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MAGIC acts in Roman religion are intended to remove the harmful effects of contact with religiously dangerous persons and things, possessing, as we say, negative mana or taboo; to ward off real or potential evil influences which have not as yet harmed the person, and to communicate to the person, by striking, some quality possessed by the striker or by the object which is used to strike. Often the same magic performance is double-acting: it wards off evil and induces good at the same time.

When man finds that he has unavoidably come in contact with some person or thing which has been found by experience to possess negative mana or taboo, he may rid himself of the evil effects of the contagion in various ways. In highly developed religions, a sacrifice is often felt to be necessary. A concubine, for instance, might not touch the temple of Juno. An ancient law with regard to this prohibition, ascribed to Numa, reads as follows: 1 "Let no kept mistress touch the temple of Juno. If she does so, let her, with streaming hair, kill and offer up a ewe lamb to Juno." Again, no graving tools were allowed in the sacred grove of the Arval Brothers; and so an atoning sacrifice of a pig and a lamb was made before the tools were taken into the grove and again after they had been removed. 2 Furthermore, rites must be repeated if a religiously dangerous person had polluted the place where they were to be celebrated. Thus, in 491 B.C., the Great Games had to be repeated because, after they had been given, it was discovered that, on the morning set for the celebration, a slave had been driven by his master through the circus where the games were to take place. 3

Magic acts which are intended to avert evils resulting from contact with tabooed objects most commonly involve the use of purifying instruments called by the Romans februa, 4 such as water, fire, wool, the skins of sacrificial animals, laurel, pine, spelt, salt, sulphur, and any object which they used to cleanse their bodies. Evils, physical and spiritual alike, may be washed or burned away by the use of these objects. In the case of instruments of purification called februa, the object itself has the power to ward off the ill effects of contact; but there is, in almost every case, an incantation and an assisting action to bring the purifying agent in contact with the person or thing to be purified. However, it is the mysterious quality (mana) in the agent itself which has the power to avert the evil effects of contact. In the case of sticks, wands, brooms, and the like, it is primarily the action which averts the ill.

A distinction must be made at this juncture between instruments of purification (februa) on the one hand and talismans and amulets on the other. In the case of februa, as we have pointed out, there is an attendant incantation, and the object is used as an element in a magic rite; in the case of talismans and amulets, no magic rite is involved--the force is passive, so to speak; it is by inherent mana that the talisman wards off evil and the amulet induces good. It must be remembered, however, that the same object may be either februum, amulet, or talisman, depending on its purpose. If the purpose is purification from contact with tabooed persons or things, it is a februum; if it is calculated to ward off evil influences, without magic action, it is a talisman; if it is believed to induce good, it is an amulet. Wool, for example, is a februum when it is used in rites of the Lupercalia to wipe the blood from the brows of the youthful priests, for the purpose there is purification: it involves a magic act in a regular religious ceremony. However, the wool worn by the priests and by the victims may be either talisman or amulet: through its own mana, without a magic act, it wards off evil and induces good. Again, the bulla worn by the Roman boy was a talisman-amulet: it warded off evil primarily, but thereby induced good.

Most instruments of purification used in Roman religion were employed also in magic rites. In the latter, the individual is usually involved, and the object of the rite is often questionable or even evil; in religious rites, on the contrary, the general welfare is involved and the object is usually good.

We are now ready to turn to a Roman festival in which many purificatory agents are used--the Festival of Pales (Palilia). 5 This festival unquestionably antedated the founding of the city, 6 which, according to tradition, occurred on the same day as the celebration of the festival. Pales, to whom the day was sacred, was an ancient Italian shepherd divinity, of uncertain sex, worshiped on April twenty-first, in the city as well as in the country. Ovid himself had taken part in the celebration: he had with his own hands carried the ashes of the calves and the bean stalks which were used in rites of purification; and he had jumped through the fumigating fires and had been sprinkled with water from a laurel spray. Although animal sacrifice was forbidden on this day, 7 the blood from the tail and head of a horse, familiarly known as the October Horse, which had been sacrificed on October fifteenth, was mixed with sulphur and with bean stalks and with the ashes of the unborn calves which had been sacrificed at the Festival of the Pregnant Cows (Fordicidia) on April fifteenth. This mixture was distributed at the Festival of Pales as a fertility charm.

