I have to admit that I hated Latin-with a passion! Forced to endure the dry subject for six years of High School, I found little relevance in the dead language to my life as a teenager. We studied such fascinating (sarcasm intended) works as Catullus’ “How to Start a Farm” and other equally riveting works which led me to defiantly question the teacher as to how this ancient and now outdated knowledge, would ever help us young and modern women in life! She struggled to enunciate the Roman virtues, while I bored, looked fascinated at my fingernails. She had lost me…or so I thought. The truth is learning often takes place even when you think the subject uninteresting.
To be honest, I have to admit that some aspects of Roman history and life did appeal to me. Surprisingly, one feature has stayed with me and it’s only now, forty years later, that I fully understand it’s relevance to life-domestic life in particular.
I am fascinated by mythology of all kinds and have found the Roman gods and goddesses, though based on a patriarchal template, rich in meaning and symbolic truth.
Roman life, though rational and practical,was also very religious in the sense of having a continual and daily connection to the divine, in the form of their many gods and goddesses. For some reason, it is the household gods, the Lares and Penates, which I remember so well and unknown to me until my most recent house sit, I have been using them as an unconscious guide to help me understand the spirit of each house I stay in.
Each Roman home had guiding and protective spirits . The Lares represented the ancestors who kept the life force alive and glowing for the inhabitants. Each home had its particular Lars Familiaris, while each city and town had a guiding and protective Lares. Rome had the Lares Praestites. The Penates were originally the gods of the pantry. They watched over the physical sustenance of the family, ensuring there was always a well-stocked larder as a basis for enjoying life.
Both sets of household gods were embodied in statues and kept in a shrine to which the household brought offerings and gave thanks on a daily basis. They are the basis of home and hearth which constituted the nucleus of the powerful Roman state.
If you are a Dr. Who fan, you may remember the episode where the Doctor and Donna were represented as household gods in a shrine of a family whom they had saved from the eruption of Vesuvius.
One particular household goddess ,Vesta, earned a special place in Roman life. She was the keeper of the sacred flame, a fire which is not just physical but also emotional, spiritual, psychological, which is essential to the creation of a real home. You probably know of the Vestal Virgins and their special place in Roman life which was honoured in such festivals as the Vestalia. On March first each year, the sacred fire which kept Rome safe, was extinguished and a new one started. Should the fire ever be threatened, Rome itself would be in danger.
Vesta brought the sacred fire of life, love, prosperity and joy to every home. And I have experienced her presence-and absence- in the many different types of homes I have stayed in as a house sitter.
This lovely feminine warmth has been present in very humble homes, and absent in luxurious, even palatial ones. It can’t be bought with money, though most people believe so, but derives from an inner attitude of what constitutes a real home; humanity, gratitude, generosity of both larder and spirit, love, making the most of the essentials of life, a welcoming and joyful outlook when inviting others into the home.
Home renovation and food shows are prevalent on Australian TV at the moment, yet they all seem to omit the importance of the inner light, the inner sacred fire in creating and sustaining a home.
I’ve stayed in humble cottages where a residue of love and happiness remains from previous inhabitants and split level architecturally designed and award-winning homes where the sacred flame is extant and an inner coldness pervades.
Meditation can help to warm such places as you invite your own guiding and sustaining spirit to help light the sacred flame of life.
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