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Thread: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

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    Member Cynica the Ageless's Avatar
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    Smile On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    So after listening to a very interesting essay on Roman neo-paganism, I have decided to delve more into the Cultus Deorum and where it stands today in light of the neo-pagan movement. As I research I have intentionally avoided the pitfall of stumbling into the New Age scene, as I do not think it would be of much use in this discussion. On the surface, the Cultus Deorum appears much smaller than other contemporary neo-pagan traditions such as the Asatruar, the Wiccans and even the Celtic and Kemetic traditions. While its closeness to the Hellenic tradition of the ancient Grecians is remarkable, I feel that it has not grown quite as prominently as it should. The reasons for this vary, and at the end of this opening post feel free to contribute your insights on the matter. I would greatly appreciate it.

    One of the big hurdles I observe that the neo-pagan community must now face, with its closeness to nature and the the more "primal" aspects of living most commonly associated with the wilderness and the country, is the fact that people today are most concentrated in major population centers - metropolises. Large cities, urban landscapes, fast-paced lifestyles, and not all with the time for intensive study. While most rituals are simple enough, I would also like something for the common layman in his apartment, and the workingman in the suburbs. While a personal shrine is basic and helpful to practice, I feel that a tradition that can thrive in the urban jungles of civilization would do well to serve man even if his abode is away from the meadows and rolling greens of the country. Here I propose the Cultus Deorum, the ancient practice of pre-Christian Rome, as a suitable tradition for those locked in urban civilization.

    Rome as a ideal was urban civilization defined. It was metropolitan, and the breadth of its empire encompassed entire societies and reshaped them, constantly taking in new and alien peoples and transforming them in accordance with its ideals. I find that this closely resembles the geo-demographic patterns we find today, as well as what we ought to do - assimilation and integration. This I find an effective method for promoting the Neo-Pagan movement as a suitable alternative to modern mainstream religion. I speak not of Evangelism and the nuisance of preaching, but of day-to-day application in action, philosophy and mind/spirit. The Cultus Deorum, as most Neo-Pagan traditions, must be lived. One's practice must be animated, breathing and grounded in the present. It is not just role-play or reenactment longing for the niceties of ages long gone, but a living practice based on timeless intellectual tradition applied to today's living.

    Here I speak not of the nature of the deities, but of the CD's emphasis on practicality - something the Romans and prominent philosophers of their Greek cousins are known for. The Romans as a people were very particular about practicality. Rituals are nice, but it is one's practice that defines one's "faith", so to speak. We find no shortage of literature in the Greco-Roman tradition that can serve as guide and rudder for ethical living, even in today's times. This I find luckier compared to what other traditions have to make do with. The literature is diverse, but not fragmented. From the works of Seneca the Younger and Epictetus, to Marcus Aurelius' diary and Cicero, we find many sources on which to base and ground our practice for everyday living. I am of the opinion that one's practice must go beyond your personal shrine/lararium, and the ancient fathers of philosophical thought make an extraordinary start for this, besides the obvious benefits of delving into classical literature, philosophy and history.

    One could say that the Cultus Deorum thrived in the city, and focused more on practicality - that interesting trait of the Roman psyche. I feel that its ideals and its context can speak words and ideas very dear to us today living in contemporary urban society. It is diverse and can be personalized (the Roman legions had their own deities, as did the household), yet it is inclusive and metropolitan without the universalist embrace. If one says "live tru and honorably", while another says, "let us return to the ways of our ancestors", then I now say, as a confident proponent of the Cultus Deorum, the old Roman way, "let us return to the heart of what it means to be a civilization."

    Welcome to peace. Welcome to order. Welcome to Rome. Pax Romana.
    “Men brave and generous live the best lives, seldom will they sorrow; then there are fools, afraid of everything, who grumble instead of giving.”

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    Member NeoPlatonic's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    I understand how you must have felt. A lot of Neo-Paganism (even the non-New Age varieties) places too much emphasis on the land, on the green, on nature. While that is fine by me the world is not only wild; it has cities, urban culture, ethics, literature, philosophy, and different kinds of knowledge.

    I must say I am also impressed by the essay you have linked to. It contains facts I was not familiar of (for example the data about Bhakti Yoga in Hindu polytheism) and it's modern approach to a old religion is very interesting so thank you for linking to it.

