Honouring the Sacred King

Midsummer has come and gone and again I paid tribute to Ingui-Freyr as Sacred King at the high point of the solar cycle. It was a chance to strengthen practices I’ve been keeping for over a decade, experiment others and continue the work of building a Latinized cult to Him and other Vanir gods. As part of that effort, I like to imagine how the perfect celebration would be and then take it as a model for what I actually do. It helps building consistency into a festivity that lasts several days and can easily become a series of loose practices with litle unifying logic. I bring this up every few years, but ideally, this what my perfect midsummer celebration would look like.

A horn is blown at sunset before the day of the solstice and at night a procession takes over the streets. There’s joyful music, torches, flags with golden boars and people dressed as elves. Among them moves a wheeled ship that carries a statue of Freyr. The Lord has come out of His temple and parades through the streets towards a temporary midsummer shrine, accompanied by the folk of Alfheim. People welcome them by hanging wreaths on the doors, candles by the windows, cloths and flags, and setting up small tables outside with food offerings for the elves. The morning after, when the midsummer sun rises, a horn is blown again, announcing the start of the longest day of the year, and there’s a fully formal sacrifice to Lord Ingui, by then already housed in a temporary shrine. It is followed by a second procession, this time of a wooden pole that’s carried through the streets and raised in front of the temporary shrine to the tune of phallic chants (like this one). And then there’s a meal open to all who wish to eat at the god’s table or under His pole and toast to Him or any other god/dess. People dance, tell jokes, make libations or may bring additional offerings that are placed near the image and/or burned at a temporary altar. In the afternoon, the statue of Freyr is paraded once more, stopping several times to attend devotional gestures out in the streets – dance, poetry, small plays, floral and food offerings placed inside the wheeled ship – until He returns to the temporary shrine, where a new meal is prepared, another formal sacrifice performed and then people dine and dance around the pole throughout the night. Again, toasts and libations to any deity are freely made by individuals as they see fit. The day after the solstice is all about divination. The god has joined us and been honoured by us, so now people to come to Him with questions and requests. And after that, before the sun sets, a final sacrifice is performed and the image carried back to the temple in a new procession, again accompanied by elves, flags, torches and joyful music, thus ending three days of celebration.

Solstício 20115

This year, taking the above as a model, I marked sunset of midsummer’s eve by blowing a horn nine times and afterwards lighted a golden candle in my domestic shrine to Freyr, hanged a wreath on the front door and two lamps on the balcony wall, under which I set up a small table with offerings to the elves of Alfheim. In the morning after, I blew the horn once more to salute the midsummer sun as I watched it rise from a nearby hill. In past years, I also raised a pole on the same site, but this year I decided to forgo that element and am considering raising it indoors, as one would with the Yule tree. Which means I should be carving the pole and decorate it lavishly. Before lunch, I performed a formal sacrifice to Freyr and presented Him with a wreath I then placed on His domestic shrine. The offerings to the elves were also disposed of in the sacrificial fire. And in the afternoon, I took my bike and rode it to the beach, stopping four times along the way to pour libations to Lord Ingui on farming fields, ringing a small bell every time. The day after, I presented Freyr with juice and honey and later drew a card from a deck I’m experimenting with as a divining tool. And with a final salute, I concluded the midsummer celebrations.

There are more things I’d like to try, more ideas running through my head, but this is a slow process of building a consistent Latinized tradition, so I’m taking it step by step and with a lot of trial and error. Traditions aren’t born traditional: they’re made by persistent practice that survives the test of time and the more approachable and solidly built they are, the better their chances. The next step is to publish a post on a Latinized rite to Norse deities – should come out next week – and down the road I should be putting everything together into one more or less consistent whole with a name of its own. But more on that later.

Hope you had a great midsummer!

Done and published!

After working on it for months, I finally finished a brief overview of the main topics of modern Roman polytheism, to be found in the top menu of this blog. As mentioned in the text, it’s not a crash course on the cultus deorum, but a brief presentation meant to show where it stands in the world of religions and for the benefit of both fellow polytheists – especially the newbies – and non-polytheists. It may still have a few typos and it’s naturally open to modifications, if necessary.

In Pax Deorum!

We’re here! Estamos aqui!

