Lemuria: Beans, Ghosts, & Exorcism

It will be the ancient sacred rites of Lemuria,

When we make offerings to the voiceless spirits.

 Ovid

photo-1522806275431-c3eb2082def4

According to Ovid, the month of May was named for the ancestors (maiores) and on May 9th, 11th, and 13th, the Romans celebrated the festival Lemuria (or Lemuralia). The term Lemuria is connected to lemures: “angry or overlooked spirits, who could cause trouble for the living” (AshLI).† The festival sought to appease these spirits through offerings. Ovid describes one type of offering ritual, or exorcism, performed at midnight in Book V of Fasti.

He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods,

Rises (no fetters binding his two feet)

And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers,

Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence.

After cleansing his hands in spring water,

He turns and first taking some black beans,

Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing:

‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’

He says this nine times without looking back: the shade

Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen.

Why Beans? According to scholar Robert Schilling, “This food was considered a powerful attraction for the Lemures, for in archaic times beans constituted a food par excellence.” So in preparation for Wednesday, stock up on some beans!


† Not to be confused with manes: “ghosts [that] were members of the natural, and ever-increasing band of dead ancestors and close relatives, who functioned as guiding and protective forces in Roman daily life.” They were celebrated in another festival in February called the Parentalia (AshLI).

Sources

Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project (AshLI), “Did the Romans Believe in Ghosts?”

Robert Schilling, “Roman Festivals and their Significance,” Acta Classica (1964)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s