God of the Month: Portunus

Bunch of keys on white backgroundPortunus, an ancient Italic God, grants access to the gates (porta) and to the harbor (portus). He also protects the warehouses where grain is stored. This God is depicted holding keys. At his festival, the Portunalia (August 17), people offer their house keys in fires for blessings from Portunus for their homes. I pass my keys through a candle flame.

The Romans have many Gods, Who guard the entry into the home. Janus guards the door, Cardea the hinges, Forculus the doorway, and Limentinus the threshold. Portunus guards the outside gates. The liminal place between the Inside and the Outside is fraught with things unknown. Care must be made to ensure that only good things will come in and bad things leave.

Salve Portunus!
Guardian of Gates
We offer You our keys
Bless them and our homes

Guardian of Harbors
Aid the harbormaster in their duties.
Guide the ships to port
We thank You.
Salve Portunus!

Polytheism and Spiritual Pollution

Mention “miasma,” “pollution,” or “purity” in regards to Polytheism, and many Pagans will take umbrage with these terms. One reason is that Christianity has redefined these Polytheistic terms to match its theology. Since many Pagans are converts from Christianity, they will often think of these concepts in those terms. However, “miasma,” “pollution,” and “purity” had different meanings in Polytheism.

Paganism does have its version of “pollution” and “purity.” Pagans discuss “positive” and “negative” energies. People will cleanse themselves and their spaces routinely to clear out negative energy. For example, crystals are often cleansed before using them. Also, before rituals, many Pagans will smudge themselves to purify themselves and to clean out the ritual space.

Miasma and spiritual pollution are different from both negative energy and Christian sin. Negative energy powers destruction, sickness, and other such things. It can be removed by laughter or positive thinking. Sin is removed by baptism and confession. Miasma, which is specific to Greek Polytheism, is a “spiritual pollution that prevails over all, it is not an ‘evil thing.’” Continuing in his essay, Markos Gage says “Miasma is therefore something we incur in life, everyday life.” (Note 1)

In Roman Polytheism, castus (the adjective) means being morally pure, pious, or ritually pure. Piety (pietas) is maintaining the right relations between people, their Gods, their families, and their communities. Castitas (the noun) is the purity of the ritual and the participants. (Note 2) That means everyone must be physically and mentally cleansed before conducting a ritual. Before a ritual, people perform ablutions by washing their hands and asking that the water purify them.

An error conducted in a ritual is a spiritual pollutant. It negates the ritual and risks the anger of the Gods. It is not that a God will smite someone, but is to maintain the Pax Deorum, the Peace of the Gods. Religious negligence leads to divine disharmony and the turning away of the Gods. This leads to the loss of protection for the family, community, and the individual.

The closest thing that Roman Polytheism has to Christian sin is nefas. This can be defined as anything which is contrary to divine law. Nefas is a failure to fulfill a religious duty. Nefas is a willful act of religious violation.

Polytheists regard the world to be neutral, which differs from Christian theology. St. Augustine stated that the world is both corrupt and corrupting. Therefore, humanity lives in a Fallen World. To Polytheists, the world is both clean and dirty. Kenaz Filan explains, “The world is a clean flowing stream, and miasma the sewage dumped into the water. We clean the stream by filtering that sewage or by redirecting it…to where it can be properly contained.” (Note 3)

Why focus on purity and pollution? When a person prays, divine, or perform any other sacred act, they are engaging with the Holy Powers. There is a doctrine in U.S. law called, “Clean Hands” (also called “Dirty Hands”). (Note 4) The plaintiff cannot have the judge participate in an illegal act. One example is a drug dealer cannot sue to have his stolen drugs be returned. Another is suing the hit man you hired to kill someone for failure to do their job. As Judge Judy says on her TV show, “the courts will not help anyone with dirty hands.” I believe that in our relations with the Gods, we can think of purity and pollution in those terms.

Notes:
Note 1. Markos Gage, “Answers About Miasma,” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 51. Markos Gage is a devotee of Dionysius and an artist.

Note 2. The Romans have a Goddess – Lua – who protects all things purified by rituals and for rituals.

