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Feast of the Lemures

From Academic Kids

In Roman religion, the Feast of the Lemures, called the Lemuralia or Lemuria was a feast during which the ancient Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes. The unwholesome and malevolent sprectres of the restless dead (lemures) were propitiated with offerings of beans. On those days, the Vestals would prepare sacred mola salsa (salt cake) from the first ears of wheat of the season.

Topics in Roman mythology
Important Gods:
Legendary History
Roman religion
Greek/Roman myth compared
Other minor Roman deities:

In the Julian calendar the three days of the feast were the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May. The myth of origin of this ancient festival was that it had been instituted by Romulus to appease the spirit of Remus (Ovid, Fasti, verse 473ff.). Ovid notes that at this festival it was the custom to appease or expel the evil spirits by walking barefoot and throwing black beans over the shoulder at night. It was the head of the household who was responsible for getting up at midnight and walking around the house with bare feet throwing out black beans and repeating the incantation, "With these beans I redeem me and mine" nine times. The household would then clash bronze pots while repeating, "Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!" nine times.

Because of this annual exorcism of the restless malevolent spirits of the dead, the whole month of May was rendered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb Mense Maio malae nubent ('They wed ill who wed in May'), and thus the rush of June weddings "because the weather is so nice" in our own day.

On the culminating day of the Lemuralia, May 13 in 609 or 610— the day being recorded as more significant than the year—, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, and the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since.

This ancient custom was Christianized in the feast of All Saints Day, established in Rome first on May 13, in order to de-paganize the Roman Lemuria. In the 8th century, as the popular observance of the Lemuria had safely faded over time, the feast of All Saints was shifted to November 1, coinciding with the similar Celtic propitiation of the spirits at Samhain. Pope Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary, not by chance, for 1 November.

The idea that this festival was the origin of that of All Saints, which was moved later to November 1, has now been abandoned by Roman Catholics, though not by cultural historians.

See also the history of Halloween, and Larvae.

Sources

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