Page 1 of 1

Basic Structure of the Roman Ritual

PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 10:09 am
by Gaius Florius Aetius
The Basic Structure of Roman Ritual

Version 2.0
Berlin, 2770 AUC (2017 CE)


Gaius Florius Aetius
Sacerdos Apollon

(My thanks go to Gaius Curtius Philo for kindly looking this through.)

Every new practitioner is easily overwhelmed by the seemingly complex demands to be met, so many new terms, and ideas, rules and titles, that sometimes it frightens people or keeps them away. So I have tried to write this short and contemporary guide to practice the Roman Cultus Deorum.


The Cultus Deorum has two different ways to be practiced, usually called “Sacra Publica” and “Sacra Privata”. The Sacra Publica was the official cult, conducted by the official government of Rome, and as such by representatives of the Roman Nation. Sacra Publica requires to follow certain rules and as such is more stricter to have a uniform cult. These rituals were assumed to be held in public, conducted by the official authorities. The Sacra Privata on the other hand is organized and done “by private rules”. In the Roman Empire, that meant, it was not conducted by the officials, but anyone who organized it, usually the father of a family or clan. In modern times I personally still think this separation has to be reformed, since in reality all our rituals are now de facto Sacra Privata, since the Empire was abolished. For reasons of organizing we still stick to these forms, so we know what we plan. You can say the Sacra Publica is the classic form, sticking as good to tradition as we know, whereas the Sacra Privata is open to reform. In describing the Rituals, I shall first note the expected things from the viewpoint of Sacra Publica, and then in the second paragraph I will make suggestions with the greater leniency of so called “Sacra Privata”.

As to the terms, I am using English terms throughout the descriptions. First, I do so because it is a beginner's guide, and second because I believe that the practitioner should speak in his own language, to understand at every time what he or she is saying. One may use Latin terms, if he prefers so, of course.

I always prefer that the Priest conducting the ritual speaks free, instead of reading from a paper. The practitioner should memorize the parts of the ritual by heart and the meaning of the individual steps, rather than being too formulaic, but some may prefer a more stricter form. I think it is better that the mind and heart of the practitioner is with what he says, instead of being nervously avoiding to misquote a learned text. Insofar my texts to be spoken are SUGGESTIONS. Speak things as you personally feel fit, while sticking to the original idea.


Every Ritual must start with some form of symbolic cleansing. In classic terms this was called “Ablutio” a ritual washing, with was always regarded as a typical entry of Polytheist religions of the classic cultures.

In the Public Rite, the washing is usually done in drinking water, so I just tend to go to the water basin. So I wash my hands holding my hands under flowing water, saying “May this clear water wash away my impurities. May I become clean and pleasant to present myself to the known and unknown divinities.” (Some prefer a washing bowl over flowing water.)

I personally then go on with the cleaning of the room. We know from Plutarch's description of the life of King Numa, who founded the Roman Cultus, that he designed the rituals along Pythagorean symbolism of numbers and so that the cult and the design reflected the cosmos. Plutarch speaks of a sort of circulation symbolizing the circular nature of the cosmos, something we are very familiar in modern, western symbolism in general. The thing is: we have no regular temples. So almost all of us will conduct the rituals on mundane places, not prepared for the Gods, unlike the Temples or Sacred Areas of old. So I do a simple, classic Pagan “Drawing of the Circle” form. This cleans the room symbolically, and gives the practitioner a mindset of alertness. Plutarch writes, that King Numa highly emphasized that rituals should be performed in a focused mindset and the circle drawing helps a lot to swap from an everyday mindset into one of spiritual awareness. You can do of course any other practice that does it.

Stand in front of the Altar, light the Candle in the name of Mother Vesta, and ask her to bless the ritual and purify the room/temple/place with her flame and light. Light then the incense from the flame of the candle, and proceed from the East clockwise:

"May the East be purified in the name of Vulturnus.
May the South be purified in the name of Auster.
May the West be purified in the name of Favonus.
May the North be purified in the name of Aquilon.”

You can replace the names of the Four Winds by any other representatives you like. We know the lore of the Four Elements was known in classic times, and likely originated from the Pythagoreans, too. So I think it makes sense that we align the ritual with the ideas of Numerology as it has come down to us through the various Western traditions. East as direction of Air could also stand for Jupiter, South as direction of fire for Vesta, West for Water for Neptun, and North for Earth as Mother Ceres. If you like you may make two circulations, one purifying the four directions with Water sprinkled, one blessing the four directions with incense. If you have a group, two different people can simultaneously circle around, one with water, one with incense. In classic time the element of purification was salt, but I think it is prudent to replace it by water, since water is used as cleaning in the Ablutio, so since a room is a body too, it does make sense to symbolically clean the room for the ritual to come, when the room is not a sanctified temple, as it was in the old days.


