Short Guide to become a Roman Cultor

SCHOLA AETII·WEDNESDAY, 25 JULY 2018

I have frequently been asked and saw the question raised: „I want to be follow the Roman Polytheist Religion“ (Cultor), but how do I do that? Well I have written a short intro guide in sort of a list, as first things to do and to consider.

I) Get a Candle for VESTA the Goddess of the Sacred Fire. I personally prefer candles, I feel safer and more comfy with a candle, but I buy quality candles for Vesta only of beeswax, to show dedication and not just some cheap candle. The Flame and Light of Vesta blesses and protects the hearth and home. Usually, when the candle has almost burned down, I light the new candle with the last flame of the old. Some prefer lamps with traditional lamp oil, but I found a candle for appropriate to my style. Again, do not buy the cheapest. Place it on a shrine or altar, and ask Vesta to bless your home, your hearth and family for protection by her light and flame. Meditate on the flame regularly about the ideas of flame, light, home, hearth, family and ancestors.
II) Get a Lararium. A Lararium is an Ancestor Shrine, and it houses a part of the spirits of the Ancestors, or is a doorway to them. It also is the connected to the LARES, who are sort of Guardian Spirits of your Ancestors and the Lararium Shrine. Make at least a brief prayer to the Ancestors and Lares daily, even if its just a nod of 10 or 15 seconds. Place it on a prominent place to oversee your hallway or entry area. You may start with a simple Lararium first and upgrade to a classic one later.
III) Heed the IDES and KALENDS. The Ides and Kalends are monthly sacred days. The Kalends are the first of each month, the Ides are roughly the middle, for March, May, July, and October it is the 15th day of the month, for any other month it's the 13th. The Kalends are Sacred to Father Janus, the Two-Face God of Endings and Beginnings and to Juno the Queen of the Gods. Make an offering to Juno, a prayer to Janus for a good new month and pray for the well-being of the Ancestors at the Lararium. At the Ides you pray to the Allfather Jupiter and the Ancestors at the Lararium, also making a small offering. I usually burn some incense. Kalends and Ides are essentially the regular and small sacred days every Cultor should heed.
IV) Pick 3-4 Gods which are of personal importance to you. It can be overwhelming, if you start focusing on all the Gods, and while all Gods deserve respect, it is easier to pick a small number of Gods you chose to read about, to meditate and to try to gain as personal Patrons and Guides. There is no simple rule how to achieve that, but I have written a Guide “How to Find your Personal God”, which gives some advises.
V) Get a Statue. Roman Cultus Deorum is a visual cultus, and having at least one statue of a preferred God is a vital step. Photos or busts are only for the very early beginning. Trying to find a statue and afford one is am important sign of sincerity, and praying to a Statue will help your connection to that God a lot more than just a photo or a bust.
VI) Learn about the Major Holidays. The Roman Calenders has a LOT of holidays, and you can't possibly look forward to all of them with the same enthusiasm. My suggestion is to study them and work out around 14 Holidays spread over the year, which you try to spend time and dedication towards. I suggest a well rounded selection. Saturnalia, Liberalia, Lemuria and Vestalia are for instance surely Sacred Days you should not ignore at all. I also take Mercuralia, Floralia, Neptunalia, Portunalia, Ludi Apollon, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Fontinalia and Mars Armilustrium on my list, but you have to look for yourself, which you make on the “must not forget” list. Festivals do not have to be a chore, but something to show your piety and your dedication.

