A new beginning

So, as promised early this year, this blog has been restructured, reviewed and redefined. The About section has been changed and expanded, the pages on Roman polytheism have been tweaked and added to and there’s a whole new menu on Iberian gods. This is now a much more mercurial, much more western European site, oriented towards an Iberian cult of Mercury, as expressed in the addendum to the First Rites and explained in the first page of the About section. April has come, the Fleet-Footed’s birthday with it and it’s a good time for a new beginning! And also a new laptop, since mine called it quits on the eve of April’s Fool. Guess the joke was on me, but that sort of comes with the job when you’re a devotee of a trickster. A toast to the son of Maia and his divine Iberian host!

Spes

In his Going Postal, Terry Pratchett calls hope “the greatest of all treasures”, words that are in my Postal Oracle, which I’m still fine-tuning. And in the spirit of review and adjustment of my fasti, I’m thinking of adding an annual feast to Spes, perhaps even using the sacrifice I have at the end of the year. I’ve been dedicating it to Bonus Eventus, but given that His role overlaps with that of Mercury, I may subsume the former into the latter and have yet another day of tribute to Maia’s son, perhaps coupled with a sacrifice to Spes. After all, the date is appropriate: it’s the darkest time of the year, but already it contains the seed of summer, so one hopes the sun and warmth will return; it’s the last day of December, so hopefully the New Year will be a good one; there’s even a Portuguese link to it, since Bartolomeu Dias arrived back in Lisbon from the Cape of Good Hope in December. And speaking of travellers, why not a cult of Spes Mercurialis, the Hope of Wayfarers? I hope your journey goes well, I hope nothing bad happens, I hope you come back safe. Though having two feasts to Spes isn’t a bad idea either, one for Her mercurial side on the final day of the year and another for Her alone, maybe in October, when winter is approaching, sunlight is retreating and one hopes things will turn out well, that we’ll get through the dark days and see each other on the other side of it.

All of this because yesterday I listened to Madredeus’ Oxalá, a song that I haven’t heard in a long time. And yes, the title is that word that comes from the Arab insha’Allah or “God willing” and is all about hope, be it on smaller or greater things. I leave you with it and its lyrics while I ponder about the matter.

Oxalá me passe a dor de cabeça, oxalá
Oxalá o passo não me esmoreça

Oxalá o Carnaval aconteça, oxalá
Oxalá o povo nunca se esqueça

Oxalá eu não ande sem cuidado
Oxalá eu não passe um mau bocado
Oxalá eu não faça tudo à pressa
Oxalá meu Futuro aconteça

Oxalá que a vida me corra bem, oxalá
Oxalá que a tua vida também

Oxalá o Carnaval aconteça, oxalá
Oxalá o povo nunca se esqueça

Oxalá o tempo passe, hora a hora
Oxalá que ninguém se vá embora
Oxalá se aproxime o Carnaval
Oxalá tudo corra menos mal

I hope the headache goes away, I hope
I hope my step doesn’t falter

I hope Carnival happens, I hope
I hope the people never forgets

I hope I don’t walk carelessly
I hope I don’t go through a bad time
I hope I don’t do everything in a hurry
I hope my future happens

I hope my life goes well, I hope
I hope your life, too

I hope Carnival happens, I hope
I hope the people never forgets

I hope time goes by, hour by hour
I hope no one leaves
I hope Carnival draws closer
I hope everything goes less badly

Home, road and country

Having adjusted my fasti to make them more functional in the modern world and not only accepting, but actually embracing the fact that I’m moving away from a part of the wider community, thus focusing more on my actual heritage, identity and social surroundings, it’s now time to make another change. It has been brewing in my mind for some time, but I never went through with it because it would either substantially increase the number of yearly sacrifices or I just didn’t know how or even whether to do it. But the adjustments to my fasti started the process and the greater focus on my western Iberian standpoint set the tone, so as a result, I decided to review my cult to the Lares Patriae, the Lares of my Country, which is a modern divine category under which I placed national heroes – kings, leaders, scholars, travellers, artists – and worshiped the ones I was personally fond of.

Up until this point, I’ve been paying tribute to Them on an individual basis, marking the birthday of each with a small domestic sacrifice on the fireplace. Naturally, this meant I could only pick a handful of historical characters in order to keep my festive calendar workable with the modern life of someone who’s not a full-time paid priest. As such, I have only six in my fasti, but there’s twice as many national heroes I’m curious about or fond of. Honouring each on separate days would be impractical and worshiping all in a single sacrifice, while an appealing possibility, raised some questions that I lacked either the tools or will to address. Until now.