Note 3. Kenez Filan, “Miasma” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 69. Kenez Filan is the author of several books including “Drawing Down the Spirits (with Raven Kaldera)”. He is an initiated Houngan Si Pwen.

Note 4. Clean hands: “Under the clean hands doctrine, a person who has acted wrongly, either morally or legally – that is, who has ‘unclean hands’ – will not be helped by a court when complaining about the actions of someone else.” From The ‘Lectric Law Library, http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c202.htm

Works Used:
Galina Krasskova, “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands”
L. Vitellius Triarius, “Religio Romana Handbook.”

Gods of the Month: August

When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar, the Roman Senate voted to name a month for him – “July.” Caesar’s calendar (known as the Julian Calendar) featured alternating months of 30 and 31 days. July of course had 31 days. In contrast, February had the fewest days – 29, with leap year adding an extra day.

When Augustus became Emperor of Rome, the Senate voted to add “August” after July. Since August only had 30 days, the Senate took one from February and added it to this month. The calendar was rearranged with June and September having thirty days. August could not have any less days than July, since Augustus was equal to Julius Caesar.

For Romans, August is a busy month of festivals. The harvest is coming due and needs to be collected. Since the summer is still hot and dry, the fire season has started. Therefore, the Gods of Harvest and Gods of Fires are honored.

Vertumnus (Vortumnus)
Held on August 13, the Vertumnalia is to celebrate Vertumnus, the Changer of the Seasons. Since He is also the Husband of Pomona, the Goddess of Fruit, Vertumnus receives the first fruits of the harvest. This God is depicted holding in his right hand, grapes, cherries, and other fruits, while at his feet sets a basket of cucumbers.

Portunus
To honor Portunus, the God of Ports and Keys, Romans hold the Portunalia on August 17. Because He first protected gates, Portunus is shown holding keys. During the Portunalia, people throw their keys into fires to safeguard their homes.

Volcanus (Vulcan)
On August 23, the Volcanalia is held to ask Volcanus, the God of Raging Fires, to “stay at rest.” Sacrifices are also made to Stata Mater, the Goddess of Quenching the Fire and Juturna, the Goddess of Streams as well. To honor Volcanus, herds are driven over fires, and fish are offered to Him. Also, people ask Him to protect their homes from fire.

Consus and Ops
The first sets of two festivals for Consus and Ops is held on August 21, the Consualia, and August 25, the Opiconsivia. The second sets of festivals is held in December. The first set celebrates the end of the harvest, and the second the autumn sowing. Between the August festivals, the Mundus Patet (the Door to the Underworld) is opened on August 24 for the first time in the year.

The Consualia, a public festival, featured horse racing. The God of the Granary, Consus is also associated with mules and horses. He also receives receive offerings of first fruits of the harvest.

Meanwhile the Opiconsivia for Ops, the Goddess of Plenty, is a private affair attended by the Vestal Virgins and the Sacerdos Publica (head priest). Ops in her role of Consiva (the Sower) is celebrated. Therefore during this festival to Ops, one hand touches the earth while invoking this Goddess.

Volturnus
Finally on August 27, the Volturnalia is held to ask Volturnus not to bring the drying winds. Originally an Etruscan God, Volturnus raises clouds of dust thereby causing much devastation. For the Ancient Romans, the drying winds came from the southeast, therefore Volturnus is also the God of the Southeast Wind.

Gods of the Month: 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. (Before the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar, July was Quinctilis, the fifth month. Later it was renamed for Caesar, himself.)

Apollo
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 Sun God.)

Pales
The second Parilia is held on July 7. (The April Parilia is for small livestock. God of the Month: Pales.) 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.

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.

God of the Month: Summanus

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On June 20, the shortest night of the year, black cakes are offered to Summanus, God of Nightly Thunder. As Jupiter rules the day, Summanus rules the night. He is the Protective God of the Night. Summanus may not be as well-known as the other Gods, but He is as important.

