Roman Festivals in July and August

I got a book this month that I had ordered a while back. It was actually one that I used to own, but after a couple bouts of homelessness and several moves, I have pared down my belongings quite a bit and somewhere along the way I lost or gave away some books that I wanted but didn’t have space for. Now that I have space, I have to rebuild by library, among other things. Anyway, the book is Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome: Myths, Gods, Goddesses, Celebrations, and Rites for Every Month of the Year (I know, long title!) by Frances Bernstein, Ph.D. This is an amazing book. All the information in this post comes from this excellent book.

On July 8th “the Vitulatio was celebrated, a festival in honor of the goddess Vitula. We are told by Macrobius (3.2. 11) that after the Poplifugia, the Romans honored the goddess Vitula. She was the Goddess of Joy and Life – in fact her name comes from the word vita, or “life”. On this day the goddess Vitula received the firstfruits of the earth which gave life (Virgil Georgics 3.77).” (page 139)

On the 19th and 21st, two rites were held in a sacred grove on the Tiber (page 139). It was called Lacuria, which comes from the word for “grove of trees”, Lacus. July was the time in Roman calendar to clear land, to chop unwanted trees, to “slash and burn”. The purpose of these rituals was to honor the spirits of the trees sacrificed so they would not be angry, and Cato’s De Agricultura included a prayer to the spirit of the grove begging forgiveness and offering the sacrifice of pig in exchange.

July 25 celebrates Furrina “the Goddess of Springs and Wells, was also worshiped at this time. Her rite was most ancient and she had her own special priest. Furrina was worshiped in a grove on Janiculum Hill (one of the seven hills of Rome) across the Tiber River near the Sublician Bridge. In fact, the cleft with a spring of water was her sanctuary can still be vistied today. Shw was such as ancient goddess, later Roman authors did not quite understand her. Varro says: “Honor was paid to her amoung the ancients, who established an annual sacrifice and assigned her a special priest. But her name is barely known, and even that to only a few (Varro De Lingua Latina 6. 19 LCL) She had been forgotten even in antiquity, overshadowed by the male counterpart Neptune.”

Upcoming Roman Festivals

On August 1st, Romans honored the Goddess Spes, or “Hope”. She is also called Bona Spes, or “Good Hope”. Her temple was dedicated during the Punic Wars of the fourth century B.C.

On August 5th, there was a public offering for Salus on a hilltop shrine, asking for safety, health, and welfare. Salus corresponds to the Greek Hygeia, the Goddess of Health, alternatively the daughter of the wife of Asklepios, God of Healing. The Roman Salus was depicted on coins feeding a sacred snake from ritual plate, keeping Hygeia and Asklepios’ association with the sacred reptile. Other times She is shown holding sheaves of wheat, which is most likely a more ancient Italic image, as Salus is suppose to have originally been related to health and success of harvest, a more agricultural Deity than Goddess of human health. (Page 153)

On August 12th, the Lychnapsia was celebrated. In Rome it was believed to be the birthday of Isis. It was a much later addition to the Roman calendar and involved the lighting of thousands of lamps.

On August 13th, there was a festival of Vertumnus and Pomona. Vertumnus is a very ancient Etruscan Deity of harvest and autumn, and His wife Pomona is the Goddess of orchards and fruit, and from Her name comes the word Pomme, apple. This is one I’m looking forward to celebrating, since we are going to be growing many, many fruit trees on our homestead. I prayed to Pomona when we planted the first six fruit trees on our property this spring.

On August 19th, the Romans celebrated a wine festival, the second in the year. What’s interesting, to someone who starts out from a purely Hellenic perspective before branching out, is that Dionysos is not involved in this festival. This attests to its antiquity, and its called the Vinalia Rustica. According to Berestein “both Jupiter and Venus were honored. The first wine festival celebrated the opening of the fall vintage and tasting. This festival in August, the Vinalia Rustica, held in the countryside, was to protect the growing grapes and announce the upcoming vintage, when it was auspicious to harvest to grapes.

“Offerings to Venus included incense, myrtle, mint, and bands of rushes hidden in a cluster of roses. She was worshiped in temples and also in sacred gardens. The rustic Vinalia was held in August and is in honor of Venus, because on this day the goddess is venerated and those who tend kitchen gardens and farm gardens rest from their work, for it is thought that all gardens are under the tutelage of Venus.” (page 158)

On August 21st, the Consualia was held. Consus is of the uniquely Roman Gods Who has no Greek counterpart that I am aware of. Consus is the protector of the storage bin of harvested grain. He had a underground altar in the Circus Maximus. The chief priest and the Vestal Virgins performed the ritual for this day. First fruits were burnt for Consus on this day. Horses and other beasts of burdens were given a day of rest, and garlands were hung on their necks.

On August 23rd, Ops was honored. Although connected with Rheia, the mother of the Olympians and wife of Kronos in Greece, I prefer to treat Ops as a unique Deity unto Herself. She has dual rites in August, on the 23rd and the 25th. She is linked to Consus, so this festival is called either the Opiferia or the Consiva.

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