Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jun 7th - Jun 13th,  2002

All Souls' Day

Columns Archive

Lord of the Underworld

Hades and his triple headed dog

   This week we're once again taking a look at Ovid's Fasti, a correlation of the calendar and the traditions associated with each of the Roman holidays through the year. This is part of an ongoing series, and our hypothesis is the original calendar of the Roman Republic was choreographed by the positions of the Sun and Moon, with each month beginning on the New Moon and reaching a crescendo with the Ides, correlating to the Full Moon.

   We are examining February 18th-21st, a period during which the Moon would have been mainly passing through the constellation Scorpio. The keynotes of Scorpio are said to be sex and death, with the contemporary Lord of Scorpio thought to be Pluto, ruler of the Underworld and the shades of those who have passed over. When the Sun enters Scorpio in late October, the chief holiday is Halloween, when the spirits of the recently departed return one last time before they finally cross over into the Realm of Shadows. The Church has seized upon this as 'All Souls' Day'. We think of them as two different days; Oct. 31st and Nov. 1st. With lunar calendars each day began at sundown and ran through to the following sundown, in which case the evening of October 31st and most of November 1st are part of the same day. Does the Moon's passage through Scorpio in the calendar of the Republic bear any resemblance to the Sun's passage through Scorpio in our contemporary calendar? Indeed, it does. Ovid even refers to these dates as 'All Souls' Days.'

   "Honour is paid, also, to the tombs. Appease the souls of your fathers and bring small gifts to the extinguished pyres. The ghosts ask but little: they value piety more than a costly gift: no greedy gods are they who in the world below do haunt the banks of Styx. A tile wreathed with votive garlands, a sprinkling of corn, a few grains of salt, bread soaked in wine, and some loose violets, these are offerings enough: set these on a potsherd and leave it in the middle of the road.



Not that I forbid larger offerings, but even these suffice to appease the shades: add prayers and the appropriate words at the hearths set up for the purpose. This custom was introduced into thy lands, righteous Latinus, by Aeneas, fit patron of piety. He to his father's spirit solemn offerings brought: from him the peoples learned the pious rites. But once upon a time, waging long wars with martial arms, they did neglect the All Souls' Days. The negligence was not unpunished; for 'tis said that from that ominous day Rome grew hot with the funeral fires that burned without the city. They say, though I can hardly think it, that the ancestral souls did issue from the tombs and make their moan in the hours of stilly night; and hideous ghosts, a shadowy throng, they say, did howl about the city streets and the wide fields. Afterwards the honours which had been omitted were again paid to the tombs, and so a limit was put to prodigies and funerals."

   From here the commentary continues, with widows and "unsubstantial souls and buried dead wander(ing) about.." Scorpionic themes all. This is one of the more obvious of the celestial correlations between heaven and earth, as Ovid continues to record what tradition left behind as part of a ritual for an ancient calendrical system, one choreographed by the Sun, the Moon and the stars.