Let it burn (and sink)

Disgusting as it was for the most part, the debate on offerings and piety that ragged through the internet last year did have one positive effect for me: it made me wonder about how can I improve my personal devotion to the Gods. For several years, I’ve been offering mostly incense and basic prayers in my monthly tributes to Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Minerva, Mercury, Ingui-Frey, my Ancestors and my Penates. It’s not that I didn’t want to offer more, namely libations, wheat and cakes, it’s just that I was always confronted with the problem of what to do with food offerings. For the most part, burning them isn’t a practical option in a modern house, where electrical appliances virtually fill in all of the heating, cooking and lighting needs, leaving fire with a residual presence at best. And in order to burn food, especially several portions of it – ’cause libations to Janus and Vesta are always needed – you need more than a candle flame. Potted plants have their limits – it’s not a one-time thing – and while city parks are a solution, it’s also more of a last resort than an ideal solution for more frequent offerings.

However, recently I’ve been spending most of my time at the family house, which has a fireplace, so I made the New Year decision of upgrading my monthly offerings since, at least for the time being, it’s easier for me to burn food. It’s just a question of being organized enough to always have enough wood for at least five times a month. This will naturally be easier during Spring and Summer, since I can use my bike rides to frequently stop in a local woodland and pick up what I need; during the rainy season, I’ll have to make do with stored extras from Summer and twigs picked up in city parks. Then it’s just a matter of lighting up a small fire, make a wine libation to Janus and a milk one to Vesta and burn whatever food offerings I make to the god of the day.

Minerva - oferendas

Today’s is Minerva, so in the morning, as part of my early daily salutations and prayers, I decorated Her image and offered incense and olive oil, which I later burned in the fireplace. I did the same last January 1st to Janus, Juno and Mercury (since it was also the first Wednesday of the month), to Jupiter on the 13th and to my Ancestors and housewights on both occasions, as well as on the 5th. As for Ingui-Frey, I think I’ll be using the potted plants in our balcony to pour His libation and portion of honey. This is a temporary solution until I get Him a vase of His own with flowers, a small offering stone and two miniature god poles I’ll have to carve. That too is a plan born out of my desire to improve my monthly tributes.

What do you know! It turns out the flame war did have some use after all…


This month: every month

Penate 02

Apart from annual festivities, a religious calendar is also made of more regular ceremonies. In my case, monthly ones that are best explained now, in an introductory fashion, instead of enlarging January’s post with extra information.

Traditionally, the Roman calendar has three monthly celebrations: the Calends or the first day, the Nones (the 5th or 7th day) and the Ides, which fall on the 13th or 15th. The former are dedicated to Juno and the latter to Jupiter, but the presiding deity of the Nones is unknown. Minerva has been suggested by some, since She’s the only member of the Capitoline triad without a monthly celebration. Another possibility, more historical, is Faunus, which is known to have had a festival on the Nones of December and February and might have been a monthly event. Yet Ovid says they lacked a tutelary god (Fasti I).

For my part, during most of this year and given the historical ambiguity, I’ve been using the Nones to honour Minerva, Vesta, and Diana on a monthly basis. They’re all relevant in some way to my life as deities of crafts and academics, home, and dogs, respectively. However, I’ve been wondering if Vesta wouldn’t be best worshipped together with my Family Lares and Penates, who are honoured on all three monthly occasions, and there is such a thing as overcrowding when you try to give every deity a monthly ceremony. Plus, recent events have made me ask myself whether I should be prepared to follow one of the possibilities on the Nones and reserve them for Faunus. At this point, there’s no telling if we’re going to have a close relationship, if any, but the possibility has risen. So, as it stands, I’m currently leaving the Nones as Ovid says: without a tutelary god.

The traditional Roman calendar also has three dies atri or dark/unlucky days, which are those after the Kalends, Nones, and Ides. According to Ovid, their origin lies in Roman military defeats, thus creating an aura of ill-omens, but this should be taken with a few grains of salt. For one, because major religious festivals are known to have taken place during dies atri: the second day of the Parentalia on February 14th, the Compitalia on March 16th, or the third day of the Games of Apollo on July 8th. Plus, few of us today are of actual Roman nationality and the History of our countries probably includes a few positive events that took place on an unlucky day: for instance, one of Portugal’s best-known and defining military victories happened on August 14th, a dies ater. So the ill-omened nature is not set in stone and it didn’t prevent regular activities from continuing. Still, just as I celebrate the anniversary of Rome because that city is the origin of much of my religious life, I also like to honour its memory by maintaining a degree of ritual limitations during the unlucky days: I refrain from using the Gods’ names and call Them by titles alone (e.g. Lord of Thunder for Jupiter), generally avoid performing major ceremonies, and I don’t start new things (but I do continue what I started earlier).

To the Kalends, Nones, and Ides I added two other monthly celebrations of my own creation. The first Wednesday is given to Mercury, following the Greek practice of dedicating the fourth day of every month to Hermes. I wanted to have a Roman version to keep regular offerings to Him, of Whom I am so fond of and presides over so many things I do and like. A god that’s equally special to me is Ingui-Frey, my oldest devotion and to whom I dedicate the 21st of every month. This includes the 21st of February, which falls in the more sober period of the Parentalia. Initially, I thought of postponing, but then it occurred to me that Ingui is also a Power of the grave and of the ancestral line, so His monthly devotional fits well in a time of homage to one’s ancestors. I may also include other Vanir gods, if the timing and month is right. The choice of the 21st came naturally and predates my adoption of the religio romana: it matches the usual day of the solstices, during which I honour Ingui; also my birthday, which I used to commemorate with a dinner party and save a seat for Him next to me. And it doesn’t clash with the other monthly celebrations.

You know you’re still working out your calendar when you have to add something to a post you published 24 hours before. But after what may have been a knock from Faunus and the shattering of my previous arrangement for the Nones, I feel compelled to keep a monthly occasion for Minerva. There’s a reason for that: She’s a goddess of wisdom and knowledge, a patron of crafts and teachers, and I’m an academic in training, an amateur crafter sometimes, and I also teach classes (mostly History). How can I downplay the Deep-Minded Lady? So besides greeting Her every day after waking up and before going to bed, I decided to add another monthly devotional date to my calendar. And since Minerva had a festival on March 19th and June 19th, the former actually being considered Her birthday, I picked the 19th of every month.