O Kalends, my Kalends!

This time last year, I presented a ritual at Olympia, Washington, in honour of Rome and Augustus on the occasion of the Kalends of August. I’d like to reiterate my thanks to the organizers of Many Gods West last year, to all those who attended, and especially to Kirk Thomas, who served so admirably as our sacerdos Romae et Augusti. I sincerely hope the circumstances will permit the holding of a similar ritual in the future. The Kalends of August is perhaps the single most important date in the Gallo-Roman religious calendar, if for no other reason than that we know a fair bit about that date and its significance. At an altar dedicated by the great Drusus and co-nascent with his son, the divine Claudius, representatives of the sixty peoples of the three Gaulish provinces would gather at Condate (now the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood of Lyon) to compete for the honour of being elected as priest of Rome and Augustus. Under that priest’s guidance, there would be games and sacrifices as well as speech-making and an opportunity to petition the Roman authorities for redress of grievances. There is also a widely entertained theory (although personally I find the evidence for it unsatisfactory) that this Kalends of August event perpetuated an earlier Celtic ritual of Lugnasad dedicated presumably to Lugus at Lugdunum or its environs. In any case, here is an occasion of the first importance in both sanctity and social significance, the commemoration of which does honour to our Gaulish ancestors* as well, of course, as the deities in question: the goddess Rome, the divine Augustus, and their allies.

Augustus (polychrome)

Praise to you, divine Augustus! Through you we live, through you we navigate, through you our freedom and fortunes we enjoy.
(Augustus of Prima Porta. I have modified the colours of this polychrome reconstruction of the statue’s appearance from the Vatican Museums. Original photo by Sailko, CC-BY-SA.)

This year, however, I observed the Kalends of August in a thoroughly modest, private way. I lit a candle for the goddess Rome, burnt incense for the divine Augustus, poured libations for the divine Claudius and for the divine Pertinax, and also—and I should have mentioned this first—offered honeyed cakes for Juno, for the Kalends of each month is sacred to her. I read an extract from Virgil, chanted many an io triumphe! in Augustus’ honour, and might also have played Camille Saint-Saëns’ wonderful unpublished symphony Urbs Roma, but for some reason I forgot it this year. (Respighi’s Pines of Rome doesn’t work quite as well, for some reason, in my experience. I’m also quite attached to Karl Jenkins’ Palladio in this connection, but that musical choice requires a bit more exegesis!)

And all of this is perfectly good, but I couldn’t help feeling pretty wistful when I thought about last year’s gathering at Olympia—the wonderful camaraderie—the chance to meet or reconnect with people of such intellectual and spiritual depth—the working together to advance the work of the gods while respecting the diversity of our traditions to such a marvellous extent.

I really ought to have published an explanation earlier for why I had not applied to present a similar ritual at Many Gods West again this year, but the simple reason is that the 2016 conference is being held a week later, which means that we’re not talking about the Kalends of August but rather the Nones (namely tomorrow, Friday, which incidentally is also the dies natalis of Salus). Unfortunately, a Kalends ritual can’t really be held after the Kalends—in a pinch, perhaps, you could have one beforehand, in anticipation of the actual date, but even here one would be taking a serious liberty.

Crucially, the later date means that I wasn’t free to get away from work, as there’s a conflict with a conference which my boss attends, in consequence of which I’m needed to stay behind in the journal office. I was incredibly sad that I wouldn’t be able to go to Many Gods West this year, and I send my greetings and good wishes to all those who will. This may be part of the reason I haven’t posted about Many Gods West 2016: I didn’t fully want to admit to myself and the world that I couldn’t go!

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus warns of under-the-hood goings-on in the lead-up this year’s event that are likely to result in miasmic contamination, and no doubt e is right. Left to my own devices, I’d probably have risked it, trying to take all due ritual precautions but inevitably being vulnerable to mischance through some carelessness or oversight of my own—so perhaps it is, after all, providential that the choice is out of my hands this year.

For another reason, too, it’s better that I conserve my money for now, and that is that I’m planning a trip to Ireland next year. While my German ancestors hailed from the area around Trier,† that Gallo-Roman city par excellence,‡ I also have a fair deal of Irish ancestry. Actually, after World War I, our family was somewhat in denial about our German heritage, and played up our Irish roots instead. Anyway, my Irish forebears hailed from several areas of Ulster now on or near the border separating Northern Ireland from the Republic (neither of which, as political entities, existed when my ancestors left Ireland). As a result, if I’m to visit South Armagh and the Cooley Peninsula, the Inishowen Peninsula and Tyrone—as I’ve been wishing to for many years—I’d much rather not have to be troubled by continual hassle along the border. The Brexit vote, therefore, elicited in me the almost immediate resolution to visit Ireland before the UK is officially out of the EU so that I can experience Ireland the way it is now, ahead of what must likely be a harsher and more effectual Partition than there has been at any time since the 1970s—a renewed Partition that, by the way, the people of Ireland, north and south, neither wanted nor consented to.

In the meantime, mark your calendars for two particularly important upcoming dates: the Nemoralia on August 13 (the Ides), which is the dies natalis of Diana but also a hugely polyvalent holy day; and the decamnoctiacis Granni or ten nights of Grannus, which I suggest might be observed in the lead-up to the dedication of an altar of Apollo Grannus on August 18 at Altiaia.

And of course, for those heading to Many Gods West, my heartfelt blessings; may the gods favour you, and may all ill be averted.
* Whether of blood or of spirit.
† Trier, by the way, has just named a Syrian refugee, Ninorta Bahno, as its Wine Queen for the year. I love this.
‡ The very name of Trier in antiquity—Augusta Treverorum—honours Augustus.

About DeoMercurio

I’m a Gaulish polytheist, now back living in lands ceded by the Council of Three Fires after several years’ sojourn in Anatolia and in the land of the Senecas, with frequent travels to Gaul along the way. My grandfather’s family came from the area around Trier, and I identify closely with the Treveri in my religious practice.
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3 Responses to O Kalends, my Kalends!

  1. I have to say, yours was one of my favorite rituals at MGW last year–and, sadly, under-attended and under-appreciated (despite my attempts on the former score to prevent such scheduling conflicts, even with appeal to the inadvisability on a divine level of putting two Gaulish or Gaulish-connected things on in the same time slot).

    I’ll be interested to hear how your observances go later this month–I don’t know what I’ll be doing for the Ides of August this year…I had a potential plan last week, but that might not be possible now…

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Thanks so much, Lupus! I really appreciate that, and the attendance that showed up (including yours!) more than made up in quality for what we lacked in quantity. Plus the basic premise of doing a ritual for Rome and Augustus, even in a Gallo-Roman context, was not one that was automatically going to resonate with large numbers of people without a certain amount of explanation. The Augustus and Capricorn coin you gave me still permanently ornaments my domestic shrine, by the way!

      • Glad to hear it! Coins are such a practical and convenient form of iconography…even replica ones can still be as symbolically-potent as “real” ones (though I’ve added a few genuine ancient coins to my assemblage over the last few months–a well-worn Hadrian and a quite nice Sabina!). And for those of particular political orientations, what better way to subvert the notions going along with money and the abuses of it than to value money not for what it is “worth,” but instead for the art and the sacred character of the subjects depicted in that art upon the pieces of money themselves? 😉

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