Lemuria: Beans, Ghosts, & Exorcism

Notebook of Ghosts

It will be the ancient sacred rites of Lemuria,

When we make offerings to the voiceless spirits.

 Ovid

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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…

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