Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worship of Natural Objects

A very common feature in the early development of religious consciousness is the worship of natural objects—in the first place of the objects themselves and no more, but later of a spirit indwelling in them. The distinction is no doubt in individual cases a difficult one to make, and we find that among the Romans the earlier worship of the object tends to give way to the cult of the inhabiting spirit, but examples may be found which seem to belong to the earlier stage. We have, for instance, the sacred stone (silex) which was preserved in the temple of Iuppiter on the Capitol, and was brought out to play a prominent part in the ceremony of treaty-making. The fetial, who on that occasion represented the Roman people, at the solemn moment of the oath-taking, struck the sacrificial pig with the silex, saying as he did so, 'Do thou, Diespiter, strike the Roman people as I strike this pig here to-day, and strike them the more, as thou art greater and stronger.' Here no doubt the underlying notion is not merely symbolical, but in origin the stone is itself the god, an idea which later religion expressed in the cult-title specially used in this connection, Iuppiter Lapis. So again, in all probability, the termini or boundary-stones between properties are in origin the objects—though later only the site—of a yearly ritual at the festival of the Terminalia on February the 23rd, and they are, as it were, summed up in 'the god Terminus,' the great sacred boundary-stone, which had its own shrine within the Capitoline temple, because, according to the legend, 'the god' refused to budge even to make room for Iuppiter. The same notion is most likely at the root of the two great domestic cults of Vesta, 'the hearth,' and Ianus, 'the door,' though a more spiritual idea was soon associated with them; we may notice too in this connection the worship of springs, summed up in the subsequent deity Fons, and of rivers, such as Volturnus, the cult-name of the Tiber.

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