The Family Lar and the Watery Lady
It’s curious that I’ve reached this point by simply adding pieces that have been presenting themselves one by one in the last few years. In the past, one of the things that bugged me when I considered a single festive date for all of my national Lares was that I lacked a link to a greater deity that could function as a god/dess of Portugal. Since it’s a country that postdates the Christianization of the Iberian Peninsula by almost a millennium, there’s no ancient answer I can resort to and even the selection of a regional pre-Christian deity to fulfil the role is not without the risk of anachronism. There was always Persephone, to whom I could add a national epithet and thus link Her to my country’s heroic dead, but as I explained here, the word lar carries for me the notion of something closer, familial, even if just a celestial or domestic aspect of an otherwise infernal or terrifying entity. Which means that if I were to honour my favourite heroes as Lares, a queen of the underworld wasn’t quite it. Another possibility was my Family Lar, who in my personal theology leads and intermediates my deceased relatives and pets. But its focus is essentially domestic, so while that served the purpose of national heroes being honoured at home, it lacked a certain… something, a greater dimension that’s tied together in an organic fashion.

A Roman-period altar to Nabia found in northern Portugal

A Roman altar to Nabia found in northern Portugal


It was only recently – a few days ago, really – that I realized I had the answer, but just hadn’t connected the dots. When I started wondering about the local gods of my hometown, back in 2013, I eventually produced a multifaceted answer: a plethora of deities I came to call Lares Alcobacenses, all led by Silvanus with a corresponding epithet, and a nymph-like figure, perhaps a local Nabia, as my Family Lar, thus linking the region’s natural features, its history and that of my own family by means of a divine couple and a regional host. In essence, domestic and local cults tied together, which is appropriate considering my family from my father’s side has been in this part of Portugal for several centuries. And then in March this year, I noticed a few coincidences and though I will not go as far as saying that there’s something concrete to them, they nonetheless inspired an idea that now comes to fuller fruition.

The solution for the lack of a greater deity lies in the west-Iberian goddess Nabia with the epithet Portugalensis – the Portuguese Nabia – which is naturally a modern aspect and makes Her a presiding deity of the country and its people; just as my Family Lar, the local Nabia, presides over my household. In this, there’s something of a micro and macrocosm, a system where my home is my country and my country is my home and both are tied together by a goddess who has national and domestic aspects and can thus reflect the two. What’s more, because Nabia is a watery deity, She’s not without a connection to the other or underworld, which was traditionally seen as being accessible through caves, wells, lakes or underground springs, and in that She has that side of Persephone that made me consider Her. And this then is the little something I was looking for, that additional dimension that allows me to worship national heroes at home, as Lares, but with a connection to the greater scheme of things.

The Lares Portugalenses
Once I added these pieces, the rest presented itself rather quickly, starting with the structure of a ceremony. Apart from being in capite velato and having opening and closing tributes to Janus, Vesta and Jupiter, it should also have a twofold dynamic, with offerings being given in double portions, half burned in the ritual fire for my domestic Nabia or Family Lar and half collected in a circular bowl with water for Nabia Portugalensis (and later poured into a river). And then the same for each of the national heroes I chose to honour, one by one. It will result in a very long ceremony, but one that’s performed only once a year, reducing additional tributes to much simpler gestures like lighting a candle on my Lararium on the day of birth of at least some of those historical characters.

A statue of Portugal's first king, high on the roof top of my hometown's monastery.

A statue of Portugal’s first king, high on the roof top of my hometown’s monastery.


It also means that I’ll have to switch the title under which I worship Them, from Lares Patriae to Lares Portugalenses, thus matching Nabia’s epithet. And because I no longer have to worry about having too many sacrifices to Them on my fasti, I can enlarge the number of honoured heroes and finally include Portugal’s first king, who’s also a founding figure of my hometown, but whose exact date of birth is unknown. Which is no longer a problem! I can also add Bartolomeu Dias, another historical figure whose birthday is unrecorded, but who in 1488 sailed past the Cape of Good Hope, named thus precisely because of that feat. He later died there, while crossing the cape again in 1500, in what is a tragic event that has a certain mythic tone to it. And there’s also a medieval general and a chronicler, two travellers born in the 15th century, one from the 16th, a king from the 17th, one poet and one captain from the 20th century, adding to the three kings, one renaissance humanist, one politician and one diplomat I already worship.