On the morning of the festival, the shepherds ceremonially swept their folds with a broom and sprinkled both sheep and folds with purificatory water. They adorned the folds with laurel sprays and fumigated the sheep with sulphur, while male olives, pine, and savines were thrown into the fire, presumably on the hearth of the farmhouse. These would crackle if the omens were favorable. Baskets of millet, millet cakes, and milk were offered to Pales, whose wooden statue, standing near the farmhouse, seems to have been splashed with milk. A feast followed in which shepherds and god took part. The shepherds then prayed to Pales to keep away evil influences--wolves, disease, hunger--and to bring good influences to bear--water, food, health to man and to flocks; they repeated the prayer four times, facing the East, while they cleansed their hands in fresh dew. The people drank wine boiled down until it was thick and then mixed with milk. After this, the farmer, his family, and his flocks leaped through bonfires made of straw, a rite which, as they believed, would make women prolific. The worshipers, eating and drinking, lay about on the grass.

We have noted in this rite many of the purifying instruments mentioned by Ovid under the name februa. Water is used to cleanse, fire to burn away evil influences. Sulphur is burned as a fumigating agent for flocks and men. There has also been a ceremonial sweeping of the folds. Some notion of spiritual cleansing may be associated with the purificatory objects here used, as well as with the ceremonial sweeping. The significance of these various februa and of the magic sweeping we shall presently consider in detail.

Rites similar to or almost identical with those of the Festival of Pales have survived to our day in various parts of the world. Frazer writes: 8

"In eastern Europe many analogous rites have been performed down to recent times, and probably still are performed, for the same purpose, by shepherds and herdsmen on St. George's Day, the twenty-third of April, only two days after the Parilia, with which they may well be connected by descent from a common festival observed by pastoral Aryan peoples in spring. The ceremonies appear to be mainly designed to guard the flocks and herds against wolves and witches. . . ."

Removing the Evil Effects of Dangerous Contact by Washing and Burning

Among all peoples, water and fire are common instruments for removing the harmful effects of contact with persons or things which, as they believe, possess a mysterious power to harm. Inasmuch as they find in everyday life that water can cleanse their household utensils and their bodies, they believe, by a curious twist in thinking, that it can cleanse them of the uncanny contagion of those persons and things which are, as we say, taboo.

We shall give a few examples of this use of water. First, an instance of its power to cleanse a stranger of the influences dangerous to a Roman. A Sabine, on one occasion, presented himself at the temple of Diana in Rome with a prodigiously large heifer, intending to sacrifice it to the goddess. Now soothsayers had prophesied that the state whose citizen should offer that particular heifer to Diana would possess the supreme power in Italy. The Roman priest, aware of the prophecy, insisted that the Sabine--a stranger and hence religiously dangerous--bathe in a running stream as the Roman ritual demanded. While the Sabine was thus occupied, the priest sacrificed the heifer to the goddess. 9 Again, corpses and death, in all ages, have been considered dangerous, and the person who has come in contact with them needs purification. Thus persons who attended a Roman funeral must wash their hands in pure water before performing the last rites for the dead, and on returning must be sprinkled with water and walk over fire to remove the contagion of death. 10

AEneas, we recall, refused to touch his home gods until he had removed the blood of battle from his hands. 11 Again, before Claudia Quinta laid hold of the cable of the ship bearing the Great Mother and forced it to move, thus proving her chastity, she dipped her hands in the Tiber and three times sprinkled her head with holy water. 12 And at the Festival of Pales, the farmer sprinkled the ground and, after prayer to the divinity, washed his hands in pure spring water. 13 Sprinkling, in such cases as these, seems to be a survival of an earlier ceremony of washing, just as in Christian sects sprinkling at a christening ceremony is a survival of an earlier immersion.

Water was commonly used in magic rites also. The witch Sagana, in Horace's fifth Epode, sprinkled with water from Lake Avernus the house in which she and two other witches were making preparations to murder a boy to secure his marrow for magic purposes. 14 One recalls the rites in which Dido (feigning thus to destroy AEneas by magic) sprinkled on the pyre pretended waters from Avernus. 15 Again, in certain rites described by Ovid which were believed to have the power to ward off evil influences from a baby, the witch sprinkled the entrance of the house with water containing a drug. 16

Fire, like water, is regularly used to remove the harmful effects of contact with persons and things which are taboo and for driving away evils of all sorts, whether spiritual or physical. Thus, as we have seen, when a person returned from a funeral, he had to walk over fire to remove the contagion of death-a rite usually called "the fire walk." 17

A vigorous description of purificatory rites which later Romans used after contact with a foreigner is found in a late writer. 18 The rites are intended to rid a person of the evil influences of such dangerous contact. The priest whirls lustral torches of blazing pungent sulphur and bitumen about the person to be purified; he sprinkles sacred waters and grasses which have the power to rout evil influences. With his hands turned backward he hurls torches to the south. These are to carry off with them all the spells which have been cast upon the sick. The poet, to be sure, pictures the city of Rome as the body to be purified (from contact with Alaric) ; but the rites are doubtless true to current practice, otherwise there would be no point to the figure.

