Conducting Ceremonies & Sacrifice

INDEX

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 does not symbolize complete subjugation to the deities or to force the will of the Gods to the will of mortals. 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. It is best to think of sacrifice as a means of sharing a gift with a patron (an employer, parent, friend etc.).

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, gatherings, 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 (sacerdotes & flamens) 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 these religious duties to another.

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 usually 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 included animal sacrifice in antiquity.

Historically, animal sacrifice was as important means by which meat, which was often expensive for many people, was freely 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.

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 and legal manner. Instead, the Roman Republic endorses the use of inanimate proxies to represent the historical animals that were sacrificed. The ancient Religio Romana used such symbolic proxies extensively, and numerous archeological sites have revealed such proxies at former temple sites all over the ancient Roman empire. The Roman Republic often uses wooden figures in the shape of an animal for this purpose.

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 the 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.

It is important to recognize that, animal sacrifice played a small role in the ancient Religio Romana. Such animal sacrifices were usually reserved for major events, not daily affairs. 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. The Roman Republic encourages the use of such plant offerings as the primary type of sacrifice 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 (see proxies above). 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. With some minor exceptions, 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 within this article for suggestions on offerings to specific deities based on historical sources.

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 (mortal property) and the offering removed touched lightly with a hand to mark it as profanus. After this is done the offering should be consumed or if removed, be disposed of in a respectful and tasteful manner.

Stages of a Sacrificial Ceremony

A group within the modern Roman Republic extensively researched ancient Roman ceremonial formula over a period of 2.5 years. The conclusion of this work was the development of the Numaea Ceremonial Formula. This formula breaks all ceremonies into eight basic phases:

I. Purificatio

In this stage one begins to enter into a state of mind and physical disposition fitting for visiting and with and communicating with the Gods. One should emotionally be prepared with good intent and a focused mind. This allows the ritual to be conducted properly and genuinely with good faith. Throughout the Purificatio one should focus on the coming ritualistic tasks and the gravity of the actions to come. One should think of the Roman virtues when preparing to come before the Gods and exhibit these virtues during and after the ceremony. In doing so one imitates the Gods and is pleasing.

The action in this stage involved washing of the hands and preparing any materials for the ceremony starting. One should be clean and presentable during a ceremony as a sign of respect and piety. Washing of the hands, therefore, is both utilitarian and symbolic of the purification of the mind which occurs during the purificatio.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF PURIFICATIO:

I. The individual(s) conducting the rite should be physically clean. Bathing before conducting a ceremony is encouraged. During Purificatio the hands should be ceremoniously washed in pure flowing water. Pure water is defined as water from a clean source, such as clean municipal water safe for drinking, bottled water from a spring, water from rivers and creeks, water collected from freshly collected rain/snow. Seawater, water from stagnant sources such as ponds and contaminated water are not to be used unless indicated by the particular ceremony.

II. Both hands should be washed in water using a clean basin or bowl. Hands should be thoroughly dried using a clean towel at the end of the Purificatio.

III. The physical space where offerings to the Gods will be made and any images or instruments used during a ritual should be sprinkled with pure water.

IV. Anything unclean should be cleaned or removed from the space where the ceremony is to take place.

OPTIONAL COMPONENTS OF PURIFICATIO:

I. Sexual abstinence is not mandated but encouraged for certain rituals as indicated.

II. Fasting is not mandated but encouraged for certain rituals as indicated.

III. Some substances may be optionally burned to purify the ceremonial space. Historically, frankincense, laurel/bay, mint, verbena, and sulfur are all acceptable choices.

IV. Strips or wool may be wrapped around the ceremonial altar an odd number of times (min 3 times) and in a clockwise direction as part of the purification of a ceremonial space. This should occur after the hands are ceremonially washed and before any incense in burned.

II. Praefatio

This stage represents the start of communication with the divine. If others are in attendance, the person conducting the ceremony calls of silence and attention. This reminds all present to be mindful of signs from the Gods throughout the ceremony and to concentrate on the task at hand for it is performed properly.

