Roman Gods for July

Hot and dry July (Julius) has Romans focusing on the Gods of Water. The major festival for Neptune, the God of the Waters, is held in July. Also, Apollo, as the God of Healing, has games held in his honor. Other festivals held in July include the Nonae Caprotinae (Nones of the Wild Fig) and Lucaria (Grove Clearing). Meanwhile, July, the month itself, was under the guardianship of Jupiter.

Before the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar, July was Quinctilis, the fifth month. Later it was renamed for Caesar, himself, since Quinctilis was his birth month. In the last ten days of July, games were held in his honor as the Divine Julius.

On the advice of the Sibylline Books, Romans held games for Apollo for to ask for help in the Second Punic War (212 BCE). They had just experienced several major defeats. Then later, the games became yearly to thank Him for his help in ending a city-wide plague. The Ludi Apollinares (Apolline Games) are held from July 6 to 13. They include theater performances, games, and fairs. People would wear garlands and feast at the entrances of their homes.

Apollo was first considered to be a God of Healing by the Romans. Since He was a Greek God, his temples were built outside of the official boundary of Rome. During the Empire, the Romans also considered Him to be a God of Bards and Diviners. (Sol Indiges is the Roman God of the Sun.)

The second Parilia is held on July 7. (The April Parilia is for small livestock.) The July Parilia is for sheep and cattle. Animals and their pens are cleaned out and smudged with sulfur. Pales are/is the God/s of Livestock.

Juno Caprotina
Also on July 7, the Nonae Caprotinae is held. Traditionally, offerings of figs were given to Juno Caprotina under the wild fig (caprificus). This is to honor Her as the Goddess of Serving Women. In modern times, it can be celebrated by giving figs in Juno Caprotina’s name to service workers.

Honos, Virtus, and Victoria
On July 17, these three Gods are honored. Honos and Virtus is honor and bravery in the military respectively. Victoria is victory in war. This is a good day to honor those who have served in the military.

Silvanus and the Forest Gods
Lucaria, the Festival of the Grove, is held on July 19 and 21. Traditionally, the Romans would clear land or thin woods at this time. They made offerings of a pig to Silvanus and the Forest Gods for permission to clear wood. Lucaria also included votive works of arts placed in the standing groves. On these two days, I make offerings to the stands of trees near my home to Silvanus Lucaria.

Neptune and Furrina
Coming into the driest part of the summer, the Romans were concerned about their water supplies. Held on July 23, the Neptunalia celebrates Neptune in his role as the God of Irrigation. Neptune (Neptunus) is the God of Fresh Water, and Salacia, the Goddess of Salt Walter, is regarded to be His Wife. (Neptunus Oceanus is Neptune of the Oceans.) On July 25, the Furrinalia was held for the Goddess Furrina, who watched over wells and other underground water sources. Modern Roman polytheists hold ceremonies to thank both Gods for water.

Divus Julius
From July 21 to 31, games were held honoring Julius Caesar as the Divine Julius. Before his assassination, Caesar was named Parens Patriae, Father of the Fatherland. The Senate also decreed that he should have a cult image (simulacrum) to be carried with the Gods. After his death, the Senate made Caesar a God.

Vesta in the Modern Home

For the better part of the year, I have been having problems with my water heater. Many plumbers later, I discovered that the pilot light of the heater kept going out. To protect the flame from drafts, the last plumber fashioned a shield to stop the wind gusts from gutting it. (I live in an old building.)

Then I realized that the pilot light was Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth. The Eternal Flame, Vesta gives the fire for cooking, heating and light. Therefore, the hearth is the sacred focus of the home. In Rome, Vesta is the Goddess of Hearth of Private Homes (and of Rome, itself).

Since the fire is the axis mundus, the hearth is the place to commune with the Ancestors. It is the place of welcoming for Them to be with the living family. In the singing of the fire, the voices of the Ancestors are heard. In my case, their voices are in firing of the furnace and in the flashing of the pilot light.