There’s also the issue of when to perform the yearly sacrifice, something that isn’t necessarily easy when the current national day is the anniversary of the death of Camões, which occurred on the eve of the country becoming a Spanish territory, in 1580, and Portugal is roughly nine centuries old. There’s therefore plenty of alternative dates to chose from – some would say too many – but I’m leaning towards June 24th, the day of the Battle of Saint Mammes in 1128, which has been dubbed “the first Portuguese afternoon”. There’s something of a poetic simplification to those words, but poetry is often the art of saying with emotion otherwise plain information, so they nonetheless convey the seminal nature of the event.

The roads, as always
As all of this took shape in my mind, another idea stepped forward: that I could also worship some of those heroes as Lares Viales. The principle is basically the same as with the local gods of my hometown, i.e. resorting to a collective name for a divine host that can include deceased people and based on the pre-Christian practice of using the word lar for greater or smaller gods. Silvanus is an example I bring up every time and I’ve mentioned elsewhere the Iberian Lares Ceceaecis and Dii Ceceaigis, which may have been the same entities. The bottom line is that we’re talking about a title that can identify a deity, a divine host or an aspect of a deity that can also be a part of other groups. This overlap is also present in the modern Lares Alcobacenses, several of which may also be counted among my ancestors or Family Lares. And while I’m sure that this can be confusing at first, it’s easier to understand if you set aside notions of strictly defined and mutually exclusive categories. Things can be a lot more fluid in Roman polytheism, though the exact degree depends on one’s choice of theology.

So if Lar is a title and it can be applied to both smaller and greater gods, from a wandering spirit that looks after wayfarers to a Lord of Pathways like Mercury, then it’s not impossible that deceased travellers may be counted among the Lares Viales. In this case, Pêro da Covilhã and Afonso de Paiva. In 1487, both were sent on a scouting and spying mission to east Africa and India, in preparation for later sea voyages. They knew Arab, how to guide themselves in a foreign land and were not without the ability to blend into the local population. After reaching Cairo, they travelled through the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Aden and there went different ways, one to Persia and India and the other to Ethiopia. None of them returned to Portugal, having been prevented from doing so by disease – in the case of Afonso de Paiva – or Ethiopian kings. And there’s something mercurial in all of this, in the type of mission they had, their skills, the diplomatic nature of the later stages of Pêro’s voyage and the fact that they died on the road or abroad. And that to me suggests the potential to be small gods of wayfarers.

Another historical character of mercurial interest is Fernão Mendes Pinto, a wandering Portuguese from the 16th century who went as far as Japan and was anything but a straightforward traveller, having been pushed out of his way several times, even captured, trapped behind enemy lines and sold off as a slave. At times, he also acted as an ambassador, pirate and even joined the Jesuit Order, before leaving it in 1557. A few years later, he began writing an account of his journeys – the Peregrinação or Pilgrimage – and the whole thing reminds of something Karl Kerényi wrote in his Hermes: Guide of Souls, where he distinguishes between traveller and journeyer, the former being someone who’s on solid ground and taking possession of a charted path with every step, whereas the latter is in a constant state of fluctuation (2008: 31-2). And he ascribes the traveller to Zeus, while the journeyer is more aptly placed in Hermes’ world. The wandering life of Fernão Mendes Pinto was just that: a constant flux, never knowing what might follow or where he might end up. In a way, there’s an element of lost fool to it.

The back and forth of Fernão Mendes Pinto

The back and forth of Fernão Mendes Pinto

The final decision on whether or not to include these deceased men among the Lares Viales will not be taken without consulting Mercury and resorting to divination. The potential is there, but the worshiper – in this case me – is only part of the equation. But if I get a positive answer or at least no negative signs, then the three will not only receive offerings on the annual sacrifice to the Lares Portugalenses, but will also be honoured in at least one of my yearly tributes to Mercury and the Lares Viales. I’m thinking of July 4th, but more on that in a later post, since I haven’t yet talked about it and marked it on my fasti.

Past, present and future
In the end, what I’m doing here is what I’ve been saying for some time now and wrote about in my beginners’ guide to Roman polytheism: I’m entwining my religion with my modern country, thereby making it a living part of who I am here and now, not who I’d like to be in a re-enactment of a bygone State of which I’m not an actual citizen. And the fact that I’ve been distancing myself from the anti-modern sectors of the wider polytheist community only reinforces my focus on my native identity, giving my practices an increasing Portuguese colour.

