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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End of year, end of hiatus

It’s been five months since my last post on this blog, in an absence motivated by work, academic or literary, leaving me little time and creativity to write here. Not that that has affected my religious practices: the sacrifices on the Calends, Nones and Ides have been performed, as have the other monthly offerings and annual celebrations, some with additional elements like wreaths and devotional gestures. There was even time to add new festive dates that will show up in my calendar and I was able to write a few pages of religious text. Again, the only thing lacking was the opportunity to post here. So, in an attempt to recover from the hiatus and return to the blogosphere, here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been doing, religiously speaking:

1. The opening of the flood gates
For some time now, the goddess Nabia has been a part of my practices, both as a major and local deity and Family Lar, but I’ve decided to elevate Her status, largely due to the drought that’s still affecting the country and the October fires, especially the one that consumed most of the Leiria Pine Forest. I’ve thus reserved a corner of a table as a shrine where the goddess is represented by a small schist stone brought a few years ago from a mountainous village called Piodão and on which Nabia receives daily drops of water as a form of tribute. It’s still a temporary set and the exact decoration is being worked out, but, hesitations aside, the shrine has already been used in the last few months for offerings of fire, water and scented oil, which is evaporated in a burner, and the gesture will be repeated on the 9th of every month. And adding to this, I’ve also devised a new annual festivity dedicated to Nabia, together with Reue and Jupiter, which I named Pluvialia – the celebration of rain fall. It will take place on the Ides of October, which was when the rain helped controlling the Leiria Pine Forest fire.

2. A populated sky
On that note, these last few months have also been used for some meditation on Reue, not so much in an academic sense, as that work was done when writing the several pages on Iberian gods, but in a more personal sense. Specifically, whether or not I should include Him in the pantheon I worship, which is already quite diverse and numerous, and under what guise. And the answer came in the form of a title that had already occurred to me, but which I had not yet awarded to a deity: that of Shepherd of Clouds! It’s in line with similar epithets of other celestial gods – like Zeus Gatherer of Clouds – but it has a rural touch that hints at the mountainous areas where Reue appears to have been worshipped. And furthermore it allows for a connection with torrential waters, which may have been part of the god’s sphere of influence in the past and can be metaphorically conceived as a violent stampede of bulls and rams. Eventually, I’ll write a post on it and, who knows, a connection to Nabia may be on the horizon.

3. Drawing a path
And what about Mercury? He’s still a centre of attentions: two daily prayers, a monthly sacrifice on the first Wednesdays, a libation of wine before the closing of every ceremony in Greek or Roman rite – and this month even in the end of a sacrifice to Ullr, as an experiment – adding to the small portions of wheat cast onto the road or poured on cairns in an informal and frequent fashion. And there’s also the book on an Iberian cult to the Son of Maia, whose first pages are partially finished, though with no rush. It is, after all, the most important part of the text, because it must be made clear that the book is not meant to be a bible, a crystallization of moral doctrine or the expression of an orthodox, saving or exclusivist cult. Things that need to be highlighted, explained and reinforced these days. As in a journey, the direction of the first steps influences or determines the destination one arrives at.

4. The new cycle
And as customary, I celebrated Saturnalia, Inguinalia and this year’s Winter Solstice and, a few days before, the annual sacrifices to Faunus and Ullr, besides the usual monthly offerings. Religiously speaking, this is to me one of the most busy months, which also didn’t help in finding time to keep this blog active. But now that there’s only the end of year ceremony to go and before the start of New Year’s hustle and bustle, here I am again. Worst case scenario, I’ll see you again on the Ides of January!

Winter solstice sunrise, 2017