Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Happy Vestalia!

Ok, so again seems rather random, but according to Pagan Calendar, today is the start of the Roman festival, Vestalia, which is for the entire week up to the ides of June, celebrating the virgin goddess, Vesta, of the hearth, home, and family. Worship of Vesta started off as a small cult, with worship mainly in private homes, until, as myth has it, the second Roman emperor, Numa Pompilius, nabbed a girl 'as if captured in a war' from her home, led her down the street, and declared her a 'Vestal Virgin', or, one of the Priestesses of Vesta. It eventually became one of the state religions of Rome.

Girls between the ages of six to ten were chosen for their physical perfection, both parents still living, and other criteria were eligible to take on the 30 year commitment that becoming a Vestal required...Ten years of training, Ten years of Service, Ten years of training others, and a vow of chastity.  They were recognisable by their dressing like a Roman bride, and their primary function was to maintain the flames of the Undying Fire in the temple of Vesta, and the making of the sacred mola salsa, or 'holy cakes' from special salt, water, and grain, for the festival. The last day of the festival was spent ritually cleansing the temple.

The purity of the Vestals was maintained as a form of ensuring the safety of Rome. The breaking of the vow of chastity meant death for the Vestal, by ritually burying her alive.  For other offences, such as letting the sacred fire die out, a Vestal would be whipped.

Vestals were treasured, though. In exchange for their 30 year commitment, they were emancipated, given honour, allowed to deal with their lives without the guidance of a man, and the State paid for their posh apartments to live in. At the end of their 30 years, they were allowed to retire and marry, though most remained single and chaste. (References: http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/rome/a/aa1114001.htm and http://www.crystalinks.com/vesta.html)

I rather like reading up on some of these random festivals, so I'm sure I'll come across and write about more :)