The next step prepares the actual ritual with an entry step. I write the prayers as if written for a single practitioner, rephrase the wording from “me” to “us” when doing it in a group, of course.

In the Sacra Public you light the candle now in the name of Mother Vesta, praying shortly for her assistance.

“Great Mother Vesta, I light this flame in your name and to your honor.
May its light brighten this place and bless me so that my words may reach up the the Gods.
May your flame bless this home and hearth. I humbly ask for your blessing upon me,
so that my words and actions will be pleasing to the Gods and will offer fragrant scent of incense for this reason.”

Here you do not offer the incense right away, for the first offering must go to Ianus, Vesta only being called first in the absence of an already lit sacred fire. You would then do a prayer to Ianus asking him to open the gates of heaven so that your offerings may reach the gods and, with that objective, offer fragrant scent of incense to the God. After that an offering of incense is also given to Vesta.

It is prudent to also make a brief prayer to your Ancestors, if you work alone or the Ancestors in general, including Lares and Manes.

“Blessed Ancestors, Lares, Manes and Spirits of the Ancestors,
look favorably upon on this sacred day (name occasion).
May you be witness to this ritual, and behold as we in piety follow our duty.”

If you practice alone in your house, you may address your Ancestors thus, standing before your Lararium while reciting this.

You can extend the initial prayer practically go any God you think appropriate. Like make a short prayer to Janus, to Jupiter the King of the Gods, the Gods in general or a Patron God you chose, to guide you through the ritual. The section in which you call upon all these divine beings, after calling Ianus and Vesta, is also usually called the Salutatio.

The Sacra Privata would not be much different here. A few comments: if you speak to a crowd as Priest, meaning if you are not doing this alone, I think it is prudent after speaking to the Gods as in the Sacra Publica part explained, to speak to the people, explain the ritual, the significance of the day. Modern Religion serves people as much as the Gods, so speaking to the people attending and explaining the meaning of the occasion seems like a good idea. Be sure to think about before what you want to say, like “We have gathered here today at Day XYZ, because XYZ”. Speak of the historical background. If you work alone, you may speak freely to the Gods, saying why you have come before them. Do not speak too much, especially if you practice alone or with 2-3 people only. But this would be a time to announce the purpose to God and Men, why you are here at this day. When it is a festival of greater meaning, you or someone selected may tell a myth or story or a historic event that is related to the day, like when you have Saturnalia, you explain its meaning. Maybe do it even when you practice alone, to train yourself in it.


Here the main Deities are addressed for the occasion. This is the tricky part, since you are supposed to recite a longer prayer to the God or Goddess of the occasion. There is no simple rule how to do this. As beginner you may want to write this prayer down, and prepare what you want to say to the God. The prayer should be honest, worthy of the God, and neither too short nor too long. Do not grovel before the Gods, but be pious and humble. Keep in mind that the Gods need nothing, they owe you nothing; you approach them in the spirit of Do Ut Des: I give so you give. You seek the guidance and protection of the Gods for yourself and your “community”. Keep in mind that the Roman Religion always has the community in the focus. You may ask for yourself alone, if you think it is right for the occasion, but any regular festival has to involve asking blessings for: your family, your “house”/clan/extended family, your country and all the people of the Roman Religion, or your group. I generally extend this even to “all humans”, so go from the smallest unit, myself, to the larger, in line of duty. I am most obliged to my family, next comes the loyalty to my house or extended family (which includes friends), then my country and in finality all of humanity.

There is no specific difference between Sacra Publica and Privata of note here, since the main reason of this step is the prayer to the Gods, your words.

IV OFFERING (Immolatio)

From the word “Immolatio” we can conclude that in ancient time, here a blood sacrifice or some other appropriate type of offering was made and parts of it were burned. I do not burn things anymore, and I personally do not support blood sacrifices. I prefer the word offering to sacrifice, since it is a different mindset I practice religion in. I offer my love, my following, my loyalty to the Gods, symbolized by the practical offering. I regard the idea of sacrifice outdated, and not appropriate for the modern age. In the place of blood sacrifice, you may use small clay or wooden proxies in the form of the animal sacrificed. Independently of the offering, as long as it is not offered to the underworldly gods, you may consume it whole in the end of the ritual if needed.

