Mercurial devotion

There’s a lot to write in this blog, a lot of planned texts yet to publish, so I’m ending the silence and resuming the habit of writing with a post on mercurial things, from the birthday to small offerings to Maia’s Son and others.

1. The fourth day of the fourth month
As said in other occasions, there’s no historical record of a Ludi Mercuriales or that at any time ancient Romans celebrated the anniversary of Mercury. But because I’m not talking about a fossilized religion, nor do I practice a re-enactment of the past, it is natural that time, devotions and religious experiences make way for new festivities. The 4th of April – the fourth day of the fourth month – is one such case: based on the historical link between Hermes/Mercury and the number four, I picked that day to celebrate the birth of that god. And I strengthened the symbolic charge by expanding it in order to include the first four days of April, a month that begins with April Fool’s, which is another appropriate date to honour a trickster.

Last year, April 4th was also a Wednesday, the old Dies Mercurii, and for that reason my offerings and tributes came in packs of four as much as possible: four sweet dishes, four toasts, four cairns on which I poured four offerings, four lottery tickets, four mourning offerings during four days, four floral tributes, etc. This year, the date fell on a Thursday and so the numerical emphasis was less stressed

NM 2019

This year, for Mercury’s anniversary, I made two sweet dishes – aletria and a crackers’ cake – along with several sugar-free pancakes so my dogs could eat them and thus have a seat at the god’s table. All consecrated to Mercury during the ceremony on the morning of April 4th, with the first portion of each being given to the deity and then rest was returned to the human sphere so my family and I could eat it. There were also libations of medronho strawberry and honey liquor and offerings of fennel, cinnamon, wine and honey, a wreath for the shrine, another to hang on the front door and a strawberry tree to plant in a family plot of land this month, it too consecrated to Mercury with portions of salted flour, honey and liquor. And to top it off, adding to small walk, cairns and offerings from the previous day, as well as the sacrifice to Maia on April 2nd, I also bought a lottery ticket.

In the end, there was the expected feeling: the sense of work done, duty fulfilled, devotion piously expressed and nurtured bonds. And joy.

2. The triad and the family
My devotion to Mercury doesn’t come alone. It’s part of a greater whole, of a modern cult still in construction and focused on the roads, trails and pathways, in the perpetual movement and interconnectedness of all things, linked to the Iberian west and, when it comes to philosophy, consciously influenced by the Buddhist school of Madhyamaka. At the heart of its pantheon is of course Mercury, together with his mother Maia and his companion Quangeio, the Iberian dog god, and together they form the central triad of said cult. Around them orbit other deities: Faunus, Silvanus, Proserpina and the Lares Viales, who are the divine host of Mercury Vialis – the Wayfaring Lord of Pathways. And because the cult is meant to be an Iberian branch of modern Roman polytheism, there’s also Janus, Jupiter, Juno and Vesta, the Family Lars and the Penates, fundamental deities of Latin orthopraxy.

As a way of deepening my mercurial devotion and with the possibility of enlarging the pantheon, I’ve been looking into Mercury’s maternal relatives, particularly Pleione and Atlas. The former, by being of the Oceanids, poses a dilemma, in that I must choose one of the versions of Okeanos, if the oldest, according to which he was understood as the titan of the great river that enveloped the world and origin of all its sources of fresh water, earthly and celestial, if the later version, according to which he’s the titan of the oceans and hence salt water.

Given that the theonym Pleione carries the many of increasing in number, particularly flocks, both senses have merit, at least in a Portuguese context, since clouds can be religiously understood as a celestial flock – in which case Mercury’s grandmother would be a multiplier of clouds and as such a deity of mist and rain – but in Portugal the foam on the top of sea waves is colloquially called “little rams”, and in that case Pleione would be a stirrer of maritime waters. But given that her daughter Maia is a mountain nymph, my preference goes for the former hypothesis.

Reinforcing it is the idea of Atlas as a god of astronomy, an interpretation that’s rich in possibilities, since it awards the titan the responsibility for the movement of the sky, which in a modern sense that takes into account the present knowledge about the planet and the solar system makes Atlas the god of the Earth’s axis. And that amounts to a celestial aspect that thus touches Pleione’s sphere as a goddess of heavenly flocks, and Maia, daughter of the two of them, is a mountain nymph, i. e. of the earthly extremities where mist and clouds settle – where Pleione’s flock grazes – and touch the sky that turns around Atlas.

These are still preliminary ideas, but at the moment it’s the mental course that I’m following.

3. One for all…
Finally, there’s a small ritual habit that I’ve been acquiring: that of, whenever I perform a monthly sacrifice to one of the elements of the aforementioned triad, adding an offering to the other two. In other words, when paying tribute to Mercury on the first Wednesday of every month, I offer to Maia a portion of honey and another to Quangeio. Whenever I honour the daughter of Pleione on the Ides, I pour an offering to Mercury and another to the Iberian dog god. And when, on the 24th of every month, I perform a small sacrifice to Quangeio, I offer a spoon of honey to Maia and another to her son.

