In the house of every Greek and Roman was an altar; on this altar there had always to be a small quantity of ashes, and a few lighted coals. It was a sacred obligation for the master of every house to keep the fire up night and day. Woe to the house where it was extinguished. Every evening they covered the coals with ashes to prevent them from being entirely consumed. In the morning the first care was to revive this fire with a few twigs. The fire ceased to glow upon the altar only when the entire family had perished; an extinguished hearth, an extinguished family, were synonymous expressions among the ancients.
As the Fustel de Coulanges writes of in the chapter, this primal Aryan custom belongs to most if not all Indo-European races [bloodlines].
The religion of the sacred fire dates, therefore, from the distant and dim epoch when there were yet no Greeks, no Italians, no Hindus; when there were only Aryas. When the tribes separated, they carried this worship with them, some to the banks of the Ganges, others to the shores of the Mediterranean. Later, when these tribes had no intercourse with each other, some adored Brahma, others Zeus, and still others Janus; each group chose its own gods; but all preserved, as an ancient legacy, the first religion which they had known and practiced in the common cradle of their race.
Thus religion dwelt not in temples, but in the house; each house had its gods; each god protected one family only, and was a god only in one house. We cannot reasonably suppose that a religion of this character was revealed to man by the
powerful imagination of one among them, or that it was taught to them by a priestly caste. It grew up spontaneously in the human mind; its cradle was the family; each family created its own gods. This religion could be propagated only by generation. The father, in giving life to his son, gave him at the same time his creed, his worship, the right to continue the sacred fire, to offer the funeral meal, to pronounce the formulas of prayer. Generation established a mysterious bond between the infant, who was born to life, and all the gods of the family. Indeed, these gods were his family [Greek missing] — they were of his blood — [Greek missing].
The child, therefore, received at his birth the right to adore them, and to offer them sacrifices; and later, when death should have deified him, he also would be counted, in his turn, among these gods of the family.
But we must notice this peculiarity — that the domestic religion was transmitted only from male to male.
This was owing, no doubt, to the idea that generation was due entirely to the males. The belief of primitive ages, as we find it in the Vedas, and as we find vestiges of it in all Greek and Roman law, was that the reproductive power resided exclusively in the father. The father alone possessed the mysterious principle of existence, and transmitted the spark of life. From this old notion it followed that the domestic worship always passed from male to male; that a woman participated in it only through her father or her husband; and, finally, that after death women had not the same part as men in the worship and the ceremonies of the funeral meal.
Among the Hindus this divinity of the fire is called Agni. The Rig-Veda contains a great number of hymns addressed to this god. In one it is said, “O Agni, thou art the life, thou art the protector of man…. In return for our praises, bestow upon the father of the family who implores thee glory and riches…. Agni, thou art a prudent defender and a father; to thee we owe life; we are thy family.”
We have already seen that those whom the ancients called Lares, or heroes, were no other than the souls of the dead, to which men attributed a superhuman and divine power. The recollection of one of these sacred dead was always attached to the hearth-fire. In adoring one, the worshipper could not forget the other. They were associated in the respect of men, and in their prayers. The descendants, when they spoke of the hearth-fire, recalled the name of the ancestor: “Leave this place,” says Orestes to his sister, “and advance towards the ancient hearth of Pelops, to bear my words.” So, too, Ameas, speaking of the sacred fire which he transports across the waters, designates it by the name of the Lar of Assaracus, as if he saw in this fire the soul of his ancestor.
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HRx is just pure bloggery, coffee clubs, or at best visiting some church… without such author, & without Marsilio Ficino, Mircea Eliade, Georges Dumézıl, René Guénon, Ioan P. Culianu, Herman Wirth, — but even with! them. It would get more alive with Blake, Swedenborg, Carl Jung, Guido von List, Henry Corbin, Giulio Evola, John Dee, Sir Isaac Newton, & of course Boethius & Bonaventure.
For a great number of centuries the human race has admitted no religious doctrine except on two conditions: first, that it proclaimed but one god; and, second, that it was addressed to all men, and was accessible to all, systematically rejecting no class or race. But this[our] primitive religion fulfilled neither of these conditions. Not only did it not offer one only god to the adoration of men, but its gods did not accept the adoration of all men. They did not offer themselves as the gods of the human race. They did not even resemble Brahma, who was at least the god of one whole great caste, nor the Panhellenian Zeus, who was the god of an entire nation. In this primitive religion each god could be adored only by one family.
Religion was purely domestic.
The worship of the dead in no way resembled the Christian worship of the saints. One of the first rules of this worship was, that it could be offered by each family only to those deceased persons who belonged to it by blood. The funeral obsequies could be religiously performed only by the nearest relative. As to the funeral meal, which was renewed at stated seasons, the family alone had a right to take part in it, and every stranger was strictly excluded. They believed that the dead ancestor accepted no offerings save from his own family; he desired no worship save from his own descendants. The presence of one who was not of the family disturbed the rest of the manes. The law, therefore, forbade a stranger to approach a tomb. To touch a tomb with tile foot, even by chance, was an impious act, after which the guilty one was expected to pacify the dead and purify himself. The word by which the ancients designated the worship of the dead is significant; the Greeks said [missing], the Romans said parentare. The reason of this was because the prayer and offering were addressed by each one only to his fathers. The worship of the dead was nothing more than the worship of ancestors. Lucian, while ridiculing common beliefs, explains them clearly to us when he says the man who has died without leaving a son, receives no offerings, and is exposed to perpetual hunger.
