As February marks the last month in the ancient Roman calendar, the Romans spent their time setting themselves in accord with the world. The 9-day festival of Parentalia begins on 13 February and culminates in the day of Feralia, which began at sundown on the 21st. Parentalia was a sacred time to commune with the ancestors, specifically the private family ancestors, as the name indicates.

The Vestal Virgins opened the holidays with a public ritual, but after that Rome retreated behind closed doors to honor their dead family members. Government shut down. Commerce was much reduced. You could not get married or bring petition to the courts. It was a time out of time.

Much like all festivals of the dead, the Romans believed their deceased were present with them and needed sustenance for their 9-day sojourn in the mortal world. A great deal of energy was spent preparing food for the dead and lavishing beautiful decorations on the family sarcophagus. It was a time of solemn feasting.

And yet in the middle of all this, there came the riotous fertility festival of Lupercalia. Ostensibly honoring the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, the ritual activity of Lupercalia had little to do with any aspect of Roman history and a great deal to do with the goat gods.

And as such it was a time of chaos…

parentalia prayer

come to me
out of expansive time
smooth this troubled brow
with ethereal fingers
drape your spectral shadow
over these fear-hunched shoulders
come to me
out of worlds beyond world
let me taste liminal remembrance
sounding ghostly echoes by hearth-light
come to me
out of winter darkness
for i shall be your lighthouse
with candles in western windows
and cats to chase away the gnawing hunger
come to me
my own blood and bones
be again in this seemingly solid world
blaze these broken paths
so that i might follow
come to me
my own soul shepherd
with coin to pay the ferryman
and boots to bear me over clouds
come to me
my own dear memory
for i am so cold
in this world
without you

©Elizabeth Anker 2022