Not too long ago I began a concentrated effort to study, analyse and maybe adapt elements of Roman Paganism for conceptualisation within the framework of a Männerbund. Given my proclivities toward studying ancient, indigenous Aryan religious strains, it seemed fitting. Nevermind the nuances and useful paradigms one extracts from Republican and nascent Imperial Rome. With Rome as a casual interest, subject to the onslaught of scholarly whims and socio-political fancy, it is always wise to investigate subjects with which your allegiance identifies, lest you by happenstance ingest doctrinal poison.
What interests me, beyond the fact that Romans were litigious record keepers whose assiduous manipulation enlightens us to this day, is the panoptic evolutionary spread one can glean from even a rudimentary study. We are told the Romans were infamous polytheists. Our bias is confirmed by Christian imperialism and Secular dogmatism. (You can reverse the roles with similar effect for Secular imperialism and Christian dogmatism – the end result is the same.) This bias creates an ideological dichotomy not entirely like the cognitive dissonance used in extrapolating objective views of Germany’s Third Empire. What is neglected, when convenient, and skewed to wax Hellenic when convenient, is the Roman religion was in fact not inherently Hellenised.
The Roman Religion (Religio Romana) was (perhaps like most) originally Animistic. The Roman world was populated with a vast array of Numens. In the beginning, Rome was not like Hellenic Mediterranea and Nordic Scandinavia. These races had a distinct pantheon, which is supposed to come from the Indo-European Sky-God hypothesis. (Just call them Sky-Daddies for extra douchebaggery like the rinse-and-repeat online atheists do.) This theory holds that several interchangeable Gods of celestial over chthonic substance replaced with Old European system (which we’re told is matriarchal.) Rome, contrarily, had these Numens. They were asexual, nonpersonal entities which governed universal constants. It is assumed they did not always have names. Only as the force of the Numen edged closer to the Roman Hearth and Home (which would always be the heart of Religio Romana) did they begin to assume what passed for a home.
The Roman house believed in a multitude of ephemeral forces. You had Manes, who were reckoned as ancestral spirits. You had the Lares, who come closest to resembling what will eventually become Deorum (Gods.) These spirits were similar to the Nordic Wights, or Land-Vaettir (landed spirits.) They were held to watch the house and judge events, and by acknowledging them you could curry good favour. You had Penates, who were reckoned as something of a functional spirit similar to early Irish fae-folk. They focused around household chores and duties, and it was believed that their influence perpetrated the success or failure of rudimentary tasks. In time Rome developed an Ancestral Cult around the Manes. They kept the masques of deceased ancestors, and held that by commemorialising them that their spirit would bless the family. There were of course inverse versions of these. Lemurs were the Manes who were by whatever end corrupted. Perhaps they had grown angry through neglect from the impious. At any rate, the Lemurs it was held, were the cause of disastrous household outcomes.
Because it was believed nothing was hidden from the invisible world, the Romans developed a highly legalised form of morality, and honour. This code of ethics set the early Roman well on his way toward developing the kind of future structure that would enable Empire. That is, before Empire allowed Rome to become lazy, and eventually non-existent. Because your every action, great and small, caught the watch of the spirits, great emphasis on right action was placed. If the Manes and Lares influenced your ‘luck,’ why risk being a dink? You’ll notice that cultures lacking integral systemic superstitions never progressed like Greeks and Romans or Norse did. Their transcendental values are what proved their discipline righteous and worth. The Romans subdued a continent, and the Vikings traversed oceans. While this is an oversimplification and obvious genetic factors like IQ and time preference influence them, their relationship to custom should really be undeniable.
Every Roman home was supposed to have a Lararium near the house. That it was so named indicates that the Lares might have held an especially ancient role in the Italic zone in which the Roman Way (Via Romana) evolved. There grew specific customs employed by the pious Roman for interacting with and channelling the positive aspects of the (super)natural world. Manes were commemorated with prayers, and remembrances during auspicious times. The Lares received Votive offerings and the Penates received Gift offerings. Like with other Indo-Europeans, it was believed that to curry good favour from life, a system of reciprocity needed to be in place. Thus, for your bounty, a portion was given back as a symbolic gesture of thanks. Penates received libations of wine and food (often bread or grain,) whereas the Lares received objects of material importance, perhaps a coin, or a dagger. The Lare was appeased similarly to Celtic Nature spirits, wherein Celts would cast their treasures into Springs which it held were guarded by spirits. The Romans, by contrast, frequently buried such treasures as the Soil held primitive importance over water and sky. Blood and Soil, incidentally.
