Roman Gods for February

In February, Romans prepare for the coming of spring by purifying themselves, their homes, and their communities. “February” comes from februum (purgation), and the februa (expiatory rituals). Ceremonies for the Dead abound, since a part of purification is fulfilling the obligations to the Dead. For example, the Lupercalia and Quirinalia have specific purifications rites as a part of their rituals. In addition, the Terminalia and Fornacalia are a part of the worship of the Di Parentes (Parents). Meanwhile, the Feralia focused on all the Dead and the Parentalia on the Lar Familiaris (family spirit).

For Roman Polytheists, the focus on the Dead puts them outside the norm of modern Pagans, who generally follow the Wheel of the Year. For these Pagans, Samhain, held in October, is when the Dead walk the earth. Meanwhile, Imbolc, which is held in February, is the fire festival of Brighid. This time of restrained joy focuses on the returning of new life. In contrast, for Romans, February is the time that the Dead walk freely amongst the living.

February was the only month in the original Roman calendar that had an even number of days. This was to allow the year have an odd number of days for good luck. February was originally the end of the year, with March being the beginning. Many of February’s festivals focus on the transition between the old and new year – making things right with the Dead, purifying, and re-establishing the boundaries.

Fornax and Quirinus
The Fornacalia is held between February 5 and 17. At this time, in ancient Rome, people brought grain to the communal ovens to be parched in the ancient manner of their fathers. Fornax, the Goddess of Bakers and Ovens, was invoked to keep the wheat from burning. The last day of the Fornacalia is the Quirinalia, also known as “The Feast of Fools.” This is the time that people who delayed bringing their grain came to fulfill their civic duty. Modern observances involved making bread from scratch and making offerings to Juno Curitis (Juno of the Curia (Wards)).

Quirinus is thought to be the deified Romulus, and represents the Romans in their civic sense. “Quirites” is what officials addressed Roman citizens as. In their military capacity, Romans were called “Romani.” Quirinus with Mars and Jupiter were the original trio of Gods governing Rome before the Republic.

Di Parentes and Di Manes (The Dead)
The Parentalia starts February 13 and runs through February 21. The Caristia on February 22 officially ends this period of venerating the Dead. During this time, the Lupercalia and Feralia are held. Each ritual focuses on a different aspect of purification, families, and the Dead. The Parentalia is a private ceremony that the family does to honor their dead. The Feralia entails visiting the graves and making offerings. The Caristia is a family feast, where all quarrels between family members are settled. Family unity is then cemented with the household Lars.

Faunus and Inuus
On February 15, the Lupercalia is held. Traditionally, sacrifices were made at the Lupercal Cave in Rome, where the She-Wolf nursed Romulus and Remus. This was followed by the Lupercii (young men) running through the streets striking women with the februa (goatskin whips). This was to insure fertility in the women. Traditional Gods of Fertility, Faunus and Inuus preside over the Lupercalia. Modern observances entail prayers for purification and fertility, the cleaning of the house and self, and offerings left in secluded areas.

Terminus
The Terminalia, held on February 23, honors the God of Boundaries. It is a time of purifying the land and redefining the boundaries between homes. The “beating of the bounds” which entails walking around the perimeter reestablishes the boundaries for another year. Cakes and wine are offered to Terminus during this activity.

Magical Tools: The Chalice and Ninhursaga

When I first pondered the magical tools of Western magic, I looked for similarities with my Roman Polytheistic practice. Going deeper, I realized that the two used dissimilar spiritual technologies for different ends. Since Roman Polytheists are focused on proper relations with the Gods, their altar items reflect this. Meanwhile, Western magicians, exercising their personal sovereignty, wield their tools to create a new reality.

Eliphas Levi, noted French occultist, introduced the chalice as a tool into Western Magic in the 19th Century. Levi was inspired by the suits of the Minor Arcana of the Tarot. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn expanded on his intent to have the chalice represent the feminine power of the Cosmos. For modern witches, the chalice represented the Goddess (Note 1) in the Great Rite. In “The Witch’s Altar,” Jason Mankey and Laura Tempest Zakroff write “The love of the Goddess is expressed in the waters and wine of the chalice. May all who come to this altar never thirst. Blessed Be!” The chalice then becomes a sacred tool to convey the essence of the Goddess.

