Ancient Roman Festivals
April 5th. When the next Dawn shall have shone in the sky, and the stars have vanished, and the Moon shall have unyoked her snow white steeds, he who shall say, “On this day of old the temple of Public Fortune was dedicated on the hill of Quirinus”, will tell the truth.
April 5 is Lady Luck Day. As you can see from the above quote, it is dedicated to Fortuna, the Roman goddess of good fortune, and marks the day that her temple of Public Fortune was dedicated in Ancient Rome on the hill of Quirinus.
- Themes: Luck; Wealth; Abundance; Destiny; Success
- Symbols: Wheel; Cornucopia
Fortuna, whose name means ‘she who brings’, is the keeper of our destiny and the guiding power behind all fortunate events. She stands on top of Fortune’s wheel, steering us toward success and victory all year long.
To Do Today:
Who of us couldn’t us a little of Fortuna’s assistance with tax day on the horizon? For a little extra cash, dab your automobile, bike, or motorcycle wheels with almond oil or pineapple juice. Symbolically this invokes Fortuna’s help by keeping money “rolling” in! Also dab your steering wheel similarly – this way you can keep a “handle” on personal finances.
Romans traditionally asked Fortuna about their fate and difficult problems today, then received replies on slips of paper, often baked into small bread balls akin to a fortune cookie! This is fun for a gathering of people to try. Each person should write a word or short phrase on a piece of paper (all of which are equal in size). These get dropped into a bowl, and at the end of the day everyone can reach in to see what Fortuna has to say.
Wear colors that indicate to Fortuna what you need most (green for prosperity and luck, blue for victory, red for success, yellow for communication and creativity, and purple for spirituality and leadership qualities). Or, don lucky clothing and carry your lucky charms. Fortuna’s energy is already housed within them.
Found in: 365 Goddess
The Veneralia (April 1) was the Ancient Roman festival of Venus Verticordia (“Changer of hearts”), the goddess of love and beauty. The worship of the goddess Fortuna Virilis (“Bold fortune”) was also part of this festival.
In Rome, jewelry was ritually removed from the statue of the goddess, her image was then taken from her temple to the men’s baths, where it was undressed and washed in warm water by her female attendants, then garlanded with myrtle.
Similarly, women bathed themselves in the public baths wearing wreaths of flowers and myrtle on their heads. It was generally a day for women to seek divine help in their relations with men. Men also asked Venus Verticordia for her help in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage.
Here’s a nice ritual for the Day of Venus:
- Color: Sea green, golden, and pink
- Element: Water
- Altar: Upon cloth of sea green, golden and pink, set many shells, flowers, beautiful ornaments, pink candles, hearts, doves, incense of rose and violets, and a great chalice of white wine.
- Offerings: Hearts and flowers. Giving a gift of love to someone.
- Daily Meal: Seafood. Angel hair pasta. Sweet breads, cakes, and desserts.
Invocation to Venus
Hail, Lady of the Morning Star!
You who rose form the sea foam,
Born of the impersonal severed phallus of the sky
Immersed in the impersonal womb of the sea,
You who rode to shore on a shell of pearl
And whose powers no one can resist
Save the virgin goddesses,
You who bring the glow of gold
Into the lives of all whom you touch,
Lady, we revere you as the avatar
Of the love between equals
Who look each other in the eye,
The attraction and pursuit
Between every particle in the universe.
Hail, Lady of the Evening Star!
You who rule the night
With its darker passions,
You who tempt the wistful heart,
You whose hands reach out
To all the world and more,
Lady, we revere you as a force of nature
Far greater than merely the human heart,
For you are the force that binds together
All that dances with another of its kind
In the endless dance of creation.
(The wine is passed around, and poured as a libation to Venus. Each takes a flower and wears it in honor of Venus.)
Salus was a minor goddess, the daughter of Aesculapius, the god of healing, whose staff, with a snake coiled round it, is symbolic of the practice of medicine. Their Greek equivalents were Aklepios and Hygeia. Her role in the pantheon was to feed and care for her father’s sacred snakes and act as his assistant. She was worshiped as being responsible for the welfare, not just of individuals, but of the people as a whole. Her name in Greek and Roman comes down to us in such words as ‘hygiene,’ ‘salve’ and ‘salubrious,’ and even ‘salute’ and ‘safe.’
In works of art, of which a considerable number has come down to our time, she was represented as a virgin dressed in a long robe, with the expression of mildness and kindness, and either alone or grouped with her father and sisters, and either sitting or standing, and leaning on her father. Her ordinary attribute is a serpent, which she is feeding from a cup.