In this stage, the flames used in the ceremony are lit, and the first Gods and Goddess invited to attend the ceremony are greeted. In antiquity, the hearth fire would have been kept burning most of the time. In the modern world, we do not often have hearths burning to supply heat and flames for our households. Therefore, we always begin this phase by greeting Vesta first. As we light our lamps or candles we greet Vesta with a prayer.

Next, Ianus is always greeted with a prayer and provided the first welcoming offering of the ceremony for he presides over all beginnings such as the one embarked upon at the start of this ceremony.

Praefatio ends with Vesta receiving an offering in thanks of providing her flame for the ceremony.

This stage is analogous to greeting key patrons with a gift for helping to organize or sponsor an event.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF PRAEFATIO:

I. Lighting a candle, or lamp or other sign of Vesta and the hearth, and offering the first prayer to her.

II. Offering a prayer to Ianus and offering him the first offering of the ceremony – commonly incense or a libation.

OPTIONAL COMPONENTS OF PRAEFATIO:

I. Calling for silence at the start of this phase.

II. Making a second offering to Vesta (always after Ianus) – commonly incense or a libation.

III. Salutatio

This stage of the ceremony is similar to the praefatio. Here deities are greeted and asked to attend the ceremony.

The first deity welcomed is the one being primarily honoured in this ceremony being performed. This occurs by reciting the epithets, titles and qualities associated with the God or Goddess and then making an offering. Next, and optionally, additional deities invited to witness the ceremony are welcomed in a similar manner. These additional deities are often associated with the ceremony or the main deity being honored. For instance, Iuno being called during a ceremony honouring Iupiter.

The phase is analogous to welcoming a guest(s) of honour when they arrive at an event with a drink or food item upon their arrival.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF SALUTATIO:

I. Welcoming the primary deity being honoured with an initial offering – commonly incense or a libation.

OPTIONAL COMPONENTS OF SALUTATIO:

I. Welcoming the additional deities being invited to witness the ceremony with an initial offering – commonly incense or a libation.

IV. Precatio

This stage is centred upon presenting the main offering to the primary deity being honoured. The God or Goddess receiving the main offering is honoured and the reason for the offering is formally stated. The offering is then presented upon the altar if one is being used. The reason for the offering is stated at this time in specific and concrete terms. For example:

“This offering of olives are now presented to Mercurius in order to have his divine assistance towards having my daughter Lucia promoted to general manager at Sam and Co this month.”

Note the reason for the offering states what is being offered, when it is offered, to whom it is offered, what is exactly hoped for in exchange and when the result is desired. In this manner, this statement is often similar to a contract.

Optionally, if an animal proxy is used mola salsa can be sprinkled upon the offering now.

This phase represents the immediate build-up to the peak of the ceremony in the following phase, immolatio.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF PRECATIO:

I. Sprinkling pure water upon the primary offering prior to its presentation.

II. Stating a detailed and explicit explanation for what is being offered and why.

OPTIONAL COMPONENTS OF PRECATIO:

I. The use of mola salsa if an animal proxy figure is offered.

V. Immolatio

This stage is the spiritual height of the ceremony. In this phase, the offerings introduced at the precatio are now solemnly transferred to the primary God being honoured and made sacer (property of the Gods).

This phase consists of again stating what the offering is and that it is now being given up to the God or Goddess (must be specifically named with additional epithets or qualities of the deity) for the petition just made in the precatio.

The offering is then touched as a physical indication of what is being offered. The offering is then optionally incinerated over charcoal or fire. Historically, the slaughter of the animal would now occur.

Once this is done, one states in various ways that the offering has been made and may the deity may respond if they wish.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF IMMOLATIO:

I. Formally presenting the offering to the Gods.

OPTIONAL COMPONENTS OF IMMOLATIO:

I. Burning the offering made.

VI. Redditio (OPTIONAL)

This is an open portion of the ceremony, additional offerings can be made. This can also be a space where the relevance of the ceremony to our modern lives can be discussed and addressed to the mortal witnesses of the ceremony.

Music can be played at this point

Additional words or rites specific to a particular ceremony are performed in this stage.

If a ceremony calls for participation from the mortal witnesses this occurs on this phase.