Heron Michelle noted in “Elemental Witchcraft” that Modern Witchcraft restores “the full complement of tools to our magickal tool box so that we may attain true mastery as humans forsaking neither god nor goddess.” One thing that it does well is “reconciling the tensions between the chalice and the blade.” (Note 2.) “This becomes the Great Work of transformational magick.” Traditionally the chalice is symbolic of the receptive womb of the Goddess. Heron Michelle says that since “creation flows from union,” the Great Rite of the Male (the Blade) lowering into the Female (the Chalice) need not be hetero-centric. It can be thought of as the merging of the projective and receptive mysteries into a harmonious relationship. She refers to these mysteries as “Two who move as One.”

In “Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard,” Oberon Zell-Ravenheart observed that the chalice contains the “Mysteries of Life and Death.” According to him, the chalice represents that ancient Cauldron of the Goddess Cerridwen. This cauldron gave poetry and inspiration to those who drank from it. Since the chalice is the tool of emotions “especially Love,” it contains the “Elemental Water of Life.”

Various blogs written by witches offer suggestions for devising a chalice. One common one is to use a paper cup. For me, a red plastic Solo Cup does not seem to be a proper receptacle for the Goddess. I think something more elegant would be appropriate.

Zell-Ravenheart suggests using a drinking goblet (a cup on a stem with a base). I took this to mean a wine glass. Obtaining one would be easy since the stores that sell wine often sell wine glasses. Since wine is the usual offering for the Gods, a wine glass would be acceptable. Wine is regarded to be the creator of new realities. It was a sacrament for various sacred mysteries such as the Dionysian ones.

To consecrate the wine glass as the chalice, I would first rinse it out with salt water and pass it through a candle flame. Then I would sprinkle flour in the chalice (a traditional Mesopotamian method of protection) and ask Ninhursaga, the Mother of the Gods to bless it. (I am a follower of Mesopotamian Gods as well.) Then I would wrap it up in flannel to keep it safe.

Ninhursaga is the Goddess of the Womb, who gave birth to eight Gods. Among her titles are “Mother of Wildlife,” “Mother of all Children,” Form Giver,” and “Birth Giver.” The chalice would be the representation of Her powers of creation and fertility.

I would dedicate the chalice singing traditional praises of this Goddess: (Note 3).
“Ninhursaga, being uniquely great,
Makes the womb contract;
Nintur, being a great mother,
Sets the birth-giving going.”

“Mother Nintur, the Lady of form-giving,
Working in a dark place, the womb (lit. “heart”)
To give birth to lords, to place the crown
On (their) heads, is in her hands.”

Notes:
Note 1. In Western magic and Modern Witchcraft, there is a Goddess and a God. This differs from Polytheism which has many Gods and Goddess.
Note 2. Michelle is referring to the athame.
Note 3. Translations are from original texts as selected by Jacobsen.

Works Used.
Greer, John Michael, “The New Encyclopedia of the Occult.” Woodbury (MN): Llewellyn. 2003.
Jacobesen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” New Haven: Yale University. 1976.
Mankey, Jason and Laura Tempest Zakroff, “The Witch’s Altar.” Woodbury (MN): Llewellyn. 2021.
Michelle, Heron, “Elemental Witchcraft.” Woodbury (MN): Llewellyn. 2021.
Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon, “Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard.” Franklin Lakes (NJ): New Page Books. 2004.

Dragons and Their Families

In scientific classification, organizing species into groups gives scientists a framework to learn about them. For most people, the easiest basis for classifying Dragons is by where they live, since European Dragons seem different from Asian ones. After studying the lore, I realized that Dragons could be better classified by the elements they governed. Moreover, I learned that each Dragon Family governs a cardinal direction.

I sorted Dragons into families, with each governing a common element and direction. When I pondered these families, I saw that each maintained an aspect of the Cosmos. Also, I went beyond what people think of what a “classic” dragon is to include Lake Monsters such as Ogopogo (of Canada), Fire Beings such as Salamander, and Cosmic Beings such as Leviathan. The details of each Dragon Family are listed in the tables.

