The Ambarvalia

green grass field during sunset

Photo by David Jakab on Pexels.com

At the end of May, the Ambarvalia is held. This festival centers on asking the blessings of Mars and Ceres for the growing crops. Traditionally, a boar, a ram and a bull were sacrificed (Note 1). Modern Romans will offer meat from the store. During the Ambarvalia, the boundaries of the fields are walked with people making offerings of milk, honey and incense for Ceres and the meat for Mars.

As with other Roman festivals, the Ambarvalia was adapted by the Christian Church. Rogation Days, which precede Ascension Day, copies aspects of the Ambarvalia. Processions would go around to parish boundaries singing hymns. Along they way, they would stop at various fields to pray for God’s blessings on the new crops.

A Roman Prayer for Ambarvalia:

“Father Mars I pray and beseech You that You may be propitious and well-disposed to me, our home, and household, for which cause I have ordered the offering of pig, sheep, and ox to be led ‘round my field, my land, and my farm, that you might prevent, ward off, and avert diseases, visible and invisible; barrenness and waste; accident and bad water; that you would permit the crop and fruit of the earth, the vines and shrubs to grow great and prosper, that you would preserve the shepherds and their flocks in safety and give prosperity and health to me and our house and household. To this intent, to the intent of purifying my farm, my land, my ground, and of making an expiation, deign to accept the offering of these suckling victims.”
(from Nova Roma’s website)

Note 1: The suovetaurila is the triple sacrifice of principal livestock. Only Mars, Neptune and Apollo received this sacrifice.

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Flora, Goddess of Flowering Plants

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Flora, an ancient Goddess of the Sabines (and later the Romans) has two festivals in the spring – the Floralia from April 27 to May 3 and the Rosalia on May 23. The blossoms of Flora are welcomed by those who cherish flowers and those who rely on plants for sustenance. Moreover, this Goddess can counteract the fungal diseases, such as rust, that plagues plants.

After appealing to Flora for protection of the crops, Titus Tatius, King of the Sabines, built a temple to Flora, the Goddess of Flowering Plants on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. (He ruled jointly with Romulus, the First King of Rome.) Then after a prolonged drought Numa Pompilius, the Second King of Rome, held festivals in her honor.

For the Floralia, people decorate their homes and themselves with flowers. And, they don colorful clothing to imitate the flowers of spring. In gratitude of spring’s arrival, everyone makes offerings of milk and honey to Flora. On the last day of the festival, the priests would set loose hares and goats. They also would throw lupines, lentils and beans to celebrate the renewed fertility of the season.

During May, the month of the Dead, the Rosalia is held. Traditionally, Romans would place roses on graves. Today the custom is still to put roses on the graves of family members. Along with violets, these flowers represented life and death. As Ovid wrote in his “Fasti,” Flora generates flowers from the blood of the Dead. “Through me glory springs from their wound.”

Salve Flora Mater!
Goddess who blesses
The flowers
The plants
We greet You with color

Salve Flora Mater!
You gladden our hearts
We offer You
Milk and honey

Salve Flora Mater!
With roses and violets
We honor our Dead
From You comes rebirth

Gods of the Month: VENUS VERTICORDIA and FORTUNA VIRILUS

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After a series of unfavorable prodigies, that signified a breakdown in their relations with the Gods, the Roman Senate consulted the Sibylline Books. Three Vestal Virgins with their male partners had broken their vows. Although all of the people involved were put to death, the Gods were still upset by what had happened. What the Vestals did was nefas (contrary to divine law), and the Pax Deorum (Peace of the Gods) had to be restored. The Sibylline Books said to do this was to erect a statue of Venus Verticordia (the Changer of Hearts) in the temple of Fortuna Virilus (Bold Fortune). There She would be attended by modest young women, who were supervised by long married matrons. This statue to Venus Verticordia was dedicated on April 1, 114 BCE.

