„It will be the ancient sacred rites of the Lemuria, When we make offerings to the voiceless spirits“ – so described the Roman poet Ovid Lemuralia or Lemuria, a feast during which the Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes.
ORIGINS OF THE RITUAL: Ovid has also a theory regarding the origins and the name of this feast. The poet derives Lemuria from a supposed Remuria, that had been instituted by Romulus, to appease the spirit of his brother Remus: „Romulus, complying, called that day the Remuria, When reverence is paid our buried ancestors. Over time the harsh consonant at the beginning Of the name, was altered into a soft one: And soon the silent spirits were called Lemures too: That’s the meaning of the word, that’s its force. “
LEMURES OR LARVAE, GHOSTS OF ANCESTORS: Who or what were these Lemurs? Augustine, the Christian bishop and theologian, informs us that there were three different types of spirit of the dead: lares (if good), lemurs or larvae (if evil) and manes (if indeterminable). This belief is based on an ancient doctrine, illustrated by Plotinus, a major philosopher of the ancient world, according to which „the souls of men are demons“.
THE RITUAL: the ritual is quite simple and must be performed by the head of the household (pater familias). He was responsible for getting up at midnight and walking around the house with bare feet, throwing out black beans and repeating the following incantation: „With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine“, for nine times. Then, he would clash bronze pots while repeating another incantation, nine times: „ Ancestral spirit, depart!“.
COMPLETE DESCRIPTION OF RITUAL OFFERED BY OVID: „When midnight comes, lending silence to sleep, And all the dogs and hedgerow birds are quiet, He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods, Rises (no fetters binding his two feet) And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers, Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence. After cleansing his hands in spring water, He turns and first taking some black beans, Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing: «With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine». He says this nine times without looking back: the shade Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen. Again he touches water, and sounds the Temesan bronze, And asks the spirit to leave his house. When nine times he’s cried: «Ancestral spirit, depart» He looks back, and believes the sacred rite’s fulfilled“.
THE FIG SIGN: „The sign with thumb and closed fingers“ is „mano fico“ or the fig sign. Today, in many countries, this gesture is used to deny a request and has also an obscene signification. Among early Christians, this gesture was known as the manus obscena, or „obscene hand“ but, in the Roman ritual of Lemuria, it was used for protection.
WHEN TO CELEBRATE LEMURIA? In the Julian calendar the three days of the feast of Lemuria were 9, 11, and 13 May. Because of this ritual, the whole month of May was considered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb: „They wed ill who wed in May“. But nowadays the Julian calendar is no more in use – it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, because did not properly reflected the actual time it takes the Earth to circle once around the Sun. So, 9, 11 and 13 May of the Gregorian calendar are not the same days with 9, 11 and 13 May of the Julian calendar. So, we propose you to perform the ritual during the New Moon phase (May 6th, 2016 – New Moon in Taurus) or under the light of the Full Moon (May 22nd – Full Moon in Sagittarius).