Day of the Dead – Roman-style
Taking place from February 13-February 21 each year, the Roman festival of Parentalia was held to honor Di Manes (spirits of the dead, particularly deceased family members and ancestors). Feralia was held on the last day of Parentalia.
The Romans believed that the spirits of the dead could walk upon the earth above their graves during Feralia, and it was customary to leave black beans on the graves. Additionally, families would picnic at the tombs of their deceased family members and present gifts (such as flowers, wine-soaked pieces of bread, salt, or grain) to the dearly departed.
Ovid described a strange rite dedicated to Tacita, the goddess of the dead which was preformed on Feralia by an old woman surrounded by young girls:
“Three fingers tuck three incense lumps under a door,
Where a tiny mouse built a hidden path.
The hag then fastens enchanted cords with dark lead,
And rolls seven beans inside her mouth;
And she roast on the fire the sewn head of the sprat
Smeared in pitch and spitted with a bronze rod.
She also drops in wine. What remains of the wine
She or her friends drink (although she drinks more)
‘We have tied hostile tongues and our enemies mouths’
The hag shouts.”
Beans were the food of the dead. The images of binding, sealing and blocking suggests a rite of banishing and removing harm. All of this, plus the involvement of the silent goddess of death suggests Feralia was a rite to guide the dead back to their proper place – and see that they stayed there.
Today, take time to remember those you’ve lost. If possible, visit their grave and leave a small token. If this isn’t possible, create a place of honor for them on your altar instead. Decorate it with white candles, images of your ancestors, and items that you associate with them.