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Romans, though you’re guiltless, you’ll still expiate
your fathers’ sins, till you’ve restored the temples,
and the tumbling shrines of all the gods,
and their images, soiled with black smoke.
~Horace, Odes, III, 6; A. S. Kline trans.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Calendar for May

The first day of the month is the Kalends, sacred to Juno. The Nones falls on the 7th. The Ides, sacred to Jupiter, falls on the 15th.

The 2nd, 8th and 16th are unlucky (ater).

Festivals this month include:

  • Festival of the Bona Dea and Vinalia: 1st.
  • Lemuralia: 9th, 11th, 13th.
  • Mercuralia: 15th.
  • Agonalia: 21st.

My notes this month will focus on the Lemuralia.

While the month of April celebrates the generative power of Nature, an important theme in May is "safe continuity", keeping order in the world.
The Kalends of May saw an altar dedicated
To the Guardian Lares, with small statues of the gods.
Curius vowed them: but time destroys many things,
And the long ages wear away the stone.
The reason for their epithet of Guardian,
Is that they keep safe watch over everything.
They support us, and protect the City walls,
And they’re propitious, and bring us aid. (Ovid, Fasti, Book V, Kline trans.)
Romans were aware that they had a history; that important changes had happened since their origin-time. But they also found a thread of continuity through all the change.
The year was once shorter, the pious rites of purification, februa,
Were unknown, nor were you, two-faced Janus, leader of the months:
Yet they still brought gifts owed to the ashes of the dead,
The grandson paid respects to his buried grandfather’s tomb.
It was May month, named for our ancestors (maiores),
And a relic of the old custom still continues.
The Roman honor paid the ancestors in May reminds some of the American tradition of tending the graves of ancestors on Memorial Day, now a movable holiday at the end of May.

Kalends of May and the Lares:
The Kalends of May saw an altar dedicated
To the Guardian Lares, with small statues of the gods.
Curius vowed them: but time destroys many things,
And the long ages wear away the stone.

Lemuralia: The festival of the Lemuralia (or Lemuria) is among the most mysterious of the Roman festivals, but also one of the most resonant. Ovid, our major source for this festival, admits to confusion on several points. The month of May (says Ovid) might have been so-called after the ancestors (maiores). The name “Lemuria” was also a mystery, so the poet calls on Mercurius for an explanation. The story that is given is that the day was once called “Remuria” and it was an expiation for the death of Romulus' brother Remus. The story is not convincing, but it serves to re-enforce the notion, mentioned by Ovid elsewhere, that the festival of the Lemuria was an ancient one. The relationship of the Lemuria to the ancestor festivals of February worried Ovid. His solution was that the Lemuria predated them:
The year was once shorter, the pious rites of purification, februa,
Were unknown, nor were you, two-faced Janus, leader of the months:
Yet they still brought gifts owed to the ashes of the dead,
The grandson paid respects to his buried grandfather’s tomb. 

Romans of Ovid's day may have been confused about the origin and meaning of the Lemuria, but Ovid, at least, was clear about one central ritual. The paterfamilias would rise at midnight and go barefoot, making an apotropaic sign (perhaps that of the “fig”), cleanse himself (Ovid says “in clear spring water”) and perform the ritual. He would throw black beans “with averted face”, repeating a ritual formula nine times: “haec ego mitto redimo meque meosque fabis” (with these beans I throw I redeem me and mine). This was done while walking through the house “without looking back”. Then he touched water and beat a bronze gong (“sounds the Temesan bronze”), saying “manes exite paterni” (paternal spirits, depart), this too repeated nine times.

The number nine (the potent number three, multiplied by itself), the connection of beans and the color black with the “underworld”, the appearance of water in a liminal context all suggest that Ovid's attribution of antiquity is correct. These are common features shared by many cultures.

