Mapping the Universe – Roman Style

AAll Roads Lead To Rome.

colosseum coliseum flavian amphitheatre rome

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

To explore and navigate a territory, people need a map. Most maps have correspondences, of which the most notable are the cardinal directions. Going north may take a person by a school and later a group of stores. Afterwards, in their mind, “North” corresponds to the high school and the local strip mall. If they go east, they will not encounter those particular landmarks but instead other ones. A map preserves these landmarks and sets the correspondences for a traveler to follow.

Magical correspondences act as a map to the cosmos. By aligning a direction with an element, color, animal, et al., people can move from place to place in the universe. With each correspondence, they can arrive where they want to be.

Using correspondences in a ritual is similar to taking a bus to a destination. Each stop along the way informs a person of where they are at that moment. Sometimes, they have to change buses at transfer stations to reach their final destination. Like certain correspondences which serve more than one direction, a person moves through the cosmos by “changing buses” at these nexus points.

For Roman Polytheists, the most important part of a sacred map is the Pomerium (the boundary between sacred space (the Templum) and profane space. Within the Pomerium is the Focus (the Fire), which crosses all the worlds. Supported and fed by this world (the earth, which lies in the center), the Focus reaches up to the Realm of the Sky Gods and down to the Dark Underground of the Earth Gods. Fire exists everywhere from the magma of the earth to the stars of the sky. Therefore, the Focus can be regarded as the Cosmic Center of the universe.

The Hearth Fire, which is Vesta, the Goddess of the Home, burns at my altar to welcome the Gods and Ancestors to come and partake of my hospitality. The Hearth Fire offers my sacrifices to the Gods, and carries my words to Them as well. The living flame of Vesta helps me to re-orient myself in the cosmos, while doing my daily devotions.

The Mundus (the Pit) opens to the World of the Chthonic Gods and Lemurs (chaotic Dead). Beyond the Mundus are the treasures of the earth as well as the dwelling places of the Dead. For Romans, removing the lid of Mundus is fraught with danger, and care must be taken lest a lemur comes into the world. Offerings are made to Consus, the God of the Granary, to keep the Dead from leaving.

The Portus (Door) creates the portal between all the Worlds. Because of the Portus, within the Templum, all the worlds can come together at one place. Unlike the circle which for many neopagans moves through space and time, the Portus opens the gate to all the worlds. Guarding the Portus is the Gatekeeper, Janus of the Two Faces. Like the janitor of old at the door, Janus oversees this liminal place.

Works Used.
Newberg, Brandon, “Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites.” ADF Publications. 2007.
Scheid, John, “An Introduction to Roman Religion.” Indiana University Press: Indiana. 2003.

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