Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Prayer to Sol

Sol is the deity that is the sun. In the Roman tradition Sol is identified with Apollo, God of healing (and illness), light, music, poetry and prophecy. He is traditionally conceived of as a beautiful youth with long, golden hair. Alternate names for Apollo include Phoebus, the Greek Helios and Sol Invictus, the invincible sun. In the Germanic tradition Sol is a beautiful Goddess, also known as Sunna, who will give birth to a new sun before she is destroyed at Ragnarok. Like Apollo, she is associated with hope, light and divine protection. I do not know if I regard Sol as a God or Goddess. Excepting northern Europe, Indo-European religions generally conceive of Sol as male, but were we to sail to Japan every devout citizen there would swear that Sol (Amaterasu) is female, and it is the same amongst Indigenous Australians (Yhi), and no doubt among many other peoples. Nonetheless, wherever you go Sol is the embodiment of the sun, warmth, light and life. It is in consideration of these fundamental aspects that the following prayers are put forth.

For more on Apollo see Apollo - God of Healing, Music and the SunFor more on Sol Invictus see The Invincible Sun - Sol InvictusFor more on the Germanic Sol see The Germanic Sun (scroll half way down the post).

Prayer I
Sol rises and fills the air with warming rays,
Gazing on high, supreme healer, creator of days.
Your salubrious beams are dear to all our kind.
Without which to darkness we’d be confined.
Light bringer, heat bringer, soother of the mind.
Downward Sol sends heat: so downward go malaise.
Witness the centre of this sacred universe, all ablaze.
Let Sol bring a remedy, shine forth, banish our maladies
Protect our bodies and our spirits from disease.
Send us good health and good hearts, without pretense,
And may it please you, this offering of wine and incense.
[inspired by various Vedic hymns to Surya, as translated by Griffith]

Sunday, 22 November 2015

How Many Polytheists / Pagans Are There?

Actor Jeremy Irons lights a huge effigy of the "Borgia Bull"
in a Pagan inspired celebration in season two of The Borgias
One thing seems certain – there are not too many people in Western nations who identify as polytheists … or are there? If social media, such as Facebook and reddit, is anything to go by there are perhaps only a few thousand people in the English speaking world who practice Roman polytheism. The number of Germanic polytheists in English language dominant countries seems to be higher, but even then it seems the numbers are only in the tens of thousands at most.Statistical information only gets us so far, because meaningful data is limited, with the United Kingdom giving us perhaps the best hint of the true numbers. In the 2011 UK census the following written answers were given to “what is your religion”:**
  • Pagan = 56,620
  • Wicca = 11,766
  • Druid = 4,189
  • Heathen = 1,958
  • Witchcraft = 1,276
  • Shamanism = 650
  • Animism = 541
  • Reconstructionist = 251
  • Total of the above listed categories = 77,251

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Incense – Offerings to the Gods

Smoke from incense arises around a Shiva devotee
When prayers are made to the Gods it is traditional for them to be accompanied by offerings, which may be quite humble. This is the case in both Roman and Germanic polytheism. For example, amongst Vikings we know that offerings of bread, meat, onions, milk and either mead or ale could be included alongside prayers.* Likewise, amongst the early Romans offerings were often without ostentation. In keeping with the traditions instituted by Numa, an early Roman king renowned for his piety, the most traditional offerings were made of “flour, drink-offerings, and the least costly gifts” (Plutarch, The Life of Numa), thus spelt, bread, specially prepared sacrificial cakes (often sweetened with honey), wine, milk, flowers and local herbs. Of these latter ingredients early forms of incense would have been made, simply by placing them on burning charcoal, as was the usual practice for burning incense in the ancient world. By the imperial age Rome’s trading ties stretched far and wide and exotic goods from the east were added to the list of popular offerings (Ovid, Fasti, Jan 9), but by far the most popular of all was frankincense, the burning of which became synonymous with Pagan worship.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Pagan Funeral Rites

I’ve heard it said that there is a spiritual lesson to be learnt in contemplating death, thus I attempt to summarise traditional Germanic, Celtic and Roman funerary practices below. 

Germanic funerary customs
The numerous Germanic burial mounds scattered across Europe appear to be connected to the worship of Vanir Deities (associated with fertility); they are the kinds of Gods that farmers and fishermen would have particularly revered, or indeed anyone to whom fertility was important. It seems that those inhumed in burial mounds were thought to live after death as spirits connected with the land. Davidson notes that there “seems to be some link between elves and the dead within the earth” (Scandinavian Mythology at 117). 