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    Supporter callmeclemens's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    Thank you so much for this. I wish I encountered this type of thinking and posting much more often. I one hundred percent agree with you. While our Pagan spiritualities are usually different from one person to the next, I believe we have a responsibility to put it out there to add to the ethos and pathos of the greater community.
    “A lifetime may not be long enough to attune ourselves fully to the harmony of the universe. But just to become aware that we can resonate with it -- that alone can be like waking up from a dream.” - Br. David Steindl Rast

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    Member Cynica the Ageless's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    Quote Originally Posted by Archifenix View Post
    I understand how you must have felt. A lot of Neo-Paganism (even the non-New Age varieties) places too much emphasis on the land, on the green, on nature. While that is fine by me the world is not only wild; it has cities, urban culture, ethics, literature, philosophy, and different kinds of knowledge.

    I must say I am also impressed by the essay you have linked to. It contains facts I was not familiar of (for example the data about Bhakti Yoga in Hindu polytheism) and it's modern approach to a old religion is very interesting so thank you for linking to it.
    I was hooked within the first minute of it!

    And although I am all for our Neo-Pagan brothers and sisters, I cannot help but agree when you on your first point. The world has changed a lot since our original pagan ancestors dating back to the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age and up until the Middle Ages. Without pointing fingers or detracting, I do not feel too strongly about some (not all. I've met some far wiser and much more intelligent than I am) reconstructionists' ideals of returning the Neo-Pagan movement centuries back. Counter-productive, imho. Even less do I appreciate the idea of keeping the beauty of the Neo-Pagan movement confined to a circle of New Age intellectual elites, completely disregarding the layman and his importance in the establishment of any tradition.

    I believe that with the personalizing of the tradition for each of us individually also comes its adaptation into contemporary society, although basing on literature and traditional schools of thought of ages past. We cannot return to the days of the Roman Empire, the Norse raiders of ancient Scandinavia or Pre-Roman Britain, nor should we endeavor to do so. I've always thought that this is one of the reasons Christianity, Judaism and Islam have failed to keep in step with the march of time - because they always look back and dream of times long gone instead of moving forward and embracing change. I would hate for us and our kin to make the same mistake.
    “Men brave and generous live the best lives, seldom will they sorrow; then there are fools, afraid of everything, who grumble instead of giving.”

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    With a few exceptions, the deities I worship are Roman, Etruscan, or Greek. The thing to remember is that Rome is a city and and a Republic (or Empire) and the Romans were not one people for long. The religion of ancient Rome is diverse throughout its hisotry, its landscape an across its population. The civic religion of Rome--the one that is best preseved is an urban religion, as well as a religion of the State...but it is not the only way that religion was practiced.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
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  6. #6
    Member Cynica the Ageless's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    Quote Originally Posted by callmeclemens View Post
    Thank you so much for this. I wish I encountered this type of thinking and posting much more often. I one hundred percent agree with you. While our Pagan spiritualities are usually different from one person to the next, I believe we have a responsibility to put it out there to add to the ethos and pathos of the greater community.
    I like to reference the Wiccan community when I say that publication and information are powerful tools for "normalizing" Neo-Paganism and bumping it up from the status of "lunatic cult" in the eyes of the greater community, to use your term. The Asatru tradition I believe holds that hiding one's "religion" when asked is unbecoming of a virtuous and honorable Norseman. I would argue that the same holds true for any tradition - it is counterproductive. I am sure it takes a great deal of courage to say with conviction before a wider audience that may not share our beliefs that we are Neo-Pagan or whatever we wish to call ourselves, but it is also indicative, I believe, of the kind of old value-based system of ideals that we hold dear, as opposed to the rulebooks and lexicanums of mainstream religion. Only be becoming muses of our Neo-Pagan paths can we hope to expose it to others and subconsciously "preach" by example, as opposed to the more annoying alternative - evangelism (the day Neo-Pagans turn to Televangelism is the day I honorably disembowel myself. ). Only by letting other people come into contact with our traditions can we make it less taboo or "fringe-ish", and ultimately making practice for us more comfortable, and also possibly drawing in more people so we can form a solid community on which to build our new kindreds!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    With a few exceptions, the deities I worship are Roman, Etruscan, or Greek. The thing to remember is that Rome is a city and and a Republic (or Empire) and the Romans were not one people for long. The religion of ancient Rome is diverse throughout its hisotry, its landscape an across its population. The civic religion of Rome--the one that is best preseved is an urban religion, as well as a religion of the State...but it is not the only way that religion was practiced.
    This is very true, thank you for adding that.