Not only sulphur but other combustible substances were used as purifying agents. A witch, for example, purified Tibullus from the harmful effects of magic by using pine torches. 19 Such torches, we know, were carried in procession from the house of the bride to that of the bridegroom. 20 Ovid once heard a flamen's wife asking for instruments of purification, and a spray of pine was handed to her. 21 In most magic rites pine torches are used along with sulphur and laurel and other purifying agents. 22 In the case of purification by laurel, the person to be purified was sprinkled with water from a laurel spray. 23 The soldiers who followed the general's car in a triumphal procession wore a laurel garland that they might enter the city with the stain of blood removed, and to ward off the ghosts of the slain enemies. 24 This is a talismanic use of laurel. The war-herald who accompanied the Roman army took with him for purifying purposes certain sacred greens--in all likelihood the modern vervain which is commonly used in magic rites. 25 In the rite of treaty-making between the Romans and the Albans, prior to the contest between the Horatii and the Curiatii, the fetial took pure vervain and touched the head of the spokesman (pater patratus) of the Roman side. The words of the treaty, which Livy felt were not worth quoting, were in verse, in keeping with the magic character of the rite. 26

Removing Evils by Sweeping and Striking

In Roman religious rites, various instruments for sweeping and striking were used to drive away evils of all sorts, whether physical or spiritual. For this purpose the Romans used branches of certain trees, wands, lashes, brooms and besoms. To take an example: after a dead body had been carried out for burial at Rome, scruples demanded that the house be swept out ceremonially. Festus writes as follows  27 about the person who performed the rite: "Everriator (the one who sweeps out) is the name given to the person who, having by law received an inheritance, is bound to perform due rites to the dead. If he fails to do so, or if there is any interference in this rite, he shall atone with his life. This name is derived from the process of sweeping out." Ovid mentions the rite: 28 "After houses have been swept out, the objects of purification which the lictor takes--parched spelt and salt--are called februa." Here, then, we have a magic ceremony performed, either by a State official--a lictor who customarily assisted the Priest of Jupiter--or, as is implied in what Festus writes, by the heir of the deceased. It is our purpose here to note that there is a ceremonial sweeping of the house with a particular kind of broom, the purpose of which, as Frazer suggests  29 (supporting his belief with parallels from many lands), was to sweep out the ghosts of the deceased, and also, we may add, to sweep out the evils which had caused his death. Spelt and salt were regularly used in magic rites of purification and as offerings to the spirits of the dead; hence the appropriateness of their use here. 30

Our second illustration of magic sweeping comes from St. Augustine, who describes  31 the danger surrounding the mother and her new-born child--the superstition that they were liable to be tormented by evil spirits from the woodland (Silvanus, as the later Romans believed) until a curious ceremony was performed. We have had occasion to quote the passage before; but its appropriateness to the present subject leads us to give it again and to discuss it a little more fully.

"After the birth of the child, three protecting divinities are summoned lest the god Silvanus enter during the night and harass mother and child; and to give tokens of those guardian divinities three men by night surround the threshold of the house and first strike it with an ax and a pestle; then they sweep it off with a broom, that, by giving these signs of worship, the god Silvanus may be kept from entering. For trees are not cut nor pruned without iron; nor is spelt powdered without a pestle; nor is grain piled up without a broom. Now from these three objects are named three divinities: Intercidona from the intercisio of the ax; Pilumnus from the pilum; Deverra from the 'sweeping' (verrere) of the broom; and by the protection of these divinities new-born babes are preserved against the violence of Silvanus."

Needless to say, this rite fairly teems with magic. The objects used in it are talismanic: they are possessed of mana potent to drive away evil influences. The iron of the ax and the iron tip of the pestle in themselves have power to drive away baleful forces; and this is assisted by the power of the ax to kill with its sharp edge. The striking with the pestle and the ceremonial sweeping are familiar magic acts of aversion.

