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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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Calendar for February

Sacra Publica
13th - 22nd: Parentalia
13th - 15th: Lupercalia
17th: Quirinalia
21th: Feralia
22nd: Caristia
23rd: Terminalia
27th: First Equirria
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).

Ovid (Fasti II) says:

The fathers of Rome called purification februa
Many things still indicate that meaning for the word.

Februa is a goddess of purification, and a primary theme this month is "purification". In the oldest Roman calendar, the year began on March 1st, so February, the last month, was a time of purification before the starting of the year.

Ovid gives a list, including woolen cloths given by the king and flamen to the priests, "... the roasted grain and salt the lictor receives...", and branches used to makes wreathes for priests to wear and for the Flaminica to use. Ovid sums it up this way, "In short anything used to purify our bodies had that title in the days of our hairy ancestors".

As part of this general purification, Ovid includes maintaining the proper rites for the ancestors.

The month is so called, because the Luperci
Cleanse the earth with strips of purifying hide,
Or because the time is pure, having placated the dead,
When the days devoted to the departed are over.
Our ancestors believed every sin and cause of evil
Could be erased by rites of purification.

The Parentalia is devoted to the good deified ancestors, while the Feralia is conducted for other Manes. Festivals for Terminus (Terminalia on the 23rd) and Fornicalia also have much to do with the ancestral worship of Di parenti. The very special purification rites of Lupercalia (on the 13th through the 15th) and Quirinalia (on the 17th) are thought by some to extend back to a period when Rome was still divided among the Latins on the Palatine Hill (Lupercalia) and Sabines on the Quirinal Hill (Quirinalia).

When all is done, Romans have honored their obligations to their ancestors, their relatives and their neighbors. This is the very heart of pietas, and having completed all the traditional rites, we are ready to enter (what used to be) the new year.

Parentalia, Faralia: 13th - 22nd: The Parentalia honored the good deified ancestors, the divi parentes, who has attained immortal status. The bad ancestors (those that had not been given a proper burial, for example) were exorcised later, in May, at the Lemuria. Although the Parentalia started with a public ceremony, most of the festival was a period of family observations. The Parentalia ends with the Faralia on the 21st and the Caristia on the 22nd. Ovid gives a good idea of what might be involved for ordinary Romans:

Via Appia-26
And the grave must be honoured. Appease your fathers’
Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built.
Their shades ask little, piety they prefer to costly
Offerings: no greedy deities haunt the Stygian depths.
A tile wreathed round with garlands offered is enough,
A scattering of meal, and a few grains of salt,
And bread soaked in wine, and loose violets:
Set them on a brick left in the middle of the path.
Not that I veto larger gifts, but these please the shades:
Add prayers and proper words to the fixed fires.
This custom was brought to your lands, just Latinus,
By Aeneas, a fitting promoter of piety.
He brought solemn gifts to his father’s spirit:
From him the people learned the pious rites.
But once, waging a long war with fierce weapons,
They neglected the Parentalia, Festival of the Dead.

Caristia: 22nd: After discharging our obligations it is time to turn to the living. and enjoy a family feast:

The next day has its name, Caristia, from our dear (cari) kin,
When a throng of relations gathers to the family gods.
It’s surely pleasant to turn our faces to the living,
Once away from our relatives who have perished,
And after so many lost, to see those of our blood
Who remain, and count the degrees of kinship.

The ancestors are never far away though, so they are given their proper respect as well:

Virtuous ones, burn incense to the gods of the family,
(Gentle Concord is said to be there on this day above all)
And offer food, so the robed Lares may feed from the dish
Granted to them as a mark of esteem, that pleases them.

Terminalia: 23rd: Finally, having performed the rites due the ancestors and having renewed family ties, we turn to our neighbors:

When night has passed, let the god be celebrated
With customary honour, who separates the fields with his sign.
Terminus, whether a stone or a stump buried in the earth,
You have been a god since ancient times.
You are crowned from either side by two landowners,
Who bring two garlands and two cakes in offering.
An altar’s made: here the farmer’s wife herself
Brings coals from the warm hearth on a broken pot.
The old man cuts wood and piles the logs with skill,
And works at setting branches in the solid earth.
Then he nurses the first flames with dry bark,
While a boy stands by and holds the wide basket.
When he’s thrown grain three times into the fire
The little daughter offers the sliced honeycombs.
Others carry wine: part of each is offered to the flames:
The crowd, dressed in white, watch silently.
Terminus, at the boundary, is sprinkled with lamb’s blood,
And doesn’t grumble when a sucking pig is granted him.
Neighbours gather sincerely, and hold a feast,
And sing your praises, sacred Terminus:
‘You set bounds to peoples, cities, great kingdoms:
Without you every field would be disputed.

Ideas for celebrations in February

Weather permitting, visit the graves of your ancestors, or at least make offerings to them. Have a family feast. Meet your neighbors. The suggestions are pretty obvious, and within the normal framework of Roman ritual and pietas, you have a lot of freedom to develop your own Roman family and community traditions. Use our meetup site to find other cultores Deorum in your area.

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