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Roman Mysteries

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Fresco of the Dionysian Mysteries in the Pompeian Villa of the Mysteries. Dated at the 2nd century BCE.

Ancient Romans worshipped many gods and, like the ancient Greeks, performed mysteries and took part in cult ceremonies, often of an orgiastic nature. Many of them are still shrouded in mystery and little can be said about these practices.

Thrace even, from 46 BCE being a Roman province, it was known for its goddess – Kotyto. Her cult took on an orgiastic character. The same thing happened with another goddess – Cybele. This character comes from Phrygia and is quite widespread.

It is also worth paying attention to such holidays as, for example, Neptunalia. Only such masters as Marcus Terentius Varro or the great Roman poet of the times Octavian AugustusHorace. The latter is exceptionally perfunctory and devotes only one Carmina (Carmina 28) to this event, mentioning Neptune, wine and mythological figures, such as the Nereids – sea goddesses, daughters of Nereus.

In mythology itself, there are many female figures that evoke images of the primal goddesses of fertility – the archaic Great Mothers of the Earth. There is, for example, Agaue, who, together with other bacchants, tore her son to pieces.

These are characters not very well known, of course culturally adopted by the Romans from earlier models: eastern, Greek accretions. The peculiar syncretism and eclecticism also refer to the oldest images of the Great Mother, archetypal figures, a fact of which not everyone is aware of. Interestingly, such representations of the ancient goddesses of fertility also significantly influenced the later developed image of the witch-temptress. Its lineage is ancient, closely related to the former cult of the flesh, which later became the highest sin and filth in the light of the Christian world.

With the later development of the Empire, many beliefs became more commercial in nature, with various talismans and protective amulets sold at stalls. Fortune-telling, almost from everything (animal entrails, which were precisely described, like a map), was the order of the day. It was forbidden only to announce the situation at the highest level. It was impossible to discuss how much the current ruler would still live, nor to foretell his death. With time, however, the Romans departed from the orgiastic practices that were later only demonized and put in sharp opposition: filthy paganism – sinless Christianity.

Author: Michał Pleskacz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Wikipedia
  • Jan Gondowicz, Trans-autentyk. Nieczyste formy Brunona Schulza
  • Horace, Dzieła, t. I-II, Warszawa 1980

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