VII) Read and study the 146 Delphic Maxims. These are Sayings of advise given by our Lord of Light Apollo. They represent many sage ideas from the Greco-Roman era. I have written a commentary on them, to shed some new light on the Maxims.
VIII) Read Cicero and Plutarch. You will hear a lot of people say read this, read that. And while secondary sources can give a good overview, I think reading Cicero and Plutarch give you a really good insight into the Roman mindset. Cicero wrote “On Duty” and “On the State”, Plutarch his many Biographies and the Moralia, all are great to read, and enlighten your mind.
IX) Find a headscarf. The Romans veiled their head with a part of their toga or a headscarf, as gesture of reverence, but also to focus on the Gods and not be distracted. Some myths say, the presence of the Gods could overwhelm or harm a person, since their light is so radiant. I see it mostly as a traditional form of piety, that you find a decent scarf of piece of cloth that serves to cover your heard during prayer and ritual.
X) Learn and study the Roman Virtues. There are several accounts on what counts as classic Roman Virtues. Nova Roma lists among others; Auctoritars (spiritual Authority), Comitas (Humor, friendly manners, openness), Clementia (Mercy), Concordia (seeking Harmony), Dignitas (Dignity), Frugalitas (Frugalness), Gravitas (Sincerity, Earnestness), Honestas (Honesty), Pietas (Piety, spiritual and patriotic devotion) and Prudentia (Forsight, Discretion). Study texts which describe Roman Virtues; the writings of Cicero and Plutarch can be of great help here.
XI) Establish an Evening Prayer. It doesn't have to be a fixed text, and you may want to make a morning prayer too, if you feel extra pious. Personally I leave it with thanking at the Evening, I start at the Lararium and make short prayers of thanks and requesting continued guidance and protection. This does not have to be long, but establishing it as daily routine is very important.
XII) Solar Day. The Light of the Sun is always of central importance in all Pagan and Polytheist religions. We have Apollo and Sol Invictus as two different solar Deities, and making something special at Sunday can be a joyful extra. Maybe return to the traditional habit to have a specially good Dinner at Sunday in honor to Apollo and Sol, to use this day of rest to remind yourself of all the Good and Wonderful that exists on the World.
XIII) Seek contact to other people. The internet is not always an easy field, but try to find like minded people, go to Forums, read and write. Dare to ask questions. There are always people who can guide you and answer your questions, or others who are new and enjoy the company. Maybe at some time write about your experiences, too and share them with others. Many people enjoy hearning from other people’s experiences.
XIV) Seek a Sacred Place in Nature. A lot of what you do may be in your house, since we live for now in an era mostly without Temples. But even the Romans of Old knew sacred places, trees, groves asf. Try to find a place in nature not too far away, where you can walk to, meditate, attune yourself with nature and meditate on the Gods. Nature is a great place to leave the hectic energies of the City behind.
XV) Be serious and be playful. Now this advise seems to contradict itself. Be playful means, do not let your doings become a chore. Plan only so far as you know you will really enjoy. Some new Cultors are so overzealous, they want to demonstrate so much Piety to the Gods, but the Gods value the long burning coal fire over the quickly burned out straw-fire. That is what I mean with, be serious. The Gods look into your heart and know your sincerity. They do not expect you to aim for the impossible, but similar to seeking a human relationship, the Gods need to have the impression you will stay on the path. Take this step serious, like going into a relationship. It isn't something you chose lightly today, and just skip tomorrow. Make your religion a normal part of your life, think of playful things to enrich prayer and ritual. For instance I got myself a singing bowl, not a traditional element of the Roman Religion, but sounding it at certain rituals really made it feel more special to me. Do not be afraid. The Gods will not punish you for some stuff you may not do exactly as the Ancients did. Be dedicated, learn of the past, but keep your playful spirit alive.
Thus you can gradually develop your life in the Roman Religion as a Cultor. It is better to do things daily, even if they are very small and short, and do nothing for weeks and months and then feel bad and overcompensate it. That just proves you demanded too much of yourself. Just be sure, if you give a promise to a God, you must take that VERY serious. Promises of offerings or deeds to a God were a frequent way of an Offering to a God, and if the God fulfills his side, you must be very keen and timely with fulfilling your oath. But do not fear; Gods are not vengeful; they may at worst just retreat from you. Getting in contact with the Gods take time, patience, piety and long term work. Sometimes we just have to find the right few Patron Gods, and we may, if we do not find contact, sometimes have just chosen a God, that seemed “cool” at the beginning of your path, but as you develop, you may learn you are much more connected to another Deity of the Pantheon. It is this balance between tenacity and flexibility. At some times I just ignored all rejection signs for years, until I finally achieved worthiness in the eyes of a God and he turned to me, while in other cases I was connected to another God for a decade, but then I realized it was time to move on to other Gods, and while our old friendship always resonates with me, over the many years we change and so our connection to Gods may change from one to other, or change their overall quality. Know that your love, your dedication and long time work is the greatest offering to the Gods you can give. Your Heart, your Love and your dedicated Work will bring you forwards on the Path of the Gods!