Of course, the inclusion in one’s pantheon of deceased people who had a different religion, moral standards and worldview is something that can only happen if you’ve made peace with the past and neither deny its mistakes and wrong-doings, nor do you constantly bring them up as a protest banner or a rallying cry for ulterior agendas. If you haven’t yet sorted things out – which may not be entirely up to you – and either live in denial or see past people as little more than bad folks who did terrible things, then you won’t be going far when it comes to worshipping your land or community’s heroes and founding figures.

A travelling Freya?

Last Sunday, May 1st, was the Dominalia, my annual feast to Freya. After ritually burning the usual offerings to Janus, Juno and my Lares, as is customary on the Calends, I prepared a new fire for the ritus aprinus. Practice makes perfect, so it went better then my first attempts, and I offered the Vanadís small portions of homemade caramel, barley, cinnamon and cherry liquor, plus libations of wine to Her and Her family. I also asked Her to bless a small bowl of flowers mixed with barley, which I took with me in the afternoon and casted on a farm field and a seaside hill top on my way to the beach. And then at some point, my mind produced a question I had not yet considered: is Freya a Lady of Roads or Travellers?

Freya 08

There’s certainly no obvious reference to it in the surviving lore, where She’s presented as a goddess of love and sex, wealth and beauty, seiðr and war. Her connection to the boar, both in stanza 7 of Hyndluljóð and in the name Sýr or Sow, which is listed in Snorri’s Edda (Gylfaginning 35 and Skáldskaparmál 75), points to that triple nature: swines are symbols of fertility, prosperity and, in the case of the boar, of military valour. Which also gives substance to the occasional allusions to Freyr’s warrior side, though that tends to be ignored due to an anachronistic use of the three functions theory, a simplistic equation of friðr with “peace” and a focus on more obvious deities of conflict. Anyway, while there’s no reference to Freya as a goddess of roads and travellers, there are a few hints in the lore that may suggest or, at the very least, give some traditional basis for a modern development of that aspect of Hers.

The clearest clue is Her connection to Odin, whose role as a wanderer is well established. It is said that they share the fallen ones on the battlefield (Grímnismál 14), that She taugh seiðr to the Aesir (Ynglinga saga 4) – thus presumably explaining Odin’s expertise and Loki’s accusation of unmanliness in Lokasenna 24 – and Her husband is said to be an obscure god named Óðr (Gylfaginning 35 and Skáldskaparmál 20), which is the root of the name Odin or Óðinn in Old Norse. And like the One-Eyed Himself, Freya too is said to have wandered through the world, though not in search of knowledge, but Her loved one (Gylfaginning 35). Also, Her falcon cloak is one of the tools used by Loki to travel to Jötunheim, in what is no doubt an allusion to spirit journeys, but journeys nonetheless. It should be pointed out that elsewhere in ancient Europe, gods of roads and travellers were also connecters of worlds, like the psychopompic Hermes or the oracular Apollo. And then there’s Mardöll, one of Freya’s several names listed in Gylfaginning 35 and whose meaning is disputed, though one interpretation is something like “sea light” (marr and dallr), which could be anything from a lighthouse to a star. There are actually modern polytheists who see in Mardöll a goddess who aids or rescues sailors, which is hardly surprising if you consider who Freya’s father is.

Now, again, none of this is an obvious reference to a side of Hers as a goddess of travellers, be it on land or sea. But religion is not static – unless it’s a dead one – so at the very least, there’s enough material to place the possibility and explore it in modern polytheism. On that note, I honestly don’t know if others, heathens or devotees of Freya, have thought about it, but if not, consider this a heads-up. Granted, I may be looking at it from the perspective of a Roman polytheist, which probably explains why I thought of Hermes and Apollo a few lines above. But that too is nothing new in the world of ancient religions, since there was plenty of cultural exchange and reinterpretation between the Latin and Germanic worlds along the Rhine a few thousand years ago. No reason why it shouldn’t be so today and new aspects of the gods shouldn’t be explored.

And no, I’m not thinking about pairing Freya with Mercury as queen and king of byways, if nothing else because I’m already exploring a similar possibility with Ilurbeda. Of course, there is something mercurial to all of this, in that if I’m putting something new on the table, it’s perhaps no surprise that a Mercury devotee noticed Freya’s potential for a goddess of roads and travellers. So at the very least, I may take it up as a task of sorts and yet another case of “liminaling”.

