Compare to modern society, the Romans seem extremely superstitious. But then today's major religions have all throughout their past discouraged, even combatted, superstitions. Also our sciences and our technological world allows little room for superstition.The Romans lived in an era previous to this. Their world was full of unexplained phenomena, darkness and fear. To Romans these superstitions were a perfectly natural part in the relationship between gods and men. The Roman habit of interpreting natural phenomena as signs from the beyond stemmed from the Etruscans.The Etruscans, who developed reading omens and auspices intoa form of science, knew different means of divination.
beliefs the signs they read were sent to them by a mythical boy called
Tages, who in their mythology was to have been ploughed up from the
They would seek to read the
future by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals, the liver
being of special importance for that purpose.
They would observe
lighting and interpret its meanings. And they would try and put meaning
to any unusual phenomena which occured.
The belief that objects, or
living beings could possess special spiritual properties was widespread
in primitive societies. The Romans were no strangers to this idea.
Stones, trees, springs, caves, lakes, swamps, mountains - even animals
and furniture - were all deemed to be hosts to spirits (numina). Stones
in particular were often seen to containspirits, especially if they
were boundary stones, dividing one man's property from the other. It is
very telling that the Latin word for such a boundary is terminus and
that there actually was a Roman god called Terminus. This odd deity
took the form of a huge piece of rock which rested in the temple of
Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Apparently several attempts to move the
bolder when constructing the temple had failed. And so it remained
within the temple, because it had 'refused to move, even for Jupiter'.
But Roman superstitions
didn't end there. Children were told stories of nasty creatures who'd
come to eat them if they weren't good. From the Greeks they had Mormo,
a terrifying woman with donkey legs. And the Roman Lamia who stalked
around looking for children to eat.
Children were by far not
the only ones to fear such bogeys. The ghos......
The Romans chased the Celts and Druids across Europe, through England and Wales, into the sea and into what the Romans were satisfied to call oblivion. And what the conquering Romans started, the persecuting Christians believed they finished with their discovery of Ireland and the destruction of the last Druid.They were, of course, both wrong. Modern Druids are making a long overdue reappearance and although temporarily stuck with the mystical image of magic and wizardry, have a better than average chance of making a real recovery.The Druids may be a bit thin on the ground at the start of the second millennium but a few (two thousand) years ago when the gods lived in theearth, flew in the skies and western Europe was being busily overrun by the Romans, the Druids were a real force to be reckoned with.
Caesar was undoubtedly one of the world's movers and shakers, he was an
ambitious politician, a terrifying military commander and ruthless
He was also a prolific author and although those entrusted
with the great man's writings managed to lose almost all of them, there
were a few literary and sociological thoughts that have been preserved.
The Roman calendar (including a whole month, July, named after himself)
and his writings on the Druids survive to the present day.
J.C. found much to occupy
his time in those good old days. He had to conquer most of the known
world, do his best to manipulate the political Roman Empire and
persecute as many minority groups as he couldfind.
What with the constant
round of parties and orgies, watching out for plotting upstarts and
watching his own back, the conquering of Europe was his only
acknowledged, but temporary, success. His run in with the Christians
turned out, in spite of the slaughter, to be an own goal and his rise
up the political ladder at home was curtailed by the most famous
example of back-stabbing in history.
Caesar did however find
time for at least one other activity. Rather surprising he was the one,
with a little help from Posidonius, who recorded all that was known at
the time about the Druids.
[If the Druids knew that
Julius was 'writing the book' they might have asked for a short chapter
on the 'plus side' of Druid life. As it was the Druids themselves felt
no compulsion to ever record their activities, relying for power on a
This year, Andrea Berman will watch the Olympics for the first time in her life. But she doesn't care who will jump the highest, run the farthest or swim the fastest. She'll be watching the games - being held this year in Greece, their ancestral home—for any mention of Zeus, Athena or Apollo. "I will watch it to see if anything even remotely resembles anything I would know as an ancient ritual and tradition," Berman said. "But I kind of have mixed feelings. On one hand it will be great to see ancient traditions represented. But on the other hand, I know what the country of Greece thinks of our religion and people there who want todo this do not have the religious freedom to do it." "This" is worship the Greek gods.
Berman is a Hellenic reconstructionist–a practitioner of the religion of ancient Greece. A spare bedroom in her Boston area apartment is decorated as a temple room with statues of Apollo, Pan, Artemis, Dionysus and Eros. And like all Hellenic reconstructionists, she knows the original Olympics were not just a massive sportsfest, but a religious rite central to the worship of Zeus, chief among the Greek gods. Reconstructionists are a group of neo-pagans–people who look to pre-Christian cultures for their faith–different branches of which worship the gods of ancient Norse, Roman, Egyptian, and Druid peoples. And while scholars say theirnumbers are only a fraction of the neo-pagan community, they also say they are a vibrant illustration of the rejection of traditional religion in the United States. And, in a curious boomerang effect, they are part of a movement away from the more eclectic forms of neo-paganism, like Wicca, taken up by pagan pioneers in the 1960s and 1970s. "Reconstructionist groups seem to be kind of in the middle," said Sean McCloud a professor of religion and modern culture at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. "On the one hand they want to embrace a coherent religion where they are not making things up. On the other hand, it is not the religion of their parents." That is certainly true of Berman, a 26-year-old web developerwho was. ...
This holiday season, amid all the lights, decorations and feasting on roast beasts of various sorts, you'll probably notice that there are a lot more families having a scuffle over Harry Potter quidditch toys and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas! than ritually sacrificing animals and worshiping Baal. This, however, is a relatively recent development.Historically (and we're talking 10,000 years or more of history here), this time of year was significant to us more for its obvious physical characteristics--cold, darkness, a barren landscape suggestive of death and some astronomical phenomena that a few shivering druids noticed enough to start keeping track of.The stars and theirpositions in the sky have always been (and are still) like buoys in the vast ocean of the universe that we can cling to for relativity and orientation--comforting reference points, like parents' eyes peering down into our earthly crib, reassuring and familiar.
So it was
that certain naturally repeating cycles (especially "heavenly" ones)
came to be studied and even revered as somehow sacred, holy or at least
worthy to be assigned deep meaning.
In a way, the stars were seen as
parents' eyes, if gods in the heavens were our parents, and no star has
ever been more immediate in the parental sense than that big daddy of
ours, the sun.
Weighing in at about
333,000 Earths and residing a mere 93 million miles away (the only star
closer to here is Thurston Moore-- and only on a Tuesday night), this
giant nuclear reactorprovides us with light and heat, without which
our planet would be just another lifeless rock in a sea of cosmic
It makes a lot of sense,
then, that early peoples paid a great deal of attention to it. When the
days keep getting shorter and colder, it's reasonable to assume that
the average fishmonger or hide-tanner might panic, truly fearing that
the sun could possibly decide not to come up any more at all, ever
again. The ability to inspire this level of unease gives the jolly
yellow giant unparalleled job security, but makes for a society of
The winter solstice--which
occurs in December or June, depending on which side of the equator you
live on--is the shortest day of the year, when the Earth's
slightly-tilted axis points your hemisphere farther away from the sun
than at any other time of year. It also causes thesun's ......