Another reasonably common feature of pre-Christian Germanic funeral practices involved the use of a wagon or a ship as a sort of coffin. This was the case for both men and women – it could be buried in the earth or burnt, and might, in the case of ship burials, be first pushed out into water. Both the wagon and the ship are Vanir symbols, and hence may represent life after death.

As with Celtic and Roman funeral rites, it seems to have been normal practice to burn or bury the dead with personal items, food and a fermented drink (presumably mead or ale), and animal sacrifice accompanied many funerals. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Religion of the Rus – Viking Heathens

Artist: Vsevolod Ivanov. Source:
In the early 10th century a devout Muslim diplomat was sent by the powerful Abbasid Caliph to teach the intricacies of Islam to a king of the Volga Bulghars, deep inside Russia, who had recently converted – possibly so he could enlist the help of the Caliphate in his struggles to defend his kingdom against the nearby Jewish Khazars. This Arab traveller is now commonly known as Ibn Fadlan and he has become famous for his account of the polytheistic peoples he encountered on his journey, especially the Turks and the Rus – both peoples would, respectively, become Islamic and Christian within a century or so of his account. The Rus were (most scholars believe) originally Vikings who, over a roughly 200 year period, assimilated with the Slavs of Russia and gave their name to that great nation. The 12th century Russian Primary Chronicle is the primary source for this assertion. We also have corroborating evidence from, inter alia, another Muslim called Ibn Rustah, a Persian scholar who authored an encyclopedia that was completed in 913 – his entry relating to the Rus is thought to derive from an anonymous source dating from the 860s, and in it he seems to suggest the Rus and the Slavs are distinct from each other when he writes:
“The Rus raid the Saqaliba [an Arabic term with multiple connotations, it can be used to specifically denote Slavs, or as a general term denoting northern Europeans], sailing in their ships until they come upon them. They take them captive and sell them in Khazarin and Bulkar [ie, to the Khazars and the Turks]. They have no cultivated fields and they live by pillaging the land of the Saqaliba.”*
Ibn Rustah then goes on to describe the Rus in a way that is entirely consistent with what we know of Vikings:
“They earn their living by trading in sable, grey squirrel and other furs. They sell them for silver coins which they set in belts and wear around their waists.
… The men wear gold bracelets. They treat their slaves well and dress them suitably, because for them they are an article of trade … 
If one of them has a quarrel with another, it is referred to the ruler, who settles it as he sees fit. If they do not agree with his settlement, he orders the difference to be settled by single combat …
They have great stamina and endurance. They never quit the battlefield without having slaughtered their enemy. They take the women and enslave them. They are remarkable for their size, their physique and their bravery. They fight best on shipboard, not on horseback [ibid at 126-127].”

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Germanic God and Gods of Fire

Scalloway Fire Festival (2014). Source:
Something that has long puzzled me about Germanic polytheism is the apparent absence of the worship of a God or Goddess of fire. Fire must have been an integral aspect of ancient and medieval Germanic life and in many other Pagan religions is accorded due reverence. That ancient Germanic Heathenry shared this characteristic is suggested by Julius Caesar who, in one of the earliest historical descriptions of the Germanic people, specifically mentions that fire was, along with the sun and the moon, highly revered by the Germanic tribesmen he came into contact with. So why is this great Germanic God of fire so seemingly elusive to us now?

