BY. TI. TERENTIUS VARRO
“What is the point of living? How does one achieve happiness? Will Rome see another day when its gods are praised by the masses?” These may be the questions that are consuming your mind, but in order to get a better understanding as to how you can attain them, you’re going to have to learn about ancient Roman prayer.
I will teach you all about how to start praying like a Roman and communicating with the gods. Not only will you be able to properly communicate with their deities, but it’ll also give an overview of what “life” is like for the ancient Roman.
So, let’s begin.
*Understanding the Religion of Ancient Rome*
The religious belief of the ancient Romans was called polytheism, which means many gods. The majority of these gods are primarily based on a single action or quality of life in order to prove and promote that there was a connection between their faith and its corresponding feat or quality. For example, Mars, the god of war, is worshiped by many because they believe that a soldier’s life and the corresponding action of war is in fact a gift from his deity.
How to pray to the gods fluctuates depending on the source; however, as there were many texts on Roman religion and its practices, it would be safe to say that there were dozens of Roman ways to pray. The gods were all given different names depending on where in Rome you lived or what time period you lived. This is simply because each region and subculture and era has its own interpretation of what is actually accurate when referring to the Roman gods.
*What about the Roman Gods?*
There were 12 primary deities that were worshiped in Rome by many. These 12 gods are:
- Iuppiter – Iuno
- Neptunus – Minerva
- Mars – Venus
- Apollo – Diana
- Volcanus – Vesta
- Mercurius – Ceres
Furthermore, there is a large list of other gods and goddesses depending on where you may be within Rome, what period you lived in, or what was important to you in life. Every aspect of life from the spectacular (eg. storms) to the mundane (eg. door hinges) has an associated god.
You should think of this mortal world as a type of imperfect mirror image of the divine universe. Everything has a divine reflection, including you. Your divine reflection is your Genius. It serves as your personal guardian, tutelary goddess, or genius loci. It is not a spirit, nor a god. It is you in a divine form, different from the gods proper, but not mortal either, and existing in the divine sphere. The Roman poet Horace explained the idea that there were “two minds within us,” distinct from our function on earth: a divine mind (or nous) and an earthly mind (or animus).
*The Role of the Priests*
In ancient Rome, there were many different types of priests. The primary role of these priests was to offer proper sacrifices and rituals in order for the Romans to successfully communicate with their gods. In this sense, a priest was not an ordained person but rather someone who had gained the favor of and was continually associated with a specific deity being worshiped; therefore, if one sought communion with a god or goddess, they would have gone to that deity’s priest. This person would be familiar with the rites and prayers of that given cult. But these cults were not congregations. They were simply focused on the correct rites being done at the correct time on behalf of the community.
Any person could be the priest of the house. Often this is the paterfamilas or materfamilas. The elder male and female of the home. They were the primary priestly figure an average Roman would interact with regularly. These elders would conduct all ceremonies for the family at home.
*You are your own priest – How to start praying at home*
In order to properly pray at home, one must learn how to communicate with the gods, which will be done through a series of steps.
*How to communicate with the gods*
The very first and most important thing one must do is gather around the altar or shrine or another place that seems appropriate given the deity being communicated with. It should be kept in mind that any religious act should be undertaken in a clean place. The best places are the main living area of the house, or at least a well-lit area that makes sense from a religious perspective.
(1) Pride yourself on your personal hygiene (particularly your hair and nails) as this is something the gods prefer when communicating with mortals. It is right to cover your head at this time with a towel or shawl, or toga. This will block out visual distractions in your peripheral vision and help you to focus on the prayer and act of sacrifice.
(2) Next, you will light some type of flame, whether it be oil on a candle or even firewood. Also light your incense burner. Then call out to Vesta to open her hearth and warm the place with her gentle spirit. Once the fire is lit, it is very important that you do not blow it out!
A good simple prayer to Vesta would be:
O’ Vesta, hear my words,
we ask you to warm our homes,
warm our hearts with your flame,
keep us in your hearth fire,
and look over our families.
(3) Next, it is right to pray to Janus the god of beginnings who will help facilitate a connection with the divine. Do this with another simple prayer such as:
Lord Janus, I pray for a start of prosperity through this act,
That we may please you and the divinities,
I seek your vision and protection at this initial juncture.