Addendum
There’s another classical parallel that can be made here: in southern Europe, deities of magic can also preside over travellers and roads. Hermes/Mercury again is a clear example, but so is Hecate. And similarly to both of them, Freya too is a psychopomp, even if specifically tied to the battlefield.

An eastern birthday

For those of you who know me or at least have been reading this blog for some time now, it’s no secret that I lean very much towards Buddhist philosophy, especially the Madhyamaka school. If that surprises you or you’re not sure what to make of it, see here. In fact, my April piece on Polytheist.com owes a lot to the notions of impermanence and emptiness, so far from being a mere object of intellectual curiosity, Buddhist philosophy is something I’ve come to integrate into my religious life. It just makes tremendous sense on both a personal and devotional level.

Buda - Gandara

The road towards it
It took me time to get there, though, and it wasn’t a linear process. At sixteen, when I left Christianity and felt atheism didn’t quite cut it, Buddhism was my first option. I still have about a dozen books from that time, including written material from a retreat I took in a Tibetan centre in the late 1990s. I was a different person back then, way younger and definitely not keen on gods or similar entities, so either because I failed to grasp the philosophical concepts or wasn’t entirely sure about the religious part, I ended up moving away from Buddhism and stepped into archetypal paganism. Several years later, while already a heathen and when considering the issue of fate, the notion of interconnectedness became evident. I’m sure I was told about it a gazillion times before, but there’s more to learning than just reading and listening. There’s also an intuitive side to it, epiphanies where your brain clicks and you suddenly make sense of something you were probably aware of, theoretically or intellectually, but was yet to grow roots in your mind. Transferring knowledge successfully can be a bit like transferring plants in that it’s not enough to just move ideas into fresh soil.

There was thus a moment when I became intuitively aware that nothing exists in isolation, that everything is connected and whatever free will one has is limited by causes that are beyond an individual’s control. That’s fate, the total sum of factors that preceded, surround and shape you. You’re not an island, but a knot in a web that links everyone and everything, where every single action has extended consequences and no thread is entirely free because it is tied to other threads. I retained this awareness ever since, revisiting and refining it over the years, even making it a part of my daily life. My education in History and subsequent work in the same field played a large role in that, because when your professional activity (and hobby) is to study the intricate pattern of past events, how they impacted on each other and shaped things, you get a persistent sense that nothing exists in isolation. In as much as there’s virtually not a single day I don’t reflect at least once on how human actions – past or present, individual or collective, mine or someone else’s – ripple through the pond of existence and in turn create or shape new actions.

Then a few years ago, I became a devotee of Mercury, after whom came the Lares Viales, and my interest in Buddhism was rekindled at some point. Can’t remember exactly how or why, but there was Stephen Prothero’s God is not one, talks on philosophical schools, a few discussions around the Greco-Buddhist culture of Gandhara, a bit of reading on the topic and I guess eventually I just grabbed some of the books I bought back in the 1990s. Which then led me to go through lists of Buddhist masters and schools, including Nagarjuna and Madhyamaka, whose view on sunyata or emptiness came across as brutality meaningful. Partly because the basic notion behind it – that of dependent origination – is easy to grasp once you realize that nothing exists in isolation, so in a way Buddhist thought gave a philosophical depth and solidity to ideas that were already rooted in my mind. And from that point on, it didn’t take long for everything to come together, for two things that initially seem unrelated – Madhyamaka and Mercury – to intersect via the notions of impermanence and emptiness, movement and connectedness. In a way, it feels like coming full circle.

To be clear, I’m not saying that I’m religiously a Buddhist. Modern westerners may commonly see philosophy and religion as being indistinguishable, in that if you follow one you must also follow the other, but that’s not how it went in the ancient world. Back then, you could be a Stoic, an Epicurean, a Platonist or even a Sceptic and still be a Roman polytheist regardless of your choice of philosophy, if any. Part of that was because religious identity was an extension of social and political status, but it’s also because religion was defined in orthopraxic terms, through traditional ritual practice, with beliefs being generally left up to the individual to speculate on. And that’s pretty much what I’m doing here: keeping a basic orthopraxy that makes me a Roman polytheist, while filling in the philosophical content with something that’s up the individual to choose. That I lean towards Madhyamaka, which wasn’t available as a school of thought in ancient Europe, means only that I’m a not fossilized cultor: I don’t limit myself to what was in existence in Rome up until the 5th century CE, but am interested in reviving Roman polytheism in the modern day and age, not re-enact it as it was 1500 years ago. Simply put, I take the basic dynamics – orthopraxy, no initiation, unregulated belief, etc. – detach them from the social specifics of a given time and age – e.g. morals, which run the risk of being grossly anachronic – and then apply them to the present, not a perpetual renaissance fair. And today, you have a lot more philosophical schools to chose from. Again, see here and also here.