We have already had occasion to describe the Festival of Pales. 32 We must notice here again, however, that the shepherds on the morning of the festival ceremonially swept their folds to drive away dangerous forces.

We conclude our description of ceremonial sweeping with an account of the cleansing of the temple of Vesta on the fifteenth of June. The muck (stercus) thus swept out was carried up the Capitoline Hill to an alley shut off by a gate called the Muck Gate (Porta Stercoria), where it was buried. 33 The other sweepings (purgamina) from the temple were thrown into the Tiber. 34 The day was a holiday until after the ceremony was completed. Frazer (following Wissowa) has assumed  35 that the sweepings mentioned by Ovid and the muck recorded in Festus and in Varro were one and the same thing; and he has conjectured that these were placed in a depository on the Capitoline Hill and were subsequently dumped into the Tiber. Now the word purgamina in Latin signifies "sweepings," but it does not necessarily mean "muck." Purgamina is commonly used of sweepings in magic rites which are calculated to drive away evil spirits. Thus, in my opinion, stercus and purgamina were two different things. The sweeping of the temple of Vesta may be a survival of the primitive days when the daughters of the family actually swept out the rude hut. 36 The sweeping, then, in historical times would be a ritualistic survival of this act.

Whipping and striking are favorite ways of driving evils out of persons and things, and thereby allowing good influences to take their place. For example, when a Vestal in Rome had committed an offense against the proprieties of her order, the chief Priest whipped her, not only to punish her, but to drive out the evil influences which caused her wrongdoing. 37

We shall conclude this part of our study with accounts of two festivals in which rites of magic whipping had a prominent place: the Lupercalia and the Festival of the Nones of the Goat (Nonae Caprotinae).

To discuss the various interpretations of the Lupercalia would lead us too far afield. 38 We are concerned here primarily with its magic elements and more especially with the rite of ceremonial whipping contained in it.

One of the most revered spots in the city of Rome in ancient days was the cave at the base of the Palatine Hill called the Lupercal, with the sacred fig tree hard by, under whose shadow, as the story went, a she-wolf suckled Remus and Romulus. Here, on February fifteenth, a goat and a dog, together with certain salt cakes baked by the Vestals, were sacrificed, whether to Lupercus, Faunus, Inuus, or Juno is problematic. Justin Martyr mentions  39 an image of Lupercus which stood in the Lupercal, nude save for a girdle of goatskin. There seems to be no good reason for believing that this statue represented a god Lupercus: it may well have represented one of the priests; and, inasmuch as the rites of the Lupercalia are very old and have magic significance, no god need be involved at all. Because of the curious medley of rites in the festival, the ancients assigned it to various divinities, not realizing that no god was necessary.

A bloody knife, fresh from the sacrifice, was smeared across the brows of two youths of aristocratic families, probably leaders of two colleges of priests called Luperci. The blood was wiped off with wool which had been dipped in milk, and the youths were compelled to laugh. Blood, we know, was commonly used in magic rites; and goats, too, often had a place in these rites. The blood of a goat, for example, was believed to possess the power to break adamant. By the principles of magic, the blood of the goat and the dog would, in itself, be sufficient to drive away evil--in this case, probably wolves at first and then, because of the wolf's connection with Mars, all the evil influences centered in that god. But it would be easier to explain the rite's connection with wolf aversion if the actual sacrifice were a wolf. Perhaps wolves were originally sacrificed, and when these dangerous creatures became less available for sacrificial purposes, dogs were substituted for them. Such substitutions are easy for primitive peoples. Servius, for instance, writes: 40 "In sacrifice, likenesses are accepted for realities. Hence, when animals which are difficult to find must be sacrificed, they are made of bread or of wax and are accepted as the real victims." Certainly in the rites of the Lupercalia the smiling of the youths smacks of the grinning of wolves, and so, by the principle of similarity, the Luperci became wolves so far as magic was concerned, and thus originally kept off wolves.

The rite which ensued is of particular interest at this point. The Luperci, clad only in a magic girdle made of the skins of the sacrificial goats, made a purificatory circuit of the city, beginning at the Lupercal, forming as they ran a magic circle, the object of which was to keep off evil influences--here again, no doubt, originally wolves--from the sheepfold of the primitive Palatine settlement. As the youths ran, they smote the hands of any women who placed themselves in their path. There seems to have been no incantation or prayer accompanying this rite. We know that lashings of this sort were believed, among other peoples, to expel evil influences of all sorts and to stir up the reproductive powers; and the Romans, in historical times, believed that this was the object of the lashings at the Lupercalia. The fertility of the goat was by some mysterious force transferred to the women through this contact. Inasmuch, too, as primitive peoples closely associate fertility in women with fertility in crops, the rites may have been intended to promote productiveness of the soil as well. 41

Our final festival--the Festival of the Nones of the Goat 42--occurred on July seventh, the day on which, according to tradition, Romulus disappeared at the Goat's Marsh in the Plain of Mars (Campus Martius). On this day slave women, dressed in their mistresses' clothes, ran about in play, scoffing at passers-by and engaging in a kind of sham fight in which they cast stones at one another. They feasted and drank under fig-tree boughs in the Plain of Mars and, along with their mistresses, cut sprays from the sacred fig tree and sacrificed them and their milky juice to Juno of the Goat. Now the fig is purgative, and such purgatives were ceremonially used by the ancients as cathartics to expel evil influences and hence to induce good. The resemblance of the sap of the fig to milk and the fact that the sacrifice, in historical times, was made to the especial goddess of mothers, make the object of the rite fairly sure. The male fig communicates its richness to the divinity who, in turn, communicates it to the women. Moreover, we have the curious statement recorded in Varro  43 about this festival: "They use the switch from the (male) wild fig-tree." While we are not told exactly what use was made of it, it is reasonable to suppose that the women lashed one another with it and thus transferred by magic the fertility of the fig to themselves, driving out at the same time any influences detrimental to reproduction. We have record of similar lashings with wild fig switches at the Thargelia in Athens in the curious rite of riddance by two scapegoats called pharmakoi. 44

Originally these rites may have had some connection with the fertilization, by the aid of insects, of the female cultivated fig tree by the pollen of the male fig, a process which the ancients sought to further, about this season of the year, by placing strips of the fruit of the wild fig among the boughs of the cultivated variety. 45 The throwing of stones at one another by the maidservants also shows this to be a fertility rite. There was a similar throwing of stones in the temple of Hippolytus at Troezen at the festival of the two divinities Damia and Auxesis, both fertility deities.

Keeping Away Evils by Drawing a Magic Circle

The describing of a circle about the person or thing to be protected was usual in magic rites. 46 Thus magic circles could protect one against snakes. 47 The Roman ceremonial drawing of circles by processions about persons and things had its origin in such a belief. We have record of several magic processions among the Romans. Thus, in founding towns, they employed an Etruscan rite. 48 On an auspicious day, they yoked a white bull and a white cow to a plough with a bronze share. The ploughman, with his left side turned toward the proposed town, drove to the left, with the bull on the outside and the cow on the inside. Thus he traced a furrow around the city, marking out the line of the proposed wall and being careful that the upturned earth should fall inwards, toward the left and the town. The furrow, however, was not unbroken, for wherever a gate was to be built, the share was removed and the plough was lifted from the ground. The line thus traced--known as the pomerium--was considered sacred; but such spots as were intended for gates were not so considered, because dangerous persons--strangers, enemies, soldiers contaminated by death and blood--had to pass through. Moreover, dead bodies must go through the gates, and these would contaminate anything sacred. The magic circle so described was believed to be effective in keeping away evil influences of all sorts, demons, witches, diseases, plagues, and the like. The pomerium therefore constituted a magic line of demarcation between the sacred and the profane. Hence it was that the Romans would ordinarily not allow foreign gods within the sacred line, and generals and their armies had to be purified before entering the city. The use of bronze for the ploughshare has already been discussed. 49 The Romans usually considered the left auspicious. Hence the ploughman turned up the clods of earth to the left and drove his plough to the left. There was a yearly dramatization of this original rite called the amburbium, but unfortunately we know no more about the rite than that there was a procession about the city and that there was a sacrificial victim. 50

The lustration of the farm, usually held in May, took the form of a procession around its bounds, consisting of a pig, a sheep, and a bull (suovetaurilia), driven by a throng of people wearing garlands, chanting and waving olive branches. The procession made a circuit of the farm three times, at the conclusion of which the sacrifice of the suovetaurilia was made to Mars, with an offering of wine, and prayer to Janus and Jupiter. We translate Cato's description of the rite: 51

