This blog has been quiet, I know, but not dead and, in the spirit of Summer holidays, in the near future I’ll try to compensate for the prolonged silence of the last several months. And since, apart from my daily practices and rites, the sole religious topic that’s been taking my time in a significant fashion has been an Iberian cult to Mercury, it is thus with it that I return to the blogosphere.
There are two modern celebrations of mine to Mercury that I’ve mentioned several times before and both have been incorporated by other polytheists into their festive calendars. They are Vialia on January 4th and the anniversary of Maia’s Son on April 4th, the former focused on Mercury’s divine host and the latter on his birth.
Both have an individual sense, with Vialia addressing the opening of ways at the start of a new year, while the birthday of the god evokes his connection to the number four and thus takes place on the fourth day of the fourth month. But there’s also a continuum between them and it connects to two other modern festivities, the third of which is Peregrinalia on July 4th.
Essentially, it flows as follows: in January, the opening of the ways amounts also to a preparation for the birth of Mercury, who’s destined to become Lord of Pathways and hence of the Lares Viales. Trails and roads are thus cleared and made ready and, after the coming of the god, the next stage in the festive cycle are the journeys in which he encounters other deities and acquires an awareness of the world. Following that is the perception of the constant flux and finite nature of things, which then links up with the end of the year and the Lares Viales again, though that’s a subject for another time. In short: the ways, the Lord of Ways, the use of pathways and the perpetual destination.
A forest trail in Sintra, Portugal (credit)
Under the sign of each of the four great annual festivities there are other associated dates. Thus, during the three months opened by Vialia there’s the Parentalia in honour of the dead, which in the primitive Roman calendar was a time for purification before Spring and the start of the year. Under the sign of the birth of Mercury there’s the old Mercuralia on May 15th, which I’ve been turning into a festivity dedicated to Maia. And on August 24th, a date within the three months that follow Peregrinalia, there’s the annual sacrifice to Quangeio, the Iberian dog god who’s found, taken in and gifted by Mercury.
Of course, a lot of this are modern dates and conceptions, but I never said I was reconstructing an historical cult. My goal is rather the construction of a regional and mercurial branch of today’s Roman polytheism, but because no such branch is known from the historical records, its creation must necessarily be a new thing – even if it integrates ancient gods and practices. It’s the difference between a fossilized religion because it is restricted to what is known to have existed until the 5th century and a polytheism that, while rooted in the past, is nonetheless alive and thus able to produce new forms.
Ways, journeys, wayfarers and beyond
Peregrinalia is thus the festivity of journeys and travellers, of those known at the start and those who present themselves to us along the way, of pathways and what they connect and so, literally or figuratively, of the awareness of the connectivity of all things, even those that look independent or self-contained.
In this, there’s a link to the Buddhist concepts of interdependence and emptiness and that’s intentional, in both its use and the festivity they’re associated with: resorting to an oriental philosophy to give ideological content to a cult is within the historical dynamics of Roman polytheism (see here); and the name Peregrinalia comes from the Latin peregrinus, which is where the word “pilgrim” comes from – i.e., a traveller – but originally it also meant “foreigner” and, as an adjective, “exotic” and “imported”. Hence why, in describing above the reasoning behind the sequence of festive dates, I said that, after his birth, Mercury travels and acquires an awareness of the world.
There’s also a weather-related motive for the festivity of travelling and travellers to be in July, meaning in the Summer, which is when many hit the road on vacations. There’s a northern hemisphere bias in that, no doubt, but if it’s a regional cult, it will naturally reflect the seasonal cycle and climate of the region it emanates from.
The ritual translation
From here follow the ritual practices and commemorative actions. The rite used for a formal ceremony during Peregrinalia is obviously the Roman one and if, in the celebration of Mercury’s birth the offerings were almost all food that required the use of dishes and cutlery, on July 4th the preference goes to things that can be carried in a backpack and eaten by hand. In other words, traveller’s food, even if sweet by reason of being festive.
Table set before the formal ceremony on the morning of July 4th.
To that end, in this year’s Peregrinalia and because the day was also the first Wednesday of the month, I did the same as in Mercury’s birthday and highlighted the number four. To the god I therefore gave four merendas (puffed pastry baked with cheese and ham), four Portuguese custard tarts, four sweet potato cakes and four arrufadas (sweat bread with egg and coconut), all ritually consecrated, small portions burned and the rest returned to the human sphere to be eaten by me and my family. During the ceremony I also offered small portions of butter, ham and two types of cheese – i.e., things you can make sandwiches with – and four libations of medronho strawberry and honey liquor. And in the end I burned the morning offerings of the first Wednesday of the month, to which I added an additional portion of honey to maintain the pattern of four, and made yet more libations, but to Maia, Quangeio and the Lares Viales. In the afternoon, in the spirit of Peregrinalia, I then went on a small bike ride during which I made additional offerings to the Lares Viales and took as a snack some of the food consecrated to and received from Mercury, thus figuratively eating at the god’s itinerating table.