The (somewhat) mercurial figure
Another thing Romans did – and weren’t alone in that – was worshiping or at least acknowledging non-Roman gods and even syncretizing deities from different pantheons. Again, you don’t have to limit yourself to what was available in the Roman empire up until the 5th century and can honour gods that were unheard of in ancient Europe. That’s what happens when you practice a living religion in today’s world instead of pretending to live in a bygone age. And you’ll still be a modern Roman polytheist if you worship Them according to Roman ritual or at least if it makes up the majority of your practices (see here).

For my part, I generally don’t syncretise and never assume that a Roman god is identical to a non-Roman one simply because they’re similar. I need to research, take some time to think about it and maybe resort to divination before reaching a conclusion that may not be definite. However, there is one thing I do a lot and that’s Latinization, i.e., worshipping non-Roman gods in a Roman or at least Romanized fashion (like this). It’s something for which there is ample historical precedent and allows for deities from other pantheons to be integrated into the realm of the cultus deorum. I worship four Iberian gods and five Norse ones in that manner, some of which already had (partly) Romanized cults in ancient Europe, and also historical figures from the 13th century on as a type of Lares. The only exceptions in my practices are two Egyptian deities – Khnum and Anubis – whom I honour according to Kemetic tradition (and I have a lot to learn on that regard). And now there’s something else, someone who’s been on the horizon due to my interest in Madhyamaka and who now comes as neither entirely religious nor entirely philosophical: Manjushri.

Manjushri 02

He’s the bodhisattva of wisdom, particularly the type known as prajna, which entails the awareness of emptiness. His historical origins are unclear, as are those of His cult, but He is commonly associated with Buddhist masters and teachers and is thus a central figure in the world of Buddhist thought. So it’s probably no surprise that I should end up “bumping” into Him, since I’ve been freely drinking from His philosophical well and major proponents of Madhyamaka, namely Nagarjuna and Je Tsongkhapa, are described as having been taught or inspired by Manjushri. In that sense, to honour Him would be akin to honouring ancient European philosophers (like Epicurus) or gods associated with philosophical schools (like Apollo). Again, this is taking pre-Christian dynamics and applying them to the options of the modern world instead of merely re-enacting the past. But Manjushri comes across as more than the divine keeper of a philosophical well that’s rich in mercurial potential: He Himself is a somewhat mercurial figure.

He’s not just associated with a particular form of wisdom, but also with speech, music and memory, in as much as He’s sometimes paired with the Hindu goddess Saraswati. His weapon is the blade and He’s linked to mantic dice, thus fusing fortune and divination, which are two aspects of the hermetic realm. And He also shares a connection with number four, since His birthday is traditionally celebrated on the fourth day of the fourth Chinese lunar month. Yeah. So I guess that makes Him a sort of distant cousin of Mercury, thus adding a religious dimension to the use of Buddhist stone to construct the philosophical building of my mercurial devotion.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Manjushri has such a liminal status for me, somewhere between philosophy and religion. He stands at a source of ideas, of a river that runs through several parts of my life, providing intellectual sustenance, though He’s not the sacred fields, groves and temples. He’s not Mercury and I have no intention of syncretizing Them, because that’s not something I generally do. I don’t even know if I’ll ever award Him a Latin or Latinized cult, which honestly seems like a step too far at this point. But maybe it’s time I acknowledge Him in some way and mark His birthday, even if just by meditating, reading and offering a candle. Of course, one could ask why not honour the Buddha instead, which would also be in line with the practice of paying tribute to the founders of one’s philosophical school. But there are two answers to that: one thing does not exclude the other and I can indeed mark the Buddha’s birthday as well; though the thing about Manjushri is that He has the aforementioned mercurial traits, which gives Him a religious dimension and hence a greater significance for a Mercury devotee. And that in turn could lead to a festive blend where I honour the Buddha, as well as masters like Nagarjuna and Je Tsongkhapa, on Manjushri’s birthday, which this year falls on May 10th. It’s not what Buddhists do, I know, but like I said, religiously speaking I’m not a Buddhist.