Summanus speaks to me at night in summer thunderstorms. Since my bed is next to the window, nighttime lightening wakes me up. Then I look out my window in awe at the display of lightening in the sky. For me, I make offerings to Summanus from May 1 to October 31. Then I switch to Jupiter from November 1 to April 30. This practice is personal to me, and is not traditional.

Salve Summanus!
God of the Night
You light up the dark
With your lightening.
You rumble to the stars
With your thunder.

We thank You
For protecting us
When we sleep.
Salve Summanus!

God of the Month: Vesta

Vesta, the Roman Goddess of the Hearth Fire, is usually represented by the flame, which is the eternal fire. Originally her cultus was based in the home, with the family making daily sacrifices at their lararium (altar). Later, King Numa Pompilius (715-673 BCE) set up a place for state worship for this Goddess.

King Numa placed Her House (Aedes, which is not a temple) on Palatine Hill. Resembling the circular thatched homes of the early Romans, this sacred place housed the holy relics of Rome. The six Vestal Virgins, who attended the sacred flame, guarded these items. (One was the Palladium, a statue made by Minerva, Herself, which protected Rome.)

The Goddess Vesta is more than the hearth fire. Her flame at the lararium acts as the axis mundi between the worlds. As the central axis, her flame receives the bodies of the dead, thereby connecting this world with the Di Inferi, the Gods of the Underworld. The fire becomes a bond between the living and the dead. Her flame also reaches up to the heavens, enabling Di Consentes, the Celestial Gods to traverse it to the world of the humans. The keeping of Vesta’s flame maintains the sacred contract between the people and the Gods.

Starting June 7, the inner sanctum (penus) is open to women. For the Vestalia, the Vestal Virgins and the women cleaned and purified both the relics and the area. Later the Vestal Virgins carried the debris to the Tiber River. (Legend has it that the accumulation of debris formed a new island. The temple of Aesculapius, the God of Healing, was located on this island.)

Modern Roman Polytheists celebrate the Vestalia (June 7-15) in various ways. Some will clean their houses, others their stoves. One theory is that the stove and oven is the modern hearth. (I would add the microwave.) I do daily prayers to Vesta at my lararium, and clean my oven on the Vestalia.

“Vesta, watch over him who tends the Holy Fire. Live well, fires, o undying flames, live long, I pray.” Ovid, Fasti 3.426-28

God of the Month: Mercury

Mercury (Mercurius) was not originally a Roman God. However, He was assimilated so early that He became one of the Di Consentes (The Twelve Great Gods). Mercury came to Rome via the grain trade with Sicily, which was then a part of the Magna Graecae (Greater Greece). The Romans first considered Hermes, the Greek God, to be the God of the Grain Trade. Later as Mercurius, He became the God of Trade and Merchants. However, Cicero that one of Hermes’ aspects – the Messenger of the Gods – was carried over from the Greeks.

In 495 BCE, Mercury’s temple was built outside the Pomerium (Sacred Boundary of Rome). The Mercuralia, his major festival, held on the Ides of May, the day when his temple was dedicated. Since his temple is located halfway between the temples of the Capitoline Triad of the patricians and the Aventine Triad of the plebeians, Mercury also became the Mediator Between Social Classes.

On May 15, the merchants would make offerings to Mercury and His Mother, Maia. With a bough of laurel, they would bless themselves and their wares from the aqua Mercurii, the water beside the temple. (Modern Romans bless their financial instruments (checkbooks, etc) and their banks.)

Prayers to Mercury:

From: Q. Horatius Flaccus

It is well. Nothing more ample do I pray, O Maia’s son, save that You will make these my gifts last throughout my life. May You, Mercurius, make plump the riches of my house and all else there, spare my natural talents in any case, and as usual, may You remain the primary guardian over me. – Datura 2.6.4-5;2.6.14-15

From Ovid:

“O Mercury whether I have falsely called You to bear witness in the past, or deceitfully called upon Jupiter not to hear my empty promises, or if there is some other god or goddess that I knowingly deceived, wash away my past perjuries to make when the new day dawns, and make the gods be indifferent to my lies. Grant that I may profit, grant joy in making a profit, grant I many enjoy once more swindling my customers with deceitful words.” Fasti 5.691-90