Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Prayer to Venus

"Tannhäuser in Venusberg" by Collier (1901)
Venus is the Goddess of love in all its guises, as well as fertility, regeneration and divine protection from harm, for she is a life-giver. Ancient sources suggest that the offerings that most please her are roses, mint, myrtle, garlands of flowers, wine* and incense. As she is a maternal Goddess, milk is also a suitable offering, perhaps even more so if mixed with crushed poppy and honey removed from the comb (Ovid recommends that newly wed women should drink this mixture in honour of Venus). More elaborate offerings might include baked goods in the shape of a dove, a horned ram or a bull (these animals were sacrificed to her in ancient Rome); golden jewellery, especially necklaces, and pearls may also please the Goddess. During rituals in her honour, it is traditional for worshippers to wear white if possible, and to cover their heads (capite velato), as it is when praying to most Roman Gods. Prayers should be made with open palms (manu supina) and respect for her images is well conveyed by blowing a kiss in their direction. 

Here follows several prayers to Venus. I wrote the first two (I acknowledge that the following prayers are better than mine!), though the second is heavily influenced by Boyle and Woodard's translation of Ovid's Fasti. For more on Venus see Venus, Goddess of Love and Life and In Praise of Venus.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Nicholson Museum

In the mid to late 19th century many educated British men and women were obsessed with ancient Greece and Rome. Adventurous British people of this era often found themselves in the colonies, including New South Wales, Australia. One of these fellows was Sir Charles Nicholson, who was a founder of the University of Sydney, which is now the oldest Australian university. The university was founded in 1850; seven years later Nicholson travelled to Europe, inter alia, to do a grand tour of Italy, Greece and Turkey and buy antiquities for what became, in 1860, the university's Nicholson Museum.

The Nicholson Museum is now home to the largest collection of Mediterranean antiquities in the southern hemisphere. The 600 or so objects that Nicholson initially brought back to Australia has now grown to nearly 30,000 artefacts of artistic and archeological significance from Egypt, the Near East, Cyprus, Greece and Italy. To attract younger visitors it is also home to one of the most amazing Roman Lego set ups in the world, at the moment they have a large scale reproduction of Pompeii. In the past they have also done the Colosseum and the Acropolis. I went there today, and while it is not the British Museum it is still definitely worth a visit. Here are some of the (mostly Greco-Roman) photographic highlights.

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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Freyr - Lord of Plenty

"Frey" by hellanim.deviantart.com
In Germanic polytheism, neatly put, Freyr is the God of good times, peace and plenty.  He is a protecting God of the earth and a male fertility God par excellence. Of the Roman Gods he is most like Faunus. Like Faunus, Freyr is associated with the fruitful earth and fertile flocks. Implicitly, both Gods are strongly associated with male sexuality. Respected Cambridge scholar H R Ellis Davidson goes so far as to speculate that ceremonies involving sexual abandon may have been among the wilder rites associated with Freyr in pre-Christian times (Gods and Myths of Northern Europe at 126), something that can easily be associated with the pleasure loving Faunus, who enables mating amongst livestock and fertile fields. This sexual aspect of the God is not simply about hedonism, it is about something far more serious and fundamental – it represents an affirmation of life and a continuation of this same force. For Freyr is not only fertile, he is wise (Poetic Edda; Skirnir’s Journey). When Freyr is honoured crops succeed, livestock flourishes and people enjoy good health. H R Ellis Davidson describes Freyr thus: 
“the Gods and Goddesses who brought peace and plenty to men were known as the Vanir … The God who stands out most prominently in the literature is called Freyr, a name meaning ‘Lord’. His twin sister was Freyja, ‘Lady’ [fertility Goddess of love], and their father was the God Njord [God of the fertile sea]. Freyr was said to have been worshipped by the Swedes at Uppsala in the late Viking Age, along with Thor and Odin [foremost of the Aesir Gods], and to have been represented in the temple there by a phallic image. He was described as the God who dispensed peace and plenty to men, and who was invoked at marriages [Scandinavian Mythology at 74].”
Thus it seems that just as Freyja (who is very like the Roman Venus) deals with female sexuality and fertility so is Freyr essentially a God of male sexual virility and fertility.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Contemporary Shrines