To invoke the healing power of Salus (Hygeia) either of these two invocations can be used, or you can create an invocation of your own.
“O much desired, prolific, general queen. Hear me, life-bearing Hygeia, of beauteous mien, mother of all; by thee diseases dire, of bliss destructive, from our life retire; and every house is flourishing and fair, if with rejoicing aspect thou art there. Each daidal art thy vigorous force inspires, and all the world thy helping hand desires. Hades, life’s bane, alone resists thy will, and ever hates thy all-preserving skill. O fertile queen, from thee for ever flows to mortal life from agony repose; and men without thy all-sustaining ease find nothing useful, nothing formed to please. Without thy aid, not Hades’ self can thrive, nor man to much afflicted age arrive; for thou alone, of countenance serene, dost govern all things, universal queen. Assist thy mystics with propitious mind, and far avert disease of every kind.”
~ Orphic Hymn 68
“Hygeia, most revered of the blessed ones among mortals, may I dwell with you for what is left of my life, and may you graciously keep company with me: for any joy in wealth or in children or in a king’s godlike rule over men or in the desires which we hunt with the hidden nets of Aphrodite, any other delight or respite from toils that has been revealed by the gods to men, with you, blessed Hygeia, it flourishes and shines in the converse of the Kharites; and without you no man is happy.”
~from the Ariphron
March 23 is the fifth day of the Quinquatria. A five day Roman festival to honor Minerva which coincides with the five day Ancient Greek festival to honor Athena – her Greek counterpart. Here is a ritual designed for group participation. It can, however, be modified for the solitary practitioner.
- Colors: Blue and brown
- Elements: Air and earth
- Altar: Upon a brown cloth light five blue candles, incense, and many tools of the crafter.
- Offerings: Make something.
- Daily Meal: Let those whose craft is cooking or baking make what they will as an offering.
Quinquatria Invocation III
Bones and clay of earth,
Flesh of trees and vines,
Thread from plant and animal,
Metal drawn from the ground
And forged in fire,
Our hands are midwives
To these unformed substances,
Given to us by the grace of the Mother,
As She gifts all her children.
We birth creations of beauty
That bring a smile to the eye,
We birth creations of usefulness
Made to be seized and worked day after day,
Fitting easily into the hand
That uses them unthinkingly.
Oh, ye many gods of the sacred touch,
Grant us the power to make manifest
With these our own humble hands.
(All approach the altar and select a tool, and speak their intentions towards it. Tools are then taken outside and laid on the Earth, and the Tool Blessing is said over them. Then, for the rest of the day, craftwork will be done, or things made or repaired.)
Tool Blessing (to be spoken or chanted or sung):
Father Labor, Mother Survival,
All brown gods of work and sweat;
Strong of arm, feet on Earth,
Bless this tool in Earth I set;
Sharp and keen, firm and fine,
Never break and never bend;
Be my strength, aid my skill,
Fill my hand and be my friend.
Found in: Pagan Book of Hours
In Ancient Roman religious tradition, The Hilaria (Greek: ἱλάρια; Latin: hilaris, “hilarious”) were festivals celebrated on the vernal equinox to honor Cybele, the mother of the Gods. The Romans took this feast originally from the Greeks, who called it ΑΝΑΒΑΣΙΣ, (Ascensus)
The day of its celebration was the first after the vernal equinox, or the first day of the year which was longer than the night (usually March 22) . The winter with its gloom had died, and the first day of a better season was spent in rejoicings.
The manner of its celebration during the time of the republic is unknown, except that Valerius Maximus mentions games in honor of the mother of the gods. Respecting its celebration at the time of the empire, we learn from Herodian that, among other things, there was a solemn procession, in which the statue of the goddess was carried, and before this statue were carried the most costly specimens of plate and works of art belonging either to wealthy Romans or to the emperors themselves.
All kinds of games and amusements were allowed on this day; masquerades were the most prominent among them, and everyone might, in his disguise, imitate whomsoever he liked, and even magistrates.
Here is a nice ritual to honor Cybele on her day from the Pagan Book of Hours:
- Color: Golden
- Element: Fire
- Altar: Upon a golden cloth set five gold candles, a chalice of wine, the figure of a lioness, and a crown resembling a turreted city.
- Offerings: Lions, herbs, wild game, music.
- Daily Meal: Game birds, such as turkey, goose, pheasant, or quail. Moretum – here’s recipe: Ancient Roman Garlic Pesto.
Great Lady of the City
Protector of Civilization
Inspirer of music in the city streets
And in the high houses,
Queen upon your throne,
Guard the lands of stone and metal
Where the feet of thousands tread.