What has survived from the myths of the Norsemen puts forth three of the more obvious candidates:
  • Surt – a powerful and destructive giant from Muspellsheim, the realm of fire; it is prophesised that he will ride out as leader against the Gods at Ragnarok with a weapon that shines like the sun and, after defeating the foremost God of fertility (Freyr), he will burn the world; this final act of destruction is necessary in order for the renewed earth, renewed men and renewed Gods to emerge from the ashes of the old.
  • Logi – a giant whose name literally means “fire”; he is most famous for outdoing Loki in an eating contest; for fire consumes more swiftly than man or God. Snorri Sturluson tells us that “the one called Logi was wildfire itself” (The Prose Edda). Arguably, Logi could be considered to be Surt by another name, or as one who manifests from the same destructive fiery realm.
  • Loki – a powerful deity associated with deceit and dishonour. The belief that he is a fire deity is popular among some contemporary Heathens. He is prominent in Norse mythology even though there is no evidence of his worship among Norse people. Cambridge scholar H R Ellis Davidson aptly describes him as “a kind of semi-comic shaman, half way between God and hero, yet with a strong dash of the jester element” (Gods and Myths of Northern Europe). Sometimes his wiles are amusing, other times they are malevolent. He is strongly associated with the events of Ragnarok, for he is the father of the Fenriswolf (destined to kill Odin), the Midgard serpent (destined to kill Thor) and Hel, who rules over the realm where those who have died of disease or old age go (but from where the beloved God Baldr will emerge after Ragnarok). Loki himself is destined to kill and be killed by Heimdall, who watches over and guards the Gods. Loki is thus like Surt in the sense that he is, despite his oftentimes sinister and destructive nature, an integral player in the life-death-rebrith process signified by the events of Ragnarok. It is said that a “ship journeys from the east, Muspell's people are coming over the waves, and Loki steers” (The Poetic Edda). Whether or not these things are enough to establish him as a fire deity is ambiguous. Relatedly, in the nineteenth century the notion that Loki and Logi are in fact the same deity arose, partly due to the similarities in the pronunciation in their names. However the very facts of the myth surrounding Logi seem to contradict this notion, for how could Logi defeat Loki if they are but the same being? While Loki's destructive affinity with Surt and perhaps Logi may hint at confirming his nature as a fire God it is nowhere made explicit that Loki has a fiery nature, despite the extensive number of references to him in medieval Germanic literature. Davidson notes that “Loki does not behave like a fire spirit, and indeed seems to be as much at home in the water as on the earth, so that some scholars have even tried to see him as a water spirit” (ibid). Loki is a fascinating deity, but there just isn't enough compelling evidence  to establish him as a fire God. In any case, even if he is a fire deity, he can be of little assistance to mankind, for according to myth Loki is currently undergoing torment in that cave where the Gods are said to have tied him down as retributive punishment for his role in bringing about the death of Baldr. It is said that Loki is bound with the entrails of one of his children, and his face rests immediately below a venomous snake who continually drops poison onto his face – most of the time his wife holds out a bowl to catch the venom, but when the venom falls on him he convulses so violently that the earth shakes. 
The deities above are principally associated with destruction; none sounds like a God to give comfort, such as fire must of done, when it warmed the home and cooked the family meal. Much less so can we imagine Surt, Logi or Loki as Gods of ritual and sacrificial fire. At best Surt and Logi (and possibly Loki) are forces of nature to be propitiated as representations of fire in its most violent form. Is there not a more benevolent Germanic God of fire?

Friday, 14 August 2015

Pagan Swear Words, Expletives and Exclamations

The TV series Spartacus is full of inventive expletives
When I experience momentary frustration or surprise I tend to outburst variously with “Jesus Christ!”, “Christ almighty!”, “crikey Moses!, “oh my God!” and other biblical profanities.* These words flow out of my mouth impulsively, and in a sense they are just meaningless words, and yet sometimes after I unthinkingly exclaim them they bring home to me just how close Christian thinking still is. Should I then switch my expletives to a Pagan mode? On television and online I have come across the following alternatives:
  • Gods be good!
  • Juno’s c-nt!
  • Juno’s peacock!
  • Jupiter’s cock!
  • Jupiter’s eyebrows!
  • Neptune’s beard!
  • Odin’s Raven!
  • Pluto’s thorny cock!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Problem with Mythology

"The Rape of Europa" by Reni (1639)
We should probably be cautious when we read myths – too many of them are the spun out creation of storytellers that risk reducing the Gods to characters in a fairy tale. The great, divine and essential nature of the Gods may thus be obscured. It may to wise to be mindful that the popularity of some myths in the ancient world may have contributed to the decline of polytheism – and may also impede contemporary comprehension of the Gods. Christian writers of the Roman era, such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Minucius Felix, invoked Greco-Roman myths to mock the Gods, and therefore belief in them. The Christian poet Prudentius went so far as to write “depart adulterous Jupiter, defiled with sex with your sister” (cited in Beard 2 at 361). If we were to accept myths at face value then the early Christian fathers could be occasionally convincing, in terms of eroding our belief in the Gods. If we understand that myths may be beautiful and instructive in some way (sometimes acting as a gateway to sacred knowledge, for deep truths may be embedded within, as may be the case for many of the stories that we think of as no more than fairy tales:, but that they should always be treated with caution and never treated as somehow equivalent to religious scripture, then we get closer to the truth.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Germanic Divination – Runes