"The cultivated land should be purified as follows: Order the suovetaurilia to be driven around. . . . First pray to Janus and to Jupiter, with offering of wine, and (then) say thus: 'Father Mars I pray and entreat thee to be favorable and propitious to me, my home, and my slaves (familia); and with this aim I have ordered the suovetaurilia to be driven around my arable field, land, and farm, that thou mayest ward off, debar, and keep away from us diseases, seen and unseen, dearth, devastation, disasters, inclement weather; and that thou mayest permit the products, grain, vineyards, and shrubbery to come to full growth and prove a success; and that thou mayest keep the shepherds and their flocks safe, and grant good health and strength to me, my home, and my slaves; and to this end, as I have stated it--the purification and lustration of my farm, land, and cultivated field-be thou strengthened by this sacrifice of the suckling suovetaurilia.'"

Then a cake is sacrificed. Cato continues: "When you sacrifice the pig, lamb, and calf, you must say this: 'To this end, be thou strengthened by the sacrifice of the suovetaurilia.'" If the sacrifice is not successful, another is made, with the following prayer: "'Father Mars, if in anything thou hast not been satisfied with this sacrifice of the suckling suovetaurilia, I make atonement with this suovetaurilia.'" If, in the case of one or more victims, there has been doubt whether Mars was satisfied or not, a pig is sacrificed, with these words: "'Father Mars, because, in the case of the pig offered, satisfaction has not been given to thee, I make atonement to thee with this pig.'" The words of the prayer to be made to Janus, the god of the doorway, and to Jupiter, the god of the sky, are not given--probably because the necessity of ridding the farm of the evil influences which centered in Mars was more compelling.

There are three elements in the prayer to Mars: first, a petition that Mars ward off evil influences, a power which he possesses by reason of the fact that he is the source of these influences; 52 second, a petition that he bring good influences to bear upon the farm; and, third, in some mystic way the god is to receive strength to act by partaking of the sacrifice. 53 The god Mars addressed in these formulae is, of course, a fully developed god, represented in the ritual of the State as the god of war; but the ritual and the prayers hark back to a more primitive period, when man made no distinction between himself and the things and forces with which he found himself beleaguered in his struggle with nature. The primitive farmer probably addressed, not a god, but disease, dearth, and the rest, as real spirits, and, being incapable, as it seems, of conceiving a force as emanating from something unlike himself, he came gradually to ascribe personality to the spirits, who were to be warded off by what was in all probability a charm, the forerunner of these prayers in Cato. This was followed by a gradual accumulation of all the hostile spirits into one great hostile spirit, Mars, the spirit, powerful for ill, who dwelt in the regions beyond the bounds of the farm, and who must be induced to keep away. 54

But the lustration, while it passed through this animistic stage before it became connected with Mars, Janus, and Jupiter, had its origin further back in the age of magic. It was originally a process of marking off the sacred from the profane by a magic circle formed by the slow procession from point to point on a Roman farm. In the procession were carried, or driven, the sacred animals, the pig, the sheep, and the bull. The animals originally possessed sufficient mana--in this case their productivity--to communicate it to the fields and flocks. No god or spirit was at first concerned in the rite. A charm, in the form of a command, accompanied the tracing of the magic circle, and this was sufficient to ward off evils.

Removing Evils by Dancing: The Scapegoat

Dancing played a prominent part in ancient Roman rites and seems to involve principles of sympathetic magic. On the first of March began a series of processions lasting throughout the whole month, in which twenty-four priests of Mars, called Leapers (Salii), clad in armor of bronze, each carrying in his right hand a staff and in his left a shield, marched in procession through the city, visiting certain important spots such as the Forum and the Capitol. They danced in solemn rhythm, chanting their ancient hymn and beating their shields with their staffs. On the fourteenth of the month, a man called Mamurius Veturius, clad in the skins of a goat, was beaten with the staffs and driven from the city. 55 Frazer has gathered  56 many parallels to these rites in which savages, in warlike dances, brandish swords, fire off muskets, and beat drums in order to drive away spirits hostile to crops. It would seem that such rites and, by analogy, those of the Leapers of Mars, involve principles of sympathetic magic: the crops will grow as high as the worshipers can leap; the striking, too, drives away hostile demons of all sorts. The smiting of the scapegoat--probably representing Mars, the accumulated hostile spirits of the farm and, later, of the city--transferred to him the evils which were harmful to crops and flocks and men, and these were carried away when the scapegoat was driven out.