Great Lady of the Wilderness
Protector of the Wild Things
Inspirer of music in lonely places
And in the deep metro’ons,
Lioness who hunts your prey,
Guard the beleaguered lands of untouched Nature
Where few feet tread
Save for the children of Earth whose steps belong there.
You who understand both worlds,
Do not let us forget
That both are valued in your eyes
That both hold promise and treasure
And that we must learn to live in both
If we are to survive.
(Beat drum and clash cymbals during chanting.)
Magna Mater Cybele Cybele
In the Roman calendar, March was sacred to Mars. The “jumping priests,” or Salii began the Festival of the Salii on March 21 with a purification of the sacred trumpets that the Romans carried off to war. That date was originally the Roman New Year’s Day because it was the start of the growing and campaign season.
On March 21, the Salii marched to the Regia taking the bronze Ancilia, the sacred shield that had fallen down from heaven, and its 11 copies. They danced through the streets carrying poles with the shields mounted on them in their left hands. With their other hand, they banged the shields with a drumstick. Even in the time of Cicero, the Carmen Saliare they sang was so ancient that he could not understand it.
At the end of each night, they would stop at a place to be feasted before starting up again the next day. This festival would end on March 24 when they would return to the Regia and return the shields.
Found at Wikipedia
March 21 is the third day of the Quinquatria. A five day Roman festival to honor Minerva which coincides with the five day Ancient Greek festival to honor Athena – her Greek counterpart. Here is a ritual designed for group participation. It can, however, be modified for the solitary practitioner.
- Color: Blue
- Element: Air
- Altar: Upon a blue cloth lay many musical instruments, blue candles, a clear glass bowl of water, and a fan made from a bird’s wing.
- Offerings: Song and music.
- Daily Meal: Light vegetarian meal.
Quinquatria Invocation II
(to be sung)
Hail Athena, true and bright,
Sharp your blade and keen your sight,
Goddess of a Thousand Works,
Giver of the soul in flight.
Guide our touch as we reach out,
Weaver, crafter, artisan,
Guide our urge to build and make,
Guide the power of our hands.
Mentor, teacher, patient tutor,
Maker of heroes through the years
In the epic glance of history,
Giving sight to blinded seers,
Giving purpose to the wanderer,
Giving courage to the weak,
We beseech you, armored Lady,
By the Word of Power you speak,
Like the wind that blows so cold
And bright and clear through minds of grey,
Stand beside us when we falter,
Sweep our weakness clean away.
(The rest of the day should be spent in song, whatsoever has been chosen by the community as the absolute best that they can do, as an offering. Songs can be solo offerings, or as a group. Those who wish to give private offerings can play instrumental music after the main group has left.)
Found in: Pagan Book of Hours
The Festival of Navigation (March 5th) was an ancient Roman festival that celebrated Isis as the ruler over safe navigation, boats, fishing, and the final journey of life. At this festival, after an elaborate parade, a Ship of Isis filled with great offerings of incense, flowers, libations and small shrines was sent out to sea.
For an eyewitness description of this festival, visit this post: Navigium Isidis.
I do like the idea of sending out ships with offerings to Isis. And with that in mind, I’m sharing here a video tutorial on how to make a paper boat that floats on water. This small boat could be decorated with symbols or with petitions for guidance, filled small offerings, and then floated down a stream, creek, river, etc. If you don’t have access to water, you could ritually burn your boat on a bed of incense and fragrant herbs and allow the smoke to take your petitions and offerings to the goddess.
When Egypt became part of the Roman Empire, Greek merchants brought the worship of Isis from Alexandria to Rome and invoked Her as inventor of the sail, patron of navigation, and ruler of the waves.
Possibly the most well known Isiac festival of the Roman world was the Navigium Isidis, celebrated on the 5th of March. As part of the festivities, a a festive carnival procession was performed in honor of Isis, and the Vessel of Isis, laden with offerings of precious spices and milk libations, is launched.
Here is a colorful and detailed eye-witness account of the procession and the ceremony:
Soon the sun of gold arose and sent the clouds of thick night flying; and lo, a crowd of people replenished the streets, filing in triumphal religious procession. It seemed to me that the whole world, independent of my own high spirits, was happy. The dusky clouds were routed; and the heavens shone with clear sheer splendor of their native light.
Presently the vanguard of the grand procession came in view. It was composed of a number of people in fancy dress of their own choosing; a man wearing a soldier’s sword-belt; another dressed as a huntsman, a thick cloak caught up to his waist with hunting knife and javelin; another who wore gilt sandals, a wig, a silk dress and expensive jewelry and pretended to be a woman.