Water Dragons maintain an aspect of the Cosmos – the Cauldron of Plenty. Encountered in storms, Air Dragons can be fierce like the Huracan of the Atlantic. Most people have heard of the Earth Dragons of European lore. To many, Earth Dragons are the “classic dragon.” Keepers of the Inner Flame, Fire Dragons include Salamander, who lives in the fire itself.

The Dragon Families of the Two Axes and the Center oversee places rather than elements. I met my first Ice Dragon on a freezing January night, circling a gibbous moon. Ethereal silver and white, Ice Dragons govern the North-South Axis. The small Dragons who dance with butterflies and delight in flowers are the Field Dragons of the East-West Axis. Chaos Dragons, on whose bones that the Cosmos is formed, are in the Center. They are equal of the Gods in their power and being.

Water and Air Dragons are both benign and destructive. But They can be approached for soft breezes and gentle rains. Guarding the earth’s treasures, Earth Dragons kill first and ask questions later. Nonetheless their greatest treasure is their profound wisdom. (The Forest Dragons are a sub-group of Earth Dragons. (Note.)) Rarely encountered by humans, Ice Dragons prefer the silence and stillness of the Polar Regions. Their intense life force warms the coldest heart. On the other hand, the noisy Field Dragons love being the Guardian Dragons of humans.

Fire and Chaos Dragons are dangerous for different reasons. Traditionally hostile to humans, Fire Dragons must be approached with great care. Meanwhile, Chaos Dragons who are part of the Universe’s fabric have intense unbounded energy. They can annihilate a careless person.

Note: Forest Dragons are the protectors of the wild places.

DRAGON FAMILIES

AIR: The Breath of Life
Wisdom: Insight, respect
Direction: East
Oversees: Winds (with Water and Ice Dragons)
Where Encountered: Storms, thunder and lightning, whirlwinds
Communicates by: Clouds, gongs, windsocks, flags
Gifts: Creativity

WATER: Cauldron of Plenty
Wisdom: Passion, depth, compassion
Direction: West
Oversees: Seas and fresh water
Where Encountered: Fjords, rapids, waterfalls (Dragon Gates)
Communicates by: Water spouts, rising steam, mist, fog
Gifts: Help with emotions

FIRE: The Inner Flame
Wisdom: Leadership, vitality
Direction: South
Oversees: Fire, sunbeams, volcanoes
Where Encountered: Fire, lava, hot arid air
Communicates by: Fire, sunbeams
Gifts: Purification
(Note: Unpredictable and difficult to work with.)

EARTH: Heart of Life
Wisdom: Grounding, acquiring riches
Direction: North
Oversees: Mountains, caves, forests
Where Encountered: Towns, boulders, groves, mountains
Communicates by: Tree leaves, rolling rocks
Gifts: Stability, foundations of life

CHAOS: Timeless Cosmos
Wisdom: Divine knowledge
Direction: Center
Oversees: Earth and sky
Where Encountered: In ritual, since they live in the Cosmos
Communicates by: Lighting, strong energy current
Gifts: Recreates life
(Note: Contact with forethought and caution.)

ICE: Eternal Darkness
Wisdom: Silence and listening
Direction: North-South Axis
Oversees: Ice deserts, Polar regions
Where Encountered: Icebergs, Midwinter freezes
Communicates by: Crashing icebergs, breaking ice, falling icicles
Gifts: Serenity

FIELDS: Dancing Light
Wisdom: Wonder at small things
Direction: East-West Axis
Oversees: Fields, meadows, grasslands
Where Encountered: Gardening, flowers, ploughed earth
Communicates by: Billowing grass, dancing flowers
Gifts: Play, joy

The Lugal-e of Ninurta, Warrior God of Sumer

The myth, “The Lugal-e” (O Warrior King) (Note 1) tells of Ninurta and his battle with the demon Azag (Asag). During the battle, Ninurta reforms the destroyed mountains to create rivers for the cities. The second half of the myth is Ninurta ordering the various minerals for their use in civilization.

