New Year gestures

Stepping in with the right foot is one of those small modern superstitions with ancient roots that expresses a timeless valuation of the idea of a good start. And faithful to that notion, the first days of the new year are to me a time for multiple ritual gestures that, taken together, aim at a kind of entry with the right foot in the new twelve months’ cycle. Starting, of course, with the January 1st ceremony, which is one of the longest in my practices.

A long list
In normal conditions, when I mark a date of monthly relevance – like the Nones or Ides – the corresponding ceremony takes about 10 to 15 minutes, as it’s a simplification of my Roman rite, which I reserve for annual festivities and usually extends the ceremony up to 30 minutes. I repeat: in normal conditions. When it’s an exceptional occasion, it can last one hour or more

That was the case with this year’s New Year ceremony. Not because something different happened, though 2017 was fortunate in various aspects, as with the publication of my first book and the conclusion of another. Rather, the length of January 1st ceremony has to do with the number of deities it honours, which has been growing in the last few years and this time reached sixteen, plus the Family Lares and Penates. Almost all of them are recipients of specific prayers and offerings, which naturally takes times – and firewood, while we’re it, since the fire needs to keep on burning regardless of the amount of beverage it’s poured on it.

Structurally, the ceremony is identical to those of other annual festivities, with a beginning and end with tributes to Janus, Vesta and Jupiter and, in between, an invitation, prayer and giving of consecrated offerings to the main deity – in this case, Janus. As with other annual celebrations that occur in days of monthly relevance, there’s also a moment when I burn the Calends’ offerings that were given to Janus, Juno, the Family Lares and Penates during the morning prayers. And then, where in normal conditions the closing gestures would follow, there was yet a list of fourteen individual deities who were honoured with two offerings each, the first as a general tribute and the second with a specific request for the new year.

They are Mercury, Maia, Quangeio, Juno, Hercules, Minerva, Diana, Apollo, Silvanus, Nabia, Jupiter, Fortuna, Spes and Freyr, adding, I repeat, to the Family Lares and Penates, who also get a wreath that’s hanged over the fireplace. In the case of Maia and Silvanus, the offerings are not cast into the ritual fire, but poured into small circular bowls with soil, in harmony with the terrestrial identity of those two deities. Though, truth be told, I’m increasingly seeing Mercury’s mother as a goddess who has a celestial side as well, largely due to Her mythological link to one of the starts of the Pleiades. And speaking of liminality, note the inclusion of Freyr, who normally is worshipped according to an independent rite that fuses Norse and Latin elements, but exceptionally receives offerings according to Roman praxis on New Year. For practical reasons, if nothing else.

The feats of pathways
Then on the fourth day of January, there’s Vialia, which is not an ancient celebration, but rather a modern creation of my doing that’s focused on Mercury and the Lares Viales. Its sense is clear: to honour the god of pathways and His divine host and ask Them, in a more literal fashion, for safety on the road during the year and, in a more metaphoric way, help clearing the paths to success. Of course, with me being a Mercury devotee, the date also has a personal relevance.

Ready for the Vialia ceremony, 2018.

Thus, on the morning of the 4th, as in the morning of the day before, which was the first Wednesday of the month, I offered a candle, anise, cinnamon, wine and flowers to the son of Maia. Then I performed a formal ceremony where I paid tribute first to Mercury and then the Lares Viales with identical offerings: small crackers, raisins, walnut, honey, cinnamon and wine. Both also got flowers, though in different formats, since to Mercury I gave a wreath that now stands in His domestic shrine, whereas the Lares Viales were given a mixture of petals, leafs and wheat which, after the ceremony was over, were cast onto the roads in small portions during a walk. Ideally, I would have done it during a bike ride, so I could cover a greater distance and erect a few cairns along the way, but because it was raining, I ended up adjusting to a tour on foot around the edges of the city and with a few stops at crossroads and intersections.

Apollo and Janus again
There are two more formal ceremonies before concluding the celebrations of the New Year: Apotropalia on the 7th of January and Agonalia on the 9th.

