God of the Month: Summanus

Placeholder Image

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

Lemures and Lemuria

 

umbilicusurbi

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.”

Gods of the Month: May

For Romans, May (Maius) is sacred to Maia, the Goddess of the Growth of Living Things. As the Mother of Mercury, She is also honored with Him at the Mercuralia on May 15. On May 1st, Maia’s festival day and on the 15th, a priest of Vulcan (God of Fire) will sacrifice a pregnant sow to Her. Maia is his consort since Vulcan (Volcanus) is also the God who ripens the earth with his inner warmth. Modern Roman Polytheists will offer burnt pork to Maia.

The Days of the Dead

The major focus of this month is the Lemuria, the Roman Days of the Dead (May 9, 11, and 13). On these days, the Lemures (Larvae) seek out the living to have them give the Larvae proper burials. The Lemures also want people to make offerings in their memory to the Gods of the Dead. Meanwhile, the living do certain rites to ensure that Larvae not harm them or their families. (The Larvae could be considered the “Undead.”)

Until the 8th Century, May 13 was All Saints’ Day for Christians. During the 730s, Pope Gregory 111 changed the feast date to November 1. He wanted to accommodate the Celtic Christians, who had grown in numbers. Meanwhile, Lemuria can be considered the Roman equivalent of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.

Mercury (Mercurius)

For Romans, Mercury is the God of Commerce, Merchants, and Thieves. On May 15, merchants would bless themselves and their wares from his sacred well, which was located outside of the Sacred Boundary (Pomerium) of Rome. Modern Roman Polytheists will use water from local streams to bless their local banks and stores.

Julius Caesar noted that Mercury was the most popular God in the Celtic and Germanic regions closest to Roman territories. These peoples regarded Mercury to be the inventor of the arts. In Celtic areas, He was frequently accompanied by Rosmerta, Celtic Goddess of Abundance and Prosperity.

Gods of the Month: April

April for Romans is the time of opening buds. Flowers appear, trees come into leaf, and new crops are coming up. At this time, most of the festivals centered on honoring the fertility of the land and protecting the crops. Of the various festivals that I follow are:

CERES and TELLUS

From the 12th to the 19th of April, the Cerialia is held to honor Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture and Gain. The festival is to thank Ceres for the earth’s fertility. Many of the ceremonies of the Cerialia are held in private with the participants wearing white. An Ancient Roman tradition was to set loose foxes with burning torches tied to their tails. (It was believed to drive out diseases of the land.) For Ceres, I usually walk the nearby field three times and offer milk, a traditional offering.

During the Cerialia, the Fordicidia is held on April 15. In Ancient Rome, pregnant cows were sacrificed to Tellus, the Goddess of Productive Power of the Earth, for the fertility of the cattle and fields. Tellus is. The ashes of the unborn calves were burnt and use in the Parilia later in the month. Modern Romans will burn meat and mix it with soil as an offering to Tellus.

PALES

On April 21, the Parilia is held. Similar to the Celtic Beltane Festival, the Parilia focuses on the purification of sheep and shepherds. Bonfires are lit and sheep are driven through them. Grain and milk are offered to Pales of Shepherds and Sheep. For this festival, I pray for healthy livestock and put a stuffed sheep between two candles.

Pales is a mystery as to what They are – male or female, plural or singular. This/these ancient Roman God/s are from the time before the Romans were shepherds, which adds to the confusion of who Pales is/are. I prefer to regard Pales as the entirety of all the concepts about Them.

Babylonian New Year’s Festival

 

nbmarduknabu

Nabu, Tiamat, and Marduk

 

Akitu, the New Year’s Festival is one of the most complex and important ceremonies of Babylonians. Starting at the Spring Equinox (Nisan, the first month of the year), this festival continues for twelve days. It involves purification, the re-establishment of creation, and the re-affirmation of life, death, and the family. The rituals re-enforce the bonds of the community between the people, their Gods, and leaders. (In Ancient Babylon, elaborate and lengthy rituals for the Akitu were conducted. Modern followers of the Babylonian Gods usually have much simpler and fewer ceremonies.)

The New Year’s Festival encompasses nearly all of the tenets of Babylonian religion. First, everyone prepare for the coming year by purifying themselves and their temples. Then, the Babylonian Story of Creation (Enuma Elish) is read, beginning with the formation of the world by Apsu, the Deep and Tiamat, the Primordial Mother, to the recreation of it by Marduk. During this part of the Festival, the statues of the Babylonian Gods are brought from their temples to Marduk’s shrine.

In Ancient Babylon, the King left Babylon to travel to Borsippa (“Second Babylon”) to the temple of Nabu, Marduk’s Son and First Minister. After the King returned with that shrine’s statue, he humbled himself in the temple of Marduk. In an elaborate ritual, the King confessed what he has not done to harm his people. Finally, the King received a divination from Nabu for the coming year, which was recorded by the scribes.

Meanwhile, Marduk (the God) goes missing. While the people go into mourning believing that He is dead, Marduk’s son, Nabu leads the other Gods into the Underworld to rescue His Father. Demonstrating his love, Nabu brings Marduk home to be installed as the Head of the Gods.

The Akitu of Ancient Babylon featured the Sacred Marriage with the King acting as the God occurs with the priestess as the Goddess. The couple could represent Marduk and his wife Sarpanitu, Goddess of Childbirth or Nabu with his wife, Nanaya, Goddess of Fertility. The Marriage was to insure the fertility of the land and to raise the king as a representative of the Gods.

After the final procession of the statues of the Gods returning to their respective temples, the priests dispense the decisions made by the Gods for the coming year. During a lengthy ritual, everyone hear their destinies and reaffirm their love for the Gods. Following feasting, the people return to their ordinary lives. Harmony between humans, nature, and the Gods has been restored.