While Ninurta is at a banquet, Sharur (Note 2), his loyal Mace tells the God that the rocks and plants of the mountains have revolted. Lead by Azag, they seek to destroy the plains and cities. Ninurta leaves at once in his boat, Ma-kar-nunta-ea (Beloved Barge). However, He loses the first battle and retreats.

From “The Lugal-e:”
“The mace snarled at the Mountains, the club began to devour all the enemy. He fitted the evil wind and the sirocco on a pole, he placed the quiver on its hook. An enormous hurricane, irresistible, went before the Hero, stirred up the dust, caused the dust to settle, levelled high and low, filled the holes. It caused a rain of coals and flaming fires; the fire consumed men. It overturned tall trees by their trunks, reducing the forests to heaps, Earth put her hands on her heart and cried harrowingly; the Tigris was muddied, disturbed, cloudy, stirred up…. The storm flooded out the fish there in the subterranean waters, their mouths snapped at the air. It reduced the animals of the open country to firewood, roasting them like locusts. It was a deluge rising and disastrously ruining the Mountains.”

The Demon King Azag (Note 3) was born from the mating of the Gods – An (Heaven) and Ki (Earth). Although He was the King of the Plants, Azag mated with the mountains, creating stone children. Besides ruling over plants and rocks, He could boil the rivers and kill the fish. After defeating Ninurta the first time, Azag set up a throne and ruled the plains and the cities. Sharur, the Mace describes Him as “Who can compass the Asag’s dread glory? Who can counteract the severity of its frown? People are terrified, fear makes the flesh creep; their eyes are fixed upon it.”

Meanwhile, Enlil, Ninurta’s father counsels his son to bid his time. He tells Ninurta to wait until the springtime and then unleash his storms. While waiting, Ninurta reforms the ruined mountains, torn up from the first battle with Azag. He constructs embankments to channel the flood waters. This creates rivers for the well-being of the cities. By controlling the spring floods, Ninurta ensures abundance for the “black-headed people.” Finished, Ninurta marches off to do battle, again.

From “The Lugal-e:”
“But the Lord howled at the Mountains, could not withhold a roar. The Hero did not address the rebel lands, He reversed the evil that it had done. He smashed the heads of all the enemies, he made the Mountains weep. The Lord ranged about in all directions, like a soldier saying ‘I will go on the rampage.’ Like a bird of prey, the Asag looked up angrily from the Mountains. He commanded the rebel lands to be silent. Ninurta approached the enemy and flattened him like a wave. The Asag’s terrifying splendour was contained, it began to fade, it began to fade. It looked wonderingly upwards. Like water he agitated it, he scattered it into the Mountains, like weeds he pulled it up, like rushes he ripped it up. Ninurta’s splendour covered the Land, he pounded the Asag like roasted barley, he piled it up like a heap of broken bricks, he heaped it up like flour, as a potter does with coals; he piled it up like stamped earth whose mud is being stirred. The Hero had achieved his heart’s desire. Ninurta, the Lord, the son of Enlil, began to calm down.”

After defeating Azag, Ninurta reorders the land.

From “The Lugal-e:”
“The Lord applied his great wisdom to it. Ninurta, the son of Enlil, set about it in a grand way. He made a pile of stones in the Mountains. Like a floating cloud he stretched out his arms over it. With a great wall he barred the front of the Land. He installed a sluice on the horizon. The Hero acted cleverly. He dammed in the cities together. He blocked the powerful waters by means of stones. Now the waters will never again go down from the Mountains into the earth. That which was dispersed he gathered together. Where in the Mountains scattered lakes had formed, he joined them all together and led them down to the Tigris. He poured carp-floods of water over the fields.”

“Now, today, throughout the whole world, kings of the Land far and wide rejoice at Lord Ninurta. He provided water for the speckled barley in the cultivated fields, he raised up the harvest of fruits in garden and orchard. He heaped up the grain piles like mounds.”

The second half of this myth details Ninurta’s assigning duties to various stones. He is reorganizing the landscape for civilization to thrive. The rocks who fought against Him like flint were sentenced to be easily flaked and used by other stones. His allies like lapis lazuli were rewarded as being pleasing to the Gods.

