Lemures and Lemuria



the Mundus (Opening to the Underworld)


During the Lemuria (the feast of the Lemures), the Lemures try to find a home among the living. Some want to have a proper burial or justice be administered for their wrongful death. Others want a family to adopt Them, and give offerings in their memory. They want people to establish a cultus for Them.

Di Manes (The Dead) are separated into several groups. Di Parentes are the direct ancestors who guard the family line. The Lars (Lares) are the guardians of the home and the land. The Lemures (Note 1) are the Wandering Dead and can be considered “unwelcomed family ghosts.” Finally, there are the Larvae, who wish to do the living harm.

The person who encounters the Lemures has several choices. They can adopt one but they really do not know who these Lemures were. The person can place offerings on their property outside their home. These Lemures will become the Genius Loci, the protectors of the place. Placing offerings at the boundary of the property will entice Them to become the Lares Compitales, the Guardians of the Crossroads. Most people will chose to place offerings at a crossroad, where the Lemures will become the Lars Viales, Guardians of the Roads and of Travelers.

Traditional offerings for the Lemures are three piles of grain, milk, honey, salt and oil. They should be placed on broken crockery, so that the Lemures do not feel at home. Give water to Them so that the Lemures may clean Themselves. No meat or wine should be offered.

Traditional Roman activities for Lemuria entails the paterfamilias (head of the household) rise at midnight to perform them. He walks through the house backwards making the mano fico (Note 2) (folding fingers around the thumb). As he does this, he spits out black beans into the corners of the house. Then he says nine times, “Haec ego mitto, his redimo meque meosque fabis.” (With these beans, I redeem me and mine.) Then the rest of the family would bang bronze utensils or pots and pans. They shout nine times, “Manes, exite paterni.” (Paternal ghosts, get out.)

As the head of the household spat the beans out, the Lemures would come and collect the beans. Supposedly, the beans were in exchange for the people. The clanging of the pots is to ward off the Lemures. This is how Romans perform an exorcism.

Modern Roman Polytheists will stay inside after sunset on the days of the Lemuria (May 9, 11, 13). Drawing the curtains and covering the mirrors, they prevent the Lemures from seeing and claiming them. Also, modern Romans Polytheists will sprinkle water into the corners of the house. Corners are sacred places in the home where the roof, floor, and walls meet. (Note 3).

Note 1: The lemurs, near-primates of Madagascar, are named after the Roman Lemures, for their ghostly eyes.

Note 2: The mano fico is considered to be obscene by some modern Italians. Besides being a sign to ward off evil, it is also one for sexual intercourse.

Note 3: Corners of a house are the home of the Lars and other spirits.

Further Reading: Books by Claude Lecouteux: “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” “The Return of the Dead,” and “The Tradition of Household Spirits.”


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