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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Rome: Season 1, Episode 11–The Spoils

Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo (left) and Kevin ...

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This episode’s theme was redemption, but of course there will be no redemption for Gaius Julius Caesar. Several characters hit rock bottom– Vorenus is reduced to bribing his fellow former brother soldiers into submission to Caesar’s plans, Pullo is out being a killer for hire and Brutus has finally realized what a total puppet he is.

Pullo’s redemption starts when he sacrifices and prays in his cell before being led away to the gladiatorial ring to pay for his crimes. Vorenus’s redemption comes full circle there, when he throws himself into the ring for the honor of the Legio XIII, and to support his brother Pullo. The scene where they leave the gladiatorial ring together is one of the most touching moments in the series. Brutus, meanwhile, is pushed beyond his ability to cope by Caesar’s “request” that he quit the city and become mayor of some far off place. He realizes that Caesar does not trust him because he has become untrustworthy, not because he has acted against Caesar but because he hasn’t acted in accordance with his own conscience. Of all the redemptive moments, I think Brutus’s is the weakest because Brutus of HBO Rome is a weak man. He has principals, but he doesn’t truly have the virtus to support them.

Pullo’s redemption is fullest because he can admit to himself where he’s gone wrong. His last prayer in the cell is for his friends and the woman he loves, not for himself.  However far away from the light he’s wandered, he is at heart a truly good guy, perhaps one of only two characters in the series (the other being Octavia) who has that interior nobility. Vorenus is still very conflicted between honor and duty, and that conflict will most likely destroy him.

Octavian, who I have been worrying about, got his moment too when he goes against Caesar’s wishes to try to hire a lawyer for Pullo.  This bit of defiance and doing what’s right instead of what’s politically expedient makes me think much more highly of this character. He’s still a bit problematic in certain aspects compared to the actual Octavian Augustus Caesar, but he’s coming along. Only one episode to go for Season One!

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Moderatio is the word from which we get our English word, moderation.  It means governance or control, guidance, regulation.  For Aristotle, the concept of moderation is central to the entire notion of “virtue”, since he said that virtue itself is having neither an excess nor a deficit of a trait.  Ancient Romans adored Greek philosophy, and moderation was a key Greek virtue. Entire branches of philosophical thought, such as Epicureanism, were based on the ideal of moderation.

As modern people, we tend to think of moderation in terms of temperance. Like Aristotle, we define being moderate by being not too extreme and by not under or overdoing things. To be moderate is to be “in the middle” and to strive for balance in our actions.  Epicurus is one of the progenitors of the Wiccan idea of “do no harm”, and many people who consider themselves moderates embrace a similar notion.  Moderates view extreme behavior as being harmful to people and society, and tend towards a “live and let live” ethic. Unfortunately, I think this can be a too passive form of moderation.

I think the Romans would have viewed moderatio primarily through the lens of self-control.  To practice  moderatio would be to actively practice  self-regulation.  It’s one thing to be moderate when it’s convenient or expedient to do so, and another to practice it actively. If the point of moderation is to avoid harm, then simply sinking into passive inaction and calling it moderate behavior won’t suffice. True moderation requires active self-governance, and taking action when needed, either by restraining one’s actions or by doing something to correct the unbalanced situation.

Blessed Ides

Roman calendar

Image by diffendale via Flickr

The Ides are sacred to Jupiter, and this month we managed to all together as a family  to hail Jupiter.  We offered up wine, incense, bay, and a bit of our Ides meal. The meal-sharing is probably more appropriate for our Lars than for Jupiter, but I didn’t have the cheese on hand to make cakes. Next month perhaps we will do better.

Digging around for pre-formatted prayers, I stumbled across the website of the Gens Apollonia. They have a page of very helpful pre-made prayers for the Lararium, Kalends, Nones, and Ides. The Gens Apollonia is a kin group of Nova Roma, and so the prayers need a bit of adjustment for those of us who are neither Apollonea nor citizens of Nova Roma. The amount of rewriting needed is fairly minor, and the prayers are good.

