Blessed Terminalia, Dear Reader

The drystone walls of the Yorkshire Dales

When I think of Yorkshire, the first image in my mind is of wide open space marked by the patchwork of drystone walls.  And there are invisible boundaries, tracks: public foot paths often are the very same Death Roads, or ancient rights-of-way through private land, which allowed people their funerary rites. And there are fragments of Roman roads, as well as dream-paths or ley lines.

This island is a sacred palimpsest, scored and re-scored, and yet all the marks remain as either archeological evidence or fairy paths.

Today is the Roman Festival of Terminus, the god of borders and endings. Ovid, in his usual warm, vivid and simple verse, describes the ritual:

Terminus, whether a stone or a stump buried in the earth,

You have been a god since ancient times.

You are crowned from either side by two landowners,

Who bring two garlands and two cakes in offering.

An altar’s made: here the farmer’s wife herself

Brings coals from the warm hearth on a broken pot.

The old man cuts wood and piles the logs with skill,

And works at setting branches in the solid earth.

Then he nurses the first flames with dry bark,

While a boy stands by and holds the wide basket.

When he’s thrown grain three times into the fire

The little daughter offers the sliced honeycombs.

Others carry wine: part of each is offered to the flames:

The crowd, dressed in white, watch silently.

Terminus, at the boundary, is sprinkled with lamb’s blood,

And doesn’t grumble when a sucking pig is granted him.

I love the affectionate irony in the last line, which speaks to an intimacy Ovid (and it might be said Romans in general) had with the gods.  What a hard blessing are boundaries and wise endings, and how necessary.

Glowing coals from a broken pot. Ember Berry Earrings by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

6 thoughts on “Blessed Terminalia, Dear Reader

  1. Thanks for this – always love reading about these old festivals, now long forgotten. Hearing that one occurs always gives the day you’re in new meaning and an opportunity to think about things that are often overlooked.

  2. Thanks for reading, Helen! I agree– thinking of these old festivals roots you to the past in a really immediate way.

  3. There is an ‘Ode to Terminus’ by W. H. Auden as well.

    God does not die. We replace Him with other Gods/Goddesses in time. He is the creator of time and as such is beyond time (perhaps one reason why there is no linear perspective of past, present, future in The Holy Quran, believed by Muslims to be the direct verbal Word of God delivered to Muhammad ﷺ which also states that ‘Every day He is in a glory’. Islam (which itself is an offshoot of the patriarchal Abrahamic tradition) teaches that there is only One God. The Arabs by the time of Muhammad had their trinity of mother Goddesses whose shrines were kept at several places. They could not comprehend what Islam was teaching and are reported in The Holy Quran to have retorted ‘Has he forged the Gods into One God? That is surely astounding.’ [The Holy Quran. S: 6].

  4. Hi Rehan,
    The divine is mutable and always changing, like nature! Thanks for your thoughts, Rehan. I will look for the Auden poem. It is interesting that the melding of Gods into one God is done in a “forge”! Fascinating. I hope you are well!

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