It’s something that adds to the inclusion of Mercury’s mother and companion in my prayers to him every morning and every night and to the portions of wheat that I sometimes dedicate to the two of them whenever I paying tribute to the Fleet-Footed God on a cairn or by a road. Ritual expression of a connection between them and of a devotion that does not exist alone, but as part of a greater whole.

New Year, all year (and ritual forms)

This year’s New Year ceremony was similar to that of 2018: long, with main offerings of food and beverage to Janus, together with a small wreath to crown His image, followed by the monthly tributes for the calends to Janus, Juno and the Lares and Penates, and finally additional offerings to a considerable number of other deities. But there was also a difference that stretched the length of the ceremony and will, in all likelihood, produce a review of the rite I use to worship Norse gods.

All in the first step
In late December, while preparing things for the end of the month, I realized that my New Year ceremony, which follows the same structure for sometime now, includes almost all of the deities I honour yearly. It wasn’t intentional, but something that was built throughout the years, as I’ve added gods and goddess who, besides Janus, are auspicious or relevant to me and my parents, like Minerva, Jupiter, Diana, Mercury, Maia, Fortuna and Spes.

And then I thought: what if I took that accidental reality to its full intentional consequences, honouring, after the sacrifice to Janus and calends’ tributes, all the deities to whom I dedicate an annual ceremony? If, for instance, on September 5th I pay tribute to Arentio and Arentia, why not add them to the list of supplementary New Year offerings? It makes sense, it’s meaningful and so I did it. And the result was the following sequence of individual and collective deities:

Family Lares, Penates, Vesta, Nabia, Silvanus, Mercury, Maia, Quangeio, Juno, Hercules, Minerva, Diana, Apollo, Arentio e Arentia, Faunus, Reue, Jupiter, Fortuna, Spes and Ingui-Freyr.

There’s a logic to the sequence, which starts with the domestic realm, that naturally includes one’s ancestors, housewights, the goddess of the domestic hearth and then, via my personal theology, Nabia and Silvanus, the former because my Family Lar is a local aspect of Her and the latter because He presides over of the local Lares of my home city and ancestral land. Then one leaves the home and at that stage come offerings to the god of roads, Mercury, as well as to His mother and companion, Maia and Quangeio, with specific requests for me and my dogs. Then follows Juno, with prayers in my mother’s name, and Hercules, with prayers in my father’s name. And then, with more general requests for blessings, luck, health and protection, come tributes to the remaining deities on the list, with a Norse guest at the end.

There are however two deities on the sequence to whom I have no annual ceremony – Fortuna and Spes. The most obvious solution would then be to add two dates to my festive calendar, but it occurred to me that there’s an alternative with symbolic value as well: that of, in each sacrifice in the first nine days of the year, pouring an offering of honey to Fortuna and another to Spes.

Note that to me New Year isn’t just a day, but a whole festive season that extends from day 1 to the Agonalia of January 9th, which I dedicate to Janus, who thus presides over the beginning and end of the celebrations at the start of a new cycle of twelve months. In between, there’s Vialia, dedicated to Mercury and the Lares Viales for the opening of ways, literal and figurative, in the starting year, and Apotropalia, dedicated to Apollo with requests for protection and health. Note that all of these gods are linked in some way to door and entryways, for which reason they mark my celebrations at the doorways of a new year.

A growing list
But the number of deities honoured in the New Year ceremony will grow past the list above. The idea of paying tribute to all the gods and goddesses I worship throughout the twelve months had the unintended consequence of making me reconsider the rite I use for Norse deities, which is a mixture of Scandinavia and Roman elements, but not to the point of allowing a jump from one ritual praxis to another. They require separate openings and foci, so it wouldn’t be easy to annex a Norse section to the New Year ceremony.

The solution, in all likelihood, will be the construction of a new rite that must be essentially identical to the Roman, though with some particulars, just like the ritus graecus

Changes to the calendar
There’s another unintended consequence of the decision to add to the New Year ceremony all the gods I worship annually: by changing the type of rite used for Norse deities so as to include them fully in a Roman ceremony, I can honour them on the Calends or Nones without having to light an additional ritual fire and thus with the freedom to perform Freyja’s annual sacrifice on May 1st and Njord’s on July 7th.

Which adds to a review I already had in mind, namely changing the name of the festivity of December 31st so as to use Transitalia for the October 4th sacrifice to Mercury and the Lares Viales (a topic for another post), shifting Anubis’ offering day to February 12th so as to be on the very eve of Parentalia and adding Hephaestus to my religious practices, with a sacrifice on January 19th. But more on that in a few days.

In the meantime, happy New Year!