Various interpretations of this myth have been made. A major one is that “The Lugal-e” depicts Ninurta as a force of nature. The thunderstorms raging over the mountains symbolizes the battle between Him and Azag. These storms create the spring floods that eventually form the rivers and streams of the plains. The cities, downstream, receive the bounty of this water.

From “The Lugal-e:” “The Lord caused bilious poison to run over the rebel lands. As he went the gall followed, anger filled his heart, and he rose like a river in spate and engulfed all the enemies. In his heart he beamed at his lion-headed weapon, as it flew up like a bird, trampling the Mountains for him.” This passage describes Ninurta, the Lord of Storms.

Others scholars believe that the “Lugal-e” describes how Ninurta defeated the mountain peoples. In his role as “Protector of the Cities,” the God ensures that the Assyrians, Kassites, Mitanni and others remain in the Zagros Mountains. In that, He is the Warrior God.

Meanwhile, noted Mesopotamian scholar Thorkild Jacobson in “Treasures of Darkness” writes that Azag was the original form of Ninurta. The God was first depicted as the Thundercloud, Who Throws Hailstones. In fact, the name “Azag” refers to “slingstones,” which is another name for hailstones. The conflict then becomes a struggle between the human and the non-human forms of the God. As the “human,” Ninurta becomes Lord Plough, the God of Agriculture.

I see the myth as the blending of order and chaos to form a stable civilization. For fertility to occur, chaos must be allowed free reign. However, to contain the chaos, Ninurta does his duty. From the battles, a new world emerges, and reemerges every spring. The myth could be seen as Ninurta recreation the Cosmos as Lord Plough granting abundance.

Selected Stones and Their Duties

Allies:
Alabaster: Purifies silver. Seal keeper for the Treasury.
Carnelian: Decorated with precious metals. Revered as from the Gods.
Diorite: Holy statues and offerings made from this stone.
Hematite: Value as if gold. Worthy of respect. Reflects the light.
Kohl: Favorite of artisans

Enemies:
Emery: Used to file down other stones
Flint: Smashed into small pieces. To be used in metal work.
Lava and Basalt: Mold for goldsmiths
Limestone: Used for foundations on muddy ground.

Notes:
Note 1. The full name of this myth is “Lugal-e ud me-lam-binir-gal,” which means “King, Storm, the Glory of Which is Noble.” Scholars only have the middle part of this myth. The beginning and ending are still missing.
Note 2. Sharur (“Smasher of Thousands”) is considered to be a Holy Being. Meanwhile, the Boats of the Gods, which all have names, are revered for containing the essence of the Gods.
Note 3. Azag (Asag) is also a name for a demon who attacks and kills people with head fevers.

Other Beings: Monsters of the Imagination

The movie “Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)” ushered in the Golden Age of Classic Monsters. These movie monsters became the “trope codifiers” for future depictions of similar monsters. The website “TV Tropes” defines a trope codifier as the “template that all later uses of this trope follow or the example that has fingerprints of influence on all later examples of the trope.”

The Monster in “Frankenstein” (played by Boris Karloff) became known as “Frankenstein” to the general public. (The Monster was actually called “Frankenstein’s Monster.”) Make-up artist Jack Pierce developed the Monster’s look to represent an unnatural creation. The head would be flat since Frankenstein (the scientist) used a saw to cut open the skull. Clamps were placed to “hold the head together.” Pierce added bolts on the neck to represent electrodes since Frankenstein had used lightning to bring the Monster to life.

According to Boris Karloff, the eyes had to be heavy lidded and half-seeing. The goal was to show the Monster’s bewilderment and lack understanding. To demonstrate that the Monster was an animated corpse, Karloff used a shambling gait. Although, the Monster had been depicted earlier, Karloff’s interpretation became the standard. Even the TV comedy “The Munsters” featured Karloff’s version as Herman Munster, the father.

In directing his movie, James Whale explored the soldiers’ experiences of the Great War. For him, the Monster was the embodiment of the horrors and terrors of that war. The Monster’s life and death mirrored the PTSD of the veterans.