I’m breaking my blogging fast after a very hectic month to make an announcement aimed at all the Portuguese polytheists out there: there’s a group for us on Facebook. I know there are several Portuguese pagan groups on it already, but that’s the thing: they’re self-identified as pagan and hence draw a very eclectic crowd that includes wiccans, ritualists of an esoteric flavour and people who are more interested in folklore and renaissance fairs than in actually practicing polytheism. Nothing against those groups, by the way, but if we want to get things going and come up with a more organized community, we need to know what do we stand for and how many of us are there. The last Asatru World Census recorded 64 heathens in Portugal, which coupled with at least a handful of practitioners of other traditions means that there may be at least one hundred or so of us in the country. And yet most of us never heard of each other, let alone actually meeting each other and organizing ourselves. The closest thing to a polytheist organization in Portugal is the Pagan Federation, which is a text-book case of misrepresentation and bad or non-existent scholarship. For crying out loud, they still define “paganism” as a faith and nature religion that venerates the Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine.

If we don’t represent ourselves, others will (mis)represent us. But in order to speak for ourselves, we must first know how many of us are there and where in the country. Only then, when we have enough numbers, can we start building a community with all its diversity of traditions, first informally, but hopefully, sometime in the future, in a more organized fashion. So if you’re Portuguese and practice one or more forms of traditional European or Mediterranean polytheism, please join the Comunidade Politeísta Portuguesa on Facebook. And if you’re not Portuguese, please spread the word.

CPP

Again, nothing against it, but we’re not a wiccan group. We don’t recognize ourselves in an esoteric paganism of eight annual festivals, magic circles and more or less explicit duotheism. Nor are we a nationalist or even political group. Our purpose is to gather those who follow traditional European and Mediterranean polytheisms, not wiccans or people with political aspirations. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

Sacrifice: the act of making sacred

The modern notion of sacrifice implies letting go of something precious, but the ancient meaning of the word has a more legal tone. To sacrifice was simply to make (facio) sacred (sacer), i.e. to make something property of the Gods. It is the religious equivalent of a transaction of goods – any goods, even those that are not particularly precious. And just as in everyday life there are formal and informal transactions, the same applies to our dealings with the Gods: just as you can offer a friend a drink or something in return for a symbolic price, you can pour beverage or wheat on the floor as an informal offering; just as in your everyday life you may sell or buy something in the presence of a lawyer, using official paperwork or a written contract that’s legally binding, you can make more formal offerings by means of a ceremony, due tributes to witnesses and a formally acknowledged agreement. And the latter can happen even when you’re dealing with friends or relatives, like when you sell a car, buy a house or acquire a plot of land. These things require a formal transfer of property rights, the religious equivalent of which is the formal sacrifice.

Several months ago, after a debate on the matter in the Roman Revivalist group on Facebook, I started reviewing the usual structure of my Roman and Greek rites and have been experimenting with it ever since. Of course, as follows from what I said in the previous paragraph, a formal rite is not something I use every day or every time I make an offering. There is room for informal acts of worship and devotion, but there are also occasions when formality is called for. That’s the case with yearly festivities, which are a bit like birthdays or weddings: they take place only once a year or less and are therefore special, deserving a greater attention. And on other, more common occasions, the fully formal rite still remains useful by supplying a model for more simplified acts of worship.

So after brainstorming for a few months, I came up with my reviewed version of the Roman and Greek rites. It’s comprised of three parts: praefatio, sacrificium and postfacio; simply put, before making, making sacred and after making. The second section is subdivided into several moments, since it is the focal and therefore more complex stage of a ceremony. The result is a ritual structure that I find to be more balanced and fluid than the previous version.

***
Ritus Romanus/Graecus
1. Praefatio
After covering my head with a hood, scarf or a small towel and depending on the level of formality, I offer prayers and one or two offerings – normally incense and/or wine – to Janus, the god of beginnings, Vesta, who presides over the ritual fire (and is offered milk instead of wine), and Jupiter, who is asked to testify the ceremony.

