Roman Empire | Roman Religious Practices

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There can be no doubt that some kind of worship was paid by the Arval Brethren to certain ollae, or primitive vessels of sun-baked clay used in their most ancient rites. This is attested by two inscriptions of different ages which are printed on pp. 26 and 27 of Henzen's Acta Fratrum Arvalium. After leaving their grove and entering the temple "in mensa sacrum fecerunt ollis"; and shortly afterwards, "in aedem intraverunt et ollas precati sunt." Then, to our astonishment, we read that the door of the temple was opened, and the ollae thrown down the slope in front of it. This last act seems inexplicable; but the worship finds a singular parallel in the dairy ritual of the Todas of the Nilghiri hills.

Dr. Rivers, in his work on the Todas (Macmillan, 1906, p. 453), in summing up his impressions of their worship, observes that "the attitude of worship which is undoubtedly present in the Toda mind is becoming transferred from the gods themselves to the material objects used in the service of the gods." "The religious attitude of worship is being transferred from the gods themselves to the objects round which centres the ritual of the dairy." These objects are mainly the bells of the buffaloes and the dairy vessels; and an explicit account of them, the reverence in which they are held, and the prayers in which they are mentioned, will be found in the fifth, sixth, and eighth chapters of Dr. Rivers' work, which, as an account of what seems to be a religion atrophied by over-development of ritual, is in many ways of great interest to the student of Roman religious experience. The following sentence will appeal to the readers of these Lectures:--

"The Todas seem to show us how the over-development of the ritual aspect of religion may lead to atrophy of those ideas and beliefs through which the religion has been built up; and then how, in its turn, the ritual may suffer, and acts which are performed mechanically, with no living ideas behind them, may come to be performed carelessly and incompletely, while religious observances which involve trouble and discomfort may be evaded or completely neglected."

Whether the worship of the ollae was a part of the original ritual of the Brethren, or grew up after its revival by Augustus, it is impossible to determine. But if we can allow the dairy ritual of the Todas to help us in the matter, we may conclude that in any case it was not really primitive, and that it was a result of that process of over-ritualisation to which must also be ascribed the piacula caused by the growth of a fig-tree on the roof of the temple, and the three Sondergötter Adolenda Commolenda Deferunda. (See above p. 161 foll., and Henzen, Acta Fratr. Arv. p. 147.)

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