Friday, 2 September 2011

Daily Pagan Ritual

"The Magic Circle" by J W Waterhouse (1886)
I generally practice this ritual every day and make up for days I missed by burning additional incense to "all benevolent divine beings" and giving additional food offerings to "local spirits" and "spirits of the household". I use these vague descriptors so to capture all possible Gods to whom I should be addressing my prayers. If you want to be more personal you might light the incense in honour of specific Gods whom you wish to honour (I admit that I am anxious not to offend any Gods by omission so I hesitate to be specific, though perhaps this is unduly superstitious).* You might also make a food and/or drink offering to the Lares and Penates. However, I prefer to use plain English, hence the all inclusive "spirits of the household" and "local spirits".

The ritual is performed at my household shrine/altar before the main meal of the day (dinner in my case). It may also be performed at the start of the day.

The head should be covered (a scarf over one's head, or the hood up if I am wearing a hoodie) and hands should be clean.
Kiss the fingers of one's right hand and touch the household shrine, ignite a candle and pray:
Be well revered Vesta, may your flames always guide us to the Gods.

Light incense and pray:
I show reverence to all benevolent divine beings, Janus first among them, may you be well; may you look favourably on the house of [my surname]. 

Place a salted cracker (but if you want to get elaborate try Cato's libum) on a designated plate and pray:
Be well local spirits, may you be well; may you look favourably on the house of [my surname]. 

Place a drink offering (I offer a nip of whisky in a small liqueur glass but wine is more traditional; honey is an appropriate and traditional alcohol-free choice) and pray:
Be well spirits of the household, Vesta foremost, may you be well; may you look favourably on the house of [my surname]. 

Place both hands on the altar and pray:
To any divine beings who are listening, thank you for your blessings if they be so and may they be so.
[I then personalise my prayer by asking for those things which are most dear to me.]

Offer a gesture of respect to the altar (eg, kiss right hand and touch the altar) and state:
It is done.

I should point out that this is just how I do things - I do not pretend to be some sort of Pagan ritual guru. Much of this ritual is inspired by websites and various books I have read, for good internet sources see: 
Some good hard copy references (from books in my personal collection) to daily Pagan ritual are as follows:
"The Roman gods best known to most people today are the ... Roman gods who paralleled the Greek Olympians ... However ... the Romans believed in many other deities or spirits who dwelled ... in the immediate environment. Each of these deities had a very specific or narrow sphere of influence, since each was associated with a particular place or process. Every tree or stream of water, for example, had its own spirit ... Rarely were anthropomorphic features or emotions attributed to these spirits [the Roman spirits were forces of nature, without body]. No Roman would worship all of these spirits; he (or she) would direct his devotion to those nearest to his home or associated with his occupation [as today people choose favorite or patron saints], and he might set up a shrine for their worship on his property [in Italy today people often set up in their homes or gardens shrines for their favorite saints] ...
There were spirits in the home as well as in the fields and woods, spirits of the hearth fire and of the cupboard, for example [Vesta was the spirit of the hearth fire; the Penates were the spirits of the cupboard or pantry]. Each household had its own Lar who would protect the household if properly propitiated [lar: the lar familiares (household lar) was the spirit or deity which guarded and protected the household and its members. There was a shrine to this deity in the home, and sacrifices were made to it regularly] ... [Shelton's As the Romans Did at 361-362, footnotes included in square brackets and italics]."
"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 ... Commonly found in the central court (atrium) of a house, or sometimes in the kitchen, 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. We assume ... that these shrines would have formed the focus of family rituals ... [Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 4.12]"
"Lares, protecting spirits of place, were worshipped in various contexts: in the house, at the crossroads, in the city (as guardians of the state). The Lares 'familiares' (gods of the house and its members) are the best known of these - receiving offerings, sacrifices and prayers within the household, and commonly appealed to as the protectors of its safety and prosperity. But no mythological stories attached to them; nor were they defined as individual personalities [Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 2.2a]." 
"… one of the most distinctive and easily recognisable features of Pompeian houses is shrines that we now call by the Latin word lararium, shrine of the Lares or household gods … some of these are quite elaborate affairs … But many others are much simpler and often placed in the kitchen or service areas … In many cases statuettes of gods and goddesses stood on the ledge or shelf of the lararium. Sometimes these depict the Lares themselves, but a much wider range of deities has been found … After the Lares, Mercury is the most popular divine subject, closely followed by Egyptian gods … with Venus, Minerva, Jupiter and in Hercules, in that order, coming next. The big question is what ritual, if any, took place at these shrines? … the problem in reconstructing the religious life of the home is that rituals such as this very rarely leave any archaeological trace … [M Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town at 295-298]."
"... the gods were invoked before one went to the table. Traditionally, the family gathered ... facing the fire of the lararium ... a religious silence was observed before offering the gods the first choice pickings of the meal: a piece of meat ... with mola solsa - roasted wheat flour with added salt - was thrown into the fire ... This was done using a patella ... or a ritual dish ... Salt was sacred and sanctified the table ... however, in the early decades of the first century AD, [Valerius Maximus] already speaks of it in the past tense: 'In the beginning, men appeased the gods with the first-offerings of their food ...' [Turcan's The Gods of Ancient Rome at 17]."
"Give family gods incense ... and offer food-plates to nourish the cinctured Lares as a token of sweet respect [Ovid's Fasti at 2.631-2.634, Penguin edition]."
"The hearth ... was once at the front of the house .... and we preface prayers with Vesta, who holds the first place. It was once the custom to sit on long benches by the hearth and think the gods [Vesta, the Lares and Penates] dined with you. Today, too ... there survives to this time a piece of ancient custom: a clean platter offers Vesta food [Ovid's Fasti at 6.301-6.310, Penguin edition]."

*Postscript: for an example of how you might include a specific/patron deity in your regular rituals at your household shrine see this later post on the subject. 

Written by M. Sentia Figula; find me at and Roman Pagan on Facebook


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