Hi everyone! As a treat for this month's blog, one of our gladiators and resident specialists on magic in the Roman world, Sarah, is this month's author. Enjoy!
In our modern world of science, technology and the protection of modern medicine; it is easy to look back on our ancestor's belief polytheism and magic with scorn. But how many of us touch wood for luck? How many of us believe that the number 13 is inherently bad luck? Most; if not all; modern superstitions find their roots in ancient magic and beliefs. The Celtic tribes of pre-roman Europe believed that trees were sacred and laying one's hand on certain trees could bring good luck if the kindly tree spirits were feeling favourable. While in Ancient India it was believed that 13 people sitting together was bad luck and in Norse mythology the god Loki was the 13th guest at a banquet that ended in violence.
It is simple to brush off these superstitions as habit and ignore the original meaning behind them, but for the Romans of the ancient world it was not so easy. They needed all the help they could get in their cruel world of wrathful gods and unforgiving monsters. Against disease, death and all the uncertainty that came with living in the Roman World, one of humanities only defenses was their belief that they could manipulate their world through the use of magic.
The magic found within the Roman Empire seems to have originated in Persia and Egypt, even the Latin ‘Magicus’ and the Greek ‘Magiikos’; meaning ‘magic’; come from the Persian word ‘Magoi’ meaning scholar priest. The Romans believed that the best spells and magicians came from outside the empire and viewed Egypt as the center of the magical world but this does not mean that there weren't many home-grown spells and practitioners of magic within the empire. In the ancient world, our modern-day superstitions could be classed as ‘everyday’ or ‘amature’ magic, the kind of magic that was prevalent in every part of roman society. The majority of this ‘everyday’ magic that we find evidence of today, were protective spells, usually in the form of amulets and talismans.
The most widely known example of protective amulets is the bulla, worn by free born roman boys around the neck until they put on the toga and became a man. The bulla could be made from anything from leather to gold and was filled with as many protective charms, symbols and spells as the family could afford, the most common being a phallus to represent the god Fascinus who was worshiped as a protector against witchcraft, envy and the evil eye. He was also seen as the protector of children and women in childbirth.
Free born roman girls did not wear a bulla, instead they wore a Lunula for protection. Again, this was worn around the neck and was only removed on the eve of a girl’s wedding, when she would leave the protection of her father and become a woman, under the protection of her husband. The Lunula was shaped like a crescent moon, the symbol of Diana, the goddess of the Moon, the hunt, childbirth and the protector of women and girls. The Lunulae represented to any spirit, daemon and the evil eye that the girl was under the protection of Diana.