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.