The article in “Smith's Dictionary” (s.v. “Lemuralia”) unfortunately truncates the ritual and so garbles the meaning. The paterfamilias rises at the liminal time of midnight, and protects himself apotropaically while making connection with the home (walking bare footed). The cleansing is the normal Roman concern for ritual purity, but it also marks the start of the ritual proper. The black beans themselves are not apotropaic (as Smith's Dictionary seems to suggest) but simply serve to attract any cthonic spirits. The formula is made potent by repetition and it detaches the spirits from any connection that may exist with any member of the familia (note that the paterfamilias also avoids “eye contact”). Having freed the spirits from any connections and having led them to the symbolic boundary of the water, they are discharged, again using a repeated formula. The expulsion is given additional force by using the noise of “clashing bronze”. The final formula does not necessarily refer to “ancestral” spirits. The word paternus (paternal) may simply be a euphemism, that is, calling potentially hostile spirits “paternal”, meaning “friendly”, as a way of suggesting (or controlling) their behavior.

The purpose of this ritual, then, is to enforce the boundary that is implicit in the Roman world-view; that humans and the Gods each have their own proper sphere of activity. This enforcement is explicitly confined to a class of spirits, the Dii Manes, and as is well known, these are the spirits of the dead. Perhaps we can imagine that to the Romans these were the Gods most likely to transgress the human/divine boundary and because of their origin as humans it was appropriate for humans to have a hand in their “management”. It should be noted that Dii Manes would include not only the Dii Parentes, but also others, for example, deceased children, members of the familia who were not blood relations and those whom had not been given a proper burial. In these ways, the Lemuria is distinguished from the Parentalia (February 13th).

If this interpretation is correct, it suggests that the Lemures are Dii Manes who are not malevolent, necessarily, but simply transgressive, for whatever reason.

The Lemuria is resonant for us today in part because it was on an early 7th century C.E. Lemuria that Boniface IV misappropriated the Pantheon in Rome by burying a large number of Christian bones inside the building. Although the Pantheon remains standing in good condition today, its use as a burial ground continues and so it remains unfit to use for ritual purposes. According to some authors, this misappropriation of the building also marks the Christianization of the Lemuria as “All Saints Day”, although the date was later changed.

Another resonance is the world-wide prevalence of similar festivals. In Japan, for example, bean-throwing as part of an exorcism ritual is the central part of the spring “Setsubun” festival and the conclusion of “Obon” involves sending ancestral spirits off on the journey to the other world by floating paper lanterns down the rivers. Floating lanterns are also part of the similar Yu Lan observance in China.

Ideas for the Cultus Deorum in May

Because Ovid gives us such a clear description of the central ritual of the Lemuria, and because this is confined to the household, this is an ideal event to introduce into each private cultus. It requires no elaborate preparation and the Latin, for those who prefer to use it, is quite simple. In spite of the simplicity, the meaning is profound: keeping order in the world, at least, the part of the world constituted by the household. The foundation of a temple to the Guardian Lares on the Kalends is probably just a coincidence, but it does suggest that, weather permitting, this may be a good time to establish an out-door compitum.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Calendar for April

The first day of the month is the Kalends, sacred to Juno.

The Nones falls on the 5th and the Ides, sacred to Jupiter, falls on the 13th.

The 2nd, 6th and 14th are unlucky (ater).