The former is yet another modern festivity of my doing and it’s focused on Apollo, here as a protector and provider of health whose blessings are requested for the new year. The ceremony in His honour follows Greek rite and includes a wreath that’s offered to the god and then hanged over the house door. As for Agonalia, that’s an ancient festivity, in this case dedicated to Janus, who is thus, appropriately, the one who opens and closes the New Year celebrations. The offerings that were made to Him on January 1st, as well as the requests, are repeated in the Agonalia ceremony.

Atlas’ daughter
Of course, adding to this are the monthly offerings that are given in a regular fashion, in this case to Nabia on the 9th and Jupiter, as well as the Family Lares and Penates, on the 13th.

On the latter day, I’ll start honouring Mercury’s mother also, since in the Iberian cult that I’m constructing She’s the only member of the triad that’s yet without regular offerings. And the Ides seem to me like the most appropriate day for it, partly because She’s a mountain nymph and thus with a symbolic link to the peak of the month, just like Jupiter, and also as a reference to the May 15th Mercuralia, which to me is increasingly a festivity in honour of Maia. There’s also an allusion to Mercury’s parents, though I’m unsure about the relation between Zeus and Jupiter. And because, as said before, Atlas’ daughter has for me a certain liminality, having both a terrestrial and a celestial side – which, by the way, is appropriate for a mountain nymph – maybe I’ll alternate in the way I give Her monthly offerings, using the ritual fire in one month and a bowl with soil on the next one. Something that is also appropriate considering the overlap with the Roman Maia.

What’s the use of it all?
Okay, so all of this is lovely, long and probably complex. But what’s it good for, anyway? Am I hoping to have a 2018 without bumps on the road, bad luck, bad news, illnesses or problems, just because I performed a string of ceremonies with plenty of offerings in the first days of January?

The answer is no, I’m not. I mean, it would be good if I could have that rosy scenario and I’ll gladly take it if it’s available, thank you. But as said here and here, a polytheistic system tends to be decentralized, without a single god in control of everything, but with multiple deities with interests and goals that are different, if not contradictory. Therefore, I’m not expecting that those I pay tribute to in the New Year can or will do everything, but I hope – or at least ask – that they’ll lend their hand, even if only as a reaction to something they cannot prevent, but can at least help to overcome. A bit like friends and family, from whom I don’t expect assistance or solutions for everything, but do hope they’ll be present when it matters the most, even if only to help reacting to unfortunate events that neither I nor they can avoid.

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A Latin rite for Norse gods

Note: the following contains only a brief introduction and a presentation of the basic structure of the rite. A more detailed explanation of its elements and their background, historical and personal, can be found here.

This one has been brewing for over six months now and is the latest step in my Latinization of Norse gods. By now, the whole process has reached a stage where I’m considering a new page on the top menu and gather everything in it in a more or less coherent manner, with sections on Latinized Norse gods, rites and festivities. Which also means I should probably come up with a name for the particular, Vanir-focused set of practices I’ve been developing. The words mos aureus – golden custom – are currently on my mind, but I digress.

The following rite is modelled after my Roman one, as befits a Latinization of Old Norse cults. It has three major differences, the first being that the opening and closing offerings to Janus, Vesta and Jupiter have been replaced with tributes to the Vanir Twins – Freyr and Freya. I considered other deities for the role and indeed there were many options: Thor hallows with His hammer, Heimdall watches over boundaries, Odin bridges worlds, Njord is a divine intermediary of sorts, Loki rules over fire (or at least that’s a possibility), Ullr sanctions oaths. But in the end, as I wrote here, I opted for the brother-sister and lord-lady dynamic: Freyr is a god of sacred inviolability, Freya is a bridger of worlds. She’s the Giver of Mead to Guests, Mistress of Seiðr, Goddess of the Falcon Cloak and, in a Roman context, the domina would supervise domestic affairs, including the state of the hearth. So it was with that in mind that I included Her in the basic outline of my Latinized Norse rite. And so far, I’ve received no negative reactions from Freya. As such, while Her brother establishes ritual peace, She connects the different worlds; He opens and closes the ceremony, She allows the offerings to flow during it. And because the Vanir Twins thus preside over the ritual beginning and end, I’ve named it after one thing they have in common: the boar! Hence it is called ritus aprinus – the boar rite!

