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ON THE USE OF HUTS OR BOOTHS IN RELIGIOUS RITUAL


This may be taken as an addendum to Lecture II. on taboo at Rome; but owing to the uncertainty of the explanation given in it, I reserved it for an Appendix. The custom here dealt with is found both in the public and private worship of the Romans, and also in Greece and elsewhere, but has never, so far as I know, been investigated by anthropologists.

On the Ides of March, at the festival of Anna Perenna, a deity explained as representing "the ring of the year," whose cult is not recognised in the ancient religious calendar, the lower population came out of the city, and lay about all day in the Campus Martius, near the Tiber. Ovid, fortunately, took the trouble to describe the scene in the third book of his Fasti, as he had witnessed it himself. Some of them, he says, lay in the open, some constructed tents, and some made rude huts of stakes and branches, stretching their togas over them to make a shelter.

plebs venit ac virides passim disiecta per herbas

potat, et accumbit cum pare quisque sua.

sub Iove pars durat, pauci tentoria ponunt,

sunt quibus e ramis frondea facta casa est,

pars, ubi pro rigidis calamos statuere columnis,

desuper extentas imposuere togas.

sole tamen vinoque calent, annosque precantur,

quot sumant cyathos, ad numerumque bibunt.[993]

It appears also from Ovid's account that there was much drunkenness and obscene language; this was, in fact, a festa very different in character from those of the Numan calendar; and that there was a magical element in the cult of the deity seems proved by the mysterious allusion to "virgineus cruor" in connection with her grove not far from this scene of revelry, in Martial iv. 64. 17 (cp. Pliny, N.H. xxviii. 78, and Columella x. 558). Tibullus describes something of the same kind at a rustic festival,[994] though he does not make it clear what time of year he is speaking of; a few lines before he had mentioned the drinking and leaping over the fire at the Parilia, the shepherd's festival in April, though I cannot feel sure that the following lines are also meant to refer to it:--

tunc operata deo pubes discumbet in herba,

arboris antiquae qua levis umbra cadit,

aut e veste sua tendent umbracula sertis

vincta, coronatus stabit et ipse calix.

Here it is too much to suppose that the umbracula were contrived to make up for the want of shade in a country so covered with woodland as Italy was then; and the words "sertis vincta" show that there was some special meaning in the practice. I think we may guess that in both instances the extemporised huts had some forgotten religious meaning. Yet another passage of Tibullus, which also describes a rural festival, alludes to a similar custom.[995] I have given reasons in the Classical Review for thinking that this was a summer festival, accompanied as it was, like many midsummer rites all over Europe, by bonfires and revelry, though the usual interpretation ascribes it to the winter.[996]

tunc nitidus plenis confisus rusticus agris

ingeret ardenti grandia ligna foco,

turbaque vernarum, saturi bona signa coloni,

ludet et ex virgis exstruet ante casas.

The slaves can here hardly be playing at building houses of twigs, like the children in Horace's Satire,[997] unless we are to suppose that Tibullus is thinking of slave children only, which is indeed possible; but even if that were so, how are we to account for the popularity of this curious form of sport?

There was, however, at Rome a public summer festival, included in the calendar, in which we find this same custom. At the Neptunalia, on July 23, huts or booths were erected, made of the foliage of trees. "Umbrae vocantur Neptunalibus casae frondeae pro tabernaculis," says Festus[998] (following Verrius Flaccus), where the last word is one in regular use for military tents. This is the only thing that is told us about this festival, and we may assume that even this would not have come down to us if it had not been a survival rigidly adhered to, i.e. the construction of shelters from the foliage of trees, instead of using tents, which could easily have been procured in the city. As the festival was in the hot month of July, we might suppose that shelter from the sun was the real object here; but we do not hear of it at other summer festivals, and the parallel practices I shall now mention make the rationalising explanation very doubtful. It is unlucky that we know hardly anything about the older and un-Graecised Neptunus, and nothing about his festival except this one fact; the comparative method is here our only hope.

The Jewish feast of tabernacles will, of course, occur at once to every one; this was in the heat of the summer, and the booths were here, as at the Neptunalia, made of the branches of trees;[999] the explanation given to the Israelites was not that they were thus to shelter themselves from the heat, but to be reminded of their homeless wanderings in the wilderness, plainly an aetiological account, as in the case of the passover. There are distinct examples in Greece of the same practice, e.g. the [Greek: skiades] at the Spartan Carneia,[1000] and tents ([Greek: skênai]) in several cases, as at the mysteries of Andania, where the peculiar regulations for the construction of the tents points to a ritualistic origin almost unmistakably.[1001] But perhaps the most striking parallel is to be found in the famous letter of Gregory the Great, preserved by Bede, about the British converts to Christianity, who were to be allowed to use their heathen temples as churches:

"Et quia boves solent in sacrificio daemonum multos occidere, debet iis etiam hac in re aliqua solemnitas immutari: ut die dedicationis, vel natalicii sanctorum martyrum quorum illic reliquiae ponuntur, tabernacula sibi circa easdem ecclesias quae ex fanis commutatae sunt, de ramis arborum faciant, et religiosis conviviis sollemnitatem celebrent: nec diabolo iam animalia immolent, et ad laudem Dei in esu suo animalia occident," etc.[1002]

Why should Gregory here take the trouble to describe the material out of which these huts were to be made? Surely because the custom was one which had been described to him by Augustine or Mellitus as part of the heathen practice, and one which he was willing to condone as harmless (possibly with a recollection of the Jewish feast), since the Britons set great store by it.