In historical times, certain Leaping Maidens, dressed exactly like the Leapers, and performing some, if not all, of the functions of their male colleagues, were hired to take part in the rites. 57 It has been suggested that originally they may have been priestesses of Mars, with important functions. 58

Servius records  59 a curious incident which illustrates the power of dancing to avert the evil effects of desecrating the sacred games. While the games of Apollo were in progress, news reached the city that Hannibal was making an attack near one of the gates. Everyone took up arms to repel the enemy. On returning home, however, they were seized by dread of the evil consequences of their having interrupted the sacred games. Noticing an old man dancing in the Circus, they inquired the reason for his action. He replied: "I have not interrupted my dancing." There are several possible explanations. Servius believes that the Roman proverb "The State is safe while the old man dances" originated in this event; and inasmuch as he tells the story apropos of a line of Vergil which mentions an interruption in sacred rites, he must feel that the dancing in some way atoned for the interrupted rites of Apollo. It may be possible, however, that his dance was imitative of war actions, in which case he would help the Romans by sympathetic magic; or he may have danced in order thus to keep the games of Apollo in progress.

To summarize: We have noticed in this chapter that magic acts in Roman religion may be divided, according to their objects, into three classes: those which are calculated to remove the baleful effects of actual contact with persons and things which have, in the past, been found to be uncannily dangerous to man; those which are intended to keep off potential evils, whether physical or spiritual; and, finally, those which are intended to communicate to the person struck some quality possessed by the striker or by the object used to strike. Such magic rites are often double-acting; they ward off evils and induce good at the same time.

The evil effects of contact with dangerous persons or things may be removed in several ways: in developed religions, where some notion of a personal god is present, sacrifice may be necessary, or a whole rite may have to be repeated. Most magic acts, however, involve the use of certain instruments of purification--called februa by the Romans--such as fire, water, wool, and the like. By means of these, evils both physical and spiritual are washed or burned away. Some mysterious power to ward off evil is believed to be present in these objects: the magic act is purely secondary. In the case of sticks, wands, and besoms, however, it is primarily the action, often accompanied by an incantation, which averts the ill. All such instruments of purification are used both in magic and in religious rites among ancient peoples and among savages of to-day. In the case of magic rites, the individual is concerned; in religion the common good is involved.

We have seen, too, that all magic instruments of purification were used in the Roman State festivals; that rites similar to those of old Rome are occasionally to be found among modern peoples--a fact which points to a common origin for such festivals.

We have seen, further, that water and fire are commonly used in religious and in magic rites to wash and to burn away evils. Early man, knowing that water cleansed his body and his household vessels, thought that it could wash away the contagion of things which he felt to be dangerous to him. Such is the curious reasoning of savages.

Again, he saw that fire refined the dross from metal, so why should it not burn away evils which were actually harming him and keep off evils which might harm him in the future? Thus we have ceremonial leapings through bonfires and walking over hot coals. These fires, too, may have been felt as setting up barriers between the living and the dead. Sulphur, because of its real disinfectant properties and because of its fiery nature, is particularly potent in rites of purification.

Evils, as we have shown, can also be driven away by striking and by sweeping, rites which have parallels among all peoples. Early man could sweep the filth from his hovel, so why could he not sweep out the spirit of the dead man? Often, as we have noticed, such ceremonies are believed to keep away the hostile spirits of the dead, or to drive away evil influences which might interfere with childbearing, or to communicate, by contact through lashings, the fertility of some fruitful object, an animal or a tree, for example.

We have seen that evils of all sorts can be kept away by tracing a magic line about them. This protecting rite is often assisted by driving in the procession animals whose fertility is communicated to the crops.

And, finally, rites of dancing seem to have a sympathetic connection with the crops: these will grow as high as the dancers can leap. In such rites magic striking is also found.


1 Gellius, Noctes Afficae IV. 3, 3.

2 G. Henzen, Acta Fratrum Arvalium, pp. 128-135.

3 Livy II. 36, 1.

4 See Varro, De Lingua Latina VI. 13, 34; Ovid, Fasti II. 1936, and Frazer's notes on these lines. The word februum is of Sabine origin. See Varro. loc. cit.

5 For this festival see especially Tibullus II. 5, 87-106; Propertius V. 4, 73-78; Ovid, Fasti IV. 721-782; see also Frazer's notes on Ovid, Fasti IV. 721-782.