Number four is coming

This year’s Ludi Mercuriales or Games of Mercury are just around the corner and I’ve been getting ready for four days of food, fun and flowers in honour of the Fleet-Footed, His mother and His divine host of Lares Viales. The pantry’s been stocked with needed ingredients, the raw materials for the wreaths are in, there’s wine, incense and small candles in sufficient amount, enough wood for the ritual fires and I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecast, which at the moment isn’t good, so I may not have the chance to go out and erect piles of rocks while on long bike rides. As it stands, however, the plan is as follows:

    April 1st
    The celebrations start with an opening prayer and morning offerings comprised of a candle and portions of incense, fennel and wine, all placed on Mercury’s domestic shrine. Since it’s also the start of the month, Janus, Juno and the Family Lares are honoured as well and all of the morning offerings will be burned before lunch in a ceremony dedicated to Maia. It seems fitting that if I mark April 4th as Mercury’s birthday, His mother should be worshiped at the start of the Ludi, which is also why She’s given a portion of cheese, cinnamon and coconut milk – i.e., some of the main ingredients of a cake I’ll be giving Him down the road. In the afternoon, as I take Her offerings to a nearby hill, I’ll leave a coin in a public place to be found by whomever the Lord of Fortune desires. And after returning home, I’ll start working on the wreaths and cake. There’s no point in making those things in March, due to the obvious reason that one honours the Gods not just by giving Them a finished product, but also by making it, so the work of preparing the offerings is a tribute in itself and hence a part of the festivity.

    April 2nd
    In the morning, a new candle is given to Mercury on His domestic shrine, though no further offerings are made. The second day is dedicated mostly to indoor activities: the wreaths are finished, as is the cake for April 4th, and I take some time to study divination and other mercurial topics. The only major outdoor exception is leaving another coin in a public place and, should the weather allow, maybe some jogging.

    April 3rd
    Again, the day starts with a candle being offered to the Fleet-Footed, followed by a prayer to the Lares Viales. They’re presented with wine, wheat and four small wreaths, all of which will be placed in small containers and taken outside in the afternoon. If it doesn’t rain, I’ll use my bike to go on a long ride of no less than forty kilometres, stopping four times to erect small herms by the road and placing on top of each one of the wreaths, as well as portions of the wine and wheat that were offered in the morning. As on the other days, I’ll also leave a coin in a public place.

    Last year's four herms and wreaths.

    Last year’s four herms and wreaths.

    April 4th
    The big day, the fourth of the fourth month of the year! In the morning, a candle and portions of wine, incense and fennel are given to Mercury on His domestic shrine. Before lunch, there’s a formal ceremony for Him, where most of the morning offerings will be burned and a cake consecrated, a slice of which will be given to the Fleet-Footed and the rest made ritually profane so it can be consumed by me and members of my family. He’s also offered a wreath that will then be placed on His shrine and should remain there until the end of the year (I use statice flowers for that purpose). In the afternoon, a new bike ride follows (if the weather allows), with libations being made along the way and, yet again, a coin left somewhere public. Also, I’ll be buying a lottery ticket and, once I’m back home, perform some divination before wrapping up at sundown with a prayer and lighting a final candle on Mercury’s shrine.

Apart from a desire to please the mercurial deities in question, there’s a somewhat narrative dynamic to all of this, in that you start by honouring the mother (foreshadowing later offerings), study the arts of Her soon-to-be-commemorated son, worship the Lares Viales as They make way for Their Lord and, when His anniversary finally comes, you lavish Him with presents. Naturally, there are other things that can be done in His honour, like watching a comedy and creating pranks (namely on April Fools). In some of those occasions, as indeed every time I go out as part of the Ludi, I wear on my wrist a leather bracelet with a coin tied to it. It normally rests in a small bowl on Mercury’s shrine and it serves the purpose of marking outdoor activities like biking and trekking on specific days as tributes to Him. And of course, if it’s raining, small walks instead of a forty-kilometres ride will have to do the trick. If that’s the case, I’m not sure if I’ll find the necessary rocks to erect a herm, but at the very least the offerings will be left or poured next to crossroads.

No matter the weather, come rain or shine, let April start under the sign of the god who was born on a fourth day, the ram-bearing son of Maia!