You step before the altar and/or statue of the God and give whatever offering you deem right. Incense is a basic offering, especially for holidays of only minor significance, so you just show a brief reverence at any sacred day, as you pious duty. There is a long list of possibilities you can offer. Some list what is appropriate to what God. Now my offerings of choice are usually edible, for the simple reason, that I prefer the idea to “share the feast with the Gods”. The idea is this: You give food and drink to the Gods, in this step, then it belongs to them, and then you consume it in the end of the ritual, thanking them for the generosity of the Gods sharing their belongings with you. This may sound weird, but the reality is, that we have a problem otherwise what to do with the Offerings. If you have, for instance, wine, beer or milk as an offering of drink, and cake, cookies, meat, vegetables as offering of food, you can do away with the offerings easily, by eating and drinking what is generously given to you by the Gods. And you can pour a bit of the drink into the Earth of course. This is still part of traditional practice. Otherwise you either have to burn it (which many people in modern life just can't), or you would have to find a place in a forest or park where you can throw it away, and that sort of hurts my sense of wasting food.

You can of course craft something appropriate for the Gods. Anything is possible if you give thought to the offering. It can be flowers. I will speak more of the “doing away” in the next part. The offering must come from the heart, that is more important that what it actually is. Think of the Offering as giving flowers to a loved one, or chocolate: it is the gesture that counts. The Gods have everything, they are the source of every abundance. You show what you only truly have to offer: your love and devotion, by the gesture of the Offering, by putting thought into it.

At this step you can “do stuff”, which you find appropriate for the particular ritual. You can dance for a God or sing. I sometimes play Zither (a German music instrument) when it seems right. Or you can sing, or recite a poem you wrote as offering. Or present a painting you painted. I plan to design more “things to do” which are more than just “speaking to the Gods”, because I think modern rituals should involve some activities. Some, like dances or music existed in tradition, some new forms and things can be made up and tried out, fitting to the character of the individual festival.


This is in my view the most important part, since here we connect back with the Gods. The part is usually called Reddito. Here is usually when songs and hymns to the god are sang, dances are performed, stories are told and offerings are made anew.

If you have some actions you want to perform appropriate for a special holiday, either traditional or newly designed, you may do them now. Specific suggestions for sacred days will be written down at a later time. Anything that is a traditional or modern symbolical action, that is not a direct offering TO a God, but a performance of symbolic meaning fitting to the holiday. Let me give you an example. During my days as Asatru Priest, at Yule, the end of the year, each participant was writing something he wanted to leave behind in the old year, and was stepping ahead to the fire, throwing the paper with the word into the fire and announce “I want to leave XYZ behind me with the old year”. Any practice that may fit the general idea of the festival, but which is not a direct offering, is done in this phase.


The first part of the Conclusio is called the Piaculum and it is when you give offerings to the Gods asking for forgiveness for any possible disrespect given in the rite. It is prudent to say, you apologize for anything you did wrong during the ritual, you speak to any Gods you may have ignored, asking for peace between the Gods and you, your family, your house and all of your group. Emphasize that you seek to preserve the Pax Deorum, the peace of the Gods, and the connection with the Gods in some way. This would be a way to make sure the Gods understand that whatever error that may have been committed would be entirely out of ignorance, and not malice. A simple offering of incense or even a simple offering of prayer explaining your good intentions would suffice.

As I suggested, I offer food and drink, which can be consumed. In the step IV Offering the food and drink were given to the Gods and now belong to them. Here you ask the Gods to be generous and share their goods with you. The goods went into the property of the Gods and now you seek to be worthy of getting share of them. It is most important that you do this with the utmost sincerity and humility. It is really a bad pitfall, if you do this without the proper mindset, and think: oh I just consume what I have placed here anyway. The Gods see into your heart and will reward the pious.

I suggest you ask the God or Gods which are of the occasion in similar style:
“Oh great X, I pray to you in humility, as I have given, let me be worthy to share the food and drink of your table. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity and benevolence. As I consume the food and drink given generously by X, you may your spirit guide and your presence bless me.” Specify as needed for the occasion of the holiday. Speak this freely, and train yourself to speak well and with true humility here. Be aware that a God shares what is his with you and address him or her in that spirit. Then you touch the offerings with your hands and say “May this offering be made profane”, in which ‘profane’ means simply ‘part of the human world’ and thus fit for human consumption.

I suggest once you asked the God/s to be so generous and merciful to share with you, that you consume the food and drink. You may start with the drink, wine for example, raise the glass and toast to the God.

