Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pagan Festival Shout Out: Lares / Mars

Today is the day that belongs to Mars, the god of war. Why do you think it is called March?! Anyway today the day we pay tribute to our household gods, spirits, and ancestors (The Lares).

marsThe god of war, and one of the most prominent and worshipped gods. In early Roman history he was a god of spring, growth in nature, and fertility, and the protector of cattle. Mars is also mentioned as a chthonic god (earth-god) and this could explain why he became a god of death and finally a god of war. He is the son of Jupiter and Juno. According to some sources, Mars is the father of Romulus and Remus by the Vestal Ilia (Rhea Silvia). Because he was the father of these legendary founders of Rome, and thus of the Roman people, the Romans styled themselves 'sons of Mars'.

He had several festivals in his honor. On March 1, the Feriae Marti was celebrated. The Armilustrium was held on October 19, and on this day the weapons of the soldiers were ritually purified and stored for winter. Every five years the Suovetaurilia was held. During these fertility and cleansing rites, a pig (sus), a sheep (ovis) and bull (taurus) were sacrificed. The Equirria were on February 27 and March 14, on which horse races were held. The Quinquatrus was on March 19 and the Tubilustrium on March 23, on which weapons and war-trumpets were cleansed. The priests of Mars, who also served Quirinus, were called the Salii ("jumpers"), derived from the procession through the streets of the city which they completed by jumping the entire way and singing the Carmen Saliare. Mars' own priest was called the flamen Martialis.

Lares Are Honored Today…

laresLares (/ˈlɑːriːz/, singular Lar), archaically Lases, were guardian deities in ancient Roman religion. Their origin is uncertain; they may have been hero-ancestors, guardians of the hearth, fields, boundaries or fruitfulness, or an amalgam of these. Lares were believed to observe, protect and influence all that happened within the boundaries of their location or function. The statues of domestic Lares were placed at table during family meals; their presence, cult and blessing seem to have been required at all important family events. Roman writers sometimes identify or conflate them with ancestor-deities, domestic Penates and the hearth. Because of these associations, Lares are sometimes categorised as household gods but some had much broader domains. Roadways, seaways, agriculture, livestock, towns, cities, the state and its military were all under the protection of their particular Lar or Lares. Those who protected local neighbourhoods (vici) were housed in the crossroad shrines (Compitales) which served as a focus for the religious, social and political life of their local, overwhelmingly plebeian communities. Their cult officials included freedmen and slaves, otherwise excluded by status or property qualification from most administrative and religious offices.

By the early Imperial period, household shrines of any kind were known generically as lararia (s. lararium) because they typically contained a Lares figure or two. Painted lararia from Pompeii show two Lares flanking a genius or ancestor-figure; he wears toga in the priestly manner prescribed for sacrificers. Underneath this trio a serpent, representing the fertility of fields or the principle of generative power, winds towards an altar. The essentials of sacrifice are depicted around and about; bowl and knife, incense box, libation vessels and parts of sacrificial animals.

In households of modest means, small Lar statuettes were set in wall-niches, sometimes merely a tile-support projecting from a painted background. In wealthier households, they tend to be found in servant's quarters and working areas. At Pompeii, the Lares and lararium of the sophisticated, unpretentious and artistically restrained House of Menander were associated with its servant quarters and adjacent agricultural estate. Its statuary was unsophisticated, "rustic" and probably of ancient type or make. The placing of Lares in the public or semi-public parts of a house, such as its atrium, enrolled them in the more outward, theatrical functions of household religion.

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