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