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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Numa Tradition: Turn Around and Sit

Turn round to pay adoration to the Gods; sit after you have worshipped.

Plutarch says:

One of the delights of Plutarch is how prosaic he is. He often comes up with very mundane and logical reasons for things that might or might not originate in common sense and logic. And even if we turn around because it’s a matter of architecture, humans tend to elaborate and embroider meaning onto such acts, especially in a religious context. That we are mimicking the turning of the universe (a sort of Pythagorean thought) fits well with the rest of the doctrine, so why not?

Sitting after worship, according to Plutarch, is both a sign of good omen and lets the blessing of the gods come upon you, but also is a punctuation in worship, allowing the gods to spur the worshiper into more worship or move on as the situation requires. This is not as prosaic as the turning round because the room requires it, but is again Plutarch interpreting by way of the least complicated explanation. For those of us who meditate, the idea of a quiet time to sit after praying seems natural. Also it amuses me how many things from my Roman Catholic religious education, such as purifying with water and this notion of sitting and standing for different religious emphasis, come straight from pagan Rome.

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Numa Tradition: Foods not for Sacrifice

Wine grapes.

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Pliny says in his Natural History that Numa decreed that fish without scales should not be served up at the Festivals of the Gods because of matters of frugality. Seafood was expensive in Rome, exotic seafood even more so. Pliny also says that wine was restricted from funeral pyres for similar reasons. This seems to hold true to the idea of the Numa tradition being accessible to anyone. No fancy and expensive items needed, just sincerity of devotion.

This is not to say that any old thing will do. Numa went on to list  conditions of wine that would make it unacceptable for sacrifice: made by diseased workers, got from unpruned vines or vines that had been exposed to lightning or a corpse, wine that had been cut with water, wine made from “must husks” (that is 3rd pressing or more). So it’s important to offer the Dii Immortales clean, well-made wine if not terrifically expensive wine. Other sources suggest that libation wine was flavored with myrrh, but myrrh was fairly expensive in Roman times and so doesn’t fit well with the Numa tradition of simplicity and humble offerings. Cicero says that Plato says much the same thing– that the Gods like simple, clean offerings.

None of this is very much like Kosher or Halal or Buddhist dietary restrictions, as it says nothing about what people should eat, only about what one should or should not offer the Dii Immortales. Most of my offering happens at my Lararium anyhow, which isn’t about Dii Immortales but about household Gods. M. Horatius Piscinus pointed out that while some homemade dandelion wine wouldn’t fit the Numa regulations for libations for the Dii Immortales, it could be a perfectly fine offering for one’s Lares and Penates.  So none of this is “one size fits all” anyhow, and can be very situational.

Perhaps you live by the coast and want to offer to Neptune. As Livia pointed out in the same thread, various sea foods are a natural offering to Neptune. If one takes into consideration that the original prohibition was more about avoiding overly luxurious offerings, the limitation on exotic seafood might not apply if it’s not particularly expensive where you live and is appropriate for other reasons.  Just remember that Numa and Cicero and Plato and Pliny say that rich offerings are no way to bribe your way into the Gods’ favor.

Numa Tradition- Mola Salsa

From the statue in Rome. Costume of a chief ve...

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Mola Salsa is a meal and salt combination that was traditionally used as a purification device for offerings. The Vestal Virgins made the mola salsa for use in Roman State religious sacrifices; I’m not certain if virgin daughters traditionally made mola salsa for home use or whether it fell to the lady of the house.

The Mola in mola salsa is emmer, one of the oldest grains cultivated in the world. It fell out of use when higher-producing hybrids were introduced and is mainly a boutique grain now, available at health food stores.   The salsa is salt, including “boiled salt”, or salt reduced from sea water or brine, and “hard salt” or rock salt. You can read about the production of mola salsa by the Vestales here:  Mola Salsa: Sacred Flour from the Hearth of Rome’s Vestal Virgins. Some sources contend that mola salsa were cakes and not loose meal, but if mola salsa were cakes, by the description of its use it got crumbled back into meal anyhow. If it was formed into cakes, I suspect it was probably done for convenience for transport or storage.

Numa said that no sacrifice should be performed without mola salsa, and given the premise in Tully’s Sacred Flour article linked to above, that’s probably because the mola salsa is the instrument of purification and dedication that marks the sacrifice as the property of the Gods.  If you have a hearth fire/fireplace in your house, adding a little mola salsa to any sacrifices offered there isn’t too difficult, assuming that you feel that you can make mola salsa without the services of a Vestal Virgin.  For incense offerings and offerings offered to a smaller flame, the mola salsa becomes a bit more problematic.  One way to deal with it would be to keep a special bowl to put mola salsa offerings in and then burn them at a later date.

Numa Tradition– Sacrifices

A few weeks ago, M. Horatius Pontifex Maximus cultoribus Deorum s. p. d., (Marcus Piscinus Horatius) sent out a list he compiled of the Regulations of Numa Pompilius. I’m going to go through the regulations one at a time here.

“Sacrifices are not to be celebrated with an effusion of blood, but consist of flour, wine, and the least costly of offerings.” [Plutarch, Numa 8.8] This means that this information was found in Plutarch and in Numa’s writings.

This makes me happy on a personal, spiritual level for a number of reasons.

First is that gods that demand blood sacrifice make me nervous. This is not the same thing as sharing some meat from your meal, or even a share of the meat before it is cooked, or cooking meat in a ceremonial feast with the gods, where you’re going to offer (feed) some of it to the gods and eat the rest yourself. Blood sacrifice, killing and sacrificing animals for no purpose other than the sacrifice, disturbs me.

Secondly, it’s a waste of resources. This corresponds to the “least costly of offerings” part. I think the gods like offerings, but I don’t think they like extravagant waste. If you’re well-off, perhaps you can afford to kill and burn up a whole cow on behalf of the gods. The problem with that, however, is keeping your mind on the idea that it’s how you offer the cow that’s important. People with wealth sometimes fall into the trap of thinking they can buy anything, including the gods’ favor.

Third, it’s frowned upon by larger society. Only child porn and other indecency with children gets people wound up faster than animal abuse. Animal sacrifice is viewed as animal abuse throughout much of Western society, and this is a really hard perception to change. It’s more than a little hypocritical, considering the way our society treats many of its food animals (see battery hens, pigs raised in sheds or corn-fed beef for examples).  Nonetheless, it doesn’t make sense to taunt greater society into disliking pagans any more than they already do by doing something that’s poorly understood. It’s a public relations nightmare.

Fourth, most people don’t know how to sacrifice an animal without causing undue pain and suffering. I really, really don’t want to worship any gods that feed on suffering. And if I were sacrificing animals, I’d want to kill them quickly and cleanly. Slaughter is an art. Our modern slaughterhouses aren’t always quick, clean and humane either, and that bothers me. I don’t want to add to it all by being a direct agent of suffering to some poor critter. If sacerdotes were to start offering sacrifices on behalf of petitioners, I think they would need to be trained in the practicalities of slaughter as well as the relgious aspects.

All in all, it’s easier to avoid the whole issue by following Numa’s “no extravagant blood sacrifices” though I think the extravagant part was much more important to Numa than the blood part.