In the modern home, the kitchen stove is usually considered to be the hearth. The furnace and water heater are usually someplace else. (Mine are in a closet off the kitchen). But together, the three comprise the hearth. Without any of them, the home ceases to be. No heat makes the home unhabitable. No stove causes the family to eat elsewhere. No hot water is considered to be an emergency.

Later the water heating unit had to be cleaned out. As with a hearth, before laying a new fire, the ashes need to be swept clean. In Rome, during the Vestalia in June, the Vestal Virgins cleaned the sacred hearths and relit the fires. Therefore, for me, cleaning the water heating unit is the same.

In “Fasti,” Ovid wrote, “Vesta is the same as the Earth, both have the perennial fire. The Earth and the Sacred Fire are both symbolic of Home.” For me, Vesta is Home in the furnace, water heater, and stove.

Suggested Reading: Claude Lecouteux, “The Tradition of Household Spirits.”

Roman Gods: Juno

Like Jupiter, Juno has many aspects. In the Religio Romana (Roman Religion), the different Junos are separate Goddesses. In fact, Cicero argued that They were all unique. Later, Augustus brought the Latin Junos together to be one Goddess. However, Juno still has various aspects Who are distinct from the “composite” Juno.

Juno Regina is the Ruling Deity of Rome. She is the Protector of the State and the “Queen of Heaven.” Juno Regina was originally Uni of the Etruscan city of Veii. In 396 BCE, Marcus Furius Camillus waged a siege against Veii. Wanting to end the long siege, he performed the rite of evocatio (calling forth) (Note 1.). Camillus promised Uni of Veii a grander temple if She would come to Rome. When Uni consented, the Veientines lost their protective Deity and then their city.

Evocatio (Note 2) is a ritual done by the military to remove any divine protection from an opposing city. A select group from the army would purify themselves and dress in white. After entering the captured temple, they would ask the Deity for permission to take the religious items. In Juno Regina’s case, a soldier asked the wooden statue, “Art Thou willing Juno to go to Rome?” The statue nodded yes, and said, “I am willing.”

In 389 BCE, the sacred geese from Juno’s temple warned the Romans of an impending attack by the Gauls. Following another war with the Gauls, a temple to Juno, Who Warns (Moneta) was dedicated on June 1, 344 BCE. Juno Moneta has saved Rome from many invasions. Today, She warns people of other impending disasters such as earthquakes.

Juno Lucina, as the Goddess of Light, brings newborns to the light (i.e. childbirth). Women in her temple wore no knots on their clothing and had unbound hair. (Vesta Virgins offered locks of their hair to Her as well.) This was to symbolize safe delivery in child birth. King Servius Tullius ordered a coin for every birth in Rome to be placed in her temple.

Juno Lucina as the Goddess of Light and Childbirth is celebrated at the Matronalia, which is held on March 1st. For this festival husbands and daughters give presents to mothers. It is the Roman version of “Mother’s Day,” with prayers being offered for happy marriages and safe childbirth.

Note 1. Religious historians say that evocation was a form of psychological warfare. The sanctity and security of each city depended on their governing Deity. Once that Deity agreed to leave, the citizens could no longer rely on divine protection.

Note 2. Evocatio also mitigated the feeling that to loot shrines was sacrilege, since the soldiers were only taking the Deity to a finer temple. However, evocatio was rooted in piety, since it involved asking the Deity before removing anything. The God always had final say in this. The opposing city could always counter the rite.

Roman Gods of the Month: June

June (Junius) is dedicated to Juno (Iuno), the Patroness of Women. It is unclear why Juno is honored by Romans at this time, since only Juno Moneta has a festival day in June. However, marriages in the last two weeks of June were considered especially blessed by this Goddess of Marriage.

However, the tradition of June being for Juno is murky. Ovid in “Fasti,” suggests that “Junius” (which means “junior”) referred to June since May (Maius) was from “Maiores,” (the elders). He also suggests that “Junius” could come from “Iungo” (“to join”) since this could be the month that the Romans and Sabines were united.

