bonfire


Palilia

The Palilia (April 21) was the festival of Pales, the tutelary divinity of shepherds. (Some of the ancient writers called this festival Parilia.) The first part of the solemnities was a public purification by fire and smoke. The things burned in order to produce this purifying smoke were the blood of the October horse, the ashes of the unborn calves from the Fordicidia, and the shells of beans. The Vestals mixed these ingredients to create suffimentum, a sort of incense that was distributed at the altar of Vesta as a fertility charm.

The private rituals were observed primarily by farmers in rural areas. At earliest dawn the sheep fold had to be cleansed with water, swept, and decorated with laurel branches and a wreath at its entrance. The sheep were fumigated with sulfur, and then a fire of olive and pine wood was kindled on a turf altar. The crackling of laurel branches thrown into it gave a good omen. Offerings of millet, food, and pails of milk were brought. Facing the east, the shepherds then prayed to Pales four times, seeking protection for themselves and their flocks and forgiveness for any unwitting transgressions. They washed their hands in dew, drank burranica (milk mixed with must), and were sprinkled with water shaken from laurel branches. The worshipers lay about eating and drinking on the grass and after twilight leaped through bonfires of straw set three in a row, a rite which they believed would make women fruitful.

Ovid relates that the Palilia was believed to be older than the foundation of Rome, and it was supposed that Romulus laid out the first boundary of the city on the very day of the festival, so that April 21 was henceforth celebrated as the birthday of Rome. By the third century AD, the old name Palilia had been replaced with Romaea, the Roman Festival, because of its association with the birthday of Rome, or natalis urbis Romaea. Numa Pompilius is also said to have been born on this day.


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