April is dedicated to Venus. We may think of Venus as "Goddess of love", but that is only a part of her domain. She is, more generally, Goddess of all generative power, or more correctly, the embodiment of that power. In the words of Ovid (Fasti, IV):
They say Spring was named from the open (apertum) season,
Because Spring opens (aperit) everything and the sharp
Frost-bound cold vanishes, and fertile soil’s revealed,
Though kind Venus sets her hand there and claims it.
She rules the whole world too, and truly deserves to:
She owns a realm not inferior to any god’s,
Commands earth and heaven, and her native ocean,
And maintains all beings from her source.
She created the gods (too numerous to mention):
She gave the crops and trees their first roots:
She brought the crude minds of men together,
And taught them each to associate with a partner.
No season is more fitting for Venus than Spring:
In spring the earth gleams: in spring the ground’s soft,
Now the grass pokes its tips through the broken soil,
Now the vine bursts in buds through the swollen bark.
And lovely Venus deserves the lovely season,
And is joined again to her darling Mars:
In Spring she tells the curving ships to sail, over
Her native seas, and fear the winter’s threat no longer. 
Titus Lucretius Carus began his book De Rerum Natura with a long dedicatory poem in praise of the generative power of Venus. The 1916 translation by W. E. Leonard is online:
Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands — for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived...
Leonard's metrical translation may be difficult for contemporary readers, who may prefer something more modern. An Epicurean philosopher, an atomist, a Roman, Lucretius was accused by early Christians of being "anti-religion" when in fact it is better to say that he was "anti-superstitio". Compare Leonard's translation of an excerpt from Book 1, 101-106 with the  prose translation of Ronald Latham:
Such are the crimes to which Religion leads.
And there shall come the time when even thou,
Forced by the soothsayer's terror-tales, shalt seek
To break from us. Ah, many a dream even now
Can they concoct to rout thy plans of life,
And trouble all thy fortunes with base fears. (Leonard trans.)
The Latham translatiion
Such are the heights of wickedness to which men are driven by superstition.
You yourself, if you surrender your judgement at any time to the blood-curdling declaration of the prophets, will want to desert our ranks. Only think what phantoms they can conjure up to overturn the tenor of your life and wreck your happiness with fear. (Latham trans.)
tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
Tutemet a nobis iam quovis tempore vatum
terriloquis victus dictis desciscere quaeres.
quippe etenim quam multa tibi iam fingere possunt
somnia, quae vitae rationes vertere possint
fortunasque tuas omnis turbare timore! (Lucretius, Book 1, lines 101-106)
Readers of this blog are probably aware that the Latin religio does not mean "religion" in the modern sense, but rather something more like "duty" or "obligation", the recognition of the relationship that people have with the gods. (I am aware of the other, technical, sense that specialist Romans used, that of "violation", but that does not apply here.) What Lucretius is objecting to is the risk that one's sense of religio can be manipulated by "soothsayer's terror-tales", "blood-curdling declaration of the prophets", "terriloquis ... dictis" to create fear (timor). In other words, exactly the feeling of superstitio that is anathema to the true Roman Cultus Deorum. Through his Epicurean philosophy, Lucretius proposes an approach that makes the pietas of ordinary Romans immune to superstitio. It is possible that Latham, in choosing the word "superstition" in place of Leonard's "Religion", had this distinction in mind. Understanding this, we can see that Lucretius was not "against religion" and there is no conflict in his dedicating his book to Venus.

The inspiration of Venus (and Lucretius) is not confined to the Roman period. Jonathan Jones of the Guardian has written about how Sandro Botticelli was inspired to paint The Birth of Venus after reading Lucretius. He says, "The power of Botticelli's painting is that it brings an ancient religion back to life. To love this image is to worship the ancient Roman gods. Hail Venus!"

Veneralia: April 1. In honor of Venus

Megalesia: April 4 to 10. (Ludi Megalenses) in honor of Cybele (since 191 BCE, brought to Rome in 203 BCE)

Ludi Cereales: April 12 to 19. Games in honor of Ceres (since 202 BCE)
Ceres was first to summon men to a better diet,
Replacing their acorns with more nourishing food.
She forced bulls to bow their necks to the yoke:
So the deep-ploughed soil first saw the light.
Copper was prized then, iron was still hidden:
Ah! If only it could have been hidden forever.
Ceres delights in peace: pray, you farmers,
Pray for endless peace and a peace-loving leader.
Honour the goddess with wheat, and dancing salt grains,
And grains of incense offered on the ancient hearths,
And if there’s no incense, burn your resinous torches:
Ceres is pleased with little, if it’s pure in kind. 

Fordicidia: April 15. In honour of Tellus.

Parilia: April 21. In honour of Pales.

Vinalia urbana: April 23. In honour of Venus and the previous year's wine harvest.

Robigalia: April 25. In honour of Robigus, with foot races.

Floralia: April 28 to May 1. (Ludi Florales), games in honor of Flora.

Ideas for the Cultus Deorum in April

In many parts of the northern hemisphere it is the beginning of the gardening season, and so it is a fitting time to recognize the generative power of Venus. There is a translation of Cato's ritual for digging land here. I am not suggesting that every gardener needs to sacrifice a pig. On the contrary, you should feel free to adapt the rituals, and the exact dates, to suit your own situation. Look on our "Ritual" page (see the menu near the top of this blog) for guidelines on conducting your own ritual, including comments on the bloodless "Numa Tradition".

I invite you to add your ideas for April in the comments. I also welcome submission of photos to help us share what we do and how we do it.

Finally, we will also be discussing this on the Facebook group.