The main focus of June is the Vestalia from June 7 to 15. The Inner Sanctum of the Temple of Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth, was opened to women. The temple was cleaned, purified, and rededicated. (The rubbish was then into the Tiber River.) In the Roman religion, Vesta is the Perpetual Fire, Who keeps the Pact between the People and the Gods.

I have a personal cultus to Hercules, who is considered to be one of the early founders of Rome. Some of the Greek mythology of Heracules was grafted onto Hercules, the Roman God Hero. However, Romans had their own particular myths about Him. For example, the focus of Hercules’ worship, the Ara Maxima (the Greatest Altar) is where He killed Cacus, the monster who terrorized the early Romans.

Two temples of Hercules have dedications this month. Hercules Magno Custodi (the Great Custodian) has one on June 4, and Hercules Musarum (of the Muses) on June 29. The first was vowed on the orders of the Sibylline Books in light of Hannibal’s victories against Rome. The second was where poets and others would come to pay their respects to Hercules and the Muses.

On June 11, the Matralia is held. Single women and women in their first marriage (univira) offer prayers for their sisters’ children. Traditionally a slave was driven out of her temple in Rome.

Between June 13 and 15, the Lesser Quinquatria (Quinquartrus Minusculae) is held. Flute players (tibicines) dressed up in festive clothing. Wearing masks, they wandered about businesses, playing their instruments.

Another God that I have a cultus for is Summanus, the God of the Nocturnal Heavens. He ruled the night as Jupiter ruled the day. His festival day is June 20, when people offered round breads imprinted with wheels to Him. The Summer Solstice was known as “The Day of Torches,” (dies lampadarum).

The popular Goddess Fors Fortuna has her festival on June 24. Traditionally, Romans would take flower-decked boats down the Tiber to her temple. It is customary to wear flowers and get roaring drunk on her feast day. (Fors Fortuna is the Goddess of Lucky Change and is responsible for rags to riches stories.)

About Gods: Transcendence and Immanence

Living in a Monotheistic culture does not prepare people coming into Polytheism to understand Who the Gods are. The Gods of Monotheism (Note 1.) are transcendent Gods, Who are totally independent and separate from the physical universe. These Gods are so alien that They cannot be depicted by ordinary people.

To understand a Monotheistic God requires consulting an approved source. The authorities of each Monotheistic religion have delineated writings and teachings for informing their believers. This could be the Christian Bible which offers textual knowledge.

To be in the presence of One of the Monotheistic Gods is experience transcendence. This mystical experience often leaves a person overwhelmed and overcome. This is because the Monotheistic Gods are powerful and removed from the Cosmos.

In contrast, the Gods of Polytheism are immanent, since They are a part of the material universe. By fully participating in the ecosystem of the Cosmos, these Gods are accessible to humans. They can be encountered by humans in various ways. For example, I felt Neptune’s presence during a Roman ritual. Other methods of meeting Polytheistic Gods are through making offerings, doing magic or going to sacred places.

Polytheists live in a numinous world. Every tree, place, value and even an act such as traveling has their own numen (spirit). A regular person can experience the numen directly. I have had encounters with the numina of the basswood trees near my building. Since I am a devout Polytheist, I honor these numina by offering Them water.

An example of the difference between transcendence and immanence can be found in interpreting Moses and the Burning Bush. The transcendent God spoke to Moses by using a bush that burned but not consumed by fire. Since this God was separate from the Bush, the focus of the incident is the message to Moses.

For a Polytheist, the Bush would be holy since the immanent God was a part of the Bush. The message to Moses is important but so is the Bush as the residing place of the God. The Bush would receive also offerings for being holy.

Note 1. I refer to the Monotheistic Gods as plural since the Gods of the Monotheistic religions –Allah, Yahweh, and Christ — differ greatly from each other.