Anglo-Saxon ring with Runic inscriptions
(8th-10th century CE)
In 98 CE the Roman historian Tacitus described the divination methods of the Germanic people:
“They attach the highest importance to the taking of auspices [typically by observing the movements of animals, especially birds and horses] and the casting of lots. Their usual procedure with the lot is simple. They cut off a branch from a nut [or fruit] bearing tree and slice it into strips. These they mark with different signs and throw them at random onto a white cloth. Then the state’s priest, if it is an official consultation, or the father of the family, in a private one, offers prayers to the Gods and looking up towards heaven picks up three strips, one at a time, and, according to which sign they have previously been marked with, makes his interpretation. If the lots forbid an undertaking, there is no deliberation that day about the matter in question. If they allow it, further confirmation is required by taking the auspices [Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, Oxford World’s Classics at 42].”
In this passage we seem to have the earliest recorded description of Germanic divination and, possibly, the use of Runic markings to do so. Tacitus does not refer to the Runic alphabet explicitly, only that strips of wood were marked “with different signs”. These signs could have been of anything, and certainly there is a possibility that they were not Runic at all but, perhaps supporting the case, the earliest archeological evidence of Runes dates from the second century CE – only one lifetime after Tacitus’ description. Professor Page of the University of Cambridge writes:

Saturday, 30 May 2015


Image source:
Nearly 2000 years’ ago the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote “religio honours the Gods, superstitio wrongs them” (cited in Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 1 at 216). In ancient Rome religio was a word associated with conspicuous, but not excessive, reverence for and piety towards the Gods. Seneca’s comment suggests that religio stands in contrast to superstitio. But what is superstitio? In the propaganda war against Paganism, Christians claimed that anything that was Pagan was superstitio. In an earlier age it was the other way around. To some extent superstitio was, originally, any religious practice which seemed thoroughly strange, unappealing and inexplicable, thus Jews were condemned for superstitio for engaging in the seemingly bizarre practice of circumcision, among other things. But there is much more to the word than xenophobia. Superstitio implies a lack of self-control, excessive devotion, and perhaps an inappropriate desire for knowledge, such as might be thought to be obtained via certain magical rites (Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 1 at 217).
“[The] use of the term superstitio seems to have widened over the first century AD, both conceptually and geographically ... the concept of magic emerged as the ultimate superstitio ... [However] the definition of magic is famously contentious and and debated ... According to the encyclopedia of the Elder Pliny, magic was a heady combination of medicine, religion and astrology, originating in Persia, and meeting human desires for health, control of the Gods and knowledge of the future. The system was, in his view, totally fraudulent. He recounts, for example, how Nero (‘whose passion for magic was no less than his passion for the lyre and the tragic song’) lavished massive resources on magical arts wanting to give orders to the Gods – but dropped them when they failed to work: ‘that the craft is a fraud there could be no greater or more indisputable proof.’ And he frequently points to the mendacious claims concerning the magical properties of particular animals and plants made by the ‘magi’ (the title of Persian priests, but extended in the Greco-Roman world to include all ‘magicians’): a cure for toothache, for example, that prescribed burning the head of a dog dead from rabies, before dropping the ash (mixed in cyprus oil) into the ear that was closer to the painful tooth [Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 1 at 218-219].” 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

My Other Roman Pagan Website

Painting of a woman writing by Zocchi (b. 1874)
Update, January 2016: I have decided to discontinue the website at the old url due to back-end problems associated with it that were not fun to deal with. However, I have not abandoned the idea behind the website, which was to repurpose content from this blog in a way that is more navigable for people new to Roman polytheism. Therefore, a virtually identical website can now be found at - though note that it is not as polished as the old one was.

The original post read as follows
I thought it might be fun to create a website drawing largely on content created for this blog; essentially the idea is to present content that I have created for this blog (plus some additional content) in a more navigable way. To be honest it has not been that fun putting it together (in fact it has been more complex and stressful than I was expecting) but I have put so much work into it I thought I may as well publish it. I own the domain name for a year, so I am thinking of it as a potentially temporary venture, whereas I am more or less committed to blogging, so long as I enjoy it (which I still do). I wish to emphasise that this website presents one person’s interpretation of Roman polytheism. I don't know everything there is to know about Roman polytheism, I am just someone who is rather keen on it, and is as addicted to writing, researching and the pursuit of knowledge as I am addicted to the internet.

Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A Long List of Deities

Janus head on a silver quadrigatus coin (225 BCE)
Ancient Roman polytheism was a bit like the English language, insofar as "new" Gods were continually borrowed and absorbed into the Religio Romana from other pantheons, just as English continually borrows and absorbs foreign words, without being particularly concerned with maintaining linguistic "purity". Similarly, the traditional mindset of Roman spirituality is open and diverse, and it is perhaps for this reason that there are more Deities associated with Roman polytheism than can possibly be counted. Thus, it is impossible to list all of them. Even if a historian was able to tell you the name of every Deity recorded from the Roman era (and such a list would surely list Deities in the hundreds if not the thousands) this would still not comprise a complete list, because from the polytheistic world view every river, every grove, every force of nature is divine and likely has some kind of spirit, or Deity, attached to it. Due to these facts the following attempt to list over 100 of the more well known Roman Deities is not comprehensive: 
  • Abundantia: Goddess of abundance, sometimes conflated with Ops. 
  • Adonis: a God associated with the cycle of life, death and rebirth; beautiful lover of Venus who dies but is reborn every spring.
  • Aesculapius: God of healing.
  • Anna Perenna: personification of the year (annus), whose festival on 15 March involved drinking and singing of licentious songs by women.
  • Annona: numen / spirit / personification of the food supply.
  • Antinous: deified 19 year old (probable) lover of Hadrian; associated with young, masculine beauty, love and homosexuality.
  • Apollo: God of light and the sun, healing (and disease), music (especially stringed instruments), poetry, archery and prophecy.
  • Aquilo: the north wind.
  • Attis: Cybele's consort.
  • Aurora: Goddess of dawn.
  • Auster: the south wind.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Mars – the Virile God

Marble head of Mars Ultor (c. 2nd century CE)
Simply put, Mars is the God of war, specifically the violence of the warrior within the context of war (Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion, at 156). Naturally he is a patron God of the military, but also of less favourably viewed forms of violence, such as banditry, as Apuleius makes clear in The Golden Ass when the leader of a band of robbers says: 
“‘Well now, we’re going to sell the girl and since we’re going to recruit new associates, why not make an offering to Mars the Comrade, though we have no animal fit for the sacrifice, and not even enough wine for a proper drinking bout. Grant me ten of you then, and that should be sufficient to raid the nearest village and furnish a … banquet for us all.’ 
Then he departed, while the rest set about building a large fire, and piled up an altar of green turf to the god Mars. 
Later the leader and his men returned, driving a flock of sheep and goats, and carrying skins of wine. They picked out a large shaggy old he-goat and sacrificed it to Mars the Companion and Comrade. Instantly the preparations for a luxurious banquet began [Apuleius, The Golden Ass, bk VII].”
Mars' potency
However, Mars has another side, which is as potent as it is wholly male. He is not just a destructive force, nor even just protective, as we might expect, but also life-giving – he is virile in every sense. The ancient authors of Rome continually refer to Mars as “Mars Pater” (Father Mars), and there are two myths that ancient Romans seemed to especially associate with Mars, and neither of them involves violence. Instead they involve sex, and sex of a kind that should be shameful (for they involve rape and adultery) but somehow is not. The first myth is told again and again by the ancient authors, but Ovid tells it best:
“Vestal [virgin / priestess] Silvia  one morning … was fetching water to wash the holy things. She came to where the bank sloped softly with its path, and removed the earthen jar from her head … As she sat, shady willows and melodious birds bred sleep, and the water’s gentle murmur. Seductive peace stole over languid eyes; her hand becomes limp and slips from her chin. Mars sees her, desires what he sees, takes what he desires; divine power made his rape unfelt. Sleep departs, she lies freighted; there was now, of course, in her guts the Roman city’s founder [Ovid, Fasti, bk III].”
Virgil picks up the story;
“… a royal priestess, Ilia [ie, the Vestal priestess Silvia], heavy with child, shall bear Mars twins. Then Romulus will further the race, proud in his nurse the she-wolf’s tawny pelt, and found the walls of Mars, and call the people Romans, from his own name [Virgil, The Aeneid, bk I].”
In this passage there is an allusion to the famous wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. This is highly relevant, for to Roman minds the wolf is sacred to Mars and the wolf that suckled Rome’s founding twins is known as the “wolf of Mars”. As Propertius writes:
“Wolf of Mars, the best of nurses to our State, what towers have sprung from your milk [Propertius, The Elegies, bk IV]!”
In every conceivable sense this story sets out Mars as the divine ancestor of Rome. He provides the seed, and his sacred totem animal provides the nourishment.

Friday, 10 April 2015

On Plagiarism

"Boreas" by John William Waterhouse (1903)
Yesterday I discovered that a website has appropriated a huge amount of content from this blog, ie, entire blogposts, one after the other, and has not only failed to cite the author (me) but has also claimed copyright over content on their website which is in fact stolen from this blog! I don't want to promote traffic by posting a link to it but please know that the people behind this website, if you should come across it, are charlatans. 

While it is theoretically flattering (though not in fact) that they would think content written by me is worth appropriating as their own, what they are doing feels like a most hurtful violation. It is small consolation to discover that they have ripped off many other blogs as well. Small also to see that their most popular post was written by me.

Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook.