Gods and Politics: Civics from the Romans

At this time of the year, I ponder what is citizenship and good government. At the Ides (13th) of September, an epulum (feast) is given to the Capitoline Triad. For my epulum, I lay out food for Jupiter, Brightest and Best (Iuppiter Optimus Maximus), Juno Regina (Iuno Regina) and Minerva Augusta. (These Three Gods comprise the Capitoline Triad.) It is also the Day of the Epulum Iovis (The Feast of Jupiter). In Ancient Rome, sacrifices would be made and the feast attended by Roman Senators. (The ceremony was called a lectisterium, a ceremonial meal that is offered to the Gods, Who attended through their statues.)

During the time of Roman Kings, the Archaic (Original) Triad, was Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. Jupiter guided the State, while Mars defended the borders. Quirinus promoted civic responsibility. (Roman citizens were addressed as “Quirites.”) I see this Triad today teaching new nations how to govern themselves.

Under Etruscan influence, the Gods of the Archaic Triad were changed to represent The Republic. Jupiter and Juno protected the State and guided the Senators. Meanwhile, Minerva, as the Patron of the Arts, promoted excellence in society. I see the Capitoline Triad advising today’s democracies.

The counterbalance to the Capitoline Triad is the Aventine Triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. Formed after a plebeian riot, the Aventine Triad protected the rights of the common citizens from government overreach. Ceres maintained the food supplies. Liber and Libera, both Gods of Fertility, protected the male and female seed, respectively. The Aventine Triad protects the rights of citizens today.

I consider civic action to be in the province of the Triads. The Capitoline Triad asks “does the conduct of the government warrant a response of some kind.” Were the representatives bribed into allowing fracking in their district? Did they deliberately enact these laws in the dead of night to avoid public outrage? Meanwhile, the Aventine Triad asks “is this new law fair and sensible.” Is there something out of balance? Did government overreach happen? The answers to these questions form the proper civic response.

I view civic action differently from politics. Civic action is based on what will benefit the community (commonweal). Politics is based on what the person determines to be right and wrong. Since everyone has different ideas on that, no one person can decide what is good for the whole of the community. Civic actions entail whether the citizens are disenfranchised by a law or practice. Are the rights of the minority protected while the will of the majority is being carried out? Are only the wishes of the minority implemented while the desires of the majority are ignored?

The Capitoline and Aventine Triads encourage citizenship and community participation, with deliberate and thoughtful actions. My response to the insistence by some that polytheism must be political is “what does that mean.” Civic action encourages the betterment of the community. Politics stresses one viewpoint over another. Being apolitical is also a duty and right of citizenship. For a society to function well, apolitical people are necessary. They are good judges and mediators, since they view things differently than others.

Whenever various controversies facing polytheists erupt, I always ask the Triads “what would benefit the community.” And I wait for the answer and pray for understanding. Sometimes the answer is to do nothing. Not every controversy requires or deserves a response.

Of the list of Private Roman virtues relevant to political action would be dignitas (a sense of self-worth), firmitas (tenacity), gravitas (a sense of the importance of the matter), prudentia (personal discretion), severitas (self-control) and finally veritas (honesty). These particular virtues both guide the conduct of the Roman Polytheist in politics, as well as define how to be an effective advocate. Following these virtues ensures that one does not degrade those for whom they advocate nor the Gods Themselves.

Public Roman virtues provide a structure on what to advocate for. Abundantia is enough food for all. Aequitas is fair dealing between the government and the people. When conducting affairs let concordia (harmony between nations and between people) and fides (good faith in contracts) be the guides. Iustitia points to having sensible laws, and salus, the concern for public welfare. In the throes of advocacy, bonus eventus (remembering positive events) and fortuna (acknowledging positive events) should not be forgotten.

Roman Virtues who are Gods:
Abundantia: With her cornucopia, this Goddess distributes grain and money to all.
Aequitas: Aequitas is the God of Equity.
Bonus Eventus: Depicted with a patera (cup) in his right hand and a wheat shaft in the left, this God ensures good harvests and successful enterprises.
Concordia: This important Goddess has a festival on July 22.
Felicitas (Prosperity): This Goddess represents the best aspects of communities.
Fides: This Goddess oversees oral contracts between people.
Libertas (Liberty): This Goddess personifies liberty in all its aspects – personal and political.
Pax (Peace): When Augustus re-established peace after the Roman Civil War, he made Pax a Goddess.
Pietas: This Goddess is usually portrayed with a stork, a symbol of filial duty.
Pudicita (Modesty): This Goddess, once represented the modesty of women, but later oversaw the moral uprightness of citizens.
Salus: This ancient Goddess also preserves public health.
Spes (Hope): Depicted about to depart, this Goddess holds an opening flower.
Virtus (Virtue) and Honos (Honor): These two Gods are usually worshipped together. They are also Gods of Military Courage and Honor.

