Friday, 19 April 2013

Household Shrine and Ritual

Lararium fresco from a tavern in Pompeii - on either side of the Lares is
Mercury on the left and Bacchus on the right. Sacred snakes appear below.
Over three and a half years after I first set up my household shrine a few things have changed – one of the biggest changes is that after years of wariness of statues I now have a carefully chosen statue of Mercury on my shrine, for he is a God I particularly revere. Initially I held the notion that the household shrine, or lararium, should, to be consistent with the religious practices of ancient Romans, only honour household deities, but I have since come to realise that ancient Romans did not necessarily hold that view. Mary Beard writes:
"… 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 … 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 Hercules, in that order, coming next [M Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town at 295-298]."
Some hold that it is better to have a separate shrine to the household Gods (whom I invoke as “spirits of the household” during the shrine ritual) as distinct from any other Gods one wishes to especially honour, but I live in a small home and it is not practical to have separate shrines. I am very happy with my modest multi-deity shrine.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Interpreting the Lares

What the scholars say
In many ways the heart of the Roman way to the Gods can be said to lay with the household shrine and the deities worshipped thereon. The Lares familiares/Lares domestici (Lares of the household/familia – which includes family members, slaves, servants and perhaps animals) are prominent among these but I have struggled to understand their nature – are they guardians of place (where the household resides) or, as some have suggested, ancestor guardians of the family? Respected scholars M Beard et al describe them as follows: 
Bronze statuette of Lar holding a rhyton and a patera,
 1st century CE (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK)
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, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 2.2a].
Valerie Warrior writes:
“Each Roman home has its own protective deities, the Lar (plural Lares), protecting the household or family; the Penates, protecting the stores-cupboard or pantry (penus) in the inner part of the house; the Genius or guardian spirit of individual members of the household, especially the paterfamilias; and Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The shrine to the Lar, generally known as the lararium, was sometimes in the atrium, the more public part of the house near the entrance, but more commonly in the kitchen area. Just as the home had its tutelary deities, so too did the entire property [Warrior, Roman Religion at 28-29] …”