Then a man with heavy boots, shield, helmet and sword, looking as though he had walked straight out of the gladiators’ school; a pretended magistrate with purple robe and rods of office; a philosopher with cloak, staff, clogs and billy-goat beard; a bird catcher, carrying lime and a long reed; a fisherman with another long reed and a fish hook.
Oh, yes, and a tame she-bear, dressed like a woman, carried in a sedan chair; and an ape in a straw hat and a saffron-coloured Phrygian cloak with a gold cup grasped in its paws – a caricature of Jupiter’s beautiful cup-bearer Ganymede.
Finally an ass with wings glued to its shoulders and a doddering old man seated on its rump; you would have laughed like anything at that pair, supposed to be Pegasus and Bellerophon. These fancy-dress comedians kept running in and out of the crowd, and behind them came the procession proper.
At the head walked women crowned with flowers, who pulled more flowers out of the folds of their beautiful white dresses and scattered them along the road; their joy in the Saviouress appeared in every gesture.
Next came women with polished mirrors tied to the backs of their heads, which gave all who followed them the illusion of coming to meet the Goddess, rather than marching before her.
Next, a party of women with ivory combs in their hands who made a pantomime of combing the Goddess’s royal hair, and another party with bottles of perfume who sprinkled the road with balsam and other precious perfumes; and behind these a mixed company of women and men who addressed the Goddess as “Daughter of the Stars” and propitiated her by carrying every sort of light – lamps, torches, wax-candles and so forth.
Next came musicians with pipes and flutes, followed by a party of carefully chosen choir-boys singing a hymn in which an inspired poet had explained the origin of the procession.
The temple pipers of the great god Serapis were there too, playing their religious anthem on pipes with slanting mouth-pieces and tubes curving around their right ears; also a number of beadles and whiffers crying: “Make way there, way for the Goddess!”
Then followed a great crowd of the Goddess’s initiates, men and women of all classes and every age, their pure white linen clothes shining brightly. The women wore their hair tied up in glossy coils under gauze head-dresses; the men’s heads were completely shaven, representing the Goddess’s bright earthly stars, and they carried rattles of brass, silver and even gold, which kept up a shrill and ceaseless tinkling.
The leading priests, also clothed in white linen drawn tight across their breasts and hanging down to their feet, carried the oracular emblems of the deity. The High Priest held a bright lamp, which was not at all like the lamps we use at night banquets; it was a golden boat-shaped affair with a tall tongue of flame mounting from a hole in the centre.
The second priest held an auxiliaria, or sacrificial pot, in each of his hands – the name refers to the Goddess’s providence in helping her devotees. The third priest carried a miniature palm-tree with gold leaves, also the serpent wand of Mercury. The fourth carried the model of a left hand with the fingers stretched out, which is an emblem of justice because the left hand, with its natural slowness and lack of any craft or subtlety, seems more impartial than the right. He also held a golden vessel, rounded in the shape of a woman’s breast, from the nipple of which a thin stream of milk fell to the ground. The fifth carried a winnowing fan woven with golden rods, not osiers. Then came a man, not one of the five, carrying a wine-jar.
Next in the procession followed those deities that deigned to walk on human feet. Here was the frightening messenger of the gods of Heaven, and of the gods of the dead: Anubis with a face black on one side, golden on the other, walking erect and holding his herald’s wand in one hand, and in the other a green palm branch. Behind, danced a man carrying on his shoulders, seated upright, the statue of a cow, representing the Goddess as the fruitful Mother of us all.
Then along came a priest with a box containing the secret implements of her wonderful cult. Another fortunate priest had an ancient emblem of her godhead hidden in the lap of his robe; this was not make in the shape of any beast, wild or tame, or any bird or human being, but the exquisite beauty of its workmanship no less than the originality of its design called for admiration and awe.
It was a symbol of the sublime and ineffable mysteries of the Goddess, which are never to be divulged a small vessel of burnished gold, upon which Egyptian hieroglyphics were thickly crowded with a rounded bottom, a long spout, and a generously curving handle along which sprawled an asp, raising his head and displaying its scaly, wrinkled, puffed-out throat…
Meanwhile the pageant moved slowly on and we approached the sea shore… There the divine emblems were arranged in due order and there with solemn prayers the chaste lipped priest consecrated and dedicated to the Goddess a beautifully built ship, with Egyptian hieroglyphics painted over the entire hull; but first he carefully purified it with a lighted torch, an egg and sulphur. The sail was shining white linen, inscribed in large letters with the prayer for the Goddess’s protection of shipping during the new sailing season.
The long fir mast with its shining head was now stepped, and we admired the gilded prow shaped like the neck of Isis’s sacred goose, and the long, highly-polished keel cut from a solid trunk of citrus-wood. Then all present, both priesthood and laity, began zealously stowing aboard winnowing-fans heaped with aromatics and other votive offerings and poured an abundant stream of milk into the sea as a libation.
When the ship was loaded with generous gifts and prayers for good fortune, they cut the anchor cables and she slipped across the bay with a serene breeze behind her that seemed to have sprung up for her sake alone. When she stood so far out to sea that we could no longer keep her in view, the priests took up the sacred emblems again and started happily back towards the temple, in the same orderly procession as before.
On our arrival the High Priest and the priests who carried the oracular emblems were admitted into the Goddess’s sanctuary with other initiates and restored them to their proper places. Then one of them, known as the Doctor of Divinity, presided at the gate of the sanctuary over a meeting of the Shrine-bearers, as the highest order of the priests of Isis are called. He went up into a high pulpit with a book and read out a Latin blessing upon “our liege lord, the Emperor, and upon the Senate, and upon the Order of Knights, and upon the Commons of Rome, and upon all sailors and all ships who owe obedience to the aforesaid powers.”
Then he uttered the traditional Greek formula, “Ploeaphesia”, meaning that vessels were now permitted to sail, to which the people responded with a great cheer and dispersed happily to their homes, taking all kinds of decorations with them; such as olive boughs, scent shrubs and garlands of flowers, but first kissing the feet of a silver statue of the Goddess that stood on the temple steps.
From: The Golden Ass
In ancient Roman religion, the Matronalia (or Matronales Feriae) was a festival celebrating Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth (“Juno who brings children into the light”), and of motherhood (mater is “mother” in Latin) and women in general. In the original Roman calendar traditionally thought to have been established by Romulus, it was the first day of the year. As the first day of March (Martius), the month of Mars, it was also the Feriae Martis.
The date of the festival was associated with the dedication of a temple to Juno Lucina on the Esquiline Hill circa 268 BCE, and possibly also a commemoration of the peace between the Romans and the Sabines. On the day, women would participate in rituals at the temple, although the details have not been preserved other than the observation that they wore their hair loose (when Roman decorum otherwise required them to wear it up), and were not allowed to wear belts or to knot their clothing in any place.
At home, women received gifts from their husbands and daughters, and Roman husbands were expected to offer prayers for their wives. Women were also expected to prepare a meal for the household slaves (who were given the day off work), as Roman men did at the Saturnalia.
This annual “festival of women” was held in honor of Juno Luciana, a goddess who watched over married women and those in childbirth. This aspect of Juno was associated with childbirth. The name lucina was thought to have come from the Latin word lux (light); thus, when a child was born it was said to have been “brought to light”.
In this aspect the goddess was a lunar deity, often paired with Diana and depicted as holding a torch. In the worship of Juno Lucina, women untied knots and unplaited their hair – sympathetic magic to prevent entanglements in the delivery of babies. She was in charge of newborn infants, and a woman in labor might make offerings to her so that she would have a safe delivery of a healthy child.
Women and girls prayed to her and brought offerings for prosperity in marriage. Gifts were exchanged, people feasted on similla, cakes decorated it with 12 balls of marzipan around the edges. and everyone treated the ladies exceptionally well on this day. Cakes with a similar name, simnel cakes, are associated with Mothering Sunday in England from which Mothers’ Day is derived.
Children of all ages were expected to pay a formal visit to their mothers and to bring a Simnel cake as a gift. In return, the mothers gave their children a special blessing. This custom was so well-established that masters were required to give servants enough time off to visit out-of-town mothers – provided the trip did not exceed 5 days!
Juno was the Roman Mother Goddess, known to the Greeks as Hera, and her original name to the Romans was Junonius. Juno is a counterpart of Janus and the divine watcher over the female sex, so this month is considered the best time to marry. As Juno Moneta, guardian of wealth and money, she had a temple on the Capitoline hill in Rome where the empire’s coins were minted.
Among Juno’s attributes, she is queen of heaven, approximating Frigg in the Northern Tradition, and Mary in the Christian. She is ruler of the high point of year, when there is maximum light and minimum darkness (the northern Summer Solstice).
Later on, Matronalia evolved into Mother’s Day in Europe, and was shifted to the fourth Sunday of Lent. During the Middle Ages, those who had moved away from home would return on this day to their “mother” church, visiting their families who still remained in the village. Servants were allowed to pick flowers from their masters’ gardens, and given the day off to return home; hence, the custom of bringing one’s mother some flowers on Mother’s Day.
In the United States, Mother’s Day actually falls in May, and is held in honor of humanitarian work carried out by women during the Civil War.