This alone many indicate that early Rome was less affected by the wave of Neolithic immigrants and might have represented to a degree the paleolithic religions as espoused in various caves and shrines such as Lausel, the stoneworks of Malta and so on. Nevertheless. As time went on, the Roman Numens began to develop characteristics, names and the likes. It is possible to infer which changes were indigenous and which were exogenous. We know some Indigenous Roman spirits like Janus (latterday God of doors, beginning and change,) would become Indigimentes. These were to become lesser Gods in the Roman pantheon, and would largely, through lack of public scrutiny, maintain their animistic, pre-anthropomorphic bent. Though as Rome developed gradual self-consciousness, the previously formless Gods inherited archetypical significance. Many of our lingering ideas of Guardian Angels in Post-Cultural-Christian modernity reflect this, the cherubesque Cupid angels are a continuance of the idea that guardian spirits were depicted as Iuvenes.
As is inevitable, Rome’s expansion led them into contact and conflict with surrounding Italic Tribes. The Etruscans held massive influence over the Roman, as their proximity was closest. The Etruscans, we know, represented a fairly diverse middleground of latter-belief. They were polytheistic in the latterday fashion of the Helenes, and anecdotally lent credence to the Nordic Tribes customs. (The origin of Runes is prescribed to the Etruscans.) It is an interesting notation that the Etruscans called their deities Aesai or Aiseras, where the Norse called their Gods Aesir, as we Anglos called ours Ese. There is likely a case of cognates here. Regardless, these peoples depicted their Gods as anthropomorphic beings. Due either to admiration or subjugation, the Roman Numen became more anthropomorphic with time. Early Roman temples began to take on an Etruscan quality, resembling wooden longhouses.
By the time Rome came into contact with Greece, the idea of anthropomorphic deities was far from foreign, and there came about the first instance of what would later become Interpretatio Romana (functional syncretism.) The Romans re-ordered their religion to pay homage to the Dei Consentes. These arrangements were functionally similar to the Greek Olympians, in that there were twelve, with male and female representations of deity.
By this time there had grown a dissonance between state and personal religion. The official stance of the growing Roman Republic was that of the Cultus Deorum Romana, the Cult of the Gods of Rome. This brought the Roman public face into line with where modern scholarship prefers to begin, with the assumption that Rome, Greece and Etruria were interchangeable parts. This is both true and false, in that it is unlikely that any people would wholesale abandon their ancient customs to appease foreigners. This is inference, but it is made from observing latterday Roman trends as well as early Christian custom – both of which occurred in a Romanised world. During Rome’s ascendant phase, the Interpretatio Romana freely absorbed indigenous Gods of annexed peoples into their lore. Not by replacing either, but identifying which existing Roman structures they most heavily resembled. For instance, the Low-German Wodan was associated with Mercury by way of associating the chief characteristics of both deities. It was a very practical hermeneutic, which, by the way, was offhandedly used by early Catholics. Some of the ancient Saints were characters whose deeds were often indistinguishable from foregoing deities that their myths blended until the truth of either became a known unknown. So it would have likely gone for the Romans, who were always a proud race, unlikely to trade their honour so cheaply.
In public, the major Gods such as Jove and Juno, Minerva and Mercurius were all given homage. While this is true, it is also true that the Interpretatio Romana of the Aryan Sky-Gods was considerably different. In Rome, Saturnus was equated with Greek Uranus. Yet despite the story of the Giant being overthrown by the Gods, in Rome, Saturnus was not considered wholly evil. Similarly, in Athenian Paganism, Ares was considered a loathsome and cowardly God. (I distinguish Athenian from the umbrella Greek because we know the Spartans would have had a different version of Ares than they. But the more philosophically than martially inclined Greeks clearly delineated Ares in tale.) In Rome, Mars was considered noble and wise, fathering and guarding Roman heroes such as Romulus. Furthermore, the female deities of Rome were generally more ‘decent’ and respectably referenced than they were in (non-Spartan) Greece. Similarly, the Roman Gods operated more within the realms of what the Roman man considered righteous. In contrast, Nordic and Hellenic Gods frequently operated on a higher or lower legal frequency than is what we hold they established for mortal man. (Odin and Zeus are often depicted as breaking their own rules, or carrying on in fashions we deem ugly. We deem them ugly due to lack of nuance and failure of metaphor, but this is a topic for another conversation.) So it goes.
In public, the Dei Consentes gained traction. Jove, Mars, Venus being chiefly popular. Some Dei Indigimentes retained their popularity, with Janus having exceptional public arrays. However, in private, the Roman Religion remained wildly more polytheistic. The old animistic spirits gained new life as Lesser Gods, and their lot was almost endless. There was a guiding spirit for nearly every mechanism of daily life. Child-rearing especially had many presiding deities. This was no doubt in relation to the danger of this profession, that of child-rearing, but also because family was sacred to the Roman house. Children were heirs to the Ancestor Cult, and as such, were betrayingly important despite modernity’s best efforts to shameface the memory of the Paterfamilial culture of Rome in a stilted bid to enforce confirmation bias regarding modern liberalism. Nevertheless, the varieties of worship gained remarkable traction.
