Roman Calendar Adis Reckons

Adis K.

The Roman Calendar’s Enchanting 12 Diety Ties To Today

Historical Events, Mysticism, Society

Venturing into the Roman calendar, we unearth the profound legacies of Astarte and Mithra—esteemed deities from the Near East. Our exploration not only illuminates the traditions and narratives that influenced months named in their honour but also underscores how celebrations like Easter and Christmas echo these ancient traditions, rebranded for the modern world.

Astarte: From Deity to Queen of Heaven

Astarte, revered by the ancient Canaanites, Phoenicians, and other Near Eastern cultures, was a multifaceted deity symbolizing fertility, sexuality, and war. Often portrayed with horns and a solar disk adorning her head, she was colloquially termed the “Queen of Heaven” and had ties to the planet Venus. This intricate goddess finds parallels in other cultures; she’s likened to Aphrodite in Greek mythology and Venus in Roman tales.

Another intriguing iteration of this deity is Semiramis. This legendary Assyrian queen celebrated for her beauty, sagacity, and martial expertise, allegedly bore divine lineage as the daughter of the god Dagon. Married to King Nimrod, her achievements include the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Like Astarte, she was a fertility symbol, hinting at ancient traditions like the Ishtar Eggs.

Mithras: From Ancient Worship to Modern Echoes

From ancient Persian mythology, Mithra was revered as the god of contracts, justice, and the sun, often symbolized as a young man crowned with a radiant sun halo. As his worship evolved and migrated to the Roman Empire, it transformed into Mithraism—a mystery religion that venerated Mithra as a saviour and guardian.

This cult, which increased throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, was especially favoured by soldiers and merchants. Its popularity and tenets positioned Mithraism as a notable rival to emerging Christianity. A significant festival in Mithraism was the “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti,” celebrated on December 25th, marking the birth of this sun deity and highlighting its deep ties to the winter solstice.

Echoes of Divinity: The Roman Calendar’s Celestial Connections

The Roman calendar intricately weaves together months named after divine entities, revealing a rich tapestry of deities, celestial bodies, and the planets that bear their names. This enduring connection still echoes in our modern calendar. This section’ll delve into the tales, attributes, and traditions each month enshrines, spotlighting the celestial intersections that bind the divine to the cosmos.

January: Doorway to Beginnings

January draws its name from Janus, the Roman deity of gateways and transitions. As the Romans heralded the new year this month, it symbolised beginnings. Beyond its association with Janus, January it also celebrated the festival of Agonalia, paying tribute to a pantheon of Roman gods.

February: Rites of Purification

February is derived from the Latin term ‘Februa,’ which refers to purification rites. This month was significant in ancient Rome due to the festival of Lupercalia—a rustic celebration dedicated to warding off evil spirits and purifying the city, ensuring health and fertility for the year ahead. February’s theme of purification honoured specific deities and prepared Romans for the impending spring…

March: Valor and New Beginnings

Named after Mars, the Roman god of war and guardian of agriculture, March marked when military campaigns would resume after winter. Yet, it wasn’t solely about conflict; Mars was also a symbol of new growth, aligning with the onset of spring. This dual nature embodies the month’s spirit of rebirth and valour.

April: A Blend of Fertility and Valor

Derived from the name of the Roman goddess Aphrodite, known as Venus in Roman mythology, April stands as a month rich in cultural and religious significance. Aphrodite, celebrated for her domains of love, beauty, sexuality, and fertility, was honoured during the Veneralia festival held on April 1st.

Yet, Aphrodite’s tender attributes weren’t the sole focus of the month. April also paid tribute to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and grain, through the Cerealia festival. This celebration heralded the blessings of bountiful harvests.

Moreover, as the Roman military campaign season commenced in April, martial preparations and celebrations became a period rife. The month also saw the festival of Mars, the formidable god of war, further amplifying its military undertones.

The symbolism of the egg, representing fertility and the promise of new life, aligns seamlessly with the themes of April. Across various cultures, eggs have been revered as emblems of abundance, often invoked in rituals to ensure prosperity in crops, livestock, and other facets of existence.

May: Honor and Elders

May derives its name from the goddess Maia, an embodiment of growth and increase. It’s also associated with the ‘Maiuma’ festival, celebrating spring’s bounty. Additionally, May was the month of elders, reflecting respect and reverence for ancestors and preceding generations.

