In ancient Rome, the Romans celebrated the Festival of Compitales or the Compitalia annually. This festival was a day-long celebration performed to honor deities called the Lares: A group of gods that were people who had died and were later elevated to divine status for their good deeds. The Romans honored the Lares in hopes of keeping the family, home and city of Rome safe and prosperous.
According to WorldEncyclopedia.org, Lares are a grouping of gods who were at one time living and through death had achieved a divine status. Lares were protectors of the Roman state and families; These gods were commonly worshipped by establishing a shrine in the household to honor them. Lares are guardian deities of cities, crossroads and homes; Lars familiaris protected families and ensured the continuation of the family line. There was also the worship of Lares praestites who kept safe the entire city of Rome. In “Studies in Roman Literature, Culture, and Religion,” Hendrik Wagenvoort explains that in ancient Rome, people set up shrines at crossroads or the compita; The Lares compitales were the spirits who protected neighborhoods and crossroads. The Lares compitales and the Lares praestites were quite similar, differing only in terms of when and where they were worshipped.
The Lares are children of Mania, the Tuscan goddess of the dead or the unseen world. Lares are deceased good spirits of men, particularly ancestors and they are deities that stand in direct contrast to the Lemures and Larvæ, who were thought to be the spirits of evil men forced to walk the earth for having lived indulgent lives.
Dating of the Festival
The Compitalia is an ancient Roman festival held annually in order to honor the Lares compitales. In “A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology,” Lars is identified as an Etruscan word meaning, “hero, king, or lord” and the worship of the Lares in Rome was similar to the worship of heroes in ancient Greece. In “Grecian and Roman Mythology,” Mary Ann Dwight explains that the Compitalia begins in the month of December, following Saturnalia, but that the actual date of the celebration is not fixed. William Smith asserts that the celebration was part of the feriae conceptivae (proclaimed holidays), so it was up to the priests and magistrates of Rome to decide the day of the celebration. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the celebration was observed on January 4.
In “A Concise Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities,” the yearly Festival of Compitales, also called the Lundi Compitali’cii or the Compitalia, is described as being started by Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome; Offerings were made at crossroads and consisted of honey cakes offered by every household in the city. Public games were also offered during the celebration until around 64 B.C.; During the reign of Julius Caesar, the Romans eventually stopped celebrating the Compitalia, but Augustus later revived the celebration honoring the Lares.
Romans made daily offerings to the Lares and prayed to them for protection. Images of the Lars were placed upon established shrines. Newlywed brides in ancient Rome would give offerings of coins to the household Lares as well as to the Lares compitales in the form of coins. Once human and animal sacrifices were abolished, other types of offerings far more suitable were made to the Lares and the goddess Mania. In “The Pantheon,” William Godwin explains how balls of wool in different sizes were hung outside of the house to represent a substitution of the different family members and slaves within the household as an offering in hopes of pleasing the Lares. According to Cultus Deorum, garlic and poppies became acceptable offerings at the Lares’ shrines; Garlic has long been associated with the ability to banish evil and poppies, being red in color, are associated with life-blood and the resurrection of the spirit. Depictions of the goddess Mania were hung outside of houses to serve as amulets; Offerings of water were left out for travelers so that they could wash and libation for the deities in the form of nuts, fruit, incense, red flowers, bread, honey or olive oil were also offered.
Modern ways of honoring the Lares
To honor the Lares in modern times, a practitioner can set up a small shrine or altar. Images of Lares can be added to the altar and decorated with garland. Offerings of olive oil, milk water, honey, nuts, fruit, garlic, bread, honey cakes, small coins, poppies or poppy seeds can be made to the Lares and placed at the corner of one’s property or at the nearest crossroad. The practitioner can also use white or grey balls of yarn that can later be suspended from somewhere outside the household: One for each member of the family. While wrapping the yarn, the practitioner can charge each construction to bring luck, prosperity and protection for the inhabitants of the home.
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