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.
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.
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 to the deity to whom the food was given. An offering of gratitude is placed in or poured into the ritual fire;
h. Just in case, I make an extra expiatory offering at this stage before moving on to the closing section of the ceremony;
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.