How Babylonian and Roman Gods Recruit Followers

The Roman Gods do not actively recruit from the greater population. I was recruited into Polytheism by Odin, the Norse All-Father. After following the Norse Gods for some time, Neptune of the Romans showed Himself to me. Since then, I have encountered people who have become Roman Polytheists after being Norse. They said it was a natural progression from the “chaotic” Gods to the more “orderly” Ones. Different pantheons have different expectations of their followers. Roman Gods prize order and structure, whereas the Norse are comfortable with chaos.

Since there is overlap with Greek Gods in many people’s minds, the Roman Gods would rather leave the followers of the Hellenic Gods alone. I have noticed that conflation occurs for various Gods such as Poseidon and Neptune in discussions about Gods in general. Recognizing the differences between the Two Gods can be difficult.

Moreover many Celtic followers are resistant to Roman Gods because of the Romans’ war with the Druids. There are Celtic-Roman Gods such as Sulis but their worship does not seem to extend to Roman Gods. Then there is the “coolness” factor of the Norse and Celtic pantheons which people find exciting. Perhaps this is because of all that exposure that people have to Greco-Roman myths and none to these other pantheons.

In my observations, Roman Gods refer people who are already practicing Polytheists. From my experience with Roman Polytheism, it requires daily and regular practice. Since These Gods are “Romans,” They do prize organized over ad hoc devotions. Perhaps that is why the Roman Gods are more reluctant to actively recruit, since many Pagans have eclectic practices.

The Babylonian Gods have a problem in attracting many followers. They and the Canaanite Gods are often first encountered in a negative light in the Old Testament of “The Bible.” Therefore, it is hard for the average Pagan to want to know any of these Gods since they associate Middle-Eastern Gods with Christianity. Also, the Old Testament treats these Gods as figments of people’s imaginations. For these reasons, Marduk, Nanna, and the other Gods do not seem as “real” as the Egyptian Gods. Often the Babylonian Gods will fade into the background.

Another problem for the Babylonian Gods is the meme set forth by the late Zecharia Stichin that the Anunnaki are space aliens who created humans to be their slave species. Stichin took various Babylonian myths and re-invented them to fit his theories. These aliens come from the planet Nibiru (“the 12th planet”) which supposedly passes by Earth every 3,500 years. At that time, they come to earth to bedevil humanity. The meme goes downhill from there and into ancient astronaut theories and alien-human hybrids.

The popularity of Inanna (Ishtar), the Goddess of Love and War often impede people from knowing the other Babylonian Gods. (A popular chant includes Her Name with others Goddesses.) The Pagan devotion to Inanna is often divorced from the other Babylonian Gods. Usually, it is centered in Goddess Worship, whose followers see the Goddesses as individuals and not rooted in particular pantheons. Therefore, Inanna becomes attached to Isis and the other Goddesses.

The devotion to Inanna does not usually transfer to the other Babylonian Gods. This is in contrast with Isis and Hecate, who followers will become acquainted with other Gods from their respective pantheons. I think it has to do with the Babylonian Gods Themselves. More formal in their relations with humans, these Gods expect a sense of propriety from their worshippers. Moreover, They want to be their worship to be rooted in their culture, which makes These Gods reluctant to deal with Eclectic Pagans.

My experience with the Babylonian Gods came from studying mythology and comparing various myths to popular culture. At that point, Marduk decided that I understood the “Enuma Elish,” the Babylonian Creation Epic. From intensive studying of that epic, I developed a devotion to this pantheon. The Babylonians, from what I can infer, prefer people who have little or no Christian residue, and are willing to take their myths seriously.

The Bedrock of Roman Polytheism: Pax Deorum

My polytheism centers on my efforts to maintain the Pax deorum (the Peace of the Gods), which is the center of the Religio Romana (the Roman religion). This is the harmony between humans and the Gods. Affirming the Pax deorum is the basis of pietas (Roman piety). What does this mean? Piety entails ritual purity, doing the rituals correctly, making daily offerings, and saying daily prayers. It is rooted in deep respect for the Gods.