Note: The introduction to "Lucretius: On the Nature of Things" translated by M.F. Smith is available online by permission of Hackett Publishing Company.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reconstructionism Methods: Community Practice

OK, so I have Blogger envy. Our friend, Helio, has been making some impressive series of posts on his blog, and I want to try to do the same. I've been thinking for a while about "method", and so I will start what I hope will be a series of posts on this topic.

When I say that I am a Cultor, I mean that I have some attitudes in mind, and they are specific to the Roman tradition. When I say that I am a reconstructionist, I mean that I have some specific methods in mind, and these methods are common to many reconstructionist traditions.

In a metaphorical way, reconstructionism is the process of trying to recover the best likeness of the photo that was on the cover of the now-lost box of a 1000 piece picture puzzle, while having just 100 pieces. The 100 pieces are scattered all over, and many of them are found embedded in other things. We have to collect those pieces and try to fit them together. We may be able to assemble some parts of the picture, but we still have many gaps. We can extrapolate around the edges of the bits we have, giving us pretty good confidence equaling maybe another 50 pieces.  The pieces that we have also give us information about the topic and the style of the picture, letting us make some fair guesses about more, maybe another 100 pieces. For the final 750, we can make sure that our educated guesses do not clash with the parts that we have. Can we get the whole original picture with perfect confidence? Obviously not. Can we come close enough that an ancient Roman, seeing our reconstruction, would recognize the original in the reconstruction? I think so.

Even if we do our best to reconstruct every possible aspect of the ancient traditions, another problem remains. What do we do in situations that never faced ancient Romans? How can we know the correct way to respond to a novel situation?

This is a recent thread from our Facebook group, and I copy it here with permission of the participants, because it is an example of exactly what I think we should be doing, in the most general sense:
  • solving modern problems by
  • reference to Roman practice and
  • comparing modern parallel traditions, combined with
  • personal experience.
It all started when a tongue-in-cheek article, "Goddess Caffeina, Roman Goddess of Coffee", made a member think of a serious issue:

René: I find this hilarious, However it brings me to a serious question, we now sacrifice "new" things that the ancient romans didn't like chocolate or chiles or stuff like that so I was wondering, Since coffee is an intoxicant, is it under the sphere of Divine Bacchus or to what god does this drink belongs to? Would he accept libations and offerings of coffee? 
Agricola: Personally, I stick to things that were known to the Romans. Not because I think new things are wrong, but because doing so puts me in the right frame of mind. It reminds me that I have to adjust my way of thinking and not stick with the familiar old habits of thought. 
Bert: The Romans offered what was important to them, and precious. This would naturally have been relative to one's ability. The aristocrats, and other rich folks, are known to have sacrificed peacocks. Peacocks are from India, though somewhere along the line they also got attributed to Iuno. The original dirt farmer, cattle stealing Romans would not have had peacocks. 
Bert: While on a walk about the neighborhood I went into a Hindi Indian gift shop. In the back is an altar to Ganesha. Large statue with offerings before and on it: flowers, fruit, dollar bills, a bottle of Gatoraid and a small container of Hershey's chocolate drink. The Hindi pagans obviously don't have any problem with offering their immortals new and exotic things. (from a November post of mine on the Roman Recon wall) 
René: I think the same as the Hindu pagans, while it does matter what you offer it think that it is not more important than how pious you are, how you offer it and the fact that you even want to offer something, all of this makes those Above us, Around us and Beneath us happy and pleased 
Agricola: We didn't really answer the coffee/Dionysios question. I don't think that there can be a clear answer. I say, go ahead and try it, and then watch for signs that it is accepted or rejected. After a number of people do that we can compare experiences and decide. 
Anna: I know of Germanic heathens who offer tobacco and coffee to the wights and gods, but it is considered UPG [Unverified Personal Gnosis] and isn't taken as lore. I believe that if it lasts the test of time, it will be considered lore. 
Agricola: That's what I'm sayin'. 
Damian: Coffee is upper, Alcohol is downer so I don't see Bacchus there. Maybe Mercury (speed/trade/office work)? 
Livia: I think the American products like chocolate, maize, peppers, tomatoes all have their own deities. I wouldn't offer them to our deities, just like I wouldn't offer olives to some South-American deity. Coffee is a more complex matter. Apparently its use was started by Sufi Muslims, so it has no deities associated. I would be cautious in associating it with Bacchus, though. According to Francesco Redi (in his "Bacco in Toscana", written in 1685) Bacchus definitely despises such barbarian beverages as beer, or the newly introduced coffee, and likes Tuscan wine best. A different matter are offerings to the Manes. I offer coffee to my deceased aunt, as it was her favourite drink. Cigarettes are also common as offerings to deceased smokers in Italian cemeteries. 
Marco: Depends on why I am making an offering. I use copal, rather than laurel or frankincense, when offering incense for the spirits of the land in the Americas. And for Roman deities I usually offer what Romans would have offered. However, if I am just outdoors, speaking with Jupiter, and I happen to be drinking coffee, then I offer to share with Him what I have. In each case it is a matter of thought behind the sacrifice, and not so much what is sacrificed. If Romans had known about chocolate, they would have offered it, just as they offered other rare and precious goods to the Gods. They shared what they had. 
Helio: Two thumbs up, Marco Orazio! You took the words right out of my mouth!