I tend to move everything back into English because although my children and I know a fair bit of Latin, saying prayers in Latin reminds me strongly of my Roman Catholic upbringing. That in itself isn’t completely bad, but one of the big complaints about the Latin mass in the days when mass was said in Latin was that people in the pews didn’t understand it and therefore it led to a less than authentic religious experience. We have the understanding to do the prayers in Latin, but at this point I am unconvinced that it would be better to do them in Latin. We want to speak from the heart first and foremost. For now I think that’s easiest to do in our mother tongue.

This month for me has been focused very much on connecting with Juno, and so I find it very fortuitous that today came together in a way that allowed us to make a bigger gesture at Ides to Jupiter than I’ve managed in the past. Jupiter is Juno’s spouse, after all, and so if I’m to have a better understanding and relationship with Juno, I should try to be cordial to her spouse as well.

May the great Sky Father smile luck down upon you! And if you’re living in the current drought zone, may Jupiter Pluvius please send us rain to bless our crops and lands.

Juno Covella

M. Horatius Piscinus says that the 7th of each month is sacred to Juno Covella. Varro seems to be his source for this, but I’m struggling a little with my research on that. Today at my house, we worked a little more on Juno’s shrine outside. We also took out an offering. That strange little plate under the cake was a gift I gave to my mother as a Mother’s Day present many years ago.  When she passed away, it somehow got shuffled into her good china and passed back to me.  I decided to use it to carry offering to Juno because of its strong connection in my mind with Mother. It’s not the most beautiful thing, but it has undeniable meaning for me.

Offering to Juno

Offering to Juno

Prayer to Juno Covella

adapted from Marcus Horatius Piscinus’s “Oratio Juno Covella”

Hail Juno Covella, Goddess Eternal, She that holds the oldest shrines, most chate and pure of heart of all the Gods. We adore thee Goddess, We invoke you Juno, for it is written that you will bless those who call upont you and sacrifice to you.

I pray to you, Goddess Juno, and offer these gifts that you may favor my house and household and the households of my friends and commrades. May you also give favor to all that honor and serve You. May you be honored!

Juno Covella, I offer you this incense with earnest prayers that thou mayest be propitious to us, our children, our homes and our households.

Chaste and mighty Juno Covella, I pour out this offering of milk and honey to you with earnest prayers that you may be propitious to us, our children our homes and our households.

Eternal Goddess Juno Covella, may you be honored by the gift of this cake. So be it!

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.

Women’s Cultus

60/50 BCE

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Cultus is a multipurpose word in Latin. Its first meaning is “worship”, but it also can mean tending, keeping, and even be applied to matters of personal refinement and dress.  Women’s cultus usually refers to these later meanings, as for Roman women, dress and ornamentation were vital markers of their public status and respectability.

Many Roman writers make commentary on women’s dress, cosmetics and adornment, either to praise women’s modesty and restraint or to complain of deceptions wrought by the cosmetic arts.  There has been quite a bit of scholarly interest in women’s cultus due to modern women’s studies and so there are some recent explorations of the topic available including:

Dress and the Roman Woman: Self-Presentation and Society by Kelly Olsen (2009)

Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture by J.C. Edmondson and Allison Keith (2002)

The World of Roman Costume by Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante (2001)

The Christian writer Tertullian wrote about how Christians should dress differently than the gentiles around them, and of course we have the current conversations about whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear hijab in secular countries. All of this got me thinking about how a modern Roman Pagan woman might use dress to celebrate her dedication to serving her Gods. While it might or might not be fun to go about in tunic and palla and stola and vittae, it’s impractical for most of us as day wear.

Livia, a learned and generous contributor to the Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum Yahoo email list, recently shared a YouTube channel by jntvstp aka Janet Stephens. Stephen’s channel has Roman earring making and even more exciting for me, how to on some Roman women’s hairstyles.

It occurred to me that I could do my hair in various updos as a kind of private dedication, my own Roman-inspired cultus. Nobody on the street is going to look at my hair and say “there goes a Roman pagan who is arranging her hair as a dedication to Juno”. This pleases me. One of the things that distresses me about the hijab, snoods, Amish caps and the like is that they are very showy ways of marking oneself as “other”. Although the notion behind these items is that they help a woman be modest, in reality they are remarkable enough to draw attention that the wearer would otherwise not receive.  I’m not quite at any point where I want to draw attention to myself and my religious choices by making a show of wearing a palla on the streets of America. The hairdo thing I think I can do without being overly showy, and that pleases me.

