"January is over. The year progresses with my song: even as this second month, so may my second book proceed."
So begins Book II of Ovid's Fasti, After an opening that remembers his own youth and the beginnings of his attempts at poetic verse,
Ovid offers tribute to Caesar, and then settles down to focus on the month ahead.
For the Romans, February was the month of purification. This was when the ancient equivalent of water, soap, and sage were used to cleanse the air, body, and soul of the dirt and sins that had accumulated throughout the previous year. There are two themes at work here. Aquarius, the sign the Sun is in during the majority of February, is an air sign often confused for a water sign. Because Aquarius is the water bearer, many people make the obvious leap and consider this a water sign; but the waters which the urn contains would be better thought of as the aethers which surround and permeate everything. These are spiritual waters concerned with knowledge, humanity, and the dissemination of information which may be beyond the periphery of those more practically based. In Native American ceremonies, the use of sage is to purify and clean the aura, not the body. Incense in the Greek Orthodox tradition is used for the same purpose. These are the aethers of Aquarius, which they intuitively pick out from beyond the realm of the five senses.
The other analogy is that of chart rotation. The 4th house in astrology is considered to be the house of your mother. If you wanted to consider your mother's mother (your maternal grandmother), you would look to the 4th from the 4th, or the 7th house (this is inclusive counting). If you wanted to know about your children's children (your grandchildren), you would look at the 5th from the 5th house, or the natal 9th house. Finally, if you wanted to find the purest of the pure, you would take the 6th from the 6th (Virgo, the virgin, is the sign of purity), which equates to the 11th house, the home of Aquarius. Today, this purity is observed by our scientists, who require sterile conditions. In Ovid's time, the passing of midwinter called for the purification of body and soul. Here is what he had to say about this, the second month of the year:
The Urn of Spiritual Waters
"Our Roman fathers gave the name of 'februa' to instruments of purification; even to this day there are many proofs that such was the meaning of the word. The pontiffs ask the King and the Flamen for woollen cloths, which in the tongue of the ancients had the name of 'februa'. When houses are swept out, the toasted spelt and salt which the officer gets as means of cleansing are called by the same name. The same name is given to the bough, which, cut from a pure tree, wreaths with its leaves the holy brows of priests. I myself have seen the FlamenÕs wife (Flaminica) begging for 'februa'; at her request for 'februa' a twig of pine was given her. In short, anything used to cleanse our bodies went by that name in the time of our unshorn forefathers...
Our sires believed that every sin and every cause of ill could be wiped out by rites of purgation."
This sets the stage for the rituals which we are about to examine in February, as we continue our exploration of the stellar threads intentionally woven into the Roman calendar as recorded by Ovid.