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.

A week long Minervalia

March 19th marks Minerva’s birthday and the start of the Minervalia, a five-day festival in honour of the Goddess of Crafts that overlaps with the Quinquatrus, which honours Mars. This is how it was in ancient Rome: in my modern-day personal calendar, I tend to downplay the latter, for no reason other than the fact that I have no motive to worship Mars, and link the length of the former to the date of March’s half-marathon. Since this year’s takes place on the 25th, my Minervalia will last for almost a week and I plan to do a stream of daily devotional acts.

I should say that I have a sort of mixed connection with Minerva. When I was a child, I had a thing for Athena and I can honestly say she was probably one of the first ancient gods for whom I had a “leaning”. But then things changed, my quest took me elsewhere for several years, and the connection died out. When I became a cultor I tried to rekindle it, but it didn’t last long. For one thing, because I’m not as sure as I used to be about Athena and Minerva being the same deity: it may simply be a case of two goddesses sharing the same artistic conventions by reason of close cultural contacts and, just like having the same job doesn’t make two people one, the same may well be true for the Gods. And then we just don’t seem to click, at least not as much as I do with other deities, which perhaps is part of the reason why. I mean, I already connect other gods with the things on which me and Minerva could relate: teaching, writing, and scholarly work with Mercury, clay-working with Khnum. I used to weave and knit as a hobby, after my grandmother taught me when I was a kid, but it’s been years since I last did it.

Still, I regonize Her dominion over many things I do and learned in the past, so despite the lack of emotional link, I keep Her cult on a monthly basis. I guess you can say me and Her have a “professional” relationship, with more business and less hugs, which is not out of tune with ancient polytheism: cult practices often came literally with the job, so if I’m an academic in training, a teacher, writer, and crafter, there’s a sense of duty in acknowledging Minerva’s blessings.

As such, this year’s Minervalia includes two daily devotionals and a major event at the end. As today, every day until Sunday will start with the offering of a candle in front of the goddess’s small clay altar, which has been decorated with a beads’ wreath. In the afternoon, I’ll take a portion of olive oil and pour it by an olive three on one of Lisbon’s highest hills. In-between, I may occupy myself with crafts, studying, or writing and, Sunday morning, I’ll be running Lisbon’s half-marathon, dedicating my physical effort to Her (and Mercury) and giving Minerva my medal, just like I gave last year’s.

Simple, largely informal offerings, but enough to focus the next six days on the Goddess of One Thousand Crafts.

Devotional’s deadline extended

Neos Alexandria is preparing a devotional to the god Hermes. The original deadline was January 31st, but they recently extended it to March 1st, which means you’re still in time to submit one or more contributions. Details on the project – including ideas and general framework – can be found here.

Don’t be shy and step forward to offer your tribute to the god: a short tale, a poem, artwork, the description of a ritual or devotional practice, a theatrical play, or ideas on how to honour Him in a modern urban setting or when you’re on the move.

“May I honour You daily”

Recently, I’ve been feeling the need to incorporate my favourite Gods more into my daily life. I already salute Them every morning and before going to bed and picked a day for monthly devotionals: the 21st for Lord Ingui and the first Wednesday of every month for Mercury. I haven’t yet decided which one to pick for Minerva, but then again my relationship with Her seems to be in a project stage, with a lot of things still taking shape.

The monthly devotionals are opportunities to commune deeply with the honoured god. Traditional offerings like wheat, strawberries, wreaths, and incense are given, but there’s also a huge range of possible activities: creative work (in clay, wood, paper, or other materials) physical exercise, singing, music playing, touring a particular area, volunteering to help cleaning the local woods or distribute food and warm clothing to homeless people, making a donation to organizations that protect animals or plants sacred to the gods, taking the day off to take care of abandoned dogs, gardening, or farming. Even playing some sort of game close to a shrine or altar to the god of the day can be a form of offering, as is participating in athletic or sporting events and giving part of the prize to the deity or a related charity group. It’s a kind of modern version of the ancient games that were part of the old religious festivals and where participants offered a wreath.

Yet, I feel the need to do more. Not to every deity, but to the few who are closest to me. Those I seem to draw the most from and, as such, I want to give Them more. But I do have the feeling that there is such a thing as too many offerings, so my dilema is how to do it without, so to speak, cross the line between devout and plain annoying. Especially since the things mentioned above can be done more often than just once a month. Actually, most of them can and should be done regularly, but uttering formal prayers or performing formal ceremonies of every one of them is, at the very least, highly time-consuming to one’s daily routine.

I thought of several solutions. Prayers beads were one, but it turns out there it’s less practical than one could think. Having separate sets for different deities means I’d have to carry two or more all day long with me; having one that could work for several gods is a better option, but I’m not yet sure about its exact elements and how it would work. I also thought of something along the lines of an ancient Roman bulla, a sort of pouch worn by children where they would keep protective charms. And then, one night, a solution presented itself before sleep.

Every day, after waking up and washing my face, I salute several gods and goddesses, along with my ancestors and housewights. I thought of taking that daily practice and add small prayers that create a framework where experiences and moments can be normally and informally shared with the Gods. This is still work in progress, but at the moment it goes along the lines of: May I honour You daily and may You find in my every day actions reasons to smile and be pleased. In the case of my ancestors, it’s a bit different: May I walk daily in your pleasing company.

The exact wording may change over time, as can the gods to Whom the prayers are directed. For the moment, I use it for Freyr, Mercury, and Minerva, but that may also change. For the moment, it seems to be a balanced solution and allows me to concentrate the greater and more formal ritual structures in the less regular occasions. Which makes them all the more special.

I’m gonna run for Her

Quinquatria is just around the corner and so is Lisbon’s half marathon, which will take place on the 20th. I think I’m going to combine the two and offer my running effort to Minerva. Since I can’t organize games in Her honour, I might as well take my own participation in a sporting event as an offering to the Goddess of One Thousand Crafts. And then put whatever I receive next to my small altar to Her, even if just a certificate of participation in the half marathon.