Numa Tradition: Juno

Let no pélex touch the altar of Juno or enter the temple precinct of Juno; if she touches it, let her, with her hair unbound, make sacrifice to Juno.”

A pelex was a mistress established as an unofficial rival wife. This seems to come from Festus, but again I haven’t been able to track down the exact quote.  Danet’s “Complete Dictionary” seems to think this was a clause forbidding polygamy, as women would touch Juno’s altar as part of their wedding vows.

The important thing here is that a pelex threatened home life, unlike a prostitute or more casual love affair.  We’re talking about the mores of Ancient Romans here and not modern convention, where a single indiscretion can be cause for divorce. Though Romans could and did get divorced on as little provocation as unseemly public behavior, usually divorces were motivated by extended family dynamics and political factors. The greater family good was more important than any single couple’s marriage, and anything that threatened the carefully arranged alliances between Roman families was deeply frowned upon.

Juno, as the guardian of family harmony, would have little sympathy for a second, unofficial wife or mistress set up in her own household.  But even a pelex could make sacrifice in expiation if she did wrong, so all is not hopeless for her.

As a modern pagan, I married for love and not political connections. I’m going to take this as a general admonition to not let relationships with others, including friendships, disrupt home life.

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