus although I dont understand why. Leland testifies to Luciferos(Lucifer) and historic cult suggests a strong Virbia/Virbenus and Lucifera/Luciferos probability. Dianus seems to come from nowhere outside of Frazer.