In India, as in Greece, an offering could be made to a dead person only by one who had descended from him. The law of the Hindus, like Athenian law, forbade a stranger, even if he were a friend, to be invited to the funeral banquet. It was so necessary that these banquets should be offered by the descendants of the dead, and not by others, that the manes, in their resting-place, were supposed often to pronounce this wish: “May there be successively born of our line sons who, in all coming time, may offer us rice, boiled in milk, honey, and clarified butter.”
Hence it was, that, in Greece and Rome, as in India, it was the son’s duty to make the libations and the sacrifices to the manes of his father and of all his ancestors. To fail in this duty was to commit the grossest act of impiety possible, since the interruption of this worship caused the dead to fall from their happy state. This negligence was nothing less than the crime of parricide, multiplied as many times as there were ancestors in the family.
If, on the contrary, the sacrifices were always accomplished according to the rites, if the provisions were carried to the tomb on the appointed days, then the ancestor became a protecting god. Hostile to all who had not descended from him, driving them from his tomb, inflicting diseases upon them if they approached, he was good and provident to his own family.
There was a perpetual interchange of good offices between the living and the dead of each family. The ancestor received from his descendants a series of funeral banquets, that is to say, the only enjoyment that was left to him in his second life. The descendant received from the ancestor the aid and strength of which he had need in this. The living could not do without the dead, nor the dead without the living. Thus a powerful bond was established among all the generations of the same family, which made of it a body forever inseparable.
Every family had its tomb, where its dead went to repose, one after another, always together. This tomb was generally near the house, nor far from the door, “in order,” says one of the ancients, “that the sons, in entering and leaving their dwelling, might always meet their fathers, and might always address them an invocation.” Thus the ancestor remained in the midst of his relatives; invisible, but always present, he continued to make a part of the family, and to be its father. Immortal, happy, divine, he was still interested in all of his whom he had left upon the earth. He knew their needs, and sustained their feebleness; and he who still lived, who labored, who, according to the ancient expression, had not yet discharged the debt of existence, he had near him his guides and his supports — his forefathers. In the midst of difficulties, he invoked their ancient wisdom; in grief, he asked consolation of them; in danger, he asked their support, and after a fault, their pardon.
Certainly we cannot easily comprehend how a man could adore his father or his ancestor. To make of man a god appears to us the reverse of religion. It is almost as difficult for us to comprehend the ancient creeds of these men as it would have been for them to understand ours. But, if we reflect that the ancients had no idea of creation, we shall see that the mystery of generation was for them what the mystery of creation is for us. The generator appeared to them to be a divine being; and they adored their ancestor. This sentiment must have been very natural and very strong, for it appears as a principle of religion in the origin of almost all human societies.
The sacred fire, which was so intimately associated with the worship of the dead, belonged, in its essential character, properly to each family. It represented the ancestors; it was the providence of a family, and had nothing in common with the fire of a neighboring family, which was another providence. Every fire protected its own and repulsed the stranger. The whole of this religion was enclosed within the walls of each house. The worship was not public. All the ceremonies, on the contrary, were kept strictly secret. Performed in the midst of the family alone, they were concealed from every stranger. The hearth was never placed either outside the house or even near the outer door, where it would have been too easy to see. The Greeks always placed it in an enclosure, which protected it from the contact, or even the gaze, o the profane. The Romans concealed it in the interior of the house. All these gods, the sacred fire, the Lares, and the Manes, were called the consecrated gods, or gods of the interior. To all the acts of this religion secrecy was necessary. If a ceremony was looked upon by a stranger, it was disturbed, defiled, made unfortunate simply by this look.
There were neither uniform rules nor a common ritual for this domestic religion. Each family was most completely independent. No external power had the right to regulate either the ceremony or the creed. There was no other priest than the father: as a priest, he knew no hierarchy. The pontifex of Rome, or the archon of Athens, might, indeed, ascertain if the father of a family performed all his religious ceremonies; but he had no right to order the least modification of them. Suo quisque ritu sacrificia faciat — such was the absolute rule. Every family had its ceremonies, which were peculiar to itself, its particular celebrations, its formulas of prayer, its hymns. The father, sole interpreter and sole priest of his religion, alone had the right to teach it, and could teach it only to his son. The rites, the forms of prayer, the chants, which formed an essential part of this domestic religion, were a patrimony, a sacred property, which the family shared with no one, and which they were even forbidden to reveal to strangers. It was the same in India. “I am strong against my enemies,” says the Brahmin, “from the songs which I receive from my family, and which my father has transmitted to me.”
— « The Ancient City: A Study on the Religion, Laws,and Institutions of Greece and Rome». 1877
I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.