The last of the “Classic Movie Monsters” was “The Creature form the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954)” In his essay “The 25 Best Classic Monster Movies,” William Bibbiani wrote “The Gill-Man (the creature) is an elegant creation who moves swiftly in the water and whose humanity is relatively in question.” According to “TV Tropes,” the Gill-Man is the most famous and imitated “fish person.” Like Frankenstein’s Monster, Gill-Man is a trope codifier.

The Gill-Man was based on a myth from the Amazon River Basin. A race of half-fish, half-humans were said to live deep in the region. In the movie, scientists seek this missing link from the Devonian period. The Gill-Man sees the female scientist swimming in the lagoon. He becomes obsessed with her and this seals his doom. In the last sequel, scientists implant lungs in the Gill-Man to convert him to being human. He escapes into the ocean and is believed drowned. As a tribute to the Gill-Man, Guillermo del Toro in “The Shape of Water (2017)” rewrote the story so that the creature ended up with the girl.

Designed by Millicent Patrick, the Gill-Man was a clawed bi-pedal amphibian. Two actors played him – Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning. On land, Chapman wore the heavier, more rigid costume, and waddled about smashing things. The Olympic swimmer, Browning swam underwater holding his breath. (Since the Gill-Man was amphibious, no air bubbles could be shown.) With Chapman shambling on land and Browning gliding underwater, the illusion of Gill-Man could be maintained.

In “Prehistoric Monsters: The Real and Imagined,” Allen Debus wrote “The implication is that there is a human being awaiting birth underneath the green scales and fins… In other words, Gill-Man is a terrifying manifestation of mankind’s most remote evolutionary past.” He reasoned that Gill-Man hinted at human evolution origins but chose to remain an amphibian. Now evil and primeval, the creature was more frightening since he represented the enemy within.

By the 1960s, the classic monsters lost their initial frightening qualities. They became more commonplace and hence more ordinary. A comedy TVseries, “The Munsters (1962-1964)” featured these monsters as a family of immigrants from Transylvania. Living in suburbia, the Munsters tried to adjust to life in America.

Lily Munster (played by Yvonne DeCarlo) exemplifies this level of being ordinary. As the daughter of Count Dracula, Lily is the wife of Herman (Frankenstein) and mother to Eddie (the Wolfman) and Marilyn (ordinary human). She possesses vampire qualities such as drinking blood. On sunny days, she uses a parasol. Unlike other vampires, Lily (and her father) eats regular food and sleeps at night.

Unlike the classic monsters, Lily is cheerful and loving. When the family needs money, she will seek work as a welder in a shipyard. However, Lily is not the typical suburban wife. She can knock a man out without trying. Gleefully, Lily vacuums to create more dust in the house. Known for her practical mind, she counterbalances her father and husband and their flights of fancy.

Lily, the vampire, is not threatening. To regular people, she only seems a bit odd. Lily exemplifies an immigrant’s experience rather than a monster’s one. As a foreigner, she tries to adjust to her neighbors and their cultural ways. Lily ceases to be a monster who is to be feared.

Works Used.
Bibbiani, William, “The 25 Best Classic Monster Movies,” Collider, 19, October 2020, https://collider.com/best-old-classic-monster-movies/.
Burns, Allan and Chris Hayward, creators. “The Munsters.” DeCarlo, Yvonne, performer. NBC and Universal Television, 1964-1966.
Burton, Nige, Classic Monsters, 2022. https://www.classic-monsters.com/.
“Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Directed by Jack Arnold, Ben Chapman as Gill-Man on land, Ricou Browning as Gill-Man underwater. Universal Pictures. 1954.
Debus, Allen, “Prehistoric Monsters: The Real and Imagined.” Jefferson (NC): McFarland. 2010.
“Frankenstein.” Directed by James Whale, Boris Karloff as the Monster, Universal Pictures. 1931.
Krinsky, Randy, “An Argument for the Uncanny: A Brief Analysis of James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein (1931).” Influx Magazine, 2022, https://influxmagazine.com/frankenstein-1931/.
Maxim, Gabiann, “Monsters and Creatures.” Summer Hill (Australia): Rockpool. 2018.
Richmond, Chris and Drew Schoentrup, TV Tropes, 2022, https://tvtropes.org/.