Ritual Items

With the first sliver of a new moon the Kalends of September arrives.  Arriving three hours after the sun rose, the crescent moon becomes visible this evening. The rites for the Kalends thus begin after midnight on 1 September.  For this we shall need a few more items besides our ritual implements.

Mola Salsa

Essential for every formal Roman ritual is mola salsa Numa Pompilius, who founded the Religio Romana more than 2500 years ago, handed down the regulations for sacrifices that we still follow today, one of which is:

“No sacrifices shall be performed without mola salsa (Plutarch, Life of Numa 14.3).”

The heads of wheat must be threshed and winnowed to separate out the kernels of wheat. These are then soaked in salt water before roasting them in the oven.  Fornax, the goddess of the old-style oven used to roast grain, is called up as the oven is swept out and offered some of the grain that she’ll roast for us.  Afterwards the roasted wheat kernels are placed in a mortar, with some Mediterranean Sea salt to aid in the grinding. It is cracked and ground by hand in a mortar with a pestle, which was said to have been invented by Pilumnus, a minor god who is the patron deity of bakers. Pilumnus, the brother of Picumnus, is also one of the three guardians of the house. We will return to him in tomorrow’s rites for the doorway. As in any chore, Pilumnus is called upon to lend us his numen when we grind anything in a mortar and pestle. That is, we ask the patron deity of an action to instill in us their presence as a guide in the work we do. So for grinding it may be Pilumnus, for roasting Fornax, and various other Gods and Gossess, or Their numina, depending on the task undertaken.

Libum Cakes

Another item used for most Roman sacrifices is libum. The recipe for these goes back to M. Porcius Cato, a Roman senator during the Second Punic War. Goat cheese is first mashed in a bowl. To the cheese half as much course-ground spelt flour and spelt groats are added, along with a pinch of salt.   Mixed together, they form a sticky cheese dough that is formed into little balls.  If mixing up a large batch, and egg may also be added to help hold the cheese balls together. On a baking stone strew some cornmeal and place laurel leaves down. Then press a cheese ball onto each of the laurel leaves. Cover with a stoneware bowl and bake in medium to low heat (250-300 F) for ten to twenty minutes.

Another type of offering is called strues. These are simply wafers made from a very simple dough of water and flour, perhaps with a pinch of salt. The dough is similar to pasta dough, rolled out thin and cut into round wafers before baking. The oldest Gods, like Janus and Saturn, are offered strues instead of libum, where as libum is preferable to offer to Jupiter and other Classical Gods. For Goddesses, libum may be offered, although it is sometimes preferable to offer Them what is known as moretum.  This is a kind of salad made from a soft cheese and whatever herbs you have on hand.

Broom with St. John's wort

Broom with St. John's wort

The rites for the Kalends of each month involve sweeping and cleaning. Thus one needs to make a broom of beneficial herbs.  Vervain (verbena officialis) is regarded as a plant of purification. Water in which vervain has steeped is used for washing down places and things. A broom into which vervain is braided is likewise used for purification. But other herbs may be used, such as mints, melissa (lemon balm), or an iperco (St. John’s wort).  Shown at left is a besom to which ribbons, bells, meadow sweet,  and St. John’s wort have been attached for health, happiness and purity.  For the ritual sweeping conducted of the home at each phase of the moon, a form of mola salsa is scattered about and then swept up by such a broom as the one shown.

An assortment of herbs are also used in such rites. A spring of rosemary, for example, may be used to sprinkle purifying water. The water itself must be collected from a natural spring or a river, as only flowing water is regarded as pure. Water that has traveled through pipes is not intended for ritual use. What we do instead is to gather water from the four directions, whereby the genius of each river around that define your location is called upon to purify and safeguard your home.  Mints are used to scrub offering tables and inside doors to present a friendly and happy atmosphere. Altars and outside doors are instead scrubbed with vervain to purify them. Penny royal is also used to ward off evil, rumors, and jealousy, where in bedrooms anise may be used to bring sweet dreams, or basil placed around the front door to attract money.  In collecting any herb, the numen of a God or a Goddess which is instilled in the plant is called upon to work its benefits to our use. Thus penny royal is addressed as “Herb of Proserpina, daughter of Orcus, may you hold back illness and fever from us, just as you held back the water and the blood of the she-ass.” In the same way, whenever an herb is employed in a ritual, it is addressed and called upon to work its special properties on our behalf.

Mania Corn-Doll

Thus with our sacramental implements cleaned and ready, and our cleaning items gathered, offerings and libations set aside, we will be ready for tomorrow’s rites. On the door a new wreath will  be hung for the season. Protective amulets may be placed around the front door and windows as well. Often these are twigs, or the spikes of a thorn apple, and on certain occasions the maniae or oscilla. These are little dolls used to represent the cultores Deorum who live in the house, and thus those who are intended to be protected and blessed by our monthly rites. They may be made of wool, or of corn husks like the one at left.  Sometimes they may be only twigs of an anthropomorphic shape. They serve as surrogates to receive any illness or evil that may pass by our houses, and also serve to demonstrate to the Lares viales that worshipers of the Gods, and how many, dwell within.

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  • Servom Deii

    Hello M. Horatius Piscinus i just wanted to tell you that i really appreciate everything you do and if you can, could you tell me or give your point of view about a more “relaxed” cultus deorum? by this i mean not follow so much the old ways but a new and more modern way to the gods for this modern times we live (shorter rituals, less sacrifices and indoor offerings)

    Because there is so much contradicting information on the subject some “sects” say that we must follow the old ways in an extremely ordered manner but you in your article named Mos Maiorum you talk about how we should see all the information about the old ways as an insight of our religion but then you say that we should apply some of this aspects into our practice,
    so should we apply the practices of charity and organization that Julian the philosopher wanted?
    should we apply extra-formal offerings into our practice?
    what should we apply?
    also do you think that maybe this orthopraxic behavior along with the stigma of polytheism prevent religio romana to grow?

    and just so you know i see you as the Pontifex Maximus
    :)

  • https://sites.google.com/site/cultusdeorumromanorum/ M. Horatius Piscinus

    Salue Servom Deii The religio Romana is a tradition of practice rather than belief, although there are certainly beliefs we hold that are behind our practice. Generally I write about the ancient practices, as far as can be known, but it is an incomplete record that we have to rely on. Other times I write about formal rituals, based on ancient practices. Formal ritual is intended to be performed by sacerdotes on behalf of a community. A sacerdos must be able to perform public ritual in a proper manner. But in the home every cultor develops his or her own cultus. Those are usually very simple. The more you learn about Roman ritual, then the more you can add in some aspects of formal rituals, but those are not necessary in your daily or monthly practice. So I also include some information on things I do at home, and most of the photos I put up are also from my own rites. Places to visit are the Cultus Deorum website at Google and the Yahoo Groups list Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum where you can better discuss your ideas.


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