A Lararium. Source: cafet.1fr1.net
Maintaining a household shrine is, for many (myself included), the central focal point of Roman oriented polytheism. This is because in ancient times:
"The Roman house itself was the centre of family and private religion. In richer and middle-ranking houses a common feature was a shrine of the household Gods - now conventionally known as a Lararium ... these shrines contained paintings or statuettes of household Gods and other deities; they might also include (in a wealthier house) commemoration of the family's ancestors ... these shrines would have formed the focus of family rituals [Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook]."
Setting up a Lararium was one of the first things I did when I developed an interest in the Religio Romana. Doing so rapidly deepened my practice and understanding of the divine. I had no statuettes to start off with - which is fine, one can invoke the deities by name instead and/or place objects on the shrine to represent specific Gods (eg, an image of a peacock to represent Juno). It is the setting up of a designated sacred space within the home that is of primary importance. This space can include just about anything. The most important thing is that it is clean, and typically one would expect to see a candle flame (or a more traditional oil lamp flame), an incense offering and/or food, liquid or other kinds of offerings (eg, flowers). In my own case, over time, I added a statuette of my patron deity, Mercury, then a homemade figurine of a Lar (household spirit), then a statuette of Vesta and then Venus. Others have entirely different kinds of shrines, which is wonderful - polytheism is by its nature diverse - and some people also have what can be called a Sacrarium or Sacellum, which are shrines that do not necessarily include the Lares or other household Gods. 

Here follows a celebration of contemporary shrines in the home. If you would like to send a picture of your shrine for possible inclusion in this post please send a message to Roman Pagan on Facebook. 
I
My Lararium / household shrine, particularly dedicated to the household Gods, Mercury and Venus
II
Lararium of Lucanus, a Roman Pagan/polytheist from near Washington DC (Mercury depicted)

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Apollo – God of Healing, Music and the Sun

Copy of the Apollo Belvedere (2nd century CE)
Apollo’s cult in Rome
In both the Roman and Hellenic pantheons Apollo is the God of healing (and illness), light, music, poetry and prophecy. The ancients often identified Apollo with the sun itself and thereby twinned with the moon, thus Diana. In this guise he may be known as Sol, Phoebus or Helios. Popular mythology designates him as the son of Jupiter and Latona, though Cicero records that in ancient times there were multiple myths in relation to the Gods – some with which we are no longer familiar.  For example, by one tradition Minerva is the mother of Apollo and by another his father is Vulcan. Despite conflicting mythologies, ancient authors agree on his fundamental attributes. Foremost, at least in the Roman pantheon, he is a God associated with healing, good health and protection from disease (Beard et al; Turcan; Warrior). The earliest evidence we have of his worship in Rome dates to the 5th century BCE, when an appeal to heal a pestilence and a vow to honour him with a temple was made – though we know he was worshipped in Pompeii since at least the 6th century BCE. By the 3rd century BCE Ennius listed Apollo as one of the Dii Consentes, ie, one the major Gods of Rome, and coinage bearing his image was minted. His cult became even more celebrated during the reign of Augustus, who especially promoted Apollo, inter alia, by dedicating a magnificent new temple to him on the Palatine Hill where the Sibylline books came to be kept. More than this, Augustus specifically identified himself with Apollo in various ways. When he was a young man he famously dressed as Apollo at a lavish party. In his war with Mark Antony he credited Apollo’s favour as the reason for his victory. A myth even arose that he was the son of the God, as recorded by Suetonius:
“Atia [Augustus’ mother], with certain married women friends, once attended a solemn midnight service at the temple of Apollo, where she had her litter set down and presently fell asleep, as the others also did. Suddenly a serpent crept in to her and after a while glided away again. On awakening, she purified herself as if after sleeping with her husband. An irremovable coloured mark in the shape of a serpent, which then appeared on her body, made her ashamed to visit public baths any more, and the fact that Augustus was born nine months later suggested he was the son of Apollo. Before she gave birth … Augustus’ father [ie, Atia’s husband] Octavius dreamed that the sun rose from her womb [Suetonius, Divus Augustus].”