During the Veneralia, women would wash and dress the statues of Venus Verticordia and Fortuna Virilus. Then wearing myrtle wreaths, they would march into the men’s baths. There they prayed that their physical imperfections would be hidden from view.

At the Veneralia, people would ask both Goddesses for help in their love lives. Married people prayed for deepening while the unmarried requested someone to love. As Ovid said of Venus Verticordia, “beauty and fortune and good fame are in Her Keeping.”

Salve Venus Verticordia!
Changer of Hearts
Salve Fortuna Virilus!
Fortune, Who favors the bold
Help us deepen our love
Grant us the courage to ask another

Goddesses who know the human heart
Guide us in our love affairs
Salve Venus Verticordia!
Salve Fortuna Virilus!

God of the Month: Minerva

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Often conflated with Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Minerva is uniquely Roman. Adapting various aspects of the Etruscan Goddess Menrva, the Romans regarded Minerva as the Goddess of War and the Goddess of Wisdom. In war, Minerva counsels the generals on their strategy for battle. In peace, She guides the legislators in governing the state. (As one of the Capitoline Triad (with Juno and Jupiter), She governs the affairs of the country.)

Ovid referred to Minerva as the Goddess of a Thousand Works. Besides being a Goddess of War and Wisdom, She is the Patron of Doctors. As the Goddess of the Arts, Minerva invented numbers and music. She oversees crafts, learning, science and trade. In fact, I regard Minerva, the Goddess of Technology.

The Romans considered the Palladium (the Statue of Minerva) a gift from Her to them. The Vestal Virgins guarded this and other sacred items in their temple. Meanwhile, at her temple on the Esquiline Hill, people would place votive objects of healing into vaults (favissae).

The “Greater” Quinquatrus, the first of the two festivals for Minerva, is held from March 19 to 23. This festival is celebrated by artists, actors, students and writers. Because her temple on Aventine Hill served as guild headquarters, actors and writers would hold their sacrifices to Minerva there. Meanwhile the schools closed as their students celebrated the end of the school year. Teachers received their annual salary called a Minerval at this time.

The second festival, the “Lesser” Quinquatrus, takes place on June 13. Since Minerva is the Patroness of Musicians, the flute players would stage masked processions through Rome. In modern times, it is appropriate to listen to master flautists to honor Her.

Salve Minerva Augusta!
Goddess of Wisdom
Many are Your Attributes

Salve Minerva Augusta!
With Jupiter Capitolinus and Juno Regina,
You sagely govern us, your Quirites

Salve Minerva Victoria!
You who pierces ignorance
With Your Spear.
You who fends off stupidity
With Your Shield.
You who grants knowledge
With Your Helm.

Salve Minerva Augusta!
You who burst fully formed
Into my life
Guiding me to Rome,
Guiding me to Home,
I thank you.

Salve Minerva Augusta!
Goddess of Wisdom
Many are Your Attributes.

Feriae Sementivae: Early Spring Planting

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Starting January 24, for seven days, the first half of the Feriae Sementivae is dedicated to Tellus Mater. The second half, on February 2, is dedicated to Ceres Mater. These Goddesses of the Earth bless and protect the seeds of the newly planted crop. During the Feriae Sementivae, the fields are “purified,” and made ready for planting. Prayers are said for the seeds to be protected after planting.

Tellus Mater houses the seed in the ground while Ceres Mater forms the seeds. Wheat cakes and pork are offered to each of the Goddesses. (Romans would sacrifice a pregnant sow to these Goddesses.) Meanwhile, people hang clay discs (oscilla) in the trees. These oscilla are decorated to ward off the evil eye from the farmers and the newly plowed land.

Prayers are said to protect the new shoots from the killing frost. Other prayers are said to save the seeds from the hungry ants and birds. Even today, the land and new sprouts still need our prayers. Diseases and the weather still wreck destruction on our crops.

