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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  • Cyn Qoaad

    I think another thing that has a great impact on ritual is informing those attending what the ritual is about, and also what it will entail. Will there be periods of silence, meditation, chanting, etc. will there be a spiral dance, drumming, a procession? Are we as priest/ess expecting them to participate or observe? And we need to give those attending an idea of why we’re doing these things. For example, to honor our ancestors, or Cernunos, or to celebrate the harvest season, etc. All the preparation the leaders do needs to be in some way communicated to the attendees or you can pretty much guarantee Coyote will stop by. :-)

  • Kenneth Apple

    It is thought that most of what we think of as performance, that is drama, arose out of Greek theatre. Greek theater was part of religious ritual. Sport began as part of ritual, as did music. Now drama has come a long way and there is a lot of it that no longer touches the sacred at all, but most of it still does in some way. There is a lot to be learned from what the modern versions get right as well as what they get wrong. I do not think it is demeaning at all to speak of ritual as a performance.

  • Galena (Laura)

    Excellent observations and thoughts as we work with our CUUPS group on doing more and more rituals. And just in time for those planning some Pagan Pride Days as well. Thanks!

  • Ailim Hazel

    In my experience, preparing the space has had an intense impact in the experience of ritual. Not just the layout of the altar but energy work before the group gathers, seems to intensify the working. I use a singing bowl and do QC and LBP working from Regardie’s book. It really seems to help the air hum before the participants even gather and everything we do then seems to have a much richer tone to it.

  • T’Chung May May

    I agree with Cyn Qoaad. The first (and so far, only) bigish (20ish people) ritual I was involved in the leader didn’t explain anything beyond the fact that the purpose of the ritual was to raise energy of a sexual, intimate nature to set the tone for the evening. While the leader did a good job of directing people in what to do next, she didn’t let us know what was going to happen ahead of time during the ritual, with rather unfortunate results. The impression she gave was that it was a short power raising ritual. It ended up being about an hour and a half long, was intensely more intimate than anybody was prepared for, and raised much more power than anyone was prepared to hold. I had to drop out about 15 – 20 minutes in because I wasn’t prepared for a ritual of that magnitude and couldn’t handle the energy, and a few other people had issues as well, because no one was prepared. It could have been quite wonderful, but because we went into it expecting something short, maybe 10 minutes at most, and so the difference between what we were prepared for and what happened definitely soured the experience for many of us.

  • Daniel Christensen

    Oh MY yes. I participated, attended and lead public ritual for 20 years and I can think of flagrant examples of all these (and a couple more.) Thanks for the Sunday morning flashbacks! :-)

  • Black Diamond

    This is a really good article. I think it points out pitfalls that many people are not aware of, especially those who are asked to create and lead a ritual when they have never done it before. I have led an annual ritual for Lammas for the past 6 years. Although, I had done a bit of public speaking and program coordination before, I had never lead a public spiritual ritual before that first one.
    It took me 8 months of prior research and consultations to write ritual. My script does contain directions, which if it involves the group’s participation, I read those aloud just before beginning that segment so participants know what to do. I do hold rehearsals for my quarters, priest, drummers, and other “ritual staff” a week beforehand. We do a procession, and upon entering the circle, a person next to the smudger hands out small “order of service” pamphlets to participants, which state all the steps of the ritual and also have the response words and chants that they are expected to say. My ritual is attended by anywhere from 80 to 200 people, so making it easy for them like that to participate in chants and dances has spectacular results.
    Mine is a popular, well-attended ritual, but even after 6 years, there are still glitches that happen. Even with all the rehearsals and years of repetition, I might lose my place and skip a line or forget to light something, but it is what it will be; whatever happens, happens. I try to make no notice of it and keep going and hopefully no one will be the wiser. I just laugh about it with my priest later (we both have a sense of humor).
    Lastly, I do give my sources during the ritual too, because knowing where a prayer came from is very important to the purpose of the ritual.
    So, I am glad I saw this article. Although I get a lot of complements after each ritual, it’s good to know from an expert that I am apparently doing a good job.