Women and Roman Religion

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Roman Superstition

Compared to modern society, the Romans seem extremely superstitious. But then today's mojaor religions have all throughout their past discouraged, even combatted, superstitions. Also our sciences and our technological world allows little room for superstitions.

The Romans lived in an era previous to this. Their world was full of unexpected phenomena, darkness and fear. To Romans these superstitions were a perfectly natural part in the relationship between gods and men. The Roman habitat of interpreting natural phenomena as signs from the beyond stemmed from the Etruscans. The Etruscans, who developed reading omens and auspices into a form of sience, knew different menas of divination. In their beliefs the signs they read were sent to them by a mythical boy called Tages, who in their mythology was to have been ploughed from the earth.

They would seek to read the future by examining the entrails of sacrifical animals, the liver being of special importance for that purpose. They would pbserve lighting and interpret its meaning. And they would try and find meaning to any unusual phenomena which occured.

The belief that objects, or living things could possess special properties was widespread in primitive societies. The Romans were no strangers to this idea. Stones, trees, springs, caves, lakes, swamps, mountains - even animals and furniture - were all deemed to be hosts to spirits (numina). Stones in particular were often seen to contain spirits, especially if they were boundary stones, dividing one man's property from the other. It is very telling that the Latin word for such a boundary is terminus and that there is actually was a Roman god called Terminus. This odd deity took the form of a hge piece of rock which rested in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Apparently several atempts to move the bolder when constructing the temple had failed. And so it remained within the temple, because it had 'refused to move, even for Jupiter'.

But Roman superstitions didn't end there. Children were told stories of nasty creatures who'd come to eat them if they weren't good. From the Greeks they had Mormo, a terrifying woman with donkey legs. And the Roman Lamia who stalked around looking for children to eat.

Children were by far not the only ones to fear such bogeys. The ghosts of the dead (lemures) roamed in all kinds of dark places. The Romans believed that some houses were visited by ghosts. Perhaps because the house had been the scene of a crime, worse still a murder.

Nobody dared live within such haunted walls, few would even go near the place.

Werewolves (verspilles), men who would turn into wolves and roman with the real wolves, perhaps attack herds at night, before turing back to human form, were also a belief known to the Romans. Further there was the belief that some old women knew the art of changing their form into birds. The stormy north seas were also said to be…


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