So from May kalends to June kalends, I’m wearing my hair in various updos as a dedication to Juno and a commitment to my personal cultus in several meanings of the word. Yesterday I wore my hair in double buns, which is a sort of default fancy hairdo for me. Today I did one bun with side braids.  We’ll see how it goes for the rest of the month.  Here’s today’s hair below. I think in the future I’ll do a weekly montage and not a daily hair post though, as I’m not *that* interested in hair!

Kalends of May

the peacock is sacred to Juno

A week or so ago, I found the peacock in the picture above at a local discount store. For some time now, I’ve been casting about for some way to better connect with Juno, and the appearance of this peacock seemed to me like a sign. After giving it some thought, I got one and installed him in the front garden as the beginning of a shrine for Juno. I waited until today to do an initial dedication, as Kalends are sacred to Juno.

My daughter and I brought milk and honey and incense, and of course, prayers.  Over time I’d like to grow up this shrine, elaborate on it, but for today it is simply the peacock watching out for our House.

Hymn to Juno

Stately Goddess, do Thou please

Who art chief at marriages;

But to dress the bridal bed

When my love and I shall wed;

And a peacock proud shall be

offered up by us to Thee.

Robert Herrick, 1844

And as a side note, today is my 19th wedding anniversary.  Herrick’s poem seems doubly appropriate for us.  Our peacock is a dedication and not a sacrifice, but still perhaps auspicious to do on our anniversary.

Roman Women’s Hairstyles DIY

I just found a YouTube channel with Roman Women’s Hairstyles! I must see her article from the Journal of Roman Archaeology too. 🙂

Rome: Season 1, Episode 10–Triumph

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar

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The historical Caesar was honored with several Triumphs, which were celebratory religious parades. The one featured in this episode of Rome was the one that displayed Vercingetorix, the chieftain of the Averni and leader of the united Gauls, who was overthrown by Caesar in the first episode of the season. At the end of the triumph, Vercingetorix is ritually strangled in front of Caesar. Supposedly the Romans believed that this was a way to transfer the life energy and courage of their enemy to them.

Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and successor, is shown as  Pontifex Maximus. He comes out of Jupiter’s temple with a bowl of red to paint Caesar’s face with, red being Jupiter and Caesar standing as Jupiter’s avatar for the day. In the commentary, they mentioned that the slave who rode in the back of the chariot with him during the parade was supposed to whisper “remember that you are not a god, but a man” for the entire triumphal parade. I guess this was to keep things from going to the feted one’s head. Not that it seems to be working in this episode with Caesar, who is starting to believe his own line of chat that he is indeed a demi-god.

I’m still worrying about Octavian, who by historical counts was a deeply religious man, dedicated to the Gods of Rome and protecting the Roman state from the influence of foreign cults. In an earlier episode he says that he believes in a “one universal source but of course the gods aren’t real”, which I think is a poor representation of Octavian’s actual religious philosophy. In this episode, he extracts his sister from the clutches of a debased and unhealthy cult of Cybele. Cybele was a very popular imported goddess in Rome. Considering Octavian’s position on the corrupting influence of foreign cults, one would think this was fairly well done. Oddly enough, however, Octavian was known for bringing the Cybelean cult to prominence during his reign. Octavian seems to becoming more and more muddled in this show.

And Titus Pullo, suffering an extreme blow to his love life, kills one of Vorenus’s slaves. This is an action of disrespect and a breach of hospitality so deep that Vorenus ejects him from his house.  Vorenus is also running in a fixed election for a magistrate-type position, with much coaching from Caesar’s slave Posca. I don’t know if Vorenus has gotten more uppity because of his new higher position and deal with the Caesar-devil politics, but even if he has, I can see his point about Pullo disrespecting him and breaking the hospitality of the house. Hospitality was an important virtue at the time, and there were requirements to be fulfilled by both host and guest. Pullo really went beyond the pale with the wanton slave killing.

Previous Episode:

Rome: Season 1, Episode 9–Utica

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