(4) Next make an offering to Janus upon the flame or burner. A good offering need not be complicated. Examples of good offerings are a piece of food, or wine.
(5) Next welcome the divinity you seek to address in your prayer. Do this by saying another simple prayer such as:
O’ Great (GOD NAME),
I welcome you to this our home.
I ask you to look down with favor upon our family at this time,
I ask you for your blessing.
In return, I give thanks and a gift of prayer.
(6) After this, it is time to pray to the god and prepare to ask for the assistance you seek. Pray with a heart that is sincere and with all your might. Ask and give thanks for how they have helped in the past. Be as specific as possible.
For example, say,
Lord (GOD NAME) you have been kind to me,
You blessed me with peace,
You gave me a successful relationship with Lucia,
You provided me a job promotion, and good health for my family and friends,
With great thanks, I pray to you.
(7) It is time now to ask the god for the help you seek. Then be specific in what you need or want in life through the power of the god you are praying to at this moment.
This could be like,
O’ (GOD NAME) I approach you kindly asking for your assistance towards (what you are asking for) in my life,
Through Your bountiful grace, I ask that You bless me with (Your desired result).
In return I will give thanks for Your great blessings to me and my loved ones.
(8) Once you are done with your prayer of petition, it is time to offer a sacrifice to the god as a sign of respect. This is similar to offering a respected boss or business partner a gift upon making a request. This sacrifice can be simple, such as offering a glass of wine to the god or by burning a small amount of incense or food. Put this on the altar or upon your incense burner. At this point, the offering is sacred which means it is the property of the god to which it was offered.
Then extending your arms outward, palms to the sky, say these words,
Through the prayers and sacrifice, I give you an offering of (NAME OF OFFERING) in recognition of your kind blessings to me and towards the petition made.
(9) Now sit quietly with the god(s) in meditation. Think of what you have been given in order to better your life and how the gods have helped you.
Then mentally think the following: You have blessed me with (WAY IN WHICH YOU HAVE BEEN BLESSED) because of (WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN BLESSED WITH), I open my heart and trust in (GOD NAME) and am so happy to give this gift of (NAME OF OFFERING). I thank you for the blessings and feel your presence before me.
Open your heart and body fully to the god you seek. Focus all your attention, affection and being on their power. Picture the god flowing into you and filling you with their presence. Be present in this moment and only in this moment when the god manifests through the elemental forces of nature.
Contemplate these concepts for at least 3 minutes. I often take longer. Hear the voice of the god rise up within you. In this, you will often find divine revelation. This is by far the most intimate part of the prayer experience, one which has been lost in the sterile nature of the ancient sources. Rekindle this connection with your gods. Take your time.
(10) After a minimum of 3 minutes, thank the god saying something like: O’ (GOD NAME) thank you for listening to me, and accept my offering of (OFFERING NAME) if it pleases you.
(11) Then to each god named in the prayer address each individually requesting forgiveness for any unintentional offense.
O’ blessed Janus I ask for your forgiveness for any offenses made in my prayer.
O’ blessed Vesta I ask for your forgiveness for any offenses made in my prayer.
O’ blessed (ADDITIONAL GOD(S) NAME) I ask for your forgiveness for any offenses made in my prayer.
(12) Now end the ritual by thanking Vesta again and blowing out all of the flames. Then say this final prayer to her,
O’ Vesta, I thank you for your divine flame, and accept my offering of (OFFERING NAME) in thanks if it pleases you.
Then place the final offering to Vesta on the altar or incense burner. Then when you are ready blow out all flames.
(13) Now prepare to leave before the smoke has completely cleared. Do not step over the offering as this is disrespectful. Simply walk around it towards the door.
Throughout the day be mindful of the presence of the divinity you interacted with. If there is something you feel you should do pray again to that divinity and mentally ask for guidance. If they give you guidance then follow it. Watch for signs, no matter how subtle. If they are guiding you, they will show you the way. If you do not notice their presence do not despair. Gods are virtuous and free and will interact with you if needed or the time is right. You can try different offerings or different words in prayer to see if this works better. Again, this does not require any sort of formal training, but simply a desire to know the truth and to learn the simple formula described. It does require an open heart to the gods and an awareness of their interaction with you throughout the day.