Salve Tellus Mater
Tender Mother
Prepares the home
For the precious seeds

Salve Ceres Mater
Tender Mother
Forms the seeds
Of the precious seeds

Salvete Matronae
Tender Mothers
Thank You
For Your precious care.

The Laussel Goddess

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Found in 1911 at Laussel Cave in France, The Woman with a Horn (Femme a la corne) has intrigued people ever since. Believed to be between 22,000 and 29,000 years old, the Laussel Goddess as She is also known as is considered to be an Upper-Paleolithic Venus. The Woman with a Horn has large breasts, belly, thighs, and genitals. As her left hand rests on her stomach, her right holds a horn above her head. The horn has thirteen lines etched on it.

Nobody really know what the Woman with the Horn is. The most common theory is that since She holds the Moon that the Laussel Goddess is the Great Mother who celebrates fertility. Through guiding women’s cycles by the waxing and waning of the moon, She ensures life.

Since She holds what seems to be a horn of plenty, the Woman could also be the Goddess of the Hunt. The horn acts an instrument to summon the spirits or a vehicle for the shaman to travel the worlds guiding the game to the people. Therefore, the Laussel Goddess could represent abundance.

During the Neolithic, people were erecting stone monuments to mark the solstices. These structures demonstrate that Neolithic peoples were aware of the cosmic order of time and space. In this context, the Laussel Goddess is a timekeeper of the moon’s phases.

Following the phases of the moon is a common timekeeping method for many cultures. Ancient calendars are often lunar or have a lunar component to them. This is because the moon demonstrates a more concrete passage of time than does the sun. Since the Laussel Goddess does show the full and crescent moons, She offers a glimpse into the cosmology of the Neolithic peoples.

Modern Goddess worshippers see the Laussel Goddess as the “Keeper of Women’s Mysteries.” For them. She encourages women to embrace their womanhood and their bodies. As the moon changes, so do women. Together, each they dance the rhythms of creation, decay, and rebirth.

As for me, I see the Laussel Goddess as the Lady of the Cosmos. She ties magic, time, and space into a whole. Waxing and waning. She dances the cosmos into being. The Woman with the Horn gives birth to the universe and renews it. She maintains the harmony of the forces of life.

Oh Laussel Goddess
Woman with a Horn
Lady of the Cosmos
You dance the Universe
Into being
May we dance with You
May we honor Your Waxing and Waning
Oh Laussel Goddess
Woman with a Horn

God of the Month: AESCULAPIUS, the Healer

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During a plague, the Romans went to Greece to seek the aid of Aesculapius, the Greek God of Healing. The priests at Epidaurus, his main cult center in southern Greece, refused to help the Romans. Then one of the snakes who lived around the temple came aboard the boat of the dejected Romans. Because this Snake was so heavy and large, they realized that It was Aesculapius, Himself. When they entered the Tiber River, the Snake left the boat and stayed on an island. There the Romans built a temple to Aesculapius to thank Him for His help.

At his temple on the island in the Tiber, people would come to be cured. They waited for the God to come to them in a dream and restore them to health. Afterwards, the people would offer votive figures of organs, arms, and legs to Aesculapius.

The Romans regarded the Aesculapian snake (the species of snake around the temple) synonymous with healing. Touching the snake would cure an ill person. Also this snake would point out various herbs for remedies. After transporting this species of snake in earthenware containers, the Romans would release Him around their baths and temples. For them, the Aesculapian snake was a representative of their God of Healing – Aesculapius.

A snake entwined around a rod has become the symbol for Aesculapius. Called by various names – Staff of Aesculapius, Rod of Aesculapius, Asklepian – this symbol now represents the medical profession. Many medical personnel such as first responders have it as part of their insignia.

Salve kind Aesculapius!
Gentle Healer
Come to us in our dreams

We pray for your mild touch
We pray for your tender compassion
Heal us, we ask.

Salve kind Aesculapius!
Gentle Healer