If these examples from Europe and Palestine are sufficient to suggest that there was originally a religious or mystic meaning in the custom, we must look for its explanation in anthropological research. Robertson Smith was,[1003] I think, the first to suggest a possible explanation of the Feast of Tabernacles, by comparing with it the rule, stated in Numbers xxxi. 19, that men might not enter their houses after bloodshed: "Do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day." He also pointed out that pilgrims are subject to the same rule, or taboo, in Syria and elsewhere. Since then an immense mass of evidence has been collected showing that all the world over persons in a holy or unclean state are placed under this or some similar restriction;[1004] and if this be the case with pilgrims and warriors after a battle, it may also have been so with worshippers at some particular festival, even if we are quite unable to recover the special character of the worship which produced the restriction.[1005] In the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a harvest festival, the cause seems to have been the great sanctity of the first-fruits, which are regarded with extreme veneration in many parts of the world. In the now famous festival of the first-fruits among the Natchez Indians of Louisiana, of which the details have been recorded with singular care and obvious accuracy,[1006] we find that the chief, the Great Sun, and all the celebrators, have to live in huts two miles from their village, while the corn, grown for the purpose in a particular spot, is sacramentally eaten. It is quite impossible, without further evidence, which is not likely ever to be forthcoming, to explain either the Greek, Roman, or British customs in this way; we must be content with the general principle that the holiness of human beings at particular times is liable to carry with it the practice of renouncing your own dwelling and living in an extemporised hut or booth. The tents that we hear of in the Greek rites I look upon as late developments of this primitive practice. The inscription of Andania, which is the best Greek evidence we possess, dates only from 91 B.C.; and by that time there would have been every opportunity for the rude huts to become civilised tents. The casae made by the vernae in Tibullus' poem were, I would suggest, a kind of unconscious survival of the same feeling and practice, the real religious meaning being almost entirely lost.

Lastly, I will venture to suggest that the casae of the Roman custom, made of branches at the Neptunalia and the feast of Anna Perenna, and of virgae by the slaves on the farm, are a reminiscence of the earliest form of Italian dwelling, which survived to historical times in the round temple of Vesta, and of which we have examples in the hut-urns discovered in the necropolis at Alba.[1007] The earliest form of all was probably a round structure made of branches of trees stuck into the ground, bent inwards at the top and tied together.[1008] Just as bronze instruments survived from an earlier stage of culture in some religious rites at Rome, so, I imagine, did this ancient form of dwelling, which really belongs to an age previous to that of permanent settlement and agricultural routine. The hut circles of the neolithic age, such as are abundant on Dartmoor, were probably roofed with branches supported by a central pole.[1009]

[993] Fasti, iii. 525 foll. See R.F. p. 50 foll.

[994] Tibull. ii. 5. 89 foll. Mr. Mackail has pointed out to me a passage in the Pervigilium Veneris, line 5, which seems to contain a hint of the same practice (cp. line 43).

[995] Tibull. ii. 1. 1-24.

[996] Classical Review, 1908, p. 36 foll. My conclusions were criticised by Dr. Postgate in the Classical Quarterly for 1909, p. 127.

[997] Hor. Sat. ii. 3. 247.

[998] Festus, ed. Müller, p. 377.

[999] Leviticus xxiii. 40-42. Cp. Plutarch, Quaest. conviv. 4. 2. This was a feast of harvest and first-fruits (Exodus xxiii. 16). Nehemiah viii. 13 foll. gives a graphic account of the revival of this festival after the captivity.

[1000] Athenaeus iv. 41. 8 F. Cp. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, vol. iv., p. 260.

[1001] Dittenberger, Sylloge inscript. (ed. 2), 653, lines 34 foll. Cp. p. 200 (Teos).

[1002] Baeda, Hist. eccl. i. 30 (ed. Plummer). There is a curious case of isolation in a hut in a process by which the sacrificer of the soma in the Vedic religion becomes divine, quoted by Hubert et Mauss, Mélanges, p. 34. This may possibly afford a clue to the mystery.

[1003] Religion of the Semites, notes K and N at the end of the volume.

[1004] See e.g. Frazer, G. B. ed. 2, index, s.v. "Seclusion."

[1005] It has occurred to me that the shedding of blood in animal sacrifice may possibly be the reason in some of these rites. The last words of the passage quoted above from Baeda suggest this explanation in the case of the Britons. In the first-fruits festivals the "killing of the corn" may be a parallel cause of taboo. See G. B. i. 372.

[1006] Du Pratz, translated in G. B. ii. 332 foll.

[1007] See e.g. Helbig, Die Italiker in der Poebene, p. 50 foll. Lanciani, Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome, p. 132. It is worth noting that in a passage quoted by Helbig, Plutarch (Numa 8) uses for some of the most ancient Roman attempts at temple building the same word by which he describes the booths at the feast of tabernacles ([Greek: kaliades]).

[1008] Whether there was in later days any special religious signification in the use of green foliage and branches I will not undertake to say, but I have been struck by the constant use of them in cases of religious seclusion, even where the person is secluded in some part of the house, and not outside it. See e.g. G. B. ii. pp. 205-214.

[1009] Prof. Anwyl, Celtic Religion (Constable's series), p. 10. Mr. Baring-Gould told Mr. Anwyl that he had seen in some of the Dartmoor circles central holes which seemed meant for the fixing of this pole. I will add here that it has occurred to me that these huts must, in one sense at least, be a survival (like other points of ritual), from the days of pastoral life, and of the migration of the Aryans. Temporary huts are characteristic of pastoral as contrasted with agricultural life, and must have been used during the wanderings, as by the Israelites. See Schrader, Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples (Eng. Trans., London, 1890), p. 404.





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