June: Marriage and Devotion

Named for Juno, the protector of women and the patroness of marriage, June celebrates love and commitment. In ancient Rome, this period was considered the most favourable time for weddings, encapsulating Juno’s blessings and benevolence.

July: Power and Leadership

Termed initially ‘Quintilis’, meaning fifth, July was renamed in honour of Julius Caesar. It symbolizes the epitome of leadership, ambition, and the power dynamics of Roman political life, reflecting Caesar’s indelible mark on history.

August: Triumph and Majesty

Previously known as ‘Sextilis’ or sixth, August was rebranded to celebrate the accomplishments of Emperor Augustus. Representing victory, majesty, and the expansion of the Roman Empire, this month stands as a testament to Augustus’ enduring legacy.

September: Harvest and Transition

Rooted in ‘Septem’, the Latin word for seven, September marked the harvest time, a period of abundance, and the impending transition to cooler months. It captures the essence of balance between hard work and nature’s benevolence.

October: Autumn’s Embrace

Originating from ‘Octo’, Latin for eight, October represents the full embrace of autumn. It’s a time of change, with leaves transforming and preparations for the winter season beginning, embodying nature’s cyclical dance.

November: Ancestral Ties

Stemming from ‘Novem’, the Latin for nine, November was a month of reflection and remembrance. Festivals like the ‘Feast of the Dead’ highlighted the Romans’ respect for those who came before, emphasizing familial and ancestral ties.

December: Festive Finale, Mithraism, and New Dawn

Rooted in ‘Decem’, the Latin term for ten, December gleams with a festive spirit. The highlight of this month is the Saturnalia festival, a vibrant period of merriment marked by gift exchanges and societal role reversals—where slaves enjoyed a temporary status equal to their masters.

Roman Calendar

Businesses and schools paused, and homes were elegantly adorned with evergreen decorations, symbolizing the enduring pulse of life even in the heart of winter. Adding to December’s significance, the 25th celebrates the birth of the sun deity, Mithras, in the “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”, a remnant of ancient Mithraism. As the year’s curtain falls, December is a beacon of hope, renewal, and anticipation for what lies ahead.

Ancient Deities’ Mark on the Roman Calendar

The revered ancient Near Eastern deities Astarte and Mithra had profound associations with fertility, sexuality, war, and protection. Their influence is palpable in the traditions and naming conventions of the Roman calendar months.

For instance, April was dedicated to Aphrodite, equated with Astarte, symbolizing love, beauty, and fertility. This month not only celebrated her through the festival of Veneralia but also embraced Mars, the god of war, as it marked the onset of the Roman military campaign season.

Eggs, symbolic of fertility and rebirth, were often linked to these deities and their festivities. The legacy of these ancient gods persists, reflected in the traditions and vocabulary of our contemporary calendar.

Easter: Echoes of Ancient Traditions

Easter, primarily celebrated as the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Christian theology, also bears remnants of ancient customs and symbols that predate its Christian significance. The very name “Easter” is believed by some scholars to have derived from “Eostre,” an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.

Incorporating the egg, a potent symbol of rebirth and fertility, into Easter celebrations is one such nod to these ancient traditions. This aligns with the associations of deities like Astarte, who were deeply intertwined with themes of fertility and renewal.

The Easter bunny, a symbol of prolificacy and new life, also reflects these age-old fertility motifs. The fusion of these symbols with the Christian celebration of resurrection suggests a confluence of ancient traditions and more recent religious narratives, demonstrating the enduring influence of the past in shaping contemporary customs.