The second difference is the inclusion of a toasting section – the Propinatio – following the traditional Norse symbel. But because it effectively breaks the sacrifice proper in two, it results in the third difference: an additional section that is absent from my Roman rite. I called it Donatio – donation, giving – in reference to it being a moment where additional things are given, including a consecrated offering that undergoes a ritual profanation or deconsecration and is thus received as a gift from the deity being worshiped.

There are also a few peculiarities in terms of ritual tools: the head should be crowned with a wheat wreath, a bell is needed to mark different stages of the rite and a small hazel wand to consecrate offerings, should there be any you afterwards wish to deconsecrate in order to partake of it. Also, you’ll need a cup or drinking glass, a beverage of some sort and a bowl in which to collect portions of the drink you’ll be toasting with. And as always, if a ritual fire is not an option, even under the kitchen chimney, a separate bowl to collect offerings is an option.

***
Ritus Aprinus – Boar Rite
1. Praefatio
With hands and face freshly washed, I crown my head with a wheat wreath and ring the bell. Freyr and Freya are each given a stick of incense and a libation; with the latter offering, they’re asked to sanctify the ceremony and bridge the worlds, respectively.

2. Sacrificium

    a. I ring the bell once more and utter a prayer, inviting the deity to whom the ceremony is dedicated. Appropriate epithets are highlighted, laudatory poetry may be added, the reasons for the ceremony are stated (e.g. on this Summer Solstice) and a welcoming offering is made (honey is a good option here);
    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 optional. It applies only if I consecrate food I then wish to partake of (e.g. a bread or cake). To that effect, as I utter a prayer, I sprinkle the offering with salted flour, slowly move the hazel wand over it and then cut 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. I ring a bell either after disposing of each offering or after the last one;
    e. Afterwards, it is necessary to know if the offerings 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 is presented (e.g. a libation or a stick of incense). At least the latter is needed if no divination system is used.

3. Propinatio
A toast is made to the main deity of the ceremony. I take a cup with beverage – alcoholic or not – raise it with a prayer in honour of the god/dess in question, drink most of it and pour the final portion into a bowl. There’s no limit to the number of toasts and they can be dedicated to different aspects of the same god, other Norse deities, one’s ancestors, housewights, Freyr’s elves, etc. The first one, however, is always to the deity who’s the focus of the ceremony. Toasting, by the way, can be a rite on its own, either formally or semi-formally. Just perform an opening in the likes of the one above and jump right to the Propinatio. Once concluded, perform the first step of the Donatio (f.), make an expiatory offering and close the ceremony as below. The bell, hazel wand and wreath are not necessary for a toasting ceremony.

4. Donatio

    f. I ring the bell again and, with a prayer, pour the contents of the toasting bowl into the ritual fire (or ground or water);
    g. If I have additional offerings to dispose of, like monthly ones that were presented more informally before the ceremony, this is the point where I pour them into the ritual fire with a prayer to the deity receiving them;
    *h. If I consecrated an offering in point c., this is where I perform a ritual profanation in order to make it available for human consumption. This is achieved by touching the offering with my hand 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 (again, honey is a good option);
    i. Just in case one or more deities were in some way offended by or disliked the ceremony, a second and final expiatory offering is made.

5. Postfatio
The Vanir Twins are again honoured and given an offering each, but in reversed order: first Freya, who receives a final libation or stick of incense with thanks for being a bridger of worlds; then Freyr, who’s the first being honoured at the start of the rite and is therefore the last at the end. After pouring the final offering to Him, I ring the bell one last time and remove the wreath from my head, thus closing the ceremony.

***
As with my version of the Roman rite, the ritus aprinus is meant for fully formal ceremonies. More informal or semi-formal circumstances call for a simplified version of it. And don’t take this as the only way of doing things. That’s actually the reason why I decided not to call it ritus borealis: you can construct alternative Latinized rituals, with a different structure and other deities in the opening and closing sections, and in the end they too will be northern rites. Plus, I honestly enjoyed the boar reference.