Sun and Moon

Four days before the Kalends of September celebrates the anniversary of the dedication of the Temple of Sol and Luna. Fittingly, then, if only coincidentally this year, sun and moon join, as they do each month, for the New Moon just before midnight. The Kalends itself arrives when the first sliver of the New Moon may be seen in another day or so. The Kalends of September is a special date in that it is the first day of the Romans’ rustic calendar, and thus the beginning of the Roman domestic New Year.  This is also the month in which the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno, and Minerva was dedicated atop the Capitoline Hill at the beginning of the Republic of Rome, the Res Publica Populi Romani.

Tomorrow morning, between midnight and dawn, is the time to begin preparing for the monthly ritual at the Kalends.  We do this by setting out offerings for the Manes, those spirits of the dead who may inhabit to land around us. At a place where three roads cross or in the roots of some tree serving this purpose, one approaches left foot first, while carrying your offerings in the left hand and with the right hand held in a protective gesture.  The offerings should be simple – flour or barley, perhaps milk with honey, some vegetables or fruit, and always water and salt and olive oil.  The offerings for the Manes are always to be placed on broken crockery and pottery shards, chipped bowls and broken cups, never on fine dishware.  One should get down on one knee and place the right hand on the earth, calling upon Terra Mater to protect you, as you invoke the Manes to offer them thanks for the blessings of this month and to give them their monthly due.  The offerings are presented one by one, repeating your thanksgiving, by using the left hand alone. The offerings may be burned, although with a type of wood appropriate for the Manes, or they may be buried beneath the earth, or they can simply be left out away from your house.

The Manes ought to be given their due, but no more than required.  The real preparation for ritual comes as you begin your daily ritual for the Lares with dawn, an hour before sunrise.  While your Lares are your deceased family members and friends, and thus might be considered a category among the Manes, the Lares are approached in the same manner as the celestial Gods. Thus there are distinct differences between the rituals that are performed for each. The depth of the night is for the Manes, between midnight and dawn; from dawn to first light is for the Lares; first light is for the celestial Gods, beginning with Janus Matuinus. “I rise with You, I drink with You, O Janus Matutinus.”  The left hand is for the Manes; the right hand for the Lares, the celestial Gods, and for the terrestrial Gods as well . The firewood of beneficial trees, the arbores felices, are used to make the altar fires for the Lares and for the celestial and terrestrial deities. The arbores infelices, those trees with black fruits or black stems, are reserved for special types of purging rituals that invoke the Manes. The incense used is different in each type of ritual, for where we would normally use pleasant scents to invoke the Gods, including our Lares, purifying sulfur is used with the Manes.  The source of water used in the ritual differs as well. Where “pure water” from a flowing stream or spring is used in most rituals, for the Manes a sulfurous water is used, and it is referred to as being water taken from Lake Avernus – one of many “gatewys” to the Underworld.  For the Lares and celestial Gods a square altar is used. For terrestrial Gods a round altar with a deep well is used. While for the Manes and other deities of the Underworld a pit or a round altar in a pit is used instead. The firewood of an altar is likewise placed either in a square shape, like a rail fence, for the Celestial Gods and Lares, or is built up into a cone with a round base for the Manes and terrestrial deities. As mentioned above, the implements used in  in one kind of ritual can be very different from what is appropriate in another type of ritual.  So, too, do the prayers and gestures differ depending on what deities are called upon.

As different as the sun and moon, Roman rituals are nonetheless reflective of one another.  The details match the purpose .  The founder of the Religio Romana, Numa Pompilius, centuries ago set out that Roman ritual should be difficult to perform properly, but not costly and that they always remain simple enough for anyone to perform the basic rites.   When we prepare for ritual, purification is involved. But purification in the Religio Romana is not what most people might think. It does require a participant to be clean, dressed appropriately, pure in a moral sense, but more than anything else purification in the Religio Romana is all about fulfilling your duties both to the Gods and to the fellow members of your community.  Thus the first step to prepare for ritual is to perform ritual for the Manes, and next for the Lares, in order to ensure that you have fulfilled your obligations to them.  Such purification rites are to be made between the Last Quarter and the New Moon, to close out one month as you begin another.

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