“I raise this glass of wine (or whatever it is) to you, oh Great God X,
to whom I pray and thank, for all the good gifts you have shared,
for the benevolence you have shown. I pray, keep me in thy good graces,
watch over me, watch over my family and my house (whoever you want to include).
Hail to you, X, with this wine I salute and drink to you!”

Something along those lines. Be as elaborate and elegant in this wording as you can, in the Sacra Publica, or as much as you find appropriate, in the Sacra Privata. I am just giving basic directions here. Then drink with the spirit of reverence, in the understanding that the God shares a small part of his essence with you, as you drink. Then proceed the same with the food. When you are in a group, only the first drink and the first bite require such praise. You can then just have a meal together in the presence of the Gods.

Here you step before the Gods once again, thank them briefly for being present.

Then move to the Lararium and thanks the Ancestors, the Lares and Manes and the Spirits of the Ancestors. You may do that at the Altar, when you are in a group, to address the Ancestors, Lares and Manes of everyone.

End this phase simply by thanking Mother Vesta at her candle, and blowing the candle out. In the end, ritually wash your hands as before.

IF you have a proper meal or banquet, with more to eat, you can do this now, so you have then a more free meal, either by yourself or with guests.

Re: Basic Structure of the Roman Ritual

PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 10:11 am
by Gaius Florius Aetius
Hint for moderator: Sorry for the double post, I initially wantes to post this in THIS forum not the Sacerdotes forum.

This text is my 2nd version, with thanks to Gaius Philo, serving as a basic for debate and a guide for new people, hopefully.

Re: Basic Structure of the Roman Ritual

PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:32 pm
by Appius Iunius Seneca
Salve frater
Thank you very much for sharing it.
In my humble opinion Cultus Deorum should not to be mixed with Wicca. And the beginning of your ritual contains typical Wiccan practice - the Four directions. But of course I respect your ideas.

Re: Basic Structure of the Roman Ritual

PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2017 1:38 pm
by Gaius Florius Aetius
Appius Iunius Seneca wrote:Salve frater
Thank you very much for sharing it.
In my humble opinion Cultus Deorum should not to be mixed with Wicca. And the beginning of your ritual contains typical Wiccan practice - the Four directions. But of course I respect your ideas.

That is why I kept it in the Sacra Privata.

Besides, circling and using the four corners is by no means an inventions of Wicca. Plutarch writes extensively about King Numa, who fashioned the cultus by Pythagorean principles, were a circulation, the symbol of the circle and such elements are directly mentioned. We also know the Pythagoreans knew the four directions and the four elements. We have to stop thinking that these things are geniunely Wicca, which they are not.


"At festivals and on sacred days the priestly heralds moved ahead through the city and called for silence to for work to halt. Numa believed like the Pythagoreans, that religious service and prayer to the Gods should not be done parenthetically, but right from the moment stepping out of the house the soul should be prepared, so people should not hear or see something divine heedlessly, but with the attention of their mind to the religious ceremony as the most important action...

So some customs have a secret meaning from the Pythagoreans, like offering the Heavenly Gods in uneven number and the Earthly Gods in even number,... and that during the prayer one shall turn around his axis and then sit down after prayer. The circulation at prayer is an imitation of the circulation of the solar system; the most correct interpretation seems to me, that since the Temples are directed towards the East, the praying person is looking towards West, looking away from sunrise, so he then turns to the God and back, creating a full circle, to assure himself a fulfillment of the prayer from both directions; or maybe the circulation should indicate something similar like the Egyptian Wheel, that no human matter lasts, and like the Gods turn our life around, we should be pious to adhere to this."

- Plutarch, The Lifes of Great Romans and Greeks, Numa

Re: Basic Structure of the Roman Ritual

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 9:06 am
by Publius Iulius Albinus
Appius Iunius Seneca wrote:Salve frater
Thank you very much for sharing it.
In my humble opinion Cultus Deorum should not to be mixed with Wicca. And the beginning of your ritual contains typical Wiccan practice - the Four directions. But of course I respect your ideas.

Wicca borrows much of its ritual structure from the Western Occult tradition in general, which has strong roots in Late Hellenistic and Roman religious traditions. The strongest influences come from Hermetic Mysteries and Pythagoreanism, yes, but it's not just mystery religions that influence it. The everyday patterns of ancient religion are part of the heritage that Wicca and other early-20th century Paganism draws from. There's bound to be some things that, at a glance, seem to be strictly part of the Wiccan milieu, but in fact have applicability in other traditions because of those Hellenistic and Roman roots. It's not something we should be afraid of admitting and allowing room for.