Ancient Roman Festivals

On 10 May, and again on 31 May, the Roman legions at Duro Europa celebrated the Rosalia. This again connects the flowers of Spring with rituals for the dead, only this time the rituals were performed by military units for their fallen comrades rather than for family members. We learn of this celebration first with a military calendar from Syria.

We do not know if the Rosalia was celebrated on the same dates by other legions throughout the Roman Empire, but we hear descriptions of the Rosalia in other texts suggesting that the Rosalia was common in the Roman army. Since the military calendar differs from other Roman calendars, it is possible that it represents a standard used among all legions. Then again each legion may have had its own schedule of festivals. However, since the month of May was dedicated to the dead, with Lemuria, it would seem reasonable that a military equivalent fell within the same month.

Here’s what we do know:

At the center of every Roman military camp there was a small shrine, the saculum. Inside this shrine the military standards were kept; these were the legion’s eagle and other standards for the maniples, cohorts, or vexilia. As with Roman temples, an altar was placed in front of the sacullum. At Rosalia the standards were brought forth and placed around the altar. They were crowned with wreaths of roses and a supplication, or thanksgiving, was performed before them.  Beyond that one detail, nothing else is certain about this military ritual.  But from its nature we can surmise something of its intent.

When someone died far from home, whether while serving in the army or away at sea, and thus was unable to be buried by his family, a cenotaphium would be erected as a dwelling place for his soul.  His Lar (soul) was called three times and invited to enter the cenotaphium. For example, when Aeneas meets his deceased friend Deiphobus in the Underworld, he says,

“Then I myself on the Rhoetean shore erected a hollow tomb, and with loud voice thrice called upon thy spirit (Virgil, Aeneid).”


On the Nones (7 May) the tombs of ancestors were decorated with wreaths of roses.  With their red hues, the roses were offered to the dead as a gesture of reviving them, or at least of remembering how they were once while still alive.  The red roses were the flowers of Venus, and they were a reminder of the Garden of Venus where the souls of the dead, as animae, would dwell as Her children, like little cupids living in the Blessed Isles.  So offering roses to the Manes was a way of wishing their safe journey on to the Garden of Venus.

There is not much doubt that the Rosalia was intended to honor the military dead.  The standards were being adorned with roses in the same manner as tombs and cenotaphs.  With the Romans I think you would also have to consider that they thought of the standards as cenotaphia that carried the Lares of the legion, who were the spirits of their fellow soldiers, into battle with them.  This would also explain why the loss of the eagles would be taken as such a tragedy by Romans. Perhaps it also explains why the second century Christian writer Tertullian criticized this veneration of the standards.

The Rosalia was continued, however, even after the Roman army adopted Christianity. Something of the Rosalia remains even today in the parading of the colors of modern armies, where they are decorated with battle ribbons to commemorate where a unit has fought, as well as all the men who have served and died with the unit in the past. Laying a wreath of roses on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day is an echo of the Rosalia once performed by Roman legions.

Found at: Patheos

The Lemuria, the festival in honor of the Lemures, the spirits of dead family members who wander the earth on these three spring nights (May 9, 11, and 13).

The Lemuria is held on odd-numbered days because even-numbered days are considered unlucky. It is a festival designed to honor the Lemures, they are regarded as baleful spirits of the dead who died violent or otherwise untimely deaths.


At midnight, the Paterfamilias (head of the household) arises and dresses with no knots, buckles, or other constricting items on his person (thus he is barefoot). He makes the sign of the mano fico with his hands (a fist with the thumb placed between the index and middle fingers; a sign of good luck and fertility) and then washes his hands in pure water. He then walks through the house, spitting out nine black beans, being careful not to look behind him as the lemures accept the beans as a sort of ransom for the living members of the household. As he spits out each one, he says

“With these beans I redeem me and mine.”

Once all nine beans have been accepted by the lemures and the entire house walked through, the Paterfamilias then washes his hands again, clashes two vessels of bronze together, and nine times says

“Ghosts of my fathers, be gone.”
(Manes exite paternae.)

Source: Novaroma

According to many pagan calendars, May 8th is listed as “The Festival of Mens , the Roman goddess of mind and consciousness.” I did not, however, find any information on Mens or on a festival of Mens – what I did find was this small excerpt at Wikipedia:

By a process of folk etymology, the Romans could have confused the phones of her foreign name with those of the root men- in Latin words such as mens meaning “mind”, perhaps because one of her aspects as goddess pertained to the intellectual. The word mens is built from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- ‘mind’ (linked with memory as in Greek Mnemosyne; memory, remembrance, recollection, Manush in Sanskrit meaning mind ).

