This month: February

February is a month of purification whose name derives from Februus; the opposite has also been suggested, i.e. the month originated the god as a personification of the rites of Februalia. In any case, it was the eve of the old Roman New Year, which started in March, and that meant a time of cleansing and renewal of family bonds. It remained so even after the start of the year was moved to January.

The Calends, sacred to Juno, are on the first day of the month, the Nones on 5th and the Ides, sacred to Jupiter, are on the 13th. The first Wednesday is dedicated to Mercury, the 19th to Minerva, and the 21st to Ingui. The 2nd, 6th, and 14th days are unlucky.

February 2: Dies Laris Patriae
A Day of a Lar of the Homeland is the anniversary of a national historical figure I admire and whose genius I worship as a communal ancestor. In this case, it’s the birthday of Damião de Góis, a 16th century Portuguese humanist and one of the great European minds of his time. February 2 is a dies ater, but I can neither change that nor the date of his birth, so I pay my respects to Damião with a candle and incense, adding perhaps some laurel or a flower wreath and a reading from one his works. Ideally, I should have an image of him and my other Lares Patriae in my Lararium, but the mantelpiece has limited space, so for the time being I just set up temporary shrines.

February 7: Cinocefalia
The festival of the dog-headed is not an historical celebration, but my newly-created way of integrating Anubis into my religious life. The choice of name is self-explanatory, though it took me a while to get there; the date resulted from a mixture of Roman and Egyptian elements: February is a month marked by ceremonies to the dead, which fits well into Anubis’ role of psychopomp and guardian of the grave, and seven is an odd and therefore magical number, so the 7th day was both special and practical, since it’s evenly between two celebrations.

Ritual practices for the Cinocefalia are still a work in progress. At the very least, a candle and incense are offered to Anubis and a meal is shared with Him in front of a decorated shrine. Flowers may also be given to the god and then be taken to a family grave. The wearing of dog masks is an idea that keeps popping in my mind, together with some sort of game – especially one in which canine pets can take part – but I’m still working on that. Donations to animal shelters, any activity in favour of orphans, leaving out food for stray dogs, or even adopting one are also things to consider for the Cinocefalia.

February 13-21: Parentalia
This is an ancient Roman celebration in honour of the dead, lasting a total of nine days during which graves were visited and offerings made to one’s ancestors. It culminated with the Feralia on the 21st and was followed by the Caristia, which was also a family feast, but this time with the living and divine family members.

If possible, I visit the graves of family members and pets, cleaning them, pouring libations of wine or milk, and leaving flowers. At last once, but several times between the 13th and 21st is also a good idea. During that period, more frugal meals and an unshaved face are preferred, though this will naturally be influenced by one’s professional and social life.

In a way, it is appropriate that the end of the Parentalia falls on my monthly devotional to Ingui: as a god of life He has a hand in its renewal, both through death and procreation, so it is a happy coincidence that I honour Him on the last day dedicated to the dead and on the eve of the feast of the living and divine ancestors. Ingui stands between the old and the new generations.

February 22: Caristia
This is a day to honour the Family Lares around a table set for a feast. The ancestors’ shrine should be decorated, offerings made, and family stories told. A meal should be shared with as many relatives as possible to break the frugality of the previous days and celebrate the renewal of bonds with one’s kin, both living and deceased.

Naturally, the Parentalia and Caristia celebrations depend largely on the available time and where you are. If I’m abroad and unable to travel, a family meal or a visit to the cemetery will be impossible; if the latter of the two festivals doesn’t fall on a weekend, it will probably be harder to gather many relatives around the same table. If that’s the case, at the very least the ancestors’ shrine should be decorated appropriately: soberly and with dark tones during Parentalia, richly and colourfully during Caristia. Meals can follow the same pattern.

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