Saturnalia Ritual by Samantha Leaver
(17th – 23rd December roughly)
"Io Saturnalia!" Two thousand years ago this was the seasonal greeting which would have chimed out across most of
Europe, not "Merry Christmas".
Originally a one-day harvest feast at the end of autumn, Saturnalia gradually moved to later and later dates, with longer celebrations throughout the Roman period.
For seven days from the 17th December it was party season in Roman times. A lengthy mid-winter period of merry-making and the season of goodwill – Saturnalia: The Roman festival of misrule in honour of the agricultural and harvest god Saturn.
During this festival, there was a reversal of traditional roles with slaves wearing fine garments and sitting at the head of the table for at least one banquet. Homes were decorated with wreathes and greenery. Wax tapers and torches were lit - in a similar way to advent candles.
Gambling was allowed and the festival is described as a joyful period. Over-eating, gambling, drinking, singing and sharing witty tales were all part of Saturnalia celebrations. Those who did not join in were considered scrooges and humbugs.
The Sigillaria - held on the 23rd December was a day of present-giving in ancient Rome.
Apollonius Sophistes created a beautiful ritual which used the themes of autumn/winter – storage/preparation, the pleas of the Winter Solstice for plenty and abundance in the new light and of course the honouring of the harvest god Saturn. It is a wonderful Winter Solstice/Saturnalia “mash up” and is a strong example of how ancient celebrations can be adapted into the modern world. Here is an example of this ritual modified again for solitary use.
It honours Saturn (God of Harvest), Consus (God of Storage) and Ops (Goddess of Plenty and Saturns’ wife and sister). Three single day festivals within the Saturnalia season are named after these deities and therefore this ritual compresses them into one ritual – Consualia, Saturnalia and Opalia.
According to Sophistes, the sources for this ritual are Macrobius’ Saturnalia (Bk. I, Chs. 7,8,10 and 11) and Scullards’ Festivals of the Roman Republic (pp.205-7).
Tools you will need:
A Father Christmas figurine or Saturn statue (place in a glass bowl).
A Mrs Claus Figurine or Ops statue.
Candles – tea lights work well and plenty of them.
Some sunflower or corn oil.
An oil burner.
Some string/yarn/wool/thread in appropriate festive colours.
Play dough or air drying clay.
Cookies and sweets – those chocolate gold coins are FAB!
Some festive coloured cloth.
“A treasure chest” – some sort of box, a hamper basket would be lovely.
Uncooked oats or uncracked grain like barley.
Pennies – shiny ones if possible.
Pot of earth (in place of doing the ritual outside if you can’t).
Santa hat – to wear of course throughout the ritual and festivities.
Before the ritual preparation:
If the Father Christmas figurine hasn’t been used to represent Saturn before bind his feet together with thread and consecrate it through incense of frankincense. Then tie loose bows around him for decoration. If the figure has been used before it will continue to carry the energy of Saturn so just do the decorations.
Make some oval shaped cookies and decorate them with simple faces. Wrap the cookies and chocolate coins/sweets in cloth into a flat package and place them in the bottom of the “treasure chest” or hamper.
Make Sigillaria – flat oval clay faces similar to the cookies. Make a hole for hanging in each one, so that later for Dionysia they can be hung on a pine tree.
Prepare a feast – good time to get the pigs in blankets, stuffing balls and Brussels sprouts out YUM!
Location – Do it outside! Otherwise use the pot of earth.
Timing – 17th December, 21st December or 25th December
What to do:
Right before the ritual open your treasure chest/hamper and your pantry/food cupboards. Give thanks for the stores (corresponds to Consualia which happens before Saturnalia).
Walk to your shrine/sacred place and shout “Bona Saturnalia!”
Cast your circle as you would normally:
We circle round creating sacred space,
Invoking from the Heavens holy grace.
We call the Gods to guard our solemn rite,
And ward this hallowed ground with walls of light.
Let sky above and earth below unite,
A bond established by Olympic might.
Let fear and discord leave without a trace,
And peace prevail within this holy place.
Let word be deed in this decree.
As it said, so must it be!
Tell the Universe why you are here:
Welcome to Saturnalia! The circle of the year is cut in fourths, and in the ancient lands of Greece and Rome the darkening time from autumn equinox to winter solstice was the time to plow and plant the ground, to store away the seeds. When this was done the people rested through the winter months, until the sun returned. Three ancient Gods are honoured at this time: Saturn, Ops, and Consus are their names.
