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Lemures – spirits of the dead Romans

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic showing the skull
Roman mosaic showing the skull

The Romans paid great role to the form of giving the final service to the deceased. It was believed that the spirits of the dead (lemures) were divided into good – lares (good people in life) and evil – larvae (people bad in life); often the harmful ones were simply identified with lemures.

For fear of evil and harmful spirits – larvae – which frightened the inhabitants at night, often the Romans visited the graves of their ancestors, especially on the days of their birth and death and during the holiday of deceased (Feralia) falling on February 21. The father of the family (pater familias) had to protect his home with special magical rites during the night Lemuralia festival held on May 9, 11 and 13. At midnight he performed special rituals that were to keep the distance between ghosts and the living. Then he cleans his hands three times in the spring water, took black bean(probably a substitute for life) and put them in his mouth, then threw it behind him. Without looking back, he spoke words to chase away evil spirits. Then he generated noise with rattles or bumps against bronze vessels. All treatments had to drive some lemures out of the house, others propitiate and favour. Lemuralia’s day was considered unlucky and at that time the temples were closed.

Later in the empire, the image of the ancestral gods was created – manes (di manes or di parentes). The Romans believed that souls are born with the body is their packaging. The death of the body releases the soul who gains the freedom of becoming a lemure. Charity souls, guarding families and homes, freed from the bodies of good people or eudemons, were called lares. The souls of evil people who cannot find peace are doomed. The larvae appeared as spectres or skeletons, sending people fear, nervous diseases and epilepsy.

Sources
  • Kempiński Andrzej, Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich, Warszawa 2001
  • Piszczek Zdzisław (red.), Mała encyklopedia kultury antycznej, Warszawa 1983
  • Schmidt Joël, Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej, Katowice 1996
  • Smith William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

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