Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Terminalia: Boundaries in Space and Time

Click to enlarge. The Feast Before the Altar of Terminus. (c. 1642) By Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609 - 1664). Print, Italian, 17th century etching. 23 x 18.4 cm (9 1/16 x 7 1/4 in.) B.16. Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Louise Haskell Daly Fund, S6.97.1 Department of Prints, Division of European and American Art. Image Source: Wiki.

There is a saying in the country that "good fences make good neighbours." The origin of that sentiment comes from the ancient worship of the Roman god, Terminus.

Text Source. From: Samuel Ball Platner, Thomas Ashby, "Terminus, Fanum" in A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), p. 512.

Image Source: Particulations.

Click to enlarge. "Terminus is often pictured as a bust on a boundary stone, here the concedo nvlli or concedo nulli means 'yield no ground.'" Design for a Stained Glass Window with Terminus. (31 December 1524) By Hans Holbein the Younger. Pen and ink and brush, grey wash, watercolour, over preliminary chalk drawing, 31.5 × 25 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel. Holbein designed the window for the scholar and theologian Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. Image Source: Wiki.

Today, February 23rd, was once a holiday known as Terminalia, when landowners in the Roman Republic, and later, the Empire would meet at fence lines and renew the boundaries of communities. They would decorate their property lines with flowers and offer food to Terminus. They might also sacrifice a baby animal to him. Accounts of the ritual vary. From Carnaval:
"On this day, landowners would honor the boundaries of their land at the bound[a]ry markers. Garlands were placed over the bound[a]ry stones, and altars were built near them. Offerings of grain and ho[n]ey were given by the children, and the adults would offer wine. Everyone was dressed in white, and were required to keep silent throughout the offerings. A picnic feast was held at the end of the ritual."
From Agile Complexification Inverter:
"The festival of the Terminalia was celebrated in Rome and in the country on the 23rd of February. The neighbors on either side of any boundary gathered around the landmark [the stones which marked boundaries], with their wives, children, and servants; and crowned it, each on his own side, with garlands, and offered cakes and, bloodless sacrifices. In later times, however, a lamb, or sucking pig, was sometimes slain, and the stone sprinkled with the blood. Lastly, the whole neighborhood joined in a general feast."
L'Avenaz Roman boundary marker in La Giettaz - French Alps. Image Source: Savoie Mont Blanc.

Busts of Terminus form a boundary. Image Source: Rome Across Europe.

Hadrian's wall just east of Cawfields quarry, Northumberland, UK in October 2005. Image Source: Velella / Wiki. See also: the Antonine Wall. The Wall in the Song of Ice and Fire books and Game of Thrones TV series by George R. R. Martin is based on these structures.

Public festivals for Terminus marked the limits of Rome, be it the city or the empire. At this point, agrarian life collided with military culture. The offerings were a celebration of division between people:
"The rites of the Terminalia included ceremonial renewal and mutual recognition of the boundary stone, the marker between properties. A garland would be laid on this marker by all parties to the land so divided."
After the offerings, neighbours would sing to the god and hold a feast together. It was a complex set of ideas, honouring being cut off from each other and yet being unified in that experience. The poet Ovid described the solemn atmosphere and the larger Roman military context in his poem, Fasti (On the Roman Calendar; read it here or here), translated in 2004 by A. S. Kline:
"When night has passed, let the god be celebrated
With customary honour, who separates the fields with his sign.
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.
Neighbours gather sincerely, and hold a feast,
And sing your praises, sacred Terminus:
'You set bounds to peoples, cities, great kingdoms:
Without you every field would be disputed.
You curry no favour: you aren’t bribed with gold,
Guarding the land entrusted to you in good faith.
If you’d once marked the bounds of Thyrean lands,
Three hundred men would not have died,
Nor Othryades’ name be seen on the pile of weapons.
O how he made his fatherland bleed!
What happened when the new Capitol was built?
The whole throng of gods yielded to Jupiter and made room:
But as the ancients tell, Terminus remained in the shrine
Where he was found, and shares the temple with great Jupiter.
Even now there’s a small hole in the temple roof,
So he can see nothing above him but stars.
Since then, Terminus, you’ve not been free to wander:
Stay there, in the place where you’ve been put,
And yield not an inch to your neighbour’s prayers,
Lest you seem to set men above Jupiter:
And whether they beat you with rakes, or ploughshares,
Call out: "This is your field, and that is his!"'
There’s a track that takes people to the Laurentine fields,
The kingdom once sought by Aeneas, the Trojan leader:
The sixth milestone from the City, there, bears witness
To the sacrifice of a sheep’s entrails to you, Terminus.
The lands of other races have fixed boundaries:
The extent of the City of Rome and the world is one."
There is a sense that in Rome, worship of Terminus's boundaries became more aggressive over time. The boundary line had to be decked with sacrificial blood, whereas in an earlier, gentler period, it was enough to burn grain and honeycombs to appease the stubborn god. Perhaps there is a tiny kernel in the changing mood of Terminalia in the contemporary debate over nationalism and immigration, borders, border zones, and border fences and walls. Perhaps not. Regardless, attitudes to boundaries do vacillate over time, between openness and closure.

The US-Mexico border wall in Tijuana, Mexico. Image Source: NYT.

Hungary's border fence. Image Source: euronews via republic buzz.

Terminus guarded boundaries, especially in terms of the limits of personal experience. When that limitation is expressed geographically, it is called 'psychogeography.' My very first post on this blog was about psychogeography.

Notice how director Peter Jackson placed a scarecrow as a subtle stand-in for Terminus in this scene from: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) © New Line Cinema. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

Finding geographical limits through the senses and emotions hearkens back to times when people were more connected to the natural world. That experience may also depend on travel on foot or horseback rather than the automobile, creating a greater awareness of how the atmosphere changes from location to location. In one spot, the mood is comfortable and things are familiar. But even a yard away - as in the video above - one suddenly is uncertain.

When extended beyond individual experience into communal consensus, this type of environmental boundary depends on trial and error, as shown (here) by a group of people wandering around Leeds, UK with a set of dowsing pendulums and attempting to 'feel' out the limits of the city.

This aspect of Terminus leads one into more nebulous realms. From the blog, Of Axe and Plough:
"[Manmade barrier] structures contain something more, something that exists both within and alongside the power from the natural realm that many Pagans emphasize. At times, it can be near-palpable and noticeable: crossing a threshold or stepping through an opened gateway, or crossing from one side of a seemingly mundane border to the other can elicit a feeling of change and otherness. These spaces can be as liminal as the twilight and the dawn, or as much as stepping onto a mound. They simply exist in different and sometimes imperceptible ways."
Roman worship of a changing landscape was partly a worship of the feelings the environment inspired: familiarity, unfamiliarity, uncertainty, and fear. For pagans, these shifts in emotion were as spiritual as any modern inspiration or search for transcendence.

This obsession with a psychological or psychic liminality beyond immediate physical experience incorporated another dimension: the boundaries of time. The Roman calendar was designed so that Terminalia was also the last day of the year. From Rome Across