The purpose of this exercise is to open the mind and heart and begin a relationship with the divine, that the gods are within you. It can be done by anyone who has a desire to ask for guidance from the gods, and then trust in their guidance when they show it to you. One should never give up or lose hope, no matter how many times things do not seem to go their way. Always keep the faith that the Roman gods are kind and benevolent. Also, it is important to remember that sometimes the path the gods direct you on is not the one you would have chosen yourself. But in time, you will see their great wisdom and find that in accepting their divine guidance, it has led you to your true destiny. This exercise can be used with any deity one wishes to commune with, but this exercise was specifically written for the gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon. If one is not satisfied or unable to perform this work alone they should pray, and most importantly honor and observe the gods with the people in their family by participating in rites and rituals together. Ideally, this is led by the elder members of the family.
As you pray more often to the gods and experience their guidance, you will begin to see a clear pattern of your life unfold in front of you. You will recognize the importance of each piece of the puzzle. And as you continue to learn and practice your faith, these fragmented pieces will form a complete picture that shows the divine plan for your life is unfolding exactly as it should be.
*On the importance of the divine nature of dreams*
It is important to read the ancient texts and know what they say about the gods and their interactions with men. Also, it is important to know your gods well enough that you can recognize their presence in your dreams. If you have had a dream about a god or goddess from the Roman pantheon, there are some simple but effective ways to tell if that dream was merely a conjecture of your imagination or truly divinely inspired.
In the Roman religion, dreams were sacred and spoke to the individual in metaphor. As an example, suppose one had a dream where they saw an owl with seven stars around its beak. This would be interpreted as meaning that their destiny is being guided by the owl (the god Minerva), who is surrounded by seven stars (the Pleiades). Now suppose this same man saw a bull with the same traits as described above. It would be interpreted as meaning his destiny is being guided by the bull (the god Jupiter), who also has seven stars surrounding him in his heavenly home (the Pleiades). When you dream of your gods, take time to interpret their message as best you can understand it. Then it will help you determine if this is truly their message to you, or if your interpretation of their message is simply your own conjecture.
As was mentioned before, dreams are sacred as they are the workings of the gods in communication with you, and foretell the will of the gods. Ovid, a Roman poet and scholar living from 43 BC to 17 AD explained the importance of dreams in divination. Many other writers from this period wrote on this subject as well. Their work shows how valuable dreams were to Romans in efforts to divine the will of the deities. The reason why dreams were important is because by having a dream the gods are communicating with us, but our consciousness is sleeping and unable to interfere with what they are trying to tell us. Our subconscious led by our Genius, is capable of interpreting the message and it can give us information not otherwise available. Romans were very concerned with keeping their minds well rested so that they could better understand the messages from the gods through their dreams. So you should prioritize this same objective.
*How to learn more*
If you wish to learn more about Roman prayer and religious practice, there are many good mentors to follow. Here are some of the more prominent Roman polytheists: Publius Iunius Brutus, Lucius Curtius Philo (deceased), Lucius Aurelius Curio, Titus Flavius Severus and Tiberius Terentius Varro.
Lucius Curtius Philo was a famous Roman polytheist who authored freely available information found on the RomanRepublic.org. Many scholars believe that his writings are practically applicable to modern-day practice.
Publius Iunius Brutus, a founder of the RomanRepublic.org, is an avid student of Roman religion. He also authored many useful formulas and practices based directly on ancient sources.
Lucius Aurelius Curio is an important figure in Roman religious politics. He is both an augur and priest. He has also written many valuable ceremonial formulas practiced widely.
Titus Flavius Severus is a contemporary Roman polytheist who has devoted much of his life to the study of Roman religion and educating others in it. He is an important figure to follow in the modern-day.
You could also find books written on this subject written by ancient Roman writers such as Ovid, Seneca, Plutarch etc. A good way to search for these books is to do a search on amazon using these words: “Roman prayer” and “Roman religion”. To learn about how to apply prayer from the Roman ideas on divinity, you can turn again to the writings of the Romans themselves. For example, one can find a wealth of information on prayer in the works of Cicero, Juvenal, and Livy.