Monday, February 11, 2013

The ancient Sabine tradition of chosing the Pontifex Maximus

The Romans were not the indigenous peoples of Italy. They founded a city and took their resources, and their religion, from neighboring tribes. They were heavily influenced by the Sabines and Etruscans. It is from them that we get the tradition about to be played out in Rome next month: The election of the Pontifex Maximus.

The pope's title is an ancient Italic magical tradition. The High Priest of Rome. The one who oversaw the Vestals, made sacrifices on behalf of SPQR, consulted the stars, the omens and the auguries and oversaw all of the Priests of the main deities of Rome. I was going to say "main temples" but those who had temples in Rome were transported there from other places for political reasons, such as Diana's temple from Lake Nemi. The physical location wasn't moved, but the relics held within the temple were. I digress!

There is plenty of debate about what "pontifex" originally referred to. Some say it's "bridge builder" or "way paver" but if you look at the Sabine language, it might just mean 5. They had a college of 5 priests. I'll go with that one. Quoth the holy wiki:

Five by Five

This explanation takes into account the fact that the college was established by Sabine king Numa Pompilius and the institution is Italic: the expressions pontis and pomperias found in the Iguvine Tablets may denote a group or division of five or by five.
The pontifex would thence be a member of a sacrificial college known as pomperia...

King Pompilius was the second king of Rome. He instituted many of the religious functions of Rome (the flamens, pontifices, fetiales and the salii), some say trying to turn the war-happy group into a more pious, kinder society.
According to the Augustan-era historian Livy, Numa Pompilius, a Sabine, devised Rome's system of religious rites, including the manner and timing of sacrifices, the supervision of religious funds, authority over all public and private religious institutions, instruction of the populace in the celestial and funerary rites including appeasing the dead, and expiation of prodigies. Numa is said to have founded Roman religion after dedicating an altar on the Aventine Hill to Jupiter Elicius and consulting the gods by means of augury. Numa wrote down and sealed these religious instructions, and gave them to the first Pontifex Maximus, Numa Marcius.

He didn't just use augury, he is said to have consulted Aegeria on the rites and rituals of Rome. Some sources say She was his "Divine Consort." Aegeria who, you ask? The same "nymph" who was worshiped at Aricia, at Lake Nemi, also spelled Egeria. There is some debate as to whether she is equated with Diana or just shared the natural grotto and lake, known as the Mirror of Diana. Anyone who has used a bowl of water for scrying under the full moon can thank Aegeria and Numina.

In the news today is the announcement that the current pope will resign and a new pope needs to be chosen. I would say that the similarities in the process are striking, but if you've ever read this blog, you shouldn't be surprised in the least that the current Holy Roman Church is much the same as in the Ancient Roman Empire. A few examples:

Ancient (modern)
Only selected from the patrician class at first, then any qualified man (only selected from cardinals, tho technically all single catholic men are eligible)
Voted on by the  representatives of local tribes (Cardinals are in charge of different areas, or tribes of catholics)
Both, at one point could be elected by popular declaration of the people, but the practice was ended. It's said this is how Pope Joan was elected.

I'll pause here for now and leave you with this: I did not cause the pope to resign. It's just a huge coincidence he did it right after I posted my first proper blog of the year.

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