2. Sacrificium
At this point, if I’m using the Greek rite, I uncover my head. If not, it remains covered.

    a. The main deity of the ceremony is invited. A prayer is uttered or, if it’s in Greek rite, a hymn taken or based on the Homeric Hymns. The reasons for the ceremony are stated (e.g. on this Saturnalia) and a welcoming offering is made (e.g. libation, incense or a bay leaf);
    b. The main offerings are listed, followed by a request to the god/dess, even if only a general one for His/Her blessings;
    *c. This step is the old immolatio and it applies only if I consecrate food I then wish to partake of (e.g. a bread or cake). To that effect, I sprinkle it with salted flour and pass a knife or spoon over the offering, before cutting a slice to be given to the deity;
    d. The offerings are placed or poured into the ritual fire, bowl, ground or water one by one with a short prayer;
    e. After giving the offerings, it is necessary to know if they were accepted. Some form of divination is therefore required and, depending on the result, the ceremony may go back to point b. or an expiatory offering may be presented (e.g. a libation or a stick of incense). At least the latter needs to be done if no divination system is resorted to;
    f. Once the main deity has been honoured, I can make supplementary offerings, normally to my ancestors, house genii and Mercury, but occasionally to more gods and goddesses. For instance, in the case of the New Year ceremony, this is the point where I also pay tribute to ten other deities that are in some way related to my household (Juno for my mother, Hercules for my father, Diana for our dogs, Minerva for successful work, etc.). If it’s an annual ceremony that falls on the Calends, Nones or Ides, this is also when I dispose of the monthly offerings;
    *g. Another optional step. If I perform an immolatio (c.), I must then perform a profanation by which the rest of the consecrated offering is made available for human consumption. In other words, it must be ritually deconsecrated, which is achieved by touching it while uttering a prayer;
    h. Just in case, I make an extra expiatory offering at this stage before moving on to the closing section of the ceremony;

3. Postfacio
If the ceremony is conducted in Greek rite, at this point I once again cover my head. The closing section consists of offerings of gratitude to the same deities honoured in the opening, but in reversed order: first Jupiter, then Vesta and finally Janus, who presides over the end of the ceremony just as He presided over its beginning. Like a gatekeeper, He opens and closes a door.

***
Again, this is not for daily acts of worship, but for annual or special festivities only. I use a more simplified version when I dispose of the offerings made on the Calends, Nones, Ides and other monthly occasions and, in certain circumstances, further adaptations may be required. For instance, if I am unable to use a ritual fire, the offerings to Vesta are dropped; if I perform a ceremony to infernal gods, I replace Janus with Mercury. Last but not least, I’m also using this structure to build a Latinized rite to Norse deities. That, however, is still being worked out and is a topic for another blogpost.

I wonder…

Ullr genealogy

Let me be clear: though there are suggestions of a connection between Freyr and Ullr in academic circles, the above genealogical table has absolutely no academic value! It is purely based on a dream and some subsequent thinking. It’s meant for modern religious consumption only, though it’s not even remotely clear if it has any value whatsoever as modern lore. Still, there you have it and there’s more going through my mind as I write this. As if I didn’t have enough topics to brainstorm on.

Dreaming of half siblings

At the start of this month, I had an idea for my Freyr shrine that involved redecorating and expanding it to include up to five statues, in essence making it a place where I can concentrate the northern part of my religious practices, which has been expanding from a few Vanir to a more diverse group of deities. Not sure if it’s just me feeling more secure about it and therefore less hesitant about increasing the number of Norse gods in my domestic pantheon or if it’s like opening a floodgate and once you start Latinizing one of them, you end up having others in line.

In any case, since the shrine has been Freyr’s for over a decade now, I naturally want to preserve his focal status. This means that his statue should be at the centre and on a higher level than all the others, but it also amounts to making a new and smaller image of Freyr, as the current one is too big for a shelf that may house as many as five. Currently, the other gods I’m considering are Freya and Njord, which shouldn’t be a problem, plus Thor and Ullr. The former has been under consideration for some time now, but the latter is an old soft-spot of mine who has so far remained outside my practices. That may change in the near future and I wonder if there’s an element of intra-divine relationships to it, for if my devotion to Freyr brought his father and sister into my domestic pantheon, it is perhaps unsurprising that worshiping Thor results in his stepson stepping in.

So, in order to know if I have his approval for all of this, for the past few days I’ve been asking Freyr if He is willing to share his shrine with the aforementioned deities and if a centre-stage position is agreeable to Him. And for the past two nights, I’ve been having dreams about clay statues of the gods breaking or falling apart, which could be my mind fabricating things out of current thoughts or it may have a meaning that I’m not yet sure about. Tonight’s however was an exceptionally intriguing dream, because it included a piece of information that’s not in the known lore: that Ullr is Freyr’s half-brother.

I did not see that one coming! Is there anyone out there with a similar UPG?

