Ludi Mercuriales

Mercurius 24

It’s hard for a Mercury devotee to go through April without putting together a feast to the Swift One. Of all the numbers, four is the closest to Him, as indicated by the Greek practice of honouring Hermes on the fourth day of every month and the Latin name for the fourth day of the week. Since April is the fourth month of the year, I kind of get the feeling that I should be doing something or that it’s a waste of a good moment if I don’t. Especially the fourth day of April, so charged with numeric symbolism and so close to April’s Fool, itself an appropriate occasion for a trickster. And then it occurred to me that I should be doing a four day-long festival to Mercury, from April 1 to 4.

Thus the Ludi Mercuriales were conceived a couple of weeks ago. Obviously not an ancient festival and I don’t know if other devotees out there have come up with a similar idea. And the name isn’t exactly original, since it simply follows the pattern of historical Roman games or ludi in honour of other gods – e.g. the Ludi Apollinares or the Ludi Floralis. Then again, ludus also the broader meaning of fun and games. And Mercury’s are many: races and trials of agility, pranks, word-play and translations, tours, trekking, rhetoric, theatre, music, divination, games of chance, sexual innuendos and yes, sex! All appropriate things to do on the first four days of April for the glory and amusement of the God of Winged Feet. And don’t forget a festive amount of food, especially if it includes strawberries, meat, cinnamon or honey.

Of course, life doesn’t always allow for the ideal celebration, be it by lack of time, money, room at home or the weather. But there are many ways to play or adapt Mercury’s fun and games. A good idea is to start every one of the four days with some form of offering, if only a candle or a stick of incense, and a specially written hymn or prayer. Your shrine to the god – permanent or not – should also be decorated in a festive manner, using things like flowers, wreaths or ribbons. This allows for the first four days of April to be set apart as special, so that every devotional act you do during them, no matter how small or simple, will also be special. Then you just have to use the very mercurial virtues of creativity and resourcefulness.

Organize April Fool’s pranks at work with your colleagues. Take things like strawberry tart or meat pies and share it with your co-workers. Buy a lottery ticket. Pile rocks by the road on your way to your job. Honour Mercury’s role as a god of movement and writing and join the bookcrossing movement by leaving a book in a public spot. Even better, put a prayer and a coin between the pages of the volume you’re setting free. Make a donation to an animal shelter or leave food on the street for stray animals (or both). Volunteer to help the homeless. Gather a group of friends for an afternoon of trekking, sing or play an instrument as you walk, erect a herm or two along the way and pour libations to the god. If you buy something, tell the shopkeeper or cashier to keep the change. Strike an uplifting conversation with a taxi driver. Perform divination for yourself or friends and family. Take some time off to sit or wander at a tourist site and be ready to give directions. If possible, give visitors a tour, especially if you have to use a foreign language. Exercise your rhetoric and the gift speech. If that’s what you do at work, bring something from it – an object or a coin, for instance – and put it in your shrine to Mercury when you get home. Invite your boy or girlfriend – or just one or more friends with benefits – and have a few hours of sweaty, intense sex. Organize a dinner party with smart or kinky drinking songs, in honour of the god or not, and after-meal games. Erect a herm not too far away from your home and jog to to it carrying a small wreath as an offering to Mercury. Alternatively, jog to add the final stone to the herm.

These are just suggestions and you are naturally free to adapt or create new ones. What matters is that you honour Mercury to the best of your ability. Give Him reasons to smile and feel happy about you. Remember to frame your devotional actions through the morning offerings and hymns by a decorated shrine and add a prayer or “wink” during the day whenever you feel like you should. Make Him proud. Make Him laugh.

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