You can read the myth of Saturn to yourself or as a group, recite it for everyone.
Slowly fill the bowl your Father Christmas is sitting in:
When Saturn rules, all things are turned around, and everything becomes its opposite. Just once each year this figure is filled up; it’s empty while Saturn lies asleep. We feed him with oil that’s been pressed from corn (or close too), the golden nectar from the nuggets born. So also we in wisdom store away our energy to use another day. Drink deep Saturn, of this golden oil! Return our gift and bless our sacred soil!
Open the hamper/treasure chest:
Saturn has an aid, the God of Storage, who guards the seed corn; Consus is his name, which means to hide things, mostly underground. We open up the secret storage chest and place the seed corn safely into it. From what we have reaped, we always save a bit, uneaten using it to seed new growth. A portion of our hard-won money too, we put away to use another day. And even some of our best thoughts are hid, to later bring to light when they can grow. All this and more is hidden in the earth, committed to the care of Mother Ops. Remember all the bounty you have reaped; consider what it is wise to save inside.
Circle the sacred space clockwise, each time you come to the open treasure chest/hamper sprinkle some but not all of the grain and coins into it.
While you circle chant:
Save the seed corn for sewing; plant the seed to start it growing.
Sit back down in front of the altar and rest.
But now your weary work is almost done; commit to Consus all the rest you hold.
Place the treasure either on the ground if you’re outside or near the pot of earth.
Take a candle and Sigillaria (clay face) move the face sun wise around the altar/shrine:
Let me pass the gifts around the sacred circle, moving like the sun. Since ancient times these gifts have been exchanged: the waxen candles, calling forth the Sun, the little figures, symbols of our souls, these inexpensive gifts have been decreed by Saturn so that no one will feel poor.
Light the candle – if you do this in a group, you can light the candle to the left of you so there is a chain of candles being lit, or if you’re on your own light your own candle and then light each candle on your shrine/altar:
Now as the Sun revolves around the Earth, we pass the light around the circle thus, and as each year the Sun returns to us, the candle flame comes round to bring rebirth. The lights remind us how Saturn led us from the murky night of ignorance, and freed us from the dismal darkness of starvation, to the light of the wiser ways.
When the candles are all lit place the Sagillaria into the earth pot
In dedicating symbols of our souls, we dedicate ourselves to Saturn’s work.
Pour the oil from the bowl around Santa into an oil lamp:
Saturn brings the Sun’s bright golden light that wakens hidden seeds to come to life. The seed is nourished in the fertile earth by Saturn’s wife the Queen of plenty, Ops.
Light the oil or the candle underneath it:
This time of year we loosen Saturn’s bonds. The ancient God awakens from his sleep and rules the Earth as in the Golden Age.
Circle the altar/shrine
Bring light to wake the seed: let the shoot from earth be freed!
Continue circling and chanting, untie the woollen bows around Santa.
Saturn, Ancient Father, hear our prayer. As we untie your woollen bonds this year so let the hidden seeds be brought to birth and let your golden age return to earth.
Io Saturnalia! Io Saturnalia! Io Saturnalia!
Magic the cookies and other treats from the hamper so it looks like you have put the seeds and coins in and been given treats in exchange (children love this):
Behold the gift of Saturn! See his work! Behold how seed and money are transformed! And see how carefully saved and hidden seeds become fruits that satisfy our needs. I taste the fragrant fruit a gift from Saturn and his wife Ops. I will share some with people near me for that’s the law in Saturn’s Golden Age.
Touch the earth and say a prayer of thanks before munching on cookies and treats.
Say a formal thanks to Saturn, Ops and Consus:
You gracious Gods: Saturn, Consus and Ops, accept my thanks and look on me with love. Thank you for allowing me to see that seed/corn and wealth must be saved, that I need the light to bring my seeds to fruit. As I have done this day, so every day!
End the rite:
The rite is ended. Io Saturnalia! Io Saturnalia! Io Saturnalia!
In a group setting you would have baked a bean into one of the cookies; the person who gets the bean is the Lord or Lady of Misrule and will lead the drinking and eating that comes next. If you are on your own get feasting, drinking and watch a silly festive film.
At the end of all of the festivities rebind the legs of the Santa figure and place away for next year. Keep the seeds, money and a candle as a reminder of the returning light.
Taken from The Art of Ritual Book