VII. Litatio

This phase involves the quiet contemplation of the ceremony and the Gods along with the observance of any signs that might be noted.

VIII. Piaculum

This is the final phase of a ceremony. Here caution is exercised by conducting an expiation offering in case anything occurred in the ceremony was unnoticed but offensive to the Gods. Each deity involved in the ceremony and named receives an expiatory offering (often a libation or incense, historically also commonly a pig). The rational behind this offering is made, and each God or Goddess is addressed directly prior to each receiving a separate offering.

Like in the praefatio, Ianus and Vesta are addressed again and thanked for their support in communicating with the deities. Ianus is always addressed first and another offering made. Then Vesta is addressed last, thanks for her presence via the presence of her flame is given, then an a final offering is made to her. At this point, any flames may be gently extinguished.

OPTIONAL DISPOSAL OF OFFERINGS:

If the offerings made are not to be disposed of in a manner that is not through natural decay or through incineration, then each offering is  to be made profanus (mortal property) prior to disposal. This is done by addressing the God in question, stating the reason why the offering which is now sacer needs to become profanus (for respectful disposal, for human consumption, etc.), and then by lightly touching offering in question. This should be repeated for every offering made that will become profanus.  Please note, that any offering made to one of the underworld deities or to the dead should never be consumed by the living. These are best disposed of in the ground if possible.

Video Example of a Sacrificial Ceremony

Important note on orthopraxy

The importance of orthopraxy 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.

Ceremonial Implements

I. Acerra (Incense Box) – Optional

This is any box which can be used to hold incense. Traditionally such incense was dried organic matter (frankincense, myrrh etc.). Such dried material is very susceptible to moisture. Such boxes were traditionally made from wood, metal or terracotta.

II. Lucerna (Lamp / Candle) – Required

The flame provided at a ceremony represents Vesta who is present at every sacrifice. Her flame is used to light incense burners, and transmit offerings to the Gods. The hearth is the historic heart of any community, be it the family or larger community, therefore this flame of Vesta also holds great symbolic significance.

How the flame is generated is of secondary importance. Historically oil burning lamps and candles (tallow or beeswax) were the common means of transporting fire and light in the domestic setting. In larger venues, lanterns and torches were used.

The Roman Republic encourages the careful use of beeswax candles or olive oil burning lamps. A candle snuffer is a useful and historically correct implement to use to extinguish the flames made.

III. Turibulum (Incense Burner) – Optional

Incense is was one of the most common offerings given in antiquity. Historically incense burners were often made of clay or bronze. For modern purposes any accessible bowel or vessel that can tolerate heat is acceptable.

Larger incense burners can also use used to burn other offerings besides incense if in a well-ventilated area or outdoors.

Often some sand is placed in the bottom of the container to provide further insulation.

Some people choose to use oil diffusers which are heated with a candle, this is an acceptable modern equivalent. Others choose to use modern sticks of incense which may require a specialized incense stick holder.

IV. Indoor Incense Charcoal – Optional

If using traditional incense, quick starting indoor charcoal is required. This MUST NOT be charcoal intended for outdoor cooking or any other purpose. Using charcoal not intended for indoor use can be deadly due to the release of carbon monoxide gas.

If using charcoal it can be it by holding it over the lamp or candle flame using tongs.

V. Gutus (Jug / Flask)  – Required

This is any container which can hold liquids. Often wine and milk are the liquid offerings made. This container should be thoroughly washed after use and kept clean for future ceremonies.

VI. Salinum (Salt Container) – Optional

This is any container to hold salt which can be offered or hold mola salsa if being used. The most important feature of this container is that it prevents contents being exposed to moisture.

VI. Patera (Dish) – Required

This is any dish which can hold solid offerings. This dish should be thoroughly washed after use and kept clean for future ceremonies.

Historical Offerings / Suggested Offerings

In antiquity, it is clear that some specific offerings were more traditionally given to certain deities. With a few exceptions, most options for an offering are acceptable. What is important is being mindful for signs of divine disapproval of an offering. The existent historical record has the basis for the following types of offerings:

Deity  Offerings Given in Antiquity (Recorded evidence existant)
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
  • “The first” of somthing
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 by the living)

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