Romans were an orthopractic race, given to codification and systemisation. While private worship no doubt varies, there were agreed upon policies of worship firmly adhered to. Personal purity was demanded by the Numen and Deorum. It was common practise for the Flamen (priests) to bathe before and part of worship. Some form of ritual cleansing occurred in the home. We see this carry-over in the Roman proclivity toward baths, say what you will of their later function, there is still likely a primal connection to the Roman religious mind. Similarly, the Romans were given to strict, formulaic prayers as a part of their ritual. It was precisely this aristocratic reliance on tradition that was attacked by the Gospel writers when they wrote “pray not as the Pagans do with long words.” (Ironic, given how dreadfully long some evangelical services can drag on for.)
It should be argued that the Roman reliance on cleanliness was not akin to purity spiralling. The Romans did not feel utterly obsolete and incompetent before the Great Gods. However, the Romans recognised that the Gods sought perfection. Thus, the orthopraxy and ideal purity of Paganism was more of an attempt to propel man toward God, rather than to send him grovelling below and away.
By the time contact with the Hellenes occurred, the Roman religion had developed an invocative spirit. So, the pieces for the State Religion fell into place relatively easily. Mars, the God of War, became one of Rome’s leading Deorum. Mars was more than a mere War God. He was previously an agricultural God of Fields. Farmers as well as soldiers prayed to Mars. They invoked His name before battle and before seed. One might swear an oath on Mars, or dedicate a battle to Him. Jove, who would become Jupiter, was a God looked to by aspiring leaders. In the Roman folk memory, Jove was the God to whom Romulus plied sacrifices. It was Jove who granted victory, but also prophesied and affected destiny. Minerva was his daughter, and she was a Goddess of Wisdom and Craft. Juno was the wife of Jove, unlike the Greek Hera, she was not considered vile or peckish. In fact, Juno shares her name with a Roman concept. In Roman faith, the Juno is the collective feminine articular spirit, equal opposite to man’s which is called the genius. A genius or juno was originally a guardian spirit. However, in time the genius/juno became skill dependent. Hence today geniuses are granted their status from their proclivity in a field, IE, a genius at art. The Genius Paterfamilias was the guiding spirit of fathers, as the Juno Materfamilias would have been to dames. So it goes. Jove, Mars and Venus constitutes the most popular Roman Gods. Though Janus enjoyed significant cult status, being God of doors (as in domestic life.) The same can be said of Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth. Originally a mother of Numens, Vesta became Goddess of the Vestal Virgins whose job it was to keep Rome’s sacred fire alight in Vesta’s temple. The idea was that so long as Rome kept her hearth alive, a symbol of faith, than Rome should remain imperious upon the Earth. It is perhaps little wonder that when the Roman Way lost faith, grew lazy and cynical, that not only did the politicians let the fire die but openly mocked their own customs, that Christianity replaced them, and eventually displaced them entirely.
There was little doctrinal agreement in Rome regarding the Afterlife. It was generally accepted that the souls of men go to Dis. Dis was a shadowy, inverse understanding of life where men became formless shades. Dis was ruled over by Plout?n, Dis-Pater (Pluto.) In the beginning there seemed to be less stigma regarding this God. However, it was subconsciously accepted that life in some framework transcends death. However, the pathway to the afterlife was unclear, with few prescriptions as to what actually waited there. The focus was on Rome as the centre of life, and of life itself. Earthly virtues were stressed, for if there was a paradisiacal afterlife than surely only the worthy would be admitted. Honour and virtue were always extolled so long as piety reigned. There were a collection of virtues Romans were expected to abide by to ensure Rome’s success. Among them were Virtus (manliness), Pietas (adherence to the Roman Gods), Fidelitas (faithfulness), and Gravitas (accountability, steadfastness). In the myth of Romulus, it was by his Virtus that Romulus was chosen by Mars to ascend to full Godhood and become Quirinus. Later, Romans came to theorise that if Romulus could do this, than it could be repeated. This eventually became doctrine that Good Emperors were assumed and achieved Apotheosis, as Julius and Augustus Caesar were said to do, as well as leading Vespasian to humorously quip on his deathbed “look, I’m about to become a God!”
