Media Hiems

(Midwinter, Imbolc, c. Feb. 1)
Gk. To Mesoun Kheimatos.

February 5 (the Nones) was the official beginning of spring for the Romans, and February the month of purification. Since it was the last month before the new year, it was a time for wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. Houses are purified by sweeping out and by sprinkling with salt and toasted spelt (a kind of wheat). In the Lupercalia (Feb. 15) both women and fields are slapped with strips of hide to purify and fertilize them. [OF II.19-38; SFC 69-70]

Since this season represents the coming of spring, the rituals focus on purification and fertility. Indeed, February gets its name from februa, or means of purification; the first two weeks are considered a time of abstinence. It's worth noting that the old Roman year began with March and ended with December (which is why it's called Decem-ber, the "tenth" month), so January and February were originally the unmarked "Terror Time." The following festivals look forward to the coming spring, the new birth after winter. [SO II.4, 2; SFC 69-70]

Sementivae or Paganalia (Rom., Jan. 24; ancient: a.d. IX. Kal. Feb. This was a movable feast, however.)

This is the Festival of Sowing (Sementivae) after the seed has been sown and the land fertilized. There is a celebration in the villages (pagi) by which they are purified, and cakes are dedicated on the village hearths (pagani foci). Cakes of spelt and of the pork of the sow are offered to Tellus (Mother Earth), and to Ceres seven days later (Feb. 2). Ovid explains that Ceres gives the corn its vital power and Tellus gives it a place to grow. He presents a prayer to Them that the seeds grow and not be harmed by the weather or pests (an abbreviated version based on Frazer's translation):

Partners in labor, Ye who reformed the days of old, And who replaced the acorns of the oak by better food, O satisfy the eager husbandman with boundless crops, That they may reap the due reward of all their tilling!

He observes that Ceres was nursed by Pax (Peace) and is Her foster child, and he thanks these Goddesses for permitting swords to be beaten into plough shares. Also at this time folk may hang oscilla (little swinging figures for protection) in the trees. [OF I.657-700; SFC 68]

Lênaia (Grk., around Jan. 28-31; ancient 12-15 Lênaia.)

Though the festival is not well understood, it is probably to bring the spring and fertility. There may be a procession, during which the Daidukhos (Torch-bearer) says, "Invoke the God!" and the celebrants respond, "Son of Semele, Iakkhos, Giver of Wealth!" There are also contests of drama, song and poetry.

The Lênaia is most likely named for the Lênai, who are Maenads. At midnight, clothed and bearing the thyrsus, castanets, tambourines, flutes and torches, they begin an all-night ecstatic dance before a garlanded image of Dionysos. This idol is a simple post, dressed in a man's tunic, with garlanded branches like upraised arms, and with a bearded mask of Dionysos. Before it stands a table with two stamnoi (jugs) of wine and a kantharos (cup) between them; from the stamnoi the dancers dip the intoxicating wine. [PFA 104-4; SFA 100-1]

See also the Dionysian Meditation on the Lênaia.

Lupercalia (Rom., Feb 15; ancient: XV Kal. Mart.)

This ritual is of such antiquity that even the Romans were ignorant of its precise meaning; it perhaps calls on Pan (or Faunus, often identified with Pan) for fertility (of women and crops), purification and protection ("beating the bounds").

The festival begins with a meeting at the Lupercal, the sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by the She-wolf (Lupa), of two colleges of priests, the Luperci Quinctiales (or Quintilii), founded by Romulus, and the Luperci Fabiani (or Fabii), founded by Remus. (The etymology of Lupercus is obscure.) There is an offering of mola salsa (salt cakes; see Feast of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, Sep. 13), which has been prepared by the Vestal Virgins.

This is the ancient ritual: The priests sacrifice a goat (fertility) and a dog (purification). (Thus the two colleges may be associated with the Goats and the Wolves as embodiments of the Corn Goddess Ceres.) The sacrificial knife is stroked across the forehead of two well-bred youths, leaving a smear of blood, which is then wiped away with milk-saturated wool; at this action the youths must laugh. The goat is skinned and the youths don loin-cloths made of the skin.

After a rowdy feast, each youth leads a licentious band of Luperci (clothed only in strips of goat skin) around the boundaries, where with "Juno's cloak" (other strips of goatskin) they whip bystanders (especially women, generally on their outstretched hands). In this way they obey the ancient command of Juno Lucina, Goddess of Childbirth (Ov. Fasti. II.441):

Italidas matres Sacer Hircus inito.
Let the Sacred He-goat enter Italian matrons.

Thus the Luperci are popularly called Crepi or Creppi, from Capri (He-goats).

Ovid (267-302) says the Lupercalia is a rite of the Pelasgians (a people "older than the Moon"), dating from the Golden Age before the ascendancy of Jove; the naked ritual honors Pan:

The God Himself is wont to scamper high in mountains; He Himself takes swift to flight; the God Himself is nude, and bids His ministers go nude, for clothes suit not a rapid race.
(Ovid, Fasti II.285-288)

In the glorious Golden Age all people went nude, living in grass houses and eating herbs, content to live on what they could gather without agriculture or husbandry.

Ovid (303-58) also recounts the story of when Faunus saw Hercules and Omphale walking together, and fell in love with the maiden. The couple went to a cave to celebrate a feast for Bacchus, and traded clothes. Later Faunus entered the dark cave, where the couple had fallen asleep, and feeling the maiden's delicate robe, lay upon Hercules. Faunus was quickly thrown off and ridiculed by all present; as a consequence He has developed an aversion for clothing and demands to be worshipped in the nude!

[OCD s.v. Lupercalia; OF App., pp. 389-94; SFR 76-8]

Minor Festivals

Festival for Dioscuri and/or Dei Penates (Rom., Jan. 27; ancient: a.d. VI. Kal. Feb.)

This festival is in honor of the Dioscuri (Gemini), who became savior Gods and were often identified with the Dei Penates. A family's Penates presided over its cupboard (penus), and their protection would be especially important during the Terror Time. The Dioscuri were treated as the Penates Publici, that is the Penates of the State. [SFC 65-8]

Festival for Pax (Rom., Jan 30; ancient: a.d. III Kal. Feb.)

Ovid has a nice prayer to Pax (Peace). [OF I.709-22]

Festival for Juno Sospita (Rom., Feb 1; ancient: Kal. Feb.)

Juno was a Goddess of new beginnings. The kalends (first day) of each month (originally identified with the first sighting of the new moon) were sacred to Her, and January was under Her protection. This festival is in honor of Juno Sospita (Savior), who has connections with the Phrygian Great Mother. She is depicted wearing a goat skin, the head and horns drawn over Her head; She carries a shield and spear (like Minerva) and wears shoes with turned-up toes. Sometimes a snake stands in front of Her (like Minerva). Virgins offer Her barley cakes to ensure their fertility. [SFC 70-1]

Fornacalia (Rom., Feb 5 - Feb. 17; ancient: Non. Feb. - a.d. XIII Kal. Mar. Another movable feast.)

This is the Feast of Ovens (fornaces). The spelt is toasted in the ovens and baked in the homes into bread, which is brought to a communal meal. [SFC 73]

Gamêlia (Grk., around Feb. 11; ancient 26 Gamêliôn.)

Gamêliôn (mid. Jan - mid. Feb.) was called the "Month of Marriage," and was a popular time for weddings. The Gamêlia, at the end of the month, is a celebration of the Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage) of Zeus and Hera; it is considered a harbinger of spring and new beginnings. Few specifics are known, so use your intuition. [PFA 104]

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Last updated: 2/14/2003 11:49 AM