Friday, 6 December 2013

Io Saturnalia!

Saturnalia falls on 17 December (and can be celebrated up to the 23rd*) and I can feel the fever coming on. Almost instinctively, most Westerners know how to celebrate it - probably because many of its customs were incorporated into the celebration of Christmas. Traditionally it is a festival held in honour of Saturn, who is associated with agricultural bounteousness and a mythological golden age of plenty. More generally it is a time of merry making, disrupting established rules and hierarchies (eg, by reversing social roles - in my home we role swap on Saturnalia; I usually pretend to be the cat), game playing (dice was most popular in ancient times), parties, feasting, drinking, relaxation and gift giving.** I wanted to find some good Saturnalian images to help bring the mood on. Here follows some of my favourites:

"Roman Saturnalia" by Tim O'Brien
Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum. Source:

I also found a whole bunch of images I couldn't resist annotating:

Etruscan dancers from the tomb of the Triclinium in the Necropolis of Monterozzi, c. 470 BCE
 Pompeii banquet scene from the Casa dei Casti Amanti, 1st century CE
Wroxeter Roman Town House. Source:
Thermae Aqua Libera. Source:
Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum. Source:
"A Roman Dance" by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 19th century CE
Illustration by Norman Lindsay (1922), of the Satyricon
"Roman Feast" by Tancredi Scarpelli, early 20th century CE
"Saturnus" by Polidoro da Caravaggio, 16th century CE

A note on offerings - as we have no temples of Saturn in which to make offerings there is no hard and fast rule as to how to honour Saturn appropriately during Saturnalia, except to say that it is not necessary to cover one's head during ritual offerings. Getting in the festive spirit is surely one of the best ways to honour Saturn. As to the nature of ritual offerings, Saturn is an agricultural God so agricultural offerings (such as olive oil) may be especially appropriate. Macrobius suggested that Saturn may have once looked favourably upon human sacrifice therefore human proxies, such as gingerbread men, may be especially suitable offerings (note that actual human sacrifice is definitely not a feature of the Roman way to the Gods). In my household I light a beautiful Christmas candle in Saturn's honour on a large plate or tray on my balcony (as a kind of temporary shrine) and then place shortbread men on the plate/tray before the candle. However, I'm sure there are many other valid ways to honour Saturn during Saturnalia.

* Thus Saturnalia kicks off on the 17th and may continue for a week until 23 December.
**Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 124-126.

Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook.