Ritual/Ceremonial Formula (Roman Republic)

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An Introduction to Sacrifice

Offering a sacrifice to the deities is a sign of respect towards the Gods and Goddesses. The process of exchanging gifts with the Gods and Goddesses is a fundamental element of the Religio Romana. This act is not meant to symbolize complete subjugation to the deities or to force the will of the Gods. Instead, sacrifice is one of the means by which mortals build a relationship with the divine. Though offering a gift, a relationship with the Gods is strengthened and in turn, the Gods may offer assistance and support.

At the most fundamental level, sacrificing to the gods and goddesses is similar to sharing a meal with the deities. When an individual, family or community offers a sacrifice to the Gods, they are eating and sharing the sacrifice with the deities directly. This process of sharing can be either public or private. Public sacrifices can be offered within public open spaces, public altars, and temples. Private sacrifices often occur within the domestic space. This most often occurs at a family shrine called a lararium. Private altars also exist within private spaces can be both temporary or permanent structures.

The responsibility for carrying out sacrifices falls upon leaders of the community and family. In the public sphere, the priests and magistrates take on this role. In domestic life, the senior male and female figures in a household have a similar role. Alternatively, a public or family leader can delegate this religious duty to another community or family member respectively.

The ceremony and processes by which sacrifices occur both publicly and privately are similar. Public ceremonies may be larger in scale, yet the fundamental principles are nearly identical to the private sacrifices made at a household lararium.

Rites are held between sunrise and sunset. Generally, rites held after sunset are regarded as superstitio and discouraged. During ancient times, offerings to the Gods were often food products. This includes animal sacrifice.

Animal sacrifice was as important means by which meat, which was often expensive for many people, became distributed. After such a sacrifice, the meat would be divided amongst the worshipers in attendance while a small portion of the meat was left as an offering to the deity. During ancient times, the slaughter of animals was conducted in a humane manner by individuals trained in this process. In fact, the animal showing any sign of distress was regarded as a sign of displeasure from the deity receiving the offering.

The modern Roman Republic discourages and does not support animal sacrifice. This is based on the fact that few individuals are trained in the humane slaughter of livestock. Furthermore, few individuals have the proper facilities and government documentation to undertake such tasks in a humane manner.

Offering meat from an animal already slaughtered, say from a grocery store, is also discouraged. The reason for this is that such offerings miss the point behind animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice is a means of thanking the Gods for the life of the animal and celebrating the relationship between animal, community and the divine powers. In ancient times, the slaughter of the animal was an important component of this process. Offering a t-bone steak picked up from the grocery store largely misses the point of sacrificing animals in the first place. Therefore, offering pre-slaughtered meat is not a process encouraged by the Roman Republic.

Overall, animal sacrifice played a small role in the ancient Religio Romana. Plant sacrifices were much more common. Spelt flour, wheat, barley, bread, cakes, figs, wine, olives, sesame seeds, nuts, olive oil, salted flour (mola salsa), and porridges were all very common offerings. In addition, to these plant products milk and cheeses were often offered.

In addition, to food products other offerings can be granted. Places or structures can be granted to the Gods; this can be as grand as a temple or as simple a home shrine or altar. Other personal objects can also be offered. There is archeological evidence of small wooden, ceramic, stone and metal figures being left at shrines and temples. Sometimes these figures would represent the desired favour requested from a deity or represent an earlier sacrifice made. Other offerings can take the form of written statements; occasionally these are messages of thanks or a petition.

Different offerings were regarded as being particularly pleasing to certain deities. There is no hard and fast rule as to what is pleasing to a God or Goddess. Experimentation with different offerings is not wrong; we only encourage the practitioner to be aware of signs that the deity in question may not approve of such an offering and to adjust one's practices accordingly. See the chart below for suggestions on offerings to specific deities based on historical sources:

Common Offerings

Name Suggested Offering

Iuppiter

  • Beans
  • Beech tree
  • Cakes/pastries (esp. when made with wheat and salt)
  • Cinnamon
  • Fruit
  • Incense (Frankincense, Ammoniacum, Storax)
  • Laurel
  • Leeks
  • Oak
  • Onions
  • Pine
  • Vegetables
  • Wine
  • Cinnabar
  • Mastic

Iuno

  • Cakes/pastries
  • Cypress
  • Fig
  • Flowering plants
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum, Ammoniacum)
  • Saffron
  • Wine
  • Iris Flower

Neptunus

  • Incense (Frankincense, Myrrh)
  • Vegetables
  • Wine
  • Beans
  • Mastic

Minerva

  • Flowering plants
  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Rosemary
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum, Ammoniacum)
  • Yarrow
  • Mastic

Mars

  • Cakes/pastries
  • Iron made items
  • Lard/butter
  • Spelt flour
  • Wine
  • Peony flower
  • Incense (Frankincense, Ammoniacum)

Venus

  • Flowering plants
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum, Ammoniacum)
  • Mint
  • Myrtle
  • Poppy seeds
  • Roses
  • Thyme
  • Wine
  • Mastic

Apollo

  • Cedar
  • Cheese
  • Honey
  • Laurel
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum, Ammoniacum)
  • Parsley
  • Pastries/cakes
  • Wheat
  • Wine
  • Marigold flowers

Diana

  • Cakes/pastries
  • Cheese
  • Cypress
  • Honey
  • Incense (Frankincense, Ammoniacum)
  • Locks of hair
  • Nuts
  • Parsley
  • Pine
  • Pine nuts
  • Pastries / Cakes
  • Mastic

Volcanus

  • Incense (Frankincense)
  • Cinnamon
  • Peony flower
  • Clover
  • Offerings that are red in colour

Vesta

  • Flowering plants
  • Food from domestic meals
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum)
  • Juniper
  • Laurel
  • Wine
  • Violet fowers

Mercurius

  • Crocus
  • Cypress
  • Dill
  • Flowering plants
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum, Ammoniacum, Storax)
  • Milk
  • Myrtle
  • Vegetables
  • Marjoram
  • Christmas rose / black hellebore
  • Mercurialis
  • Mastic

Ceres

  • Bread
  • Cakes/pastries
  • Flowering plants
  • Honey mixed with milk
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum, Storax)
  • Myrtle
  • Fruit
  • Oak
  • Poppy seeds
  • Poppy flowers
  • Violet flowers
  • Hyacinths
  • Salt
  • Spelt flour
  • Wheat/Grain

Iaunus

  • Cakes/pastries
  • Incense (Frankincense, Myrrh)
  • Wine

Lar Familiaris

  • Flowering plants
  • Food from domestic meals
  • Fruits
  • Garlic
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum)
  • Poppy seeds
  • Wine

Genius / Iuno of materfamiliaris or paterfamilaris

  • Cakes/pastries
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum)
  • Salted flour
  • Food from domestic meals
  • Wine

Penates (any domestic deity)

  • Cakes/pastries
  • Food from domestic meals
  • Incense (Frankincense, Labdanum)
  • Wine

Manes (deceased relatives)

  • Beans (particularly those colored black)
  • Flowering plants
  • Incense (Frankincense, Myrrh, Labdanum)
  • Milk
  • Roses
  • Wheat
  • Wine
  • Violet flowers
  • Offerings enjoyed by the deceased while living
  • Cypress

(offerings never to be consumed)


An offering given to the Gods and Goddesses was considered sacer and property of the deity honoured. This was the case if the offering was left at a shrine or altar in a private home by family members. Alternatively, in public spaces an offering was considered sacer, and property of the honoured deity if granted by priests or magistrates acting on behalf of the community. Private offerings left in public spaces were not officially regarded as sacer, yet these offerings are still treated with respect and reverence as they were signs of personal and individual piety expressed within a public forum. In antiquity such personal offerings in public spaces were periodically gathered and stored in special containers within temples when they became too numerous or too old.

Often offerings in ancient times were either disposed of through burial, by fire, or by being left for natural consumption by nature. These are reasonable means to dispose of old offerings today. Determining which option to use depends on the particular God or Goddess being honoured. In the modern day, the Roman Republic recognizes that it is not always feasible to burn, bury or leave an offering to nature. In these cases, we suggest saying a prayer to the deity which received the original offering prior to removal of any object that has been declared sacer. At the end of this prayer, the object being removed should be declared profanus and the offering being removed touched lightly with a hand. After this is done the offering should removed and be disposed of in a respectful and tasteful manner.

Performing a Sacrificial Ceremony

The act of performing a sacrifice is a ritual where an object is offered to the Gods. Sacrifices occur as part of a ceremony where act or ritual is accompanied by spoken words in the form of a prayer. A Roman sacrificial ceremony involves four stages. The fundamental elements of these stages are the same for both private and public ceremonies involving sacrifice to the Gods and Goddesses. The stages are:

I. Purificatio (Purification)

II. Praefatio (Preface)

III. Immolatio (Offering)

IV. Conclusio (Conclusion)


Important note on orthopraxy

The importance of orthopraxy of within the Religio Romana is demonstrated through the attention paid to ritualistic formula during ceremonies. This means the correct procedure during ritual and prayer is of critical importance. Adhering to a strict protocol requires attention and focus. This carefulness is a means of honoring and respecting the Gods and Goddesses. This contrasts many other religions today which focus on orthodoxy, or correct belief over correct acts during worship. During a ceremony words must be spoken clearly and correctly and ritual acts carried out without error. During ancient times, the smallest mistake during a ceremony required the ceremony to be repeated from the beginning as a sign of respect and honor to the deity being observed. There are cases from antiquity were a large public ceremony had to held multiple times for this very reason. The modern Roman Republic strongly encourages the careful execution of all rituals. If an error occurs, you should repeat the ceremony as a sign of devotion to the deities. There is evidence that during ancient times assistants helped one correctly rehearse prayers and carry out rites. We encourage modern Romans to have assistants or to generate a detailed script before carrying out any rite. Preferably both these things can be done. Taking these precautions will help reduce errors and unwanted repetition of rituals performed.

Basic Stages of a Sacrificial Ceremony

I. Purificatio (Purification)

Those performing and assisting in a sacrifice should be both spiritually and physically pure. This means one should be both emotionally and mentally prepared to come before the deities. As a sign of respect, one should have clean clothes and hands. To symbolically remind those carrying out the sacrifice of the importance of these things the body is either bathed or the hands washed. A prayer can accompany this washing.

After this is performed the head should be veiled if the ceremony is to be performed in the Roman Rite. If the Greek Rite is to be used then crowned garlands should be placed on the heads of those performing the ceremony. At this time appropriate and respectful music may be played. In ancient times the lyre and flute were the most commonly used. The goal of this stage is to become physically, mentally and spiritually prepared for the ceremony.


II. Praefatio (Preface)

In ancient times, a fire would usually be available in the form of a hearth. In modern times, this is not the case. Nevertheless, in ancient times, the hearth played a central role in ceremonies involving sacrifice. Offerings were burnt, incense, candles and lamps were also often lit. The fire also symbolically reminds those attending the ceremony of the close presence of the divine. The presence of fire is also described as symbolically transmitting the offering to be made to the deities being honoured. The Roman Republic encourages a symbolic representation of the hearth to be provided for all ceremonies involving sacrifice. This can be in the form of an oil lamp or a candle. The first step in this stage is to light this candle or lamp. If an incense burner is to be used in the ceremony, it should also be lit at this time. Remember to exercise caution around flames and hot objects.

Before any sacrificial ceremony the God Ianus, the deity governing all beginnings and endings, should be honoured. Ovid also suggests honouring the Goddess Vesta, the deity of the hearth, at the start of any ceremony. The order in which these deities should be observed is not clear in the sources. The Roman Republic suggests honouring Vesta upon the lighting of the lamp or candle at the beginning of this stage of a sacrificial ceremony. Immediately after acknowledging Vesta, Ianus should be honoured. After acknowledging Vesta and Ianus any additional deities can be acknowledged. This should always include the primary deity being honoured, but it can include others as well.

The Gods and Goddesses are honoured during this stage in a manner similar to a greeting. We welcome the deities to our ceremony as we would welcome a friend to a banquet we are hosting. This is done by offering each deity a small offering as a salutation. Undiluted wine or incense is the most frequently used offering during the Praefatio. Wine symbolically represents divine sovereignty and incense symbolizes immortality and divine power. Incense is placed on a burner, or lit if modern self-burning incense is being used. Wine can be placed on a burner or poured into a bowl (patera). These acts occur for each deity honoured and each time this act is accompanied by a separate prayer to the deity being revered. During this prayer, the individual leading the sacrifice explains the intention of the ceremony and summarizes the next events which will occur during the next stage, the Immolatio.


III. Immolatio (Offering)

Objects or food (not wine or incense) are first symbolically labeled as coming from pious mortals. This is done by sprinkling salted flour on the offering. If the Greek Rite is being observed drops of clean water would be sprinkled on the offering instead of salted flour. At these acts occurred the offering would be placed on the altar or in a shrine. Alternatively, an offering can be placed directly into the water (if the deity is associated with water), or buried (only for particular deities often associated with the afterlife), or directly placed on the fire. All of these actions are associated with prayers. Prayers outlined who the offering was for, why the offering was being made, and the desired support hoped for in return from the divinity being honoured.

Importantly, each offering is to one particular deity. A single sacrifice was not typically made to multiple deities. However, it is very common for multiple offerings to be made each to a different deity during a single ceremony.


IV. Conclusio (Conclusion)

After the offering is made celebrants may offer additional prayers. Occasionally an image of the honoured deity would be dressed, or garlands and flowers be placed. Other celebrants may also make their own personal offerings at this time using the same process as described in stage three. Optionally, if food is involved in the sacrifice fare which was not offered may be consumed collectively by the celebrants. In this manner, the celebrants symbolically feast with the Gods and Goddesses.

At home during private ceremonies portions of a meal were commonly offered. If a multicourse meal this offering traditionally occurred between the first and second course. In all other context offerings to the Gods were made first before gathering to eat.

All sacrificial rituals should end with expiation, called a piaculum. This is a short prayer apologizing for any unknown or unavoidable insult or disrespect carried out accidently during the ceremony. This prayer is particularly important for modern participants in the Religio Romana. Due to the limited sources from ancient times, the chances that an error is mistakenly made is not unlikely. Making this thoughtful prayer acknowledges that we are aware that we are restoring ancient practices and are mindful of the past and our ancestors. Optionally, this prayer can be accompanied by an additional small offering, wine and incense are commonly used. Each prayer and offering made should be addressed to each deity involved in the ceremony individually.

Lastly, all sacrificial ceremonies should end with a small prayer to Vesta. A small optional offering such as wine or incense can be given at this time. At the end of this prayer, any candles or lamps should be extinguished. If the incense burner is still hot exercise caution and do not leave unattended.