Because of this, I can only assume that the Festival of Mens is actually a Festival of Minerva, Goddess of wisdom and learning, meditation, inventiveness, accomplishments, the arts, spinning and weaving, and commerce. Minerva was identified with Pallas Athene, bestower of victory, when Pompey the Great built her temple with the proceeds from his eastern campaigns.

The Romans celebrated her festival from March 19 to March 23 during the day which is called, in the neuter plural, Quinquatria, the fifth after the Ides of March, the nineteenth, an artisans’ holiday . A lesser version, the Minusculae Quinquatria, was held on the Ides of June, June 13, by the flute-players, who were particularly useful to religion.

Source: Wikipedia

bondea

The Bona Dea had a festival on the first of May that commemorated the date her Aventine temple was founded.  Its date connects her to Maia; its location connects her to Rome’s plebeian commoner class.  At the ceremony, prayers were made to Her to avert earthquakes. She also had a secret festival, attended only by women, that took place over the night of the 3rd and 4th of May.

The rites are inferred as some form of mystery, concealed from the public gaze and, according to most later Roman literary sources, entirely forbidden to men.

On this night the festival was held in the house of the consul (the chief elected official), and no men were allowed. This taboo extended even to paintings or statues of men, which were required to be covered during the rites—and one assumes the consul himself crashed at a friend’s place for the night. The Vestal Virgins officiated, led by the wife of the consul (probably symbolic of the ancient Queen, on whom fell certain sacred religious duties), and the house was decorated like a temple with garlands of leaves and flowers of all kinds, except for myrtle of course, and the women wore wreaths of grape leaves.

A great jar of wine was placed in the room, though it must be referred to as “milk”, and the jar itself was called a mellarium, or “honey jar.” After making libations to the Goddess, music was played and the women drank and danced.

In the Republican era, Bona Dea’s Aventine festivals were probably distinctly plebeian affairs, open to all classes of women and perhaps, in some limited fashion, to men. By the Late Republic era, Bona Dea’s May festival and Aventine temple could have fallen into official disuse, or official disrepute.

The goddess also had a Winter festival (see it here), it was held in December during the Faunalia, and was referred to as the sacra opertum, (“the secret or hidden sacrifice”): at this ritual sacrifices were made for the benefit of all the people of Rome, something proper to the realm of a mother or Earth Goddess who is concerned with the well-being of all of Her children.

Ritual for Bona Dea:

  • Color: Green
  • Element: Earth
  • Offerings: Leave a pig-shaped cookie out for the wild things.
  • Daily Meal: Soups or stews, preferably with herbs. Herbal tea.

Altar:

Upon a green cloth set five candles in different colors, a chalice of milk mixed with honey, incense of sandalwood and myrrh, the figure of a snake, a plate of cookies shaped like pigs, a pot of medicinal herbal tea, cups, and pots of dried herbs gathered throughout the year.

Invocation to Bona Dea

O Bona Dea,
Good Goddess of the Earth
Whose name is mystery,
Whose name is a hundred names,
Whose spirit lives in us all
And in every goddess who touches the soil,
And in every mortal who sprang from the clay,
Be with us on this day!
You have made the Earth spring forth
With many green goods for us,
Not merely those with which me feed our bellies,
But also those which heal our bodies.
Lady who heals us, godmother of Hygeia,
Daughter of Faunus who tracks in the wild,
We find your gifts both in our gardens
And on the wild paths where you have trodden.
We see the healing herbs springing up
In each of your passing footprints,
And we are grateful for our lives.
O Bona Dea,
Good Goddess of the Earth
Whose name is mystery
But whose gifts are so concrete,
We revere you and ask that you bless this day
Your plants which you have so generously given us,
That we may always be healed
And always help to heal others.

The names of the herbs that were collected and placed on the altar are called out one by one, in this manner:

“For the power of Rosemary, we are grateful!”
All reply in turn, “We are grateful!”

Pass the tea and cookies and eat them.

Sources: Pagan Book of Hours and Wikipedia

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.
~Ovid

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

About Fortuna:

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.)

Chant:

Venus Veritas
Amor Amor

Source: Wikipedia and Pagan Book of Hours

March 30 is the Festival of Salus, the Roman goddess of public safety, health and welfare.

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.

Invocation to Cybele

Magna Mater
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.
Magna Mater
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.
Magna Mater,
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.)

Chant:

Magna Mater Cybele Cybele

Source: Wikipedia

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

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