6 Ovid, Fasti IV. 807-820; Plutarch, Romulus XII. 1.

7 Plutarch, loc. cit.; Solinus I. 19.

8 J. G. Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. III, P. 339.

9 Livy I. 45, 4-7.

10 Festus: Aqua et igni (Mueller, pp. 2-3).

11 Aeneid II. 717-720.

12 Ovid, Fasti IV. 314-315.

13 Ovid, Fasti IV. 736 and 778.

14 Epodi V. 25-26.

15 Aeneid IV. 512.

16 Fasti VI. 157. See a paper entitled The House Door in Greek and Roman Religion and Folk Lore, by Professor M. B. Ogle, American Journal of Philology XXXII (1911), pp. 251-271.

17 Festus: Aqua et igni (Mueller, pp. 2-3).

18 Claudianus, De Sexto Consulatu Honorii Augusti 324-330.

19 I. 2. 61.

20 Catullus LXI. 15.

21 Fasti II. 27-28.

22 Nemesianus IV. 62.

23 Ovid, Fasti IV. 728.

24 Festus: Laureati (Mueller, p. 117).

25 Servius on Vergil's Aeneid XII. 120.

26 Livy I. 24, 4-9.

27 Everriator (Mueller, p. 77).

28 Fast; II. 2 3-24.

29 The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. II, p. 279.

30 See Thomas J. Marett, in Folk Lore XXXVIII (1927), p. 181; Peter J. Hamilton, in Folk Lore XXXVIII (1927), p. 62.

31 De Civitate Dei VI. 9.

32 See above, pp. 148-150.

33 Festus: Stercus (Mueller, P. 344).

34 Ovid, Fasti VI. 713-714.

35 Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. IV, pp. 314-315.

36 W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, P. 136.

37 Plutarch, Numa X.

38 For an excellent account of the Lupercalia see Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. II, pp. 327-341, with the references there given.

39 Justin Martyr XLIII. 1, 7.

40 On Vergil's Aeneid II. 116.

41 See Apuleius, Apologia LXXXVIII.

42 For this rite see Varro, De Lingua Latina VI. 18; Plutarch, Romulus XXIX, Camillus XXXIII; Macrobius, Saturnalia I. 11, 36-42; Ausonius, De Feriis, 9-10; Frazer, op, cit., Vol. II, pp. 343-356.

43 Loc. cit.

44 Fragments of Hipponax (in Tzetzes, Hist. XXIII. 726-756); see Servius on Vergil's Aeneid III. 57.

45 L. Preller, Romische Mythologie, I. 287.

46 Pliny, Naturalis Historia XXI. 42, XXV. 50.

47 Eugene Stock McCartney, "Magic Circles as Barriers to Snakes," in The Classical Weekly, Vol. XXII (1929), pp. 175-176.

48 Ovid, Fasti IV. 825-826; Servius on Vergil's Aeneid IV. 212; Festus: Primigenius sulcus (Mueller, p. 237) ; Varro, De Lingua Latina V. 143, Res Ruslicae II. 1, 10; Plutarch, Romulus XI. 1-2, Quaestiones Romanae XXVII; Isidore, Originer XV. 2, 3; Columella, De Re Rustica VI, Praefatio VII; see also Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. III, pp. 379-384; Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, P. 214.

49 See Chapter III, p. 118.

50 Servius on Vergil's Bucolica III. 77.

51 De Agricultura CXLI. 1-3; see E. G. Sihler, Testimonium Animae, pp. 342-344.

52 See W. Warde Fowler. The Roman Festivals, P. 89.

53 W. Warde Fowler. The Religious Experience of the Roman People, pp. 182-183.

54 Ibid., pp. 132-133.

55 For the Salian priests see Festus: Mamuri Veturi (Mueller, P. 131); Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates Romanae II. 71; Plutarch, Numa XIII; Servius on Vergil's Aeneid VII. 188, VIII. 285. Ovid, Fasti III. 259-392; Livy I. 20, 4, 1. 27, 7; Varro, De Lingua Latina VI. 14; joannes Lydus, De Mensibus IV. 49.

56 The Golden Bough, Vol. II. pp. 157-182.

57 Festus: Salias Virgines (Mueller, P. 329).

58 H. J. Rose, Primitive Culture in Italy, p. 96.

59 Servius on Vergil's Aeneid VIII. 110.

Next: Chapter VI: Incantation and Prayer