Going postal (in a good way)

Since He openly stepped into my life four years ago, communication between Mercury and me has often taken the form of moments of luck. This may come across as odd for those of you not in a polytheistic mindset and yes, this is highly subjective. But it adds up, in that in times of doubt, decision or mercurial significance, things have happened: I find money on the floor in public spaces, I win small lottery prizes, I loose things and find others shortly after. And while I treasure every single one of those moments, this form of communication has nonetheless its limitations and allows for little more than a “yes”, “no” or “heads up”. So I need a divination method that’s practical, easy to use for a non-spirit worker like me and rich enough to allow for a more complex “dialogue” with Mercury. So I did some research, looked at what others are doing, mind stormed a bit and came up with something new that’s based on the historical sortes, a form of bibliomancy where sentences from Homer or Virgil were “randomly” picked, but also owes a great deal to Sannion’s Oracle of the Doors.

GP
I called it the Postal Oracle, which is both a tribute to the god of messengers and a reference to the source of the material: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (may he be honoured and feast with his ancestors!). The choice of book is not without mercurial significance, for a trickster is essentially a transgressor and there’s something subversive in sortes taken not from classical authors so often placed on a pedestal, but from modern satirical fiction about a con-man who escapes death and is placed in charge of a decrepit postal service he cunningly manages to revive. It’s witty, funny and a tribute to man’s resourcefulness and ability to act smart, even if not in an honest manner. And the postmaster wears a golden suit with a winged cap – an avatar of a god, one of the characters says. It’s all well within Mercury’s realm.

Of course, I wanted to make sure He was on board with this, so almost a year ago I offered Him incense, explained Him the whole idea and asked for a sign of approval, should He agree and be willing to guide me through the selection of the sentences. A few days later, things happened: I got a small prize out of a lottery ticket and my mother lost a two euro coin, which turned out to be at home, right next to Pratchett’s book, which I was keeping close to Mercury’s shrine. And it wasn’t just any coin: it was an Italian two Euro coin, which has Dante’s laurel-crowned head on it. An acclaimed writer, in other words, which I took as a sign of approval of the source material. Several days later, I also had dreams that involved coloured stars and dice.

Now, my initial thought was to use bibliomancy to pick the sentences, but that didn’t turn out well. I hesitate too much and after several dozen picks, creasing starts having a say on which pages you open. As I struggled with this, I had a dream that involved a Terry Pratchett title and book cover: the words were Carpe Jugulum, but the image was from Maskerade. I wondered if this meant I should take a look at those two books, but then it occurred to me that the mismatch between title and cover could mean that I shouldn’t combine the two. Rather, I thought, it may well mean that I should stay within Pratchett’s universe, but seize the throat, i.e. pick the words myself. Which is what I did and, several months later, when I finished going through Going Postal, I did the math and found out I had unintentionally written down 444 sentences. Message received!

Another issue I had to solve was the type and number of dice. Early on, I decided I wanted them to have different colours, for dice don’t normally come out in a straight line, so I need a way of knowing which one stands for the units, dozens and hundreds. My initial idea was to use four six-sided dice, which meant I would have to list 1296 sentences, but since I had only 444 when I finished going through the book, I knew I needed to rethink that. The solution presented itself shortly after: keep things as much as possible in multiples of 4. It was obvious, but I missed it in the middle of all the mind storming. So I’ll be using four eight-sided dices, three of which will have numbers from 1 to 8, allowing for a total of 512 answers (5+2+1=8). The fourth dice will be different and should have two symbols four times: one will mean that the god has nothing else to say and the other that I should draw again to add more sentences to the reply. That way I won’t have to rely on pure instinct to decide whether to throw the dice again and Mercury can talk all He wants (and rumour has it that He can be very chatty). The colours will be those I dreamed of: red for the units, blue for the dozens, green for the hundreds an white for the more/enough.

Starting tomorrow and then on the first Wednesday of every month, I’ll be using the Postal Oracle to seek advice or divine what will happen during the month. I’ll be writing everything down and analyse it as an experiment for at least a year, so as to see if the system works as it is, if it needs a few changes and if Mercury’s approves the final version. Putting it all together has led me to conclude that divination is a matter of shared language: you give the Gods enough vocabulary they can work with and they’ll use it to the best of its ability and according to their will. And just as with any language, both sides need to understand it and know how to use it, which requires practice. So I’ll be practising and I’ll be open to suggestions from Mercury. I reckon this is going to be an interesting ride.