Contact with foreign races and the ideological dichotomies this brings eventually disintegrated the Roman Elite of their faith to the old ways. However, this might have strengthened the resolve of the Traditional Romans, now called Pagans. Namantius gave splendid odes to the old ways, and it is unlikely he would have done so if he knew there was no audience. Why risk the wrath of the new Christian Emperors who were every bit as vicious as history tells us the Traditional ones were? It is possible, and plausible, that the reversal of fortune in Rome, which saw a Christian persecution of Tradition, would have acted as natural selection. Those remaining Traditionalists would have been strong in their faith.
It is likely that their customs were defused and diffused into the conquering ways. As mentioned, early Christendom followed an inverse of Interpretatio Romana. To this day, good Catholic homes burn incense – the very same blends used to honour Jove over Yahweh. Good Catholic homes have votive candles that remain lit. Good Catholic homes have a spot set aside where the figurines of the Saints give silent vigil. Good Catholics leave cookies by the hearth for Santa Claus – they know that a gift deserves a gift and they have to be good to get good. Good Catholics pray through their Guardian Angels. The Good Catholic prays formulaically, and is proud to note his traditions are ancient. (Only those habits of theirs are older than the 2,000 years they have you believe.) Rome, being the Eternal City, never died, but is very much asleep.
Modernity is an ugly dream that many are waking up from. This paragraph marks the end of my scholarship, and here begins my speculation. The common wisdom of most is to try and turn back the clock. The question for many is one of how far that dial should go. There are concerted efforts of men and women entirely unsatisfied with the at times disingenuous presentations of “neopagans” constructs like Wicca. This has led to many reconstructionist camps to attempt to establish faithful presentations of ancient faith renewed. Many have heard of Asatru and her branches, however there is also Religio Romana as presented by groups such as Nova Roma. I myself have known of Nova Roma for many years now, and I have no doubt that there are competing groups – just as Asatru spawned many competing alternatives for those seeking Nordic Worship.
In conclusion, I humbly present the reader with a third position. Seeing that no civilisation worth discussing has ever achieved ascendancy lacking a formulaic spiritual trajectory, it seems an appalling suggestion to intimate we should do this when no one else has. I believe that the future of our Peoples must come with a spiritual renaissance. Something mighty to shake the sleep from our eyes and move our limbs to victory in a way that our present malaise and arrogance will. However, the major problem presented is one of authenticity. The heart knows by happenstance that Religion and Spirituality have time stamps. The Roman religion was a product of timeless evolution. That process was interrupted. Prospective seekers often feel alien adopting these. The same can be said of Asatru.
In this case, we have a unique opportunity. We live in a time unparalleled in many ways. There is unparalleled debauchery. There is also unparalleled information, which leads to unparalleled potential for understanding. The main criticism levied against Wicca is that it picks and chooses. This is true, that religion does this. However, there is a certain logic. Picking and choosing does not need to be disingenuous.
Asatru and Religio Romana represent sides to coins. They represent European Religion at different stages of evolution. Thus, by studious adoption of specific elements, no grave injustice is incurred. Consider: Germanic and Italic languages share the same Indo-European roots as Hellenic and Baltic and Slavic languages. Language and Religion share an origin point, as at some point in history religious faith was indistinguishable from daily life – as I hope this essay has showed with Animistic to Polytheistic Rome.
Inauthentic belief is difficult to adopt. For the moderner whose religious soul has been bred out of him by ZOG, finding wholesale truth in any monolithic system is a task worthy of Herakles’ twelve labours. And to be fair, many may consider themselves perfectly content with the state of their secular affairs. I am not pleased with the emptiness of secular nihilism. I know that many of my friends are not, and many of us are waiting for someone to show them a way to go. History is a guide and a gauge. Those with hearts and minds to do so should be learning from the past, not as furrow-browed and big-brained Nibbas, but as seekers. Our race was once integral, we sought with heart and mind. We should be reading myths, not with some higher purpose as with hermeneutics of suspicion, but because they are ours. Myth, history and legend are gifts our parentage left us. A large part of our legacy. Why abuse them by subjecting them to endless scrutiny, when in past aeons they were well met to lead us here, to this era where nothing is real and everything is fake and gay? You will find something that speaks to you. This is the beginning of your journey. Hold on to those feelings, bring them to your brothers. Work with them.
Most of us can agree that Ancestral Cult is a powerful element. After all, why else are we here? At some point someone saw fit to sell out identity for cheap capital gains. Here we are, taking it back. Ancestral Cult would disallow us from reaching a point of pridelessness that our heritage was worth a pair of shitty sneakers that LeRoy is going to stab you for later. The concept of a central hearth speaks to me, the idea that your house is akin to temple, and should have a focal point where worship or meditation occurs. The idea of Lararium is especially resonant. These are things I have done on my own, without being led. It is a small step, but one towards culture. One towards higher purpose. None of the Pagan religions that capture our imaginations started out as fully fleshed monoliths, they evolved and were adaptable by their parent cultures.