Universal Goddesses: Diverse Names, Shared Essence

The figure of the goddess of love, fertility, and sometimes war, often associated with the planet Venus, has manifested in various forms across different cultures. Each culture imbued this deity with unique attributes, rituals, and stories, yet striking similarities remain. Let’s explore these variations:

  1. Ishtar (Mesopotamia): An ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, and war. She was worshipped in Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia. Ishtar’s descent into the Underworld is a well-known narrative in the region’s mythology.
  2. Astarte (Phoenician/Canaanite): Often considered the counterpart of Ishtar, Astarte was a major goddess of fertility, sexuality, and war. In Egypt, she was also associated with horses and chariots.
  3. Aphrodite (Greek): Born from the sea foam, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. Her stories are interwoven with passion, betrayal, and the intricate affairs of the Greek pantheon.
  4. Venus (Roman): The Roman counterpart to Aphrodite, Venus held dominion over love, beauty, desire, and fertility. She was also considered the ancestral mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas.
  5. Freyja (Norse): Although not a direct counterpart, Freyja, in Norse mythology, shares some common attributes. She’s a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility associated with war and death.
  6. Turān (Etruscan): The Etruscan equivalent of Aphrodite or Venus, Turān was a goddess of love and vitality. Birds, especially doves, were sacred to her.
  7. Qetesh (Canaanite/Egyptian): A goddess worshipped in Egypt and adopted from Canaanite traditions, Qetesh is a goddess of love and beauty. She is often depicted standing on a lion and holding symbols of eroticism and sacred ecstasy.

Though names and narratives differ across cultures, the essence remains consistent: a divine feminine force embodying love, beauty, fertility, and, at times, the paradoxical nature of war. The recurrence of such a figure in various ancient civilizations underscores the universal human reverence for these primal forces.

Merging Christianity with Roman Festivities

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Israel (Judea), under Emperor Augustus’s leadership, the Roman Empire thrived on its polytheistic beliefs. A vast pantheon of deities governed every aspect of life and nature. As a patron of traditional Roman religion, Augustus ensured the revival of many temples.

One prominent celebration during his reign was Saturnalia, dedicated to the god Saturn. This festivity saw gift-giving, decorations with greenery, and a general pause in business and legal activities. The origins of Saturnalia date back to pre-Roman times, making it a celebration that predated Jesus’ birth by over a millennium.

It raises the question: How did a deeply-rooted Roman tradition like Saturnalia evolve into the Christian celebration of Christmas, especially when its inception was centuries after Jesus’ birth? Christians’ widespread observance of Christmas began around the 4th or 5th century. Its exact origins, both in date and location, remain debatable.

A significant shift occurred in the 4th century AD when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. His Edict of Milan in AD 313 granted religious freedom to Christians and other faiths, ending the previous eras of Christian persecution. With Constantine’s endorsement, Christianity’s influence expanded rapidly within and beyond the Roman boundaries.

Constantine’s approach was wise. Instead of further persecuting Christians, he integrated Christianity with existing pagan traditions. This blending was a tactical move to unify the diverse religious fabric of the empire.

For centuries before this merger, however, Christians and Jews faced intense persecution from the Roman Empire. Due to their refusal to worship the plethora of Roman deities or the Emperor as a divine entity, these monotheistic groups were seen as rebellious and threatening to the Roman way of life. Their steadfast beliefs challenged the Roman religious framework and its political order.

Factors driving their persecution were manifold. Their monotheistic stance clashed with Roman polytheism. Their unwillingness to venerate the Emperor undermined Roman authority. Additionally, Christians and Jews, being distinct in their beliefs and practices, were often perceived as outsiders, leading to discrimination.

The early Christians and Jews faced persecution from the Roman Empire because their religious beliefs challenged the established Roman societal, religious, and political norms.

The Evolution of Tradition: From Persecution to Syncretism

Throughout its history, the Roman Empire was in contention with the monotheistic beliefs of Christians and Jews. Their unwavering devotion and refusal to assimilate into the prevalent Roman religious practices posed a stark challenge to the very fabric of Roman societal values.

It’s intriguing to observe how traditions evolve. Christmas, a celebration deeply embedded in today’s Christian ethos, has its origins intertwined with pre-Christian festivities. Yet, its widespread observance among Christians began centuries later, notably after Constantine restructured the church. By establishing the Catholic Church as we recognize it today, Constantine ingeniously melded ancient pagan practices with Christian beliefs. This wasn’t just a merger but a strategic move from outright persecution to a more subtle form of incorporation—blending rather than battling.

This evolution exemplifies the resilience of ancient traditions and the lengths to which empires, leaders, and religious institutions might go to harmonize diverse beliefs. It serves as a testament to humanity’s enduring need for unity, even if it means borrowing, adapting, and repurposing traditions to fit a changing narrative.

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