The Lemuralia (or Lemuria) was an annual event in the religion of ancient Rome, during which the Romans performed rites to exorcise any malevolent ghosts of the restless dead from their homes.
These spectres, called lemures or larvae, were propitiated with chants and offerings of black beans.
In the Julian calendar the three days of the festival were 9, 11, and 13 May. In ancient Rome, where even-numbered days were considered unlucky – this festival of the dead was held on odd-numbered days.
This festival dates back to the 6th-century B.C.E until about the 3rd century.
Lemuria’s name and origin myth, according to Ovid, derives from a supposed “Remuria” instituted by Romulus to appease the angry spirit of his murdered twin, Remus.
The philosopher Porphyry points out that Remus’ death was violent, premature, and a matter of regret for Romulus
Ovid also notes that at this festival it was the custom to appease or expel the evil spirits by walking barefoot and throwing black beans over the shoulder at night. Other accounts mention the beans being spit out of the mouth.
Eventually, “Remuria” became “Lemuria.”
Scholars doubt that etymology, however, instead of supporting the likely theory that Lemura was named for the “lemures,” one of the several types of Roman spirits.
Lemures were harmful and spiteful to the living because kinless and neglected in death and, after it, having no rites or memorial, free to leave their dead body but unable to enter the underworld or afterlife.
Some believe that the Lemuralia was meant to help those family members who had died in circumstances that prevented or delayed their admission to the afterlife, those who had died before their time, for example in their childhood or youth, through disease, war, assault or misadventure or in circumstances that prevented their being given proper burial or funeral rites.
It is important to remember that this festival was private and domestic rather than civic or public, and Ovid’s is the only detailed account of thr celebration.
The householder, perhaps with others, walks barefoot through the house at midnight.
He washes his hands in spring water, takes his thumb between the fingers of his hand, to ward off any ghosts, then takes a mouthful of black beans and spits them out behind him or throws them behind himself, over his shoulder for the hungry lemures, repeating the following incantation nine times:
“I send these; with these beans, I redeem me and mine” (Haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis), then the rest of the household clashes bronze pots while repeating, “Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!” (Manes exite paterni!).
The householder washes his hands in spring-water, three times.
When he turns to see the results of the offering, or exorcism, no lemures are to be seen.
Because of this annual exorcism of the noxious spirits of the dead, the whole month of May was rendered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb “Mense Maio malae nubunt” literally “Bad girls wed in May”.
Temples were closed and marriages were prohibited during the three days of the Lemuralia.
On the third day, a merchants’ festival was held to ensure a prosperous year for business.
Although Lemuria isn’t celebrated today, it might have left its legacy in Western Europe.
Some scholars theorize that modern All Saints’ Day derives from this festival, along with another ghostly Roman holiday, Parentalia.
Though that assertion is just a mere possibility, Lemuria still reigns supreme as one of the ghostly of all Roman holidays.
Images from web – Google Research