Monday, 8 December 2014

Minerva - Goddess of Skilled Thought and Action

"Perseus Armed by Mercury and Minerva" (detail) by Bordone (c.1550)
Minerva is the Goddess of skillfulness and industriousness, or, to put it another way, Minerva is the divine spirit (numen) of skilled action and skilled thought. Caesar describes Minerva as she who “bestows the principles of arts and crafts”, and so she is the patron Goddess of any profession associated with skilled workmanship, thus carpenters, painters, sculptors, teachers, health care workers, shoemakers, anyone associated with the textile industry, indeed any artisan. Propertius describes Minerva as the Goddess of the chaste arts, and Cicero, Tibullus and Horace all refer to her as a chaste, or maiden, Goddess. Horace calls her “industrious”. She also has another significant aspect, a martial one. Ovid tells us that “fierce wars are waged by Minerva’s hands”, and calls her the “armed Goddess”  who likes “unsheathed swords”. Thus in iconography she is typically identifiable by her helmet. Though Mars is the God of war, he is more commonly associated with the bloody violence of war, whereas Minerva is associated with military strategy (skilled thought leading to skilled action), without which no war can be won.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Gods of Misery

"Nott" (Germanic Goddess of Night) by Arbo (19th century)
When misery comes at first one struggles against it. One tries to make things right, shake it off, force a smile, rise above it all and be kind and open hearted. Then hour by hour and day by day one somehow forgets how to be happy. Dull resentment, a sense of isolation and a sort of hopeless surrender to melancholia entrenches itself. One stops trying … and one stops crying. At this point one is lost in misery – yes, Gods of darkness and depression, it is easy to have faith in you.

But who are these Gods? To start off with we acknowledge that any God that can give a blessing can take that same blessing away – thus, for example, Apollo is the God of both healing and disease. In a similar vein, Ovid tells us that ancient Roman farmers made offerings to the God of wheat leaf rust, Robigo, not because they wanted Robigo to visit their crops, but to persuade her to stay away from them. It follows then that if we honour the Gods of misery, perhaps we can placate them, perhaps they will leave our sides sooner, though some of us, let’s be honest, take some kind of enjoyment in their company, lugubrious though it is.

Miseria and her extended family
The first deity of Misery is surely the Goddess Miseria herself, numen (spirit) of misery and wretchedness, Cicero refers to her as a child of Night, alongside some other unhappy siblings, including Dolus (Deceit), Metus (Anxiety), Invidentia (Envy), Mors (Death),  Tenebrae (Darkness), Querella (Lamentation), Fraus (Fraud/Delusion) and Pertinacia (Obstinacy). Another deity of misery, said by Hesiod to also be a child of Night, is Discordia – numen of discord (Eris to the Greeks). A very famous myth relating to her is perhaps a parable explaining her origins, namely wounded pride/ego. The story goes that, incensed at not being invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Discordia threw a golden apple, inscribed with the words “for the most beautiful”, amongst the divine wedding guests. Paris, prince of Troy, was given the task of deciding for whom the apple was intended. He decided in favour of Venus, but in doing so he insulted Minerva and Juno, who each claimed the apple as their own – consequently, thereafter they were said to be enemies of Troy.  Meanwhile, Venus rewarded Paris by uniting him with Helen of Troy – the face that launch'd a thousand ships – and thereby the Trojan war began.