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State Gods and Mystery Religions of the Roman Republic by Virginia Stewart-Avalon, M.Ed.
The state and personal religions of Rome were a morass of related, unrelated, and transplanted beliefs. Unlike later, rigidly controlling societies, Rome's tolerance for, and even encouragement of foreign religious practices allowed many diverse faiths to flourish in Roman society. The beliefs of the Etruscan peoples, who practiced rites and honored Deities similar to those of the Celts, seemed to provide the foundation for many of the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of the Roman civilization. The Greek settlers of the early Roman Kingdom also contributed to the Roman pantheon. The Romans grafted many Gods from Greece, and from other cultures, onto the existing native Deities, often obscuring the characteristics of the original Gods and changing those of the latter. Major and minor Gods and Goddesses from all over the known world, as well as the Gods and Goddesses of the various mystery religions, were honored by the different peoples of Rome. The underlying character of a people is mirrored by the Gods they worship; in order to better understand the Roman people, one should study the nature of their Gods, the origin of these Deities, and the manner in which they were worshipped.
As Rome was a predominately patriarchal society, its principle Deity was Jupiter, primarily a rain God who fertilized the fields (and, by repute, many a fair maiden) with seminal moisture. The worship of Jupiter spread westward with the invasions of Indo-European patriarchal tribes and was, in essence, simply another form of worship of the Sky Father, mate of Mother Earth. Also associated with Dis Pater, an Aryan influence from the Sanskrit "Dyaus Pitar", and from the Greek Zeus, Jupiter was a God of many epithets ( Walker 485). "Light-Bringer (Lucetius), Thunderer, The-Heavenly-Father- Who-Rains, Capitolinus (of the Capitol)", and many other names reflect the changing roles this God played as a bringer of fertility and the head of the State religion (486). Jupiter's special concerns were oaths, treaties, alliances, and wars, as well as "... the moral duty of a citizen towards the Gods, the state, and the family"(Grimal 177). He was probably a masculinized superimposition on the Goddess Juventas, a virgin Goddess who was part of the original Capitoline triad of Juventas/Juno/Minerva, and this may be when he became the guardian of public morals (Rose 116).
Oxen and bulls were the usual choices for sacrifice to Jupiter, as they were associated with "the corn spirit which often assumes the form of a bull or ox", and was therefore associated with Him as a fertility God, bearing a striking similarity to the Egyptian Osiris (Frazer 443,457). The white bull may also have been brought by early Celtic tribes who worshipped a White Cow Goddess (later called Boana); borrowed from the Thracian worship of Dionysus; and even stolen from Juno, who was worshipped in the form of a white cow. The practice of assuming the characteristics and sacrifices of the Deity whom one culture wished to suppress or subjugate was quite common. Many of the latter male Gods had their beginnings as Goddesses (Graves 106).
The new year was welcomed with a festival and sacrifice to Jupiter Capitolinus patron of the city of Rome. The new Consuls, elected each year, wearing their purple-bordered togas, walked from their homes to the Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill, preceded by the lictors (officials) carrying the faeces (official symbols carried on poles). After being ceremonially seated on their ivory chairs in front of the temple, the consuls received the cheers of the crowds assembled for the occasion. They then sacrificed two white bulls to Jupiter "in recognition of the vows made for the safety of the state on January 1 of the previous year, and the renewal of the vows for the coming year..."(Lyttleton and Forman 43-4).
Another celebration in honor of Jupiter took place from September fifth through the nineteenth. The "Ludi Romani" (Roman Games) featured a sacrifice and huge banquet for the magistrates and senators on the thirteenth, which was believed to be the anniversary of the founding of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitol, which was originally the site of a sacred oak or oak grove.
The Celtic conquerors, who settled in Asia (c.300bce), appear to have carried the worship of the oak with them to their new home.
(A) Greek writer (wrote that) the Celtic image of Zeus (was) an oak tree. The Teutonic thunder God Donar, Thunar, Thor; (whose sacred tree was the oak) was identified with the Italian thunder God Jupiter, (as) Thursday, Thunar's day... is merely a rendering of the Latin dies Jovis. On the capitol at Rome the God was worshipped as the deity not merely of the oak, but of the rain and thunder (Frazer 160).
On this occasion, the sacred banquet (the "lectisternium") was set out for Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Three couches, on which rested images of these deities, were given places of honor among the revelers, as if to enjoy the feast and bless the occasion (Lyttleton and Foreman 38). This feast possibly predates the advent of Jupiter, since sacred feasts were common in the earlier eras of Mother Goddess worship, prior to the Indo-European invasions.
Juno was a far older Deity than Jupiter, and had some aspects which differed from those of the Greek Hera, with whom she is usually identified. "Her name comes from the Etruscan-Sabine derivative 'Uni', the Three-In-One deity cognate with 'Yoni' and 'Uni-verse'...(Walker 484). Juno was the Great Mother Goddess of the Romans and though many of Her original powers had been given to Jupiter, she still "presided over all aspects of womanly life (from)... aiding the mother in childbirth... helping the newborn to see...(to) guarding the bride's girdle [a symbol of purity]... (Grimal 178). This Goddess also had a multitude of attributes and epithets: Fate; Celestial Light; Advisor; Queen of Heaven; Blessed Virgin, because she gave birth to Mars through parthenogenesis; Erotic love, later given to Venus; Mother of the People; and as the battle Goddess-Juno the Preserver, Queen of the Mothers, used the same name as the Hindu/Aryan war Goddess-Durga the Preserver, Leader of the Mothers (O'Flaherty 49,353).
Just as every man had his genius, so every woman had her juno, or soul. The rigidly misogynist societies that followed dropped "juno" from the vocabulary, thus depriving women of their souls, or so they believed. Juno, as sister and wife of Jupiter, was Queen of all junos and of Heaven, known as Juno Regina. The Virgin Mary of Christian mythology inherited almost all of Juno's attributes, including her symbol, the lily (Walker 485).
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