Religio Romano: Simple Daily Home Rites and Prayers
This article is the third of a series of articles outlining the basics of a Roman focus of
worship and practice. Other topics may include Early Roman Gods and Goddesses. The
Roman Calendar. State Religion, and Public Rituals; as well as more practical issues as
Rituals for Roman Hearth Worship and Roman Methods of Divination.
Early Romans were simple farmers and shepherds, and their gods and religious practices revolved around their homes, farms, and immediate community. Every household had some kind of shrine for the household deities, the Lararium, and would perform daily prayers honoring the Lar, the guardian spirit of the household, and the Penates, the guardian spirits of the pantry or cupboards. In previous articles, I have discussed the basics of Roman hearth religion (see OL 9) and elements of prayer (see OL 11). I am now offering to share some very simple household prayers and rites that are suitable for a Roman household.
MORNING LARARIUM PRAYERS
The Paterfamilias was traditionally responsible for leading the household each morning in a prayer to the deities of the household (the Lar and Penates) to thank them for keeping watch over the welfare and prosperity of the home and household and to ask that the coming day be fruitful and safe. In ancient times, the Paterfamilias was the male head of the household, however in modem times, this need not be so. Just as the Paterfamilias of the community is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the community, the Paterfamilias of the household is responsible for maintaining a proper relationship between the deities and the household.
This particular prayer is designed to be performed before the Lararium early in the morning after the Paterfamilias has been cleaned and purified, but before breakfast. The Paterfamilias stands before the Lararium with arms outstretched and greets the household spirits:
Salve Lar Familiaris
(If you are making an offering, do so while speaking these lines; otherwise, omit the passages in brackets.)
Vos precor (hoc sacrificio obmovendo bonas preces) uti sitis volentes propitii mihi (liberisque mei) domo meo, familiaeque mae.
This is a great time for a few moments of daily meditation, particularly giving thought to what your plans, expectations, and hopes for the day may be and how the kindred spirits may be included and helpful during the day. A daily offering is not necessary, but is always an option, particularly if you seek especial favor that day. moreover, this would be an ideal time for making a prepared or extemporaneous prayer or vow to a deity (or deities) for assistance in a particular situation. For example, when I had to leave my car at the shop for the day, I prayed to and made a vow to Mercurius (as one who is associated with commerce and fair business deals), Vulcanus (as one who is associated with metalwork and the forge fire), and any other deities who may have been able to assist me in keeping the cost of the repairs to a minimum. (It seemed to work, by the way; I had a loose spark plug, which was easily reconnected, and my mechanic didn't charge me a dime.)
DAILY MEAL PRAYER
At the evening meal (or whatever is the main meal of the day), it is appropriate to honor Vesta, the living flame, who is associated with the cook fire and the Penates. If, like me, you live alone and have irregular, quick meals, make a point of offering to Vesta a bit of whatever it is you're eating whenever you do sit down for a meal. Ideally, a place should be set for Vesta at the table with a serving of all that which the family is eating, then after dinner, but before dessert, the contents of the plate be cast into the fire on the hearth. As the offering is made, a short prayer to Vesta is made:
Salve Vesta Mater!
PRAYER WHEN LEAVING HOME
Janus is the deity most commonly associated with doors in Roman religion. He protects our homes from that which would bring harm to it or those within it. Not only is it a good idea to invoke Janus as a protector of the home, but Janus is also the gatekeeper between us and the realm of the deities, so establishing a good relationship with Janus may aid in enlisting his help in opening the gates in more elaborate rituals. It's not a bad idea to invoke him every time you enter and leave your home.
As you cross the threshold and close the door behind you, say:
Semper salve valeque Janus Clusive!
Extend your hands in supplication and say:
me absente te precor uti sis domum meam vigilans et ab injuria protegens.
Lock the door, then kiss your hand and touch this hand to the door. saying:
PRAYER UPON RETURNING HOME
As you approach the entrance to your home, greet Janus, saying:
Salve Janus Patulci!
Extend your hands in supplication, saying:
Tibi gratias ago quod in me absentia domum meam vigilasti et ab injiria protexsti
Kiss your hand, touch this hand to the door, and unlock it saying:
Gratias tibi ago!
PRAYER OP ABLUTION (CLEANSING)
This is a short prayer that can be used whenever you bathe, shower, wash your hands, before a ritual or anytime you feel the need for purification. While washing, say:
Haec aqua a corpore impuritates, mode simile plumbo mutando ad aurum, eluat.
If they were going to be attending or participating in a formal ritual, Romans would cover their heads, capite velato, to protect themselves from any evil omens en route to or during the ritual. If this prayer is used as an ablution prior to a ritual, it would be proper to cover your head with a shawl or length of cloth. As you do so, say:
Stand straight, your hands in a supplicant position, and say:
Juppiter mibi induat pietate
These are the first Latin prayers I have written, and they are ones I have begun to use on a regular basis. It's not necessary to address the Roman deities in Latin, and I wouldn't recommend anyone doing so without first learning some basics of Latin pronunciation. However, if you understand how to pronounce the Latin and feel more comfortable using it (speaking in Latin always reminds me of the days of Latin Masses and feels more formal to me), I believe the gods prefer it. The most important thing to remember, however, is that the more often you perform these small, daily rites and prayers, the closer you will grow to the deities. Your relationship will grow and you will feel their presence a little more each time you pray to them. Use the prayers in English or put them into your own words once you are comfortable with them. The gods will hear you and appreciate your efforts and your piety.
Serith, Ceisiwr. The Deep Ancestors: Practicing Proto Indo-European Religion. (forthcoming)
Nova Roma Website. http:/www.novaroma.org/religio_romana; 11/27/99
Traupman, John C. Latin and English Dictionary. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.