I'm very proud of this group's ability to look at problems from different angles without going into conflict mode. Of course, there can be no definitive answer, but this kind of discussion moves us forward, deepening our understanding of Roman thinking and building our modern traditions on a sound basis.

Helio blogs at:

Marco blogs at:

Anna is host of the Roman Recon forum.

Damian blogs at

There is a long tradition of "Caffeina" posts, as this Witchvox article attests.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Everything you know about Stoicism is wrong.

A Guide to the Good Life
"... I had to cobble together a brand of Stoicism from clues scattered throughout the writings of the Roman Stoics. The resulting version of Stoicism, although derived from the ancient Stoics, is therefore unlike the Stoicism advocated by any particular Stoic." (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life, p. 244)
William B. Irvine may not realize it, but he has succeeded where reconstructionists all too often fail. He has created a modern version of Stoicism that is based closely on ancient sources. Not just an ancient philosophy text, careful reasoning is used to present a coherent philosophy of life that is actually workable in today's world.

Some time ago I posted a small notice about Lifehacker's piece on Stoicism. I took my own advice and I bought a copy of Professor Irvine's book, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy". In it, Irvine offers a well-grounded and scholarly, but very readable, discussion of Roman Stoicism and shows how it can be a practical modern philosophy of life.

As the quote above illustrates, Irvine's book is focused mainly on the Roman flavor of Stoicism. He starts where reconstructionists must often start; eliminating misconceptions.
"...unless you are an unusual individual, everything you know about Stoicism is wrong." (Lecture at the Center for Values in Sci & Tech)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Calling all Cultores!

I just had a look at this blog's stats, and what a surprise! Our readership is still rising, and I see that we have had recent visitors from around the world. I see connections from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, UK and USA. This is both amazing and gratifying, and especially so seeing that this blog is only in English.

This seems like a good time to repeat my solicitation for submissions and participation.

Please write to me at "" with any of the following:
  • Announcements of coming events or
  • Reports of recently past events or
  • Book or film reviews or
  • Links to individual or community blogs or websites or
  • Any other news...

...related to or focused on the Cultus Deorum.

To promote global networking, we accept material in any language.

We also welcome participation in any language on our Facebook group.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Conventus Announced

Roman Wedding,
Poltava, 2010
A new conventus (world-wide meeting) of Roman reconstructionists has just been announced for Poltava, Ukraine. This conventus will be held in conjunction with the group "Res Publica Romana", an NPO from Sweden. The dates are August 1-5, 2012.

Readers of this blog will remember the Roman weddings and Temple consecration held there two years ago and that Poltava is the site of the temple building project that was attacked by suspected Orthodox vandals.

The preliminary schedule includes some important events for the Cultus Deorum:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why You Should Not "Worship The Gods"

I have been uncomfortable for quite a while regarding the frequency with which I see phrases like "I worship the Gods of Rome". Of course I am happy to see the Cultus Deorum expanding. The problem is that the word "worship" is one of those tricky, culturally-determined words, and I do not believe that it conveys the correct meaning for us. Now of course I am aware that different people may have different ideas in their minds when they use this word, and I fully expect some readers to object to this post on the grounds that their meaning is something other than what I am talking about here. That is all well and good, but when we say things in public like "I worship the Gods of Rome" we should think about how others are likely to understand it.