Another part of piety is ius divinum (sacred law). This recognizes what is rightfully the Gods’. A part of keeping the right relations is understanding what the rights of the Gods are. Do They have the right to be as They are? Do I insist that apolitical Janus, the Doorkeeper of the Gods, be involved in the affairs of humans? Do I tell Ceres of the Aventine Triad to ignore the rights of the poor and downtrodden? To ignore Their Rights is an act of impiety and promotes ira deorum (the Anger of the Gods).

Another part of pietas is do ut des (I give that you may give), which is the reciprocity between the person and their Gods. This is a cycle of gratitude for each other. I give to the Gods expecting that They will return in kind. I give in gratitude for what They give to me, and so the cycle of gratitude continues between us. Since the tradition of Religio Romana is having a client-patron relationship with the Gods, I do for Them what They cannot do for Themselves, and They do the same for me.

These three principles – Pax deorum, ius divinus, and do ut des govern my Roman polytheism. It may seem restrictive and businesslike to some but it suits me. I embrace the Gods as They are, and They me. Order and structure in my polytheism gives me the freedom to love Them.

One of my practices is to follow the Roman festival calendar. From that, I developed a system of “Gods of the Month” to focus on for that month. It helps me to keep my devotions for the month and to celebrate the various festivals. I would include the Gods of the Month in my morning devotions and afternoon ones, repeating various prayers that I wrote.

Of course, from “Gods of the Month” comes “Gods of the Day.” Each day, I would write a short prayer for the God of the Day, after my breakfast and before morning devotions. My prayers do include Gods from other pantheons, Who have requested that I make offerings to Them such as Marduk of the Babylonians and the Gods of my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. For example, September and October, when squirrels are active, I write prayers for Ratatosk, the Squirrely One of the World Tree.

For me, being a Polytheist means daily devotions to the Gods. Like many modern Polytheists, my Gods do not all belong to the same Pantheon. Although I consider myself a Roman Polytheist, I do venerate Other Gods. Because of my brain injury and devotional work with the Dead, Anubis, Hekate and the Morrigan have requested devotions. Meanwhile, my Anglo-Saxon Ancestors want their family Gods honored. Finally for reasons unclear to me, the Gods of Babylon and Canaan have asked me for devotions.

To accommodate all the Gods Whom I honor, I had to set up a schedule. How did I go about doing this? First, I read the lore, and then did divination which days would be appropriate for which Gods. Finally, I broke my day into three parts – morning, afternoon, and evening for my devotions. Since we all have our daily rituals such as brewing coffee or checking our phones, including one for devotions seemed reasonable.

Mornings are devoted to the Household Gods. Before breakfast, I light a candle and offer incense. I offer to Janus (who always receives the first and last offerings) for his service in guarding the doors. Then to Apollo for the health of our family, and Juno Custos for guiding my family. Vesta, the Eternal Flame who warms our home, receives her offering and prayers next. Finally, the Genius of the Paterfamilias is thanked for guarding our family.

After I do this, I do my weekly devotions by splitting the various Gods into mornings and afternoons. My schedule is as follows – Monday – Anubis and Hecate (morning), The Lady of Beasts and The Morrigan (afternoon). Tuesday – Freya (morning), Anubis and Hecate (afternoon). Wednesday – Odin. Thursday – Hercules, Neptune and the Roman Pantheon (morning), the Gods of Babylon and of Canaan (afternoon). Friday – Frigga. Saturday – the Penates and Lars. Sunday – the Dead.

Why these particular days? Monday is “moon” day, and those deities prefer that association. Tuesdays is traditional for Freya, Wednesdays for Odin, and Friday for Frigga. Anubis and Hecate asked for Tuesdays, and the Gods of Babylon and of Canaan for Thursday. Since Thursday is Thor’s day, Hercules reminded me that it is his day also. The Roman Gods requested Thursday as well. Saturday is grocery day, which is when the cupboards are replenished. Sunday is for the Dead, since it is a day of reflection for me.

The evening is reserved for the Gods of the Month. Nightly, I say prayers to Them before going to bed. It is a part of my evening routine like brushing my teeth.

©Virigina Carper 2019