    Historical records and accounts tell us that there were regional and sometimes even organizational differences in the way the Cultus Deorum manifested as ritual and practice. I have mentioned that the Roman Army had its own "cultus", as did the layman's household. Barring the Pontificus Rex, I find the Cultus Deorum Romanumm to be a very flexible tradition, even adopting local customs and beliefs when it treads terra incognito (the "Romanization" of Mithras and Isis come to mind). It is still very possible for people with different backgrounds and different customs (I would argue that these are merely modes or vessels through which we express ourselves) to hold similar values and ideals dear to them (these I call the 'core content' of our worldviews and identities).

    By no means do I advocate that the urban variant of the Cultus Deorum be imposed on all practitioners of the Roman tradition. Rather, I implore other spiritual seekers like myself who live in the cities to consider it if they would like to practice Neo-Pagan religion but, as myself again, do not have immediate access to the countryside, a grove or a spacious meadow or woodland.
    “Men brave and generous live the best lives, seldom will they sorrow; then there are fools, afraid of everything, who grumble instead of giving.”

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    Sr. Member Louisvillian's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    Most of the gods I worship are Greek and Roman. My main practice is a syncretism of Hellenic and Roman practices. They had strong similarities, in large part of Rome's thorough Hellenisation. And while I do have a place in my practice for the rustic gods and celebrations, my main religious life is framed around my home, my family, my city, and my country. The gods I worship are spirits of the city and its activities. When I join in the festivities for the Kentucky Derby, I see it as a celebration in honour of Poseidon, the god of horses. When I shoot off fireworks for Independence Day and feast with my friends, it's with the thought in mind that Jupiter, Columbia, and Libertas secured the American nation from the dominion of others. I integrate the rhythms of my city and country into my devotion to the gods of Greece and Rome, as any Roman or Greek would have done in their own time and place.

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    Member Cynica the Ageless's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    Quote Originally Posted by Louisvillian View Post
    Most of the gods I worship are Greek and Roman. My main practice is a syncretism of Hellenic and Roman practices. They had strong similarities, in large part of Rome's thorough Hellenisation. And while I do have a place in my practice for the rustic gods and celebrations, my main religious life is framed around my home, my family, my city, and my country. The gods I worship are spirits of the city and its activities. When I join in the festivities for the Kentucky Derby, I see it as a celebration in honour of Poseidon, the god of horses. When I shoot off fireworks for Independence Day and feast with my friends, it's with the thought in mind that Jupiter, Columbia, and Libertas secured the American nation from the dominion of others. I integrate the rhythms of my city and country into my devotion to the gods of Greece and Rome, as any Roman or Greek would have done in their own time and place.
    Surely, some of the gods and goddesses overlap. (?) In which case, to which do you offer your prayers, or do you treat the paralleling archetypes among the Greek and Roman traditions (Zeus vs. Jupiter, Ares vs. Mars, Vulcan vs. Hephaestus, etc.) as separate divine entities?
    “Men brave and generous live the best lives, seldom will they sorrow; then there are fools, afraid of everything, who grumble instead of giving.”

  9. #9
    Sr. Member Louisvillian's Avatar
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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cynica the Ageless View Post
    Surely, some of the gods and goddesses overlap. (?) In which case, to which do you offer your prayers, or do you treat the paralleling archetypes among the Greek and Roman traditions (Zeus vs. Jupiter, Ares vs. Mars, Vulcan vs. Hephaestus, etc.) as separate divine entities?
    Generally, I consider them to be separate entities. I'm a (mostly)hard polytheist.
    In situations where both would be applicable, I will probably honour both. And the same mindset extends to my cult towards the gods of my Celtic ancestors. When I do purification rituals, I usually invoke Brighid at the same time that I invoke Apollo. When I make my daily offerings at my hearth-altar, I invoke Vesta along with Hestia. It depends, of course; rituals and festivals specific to Roman deities will be done in a Roman manner; ones directed at solely Greek deities will follow Hellenic structures. Rituals that call upon both are decidedly more pared-down to certain core things that are evident in both: procession, purification, invocation, burnt offerings or libations.

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    Re: On the Cultus Deorum for our times (my growing fascination with it)

    If you haven't yet, you may want to read "Urban Primitive" by Raven Kaldera. I believe he addresses a lot of the frustrations you have about not being able to be all about getting back to nature and green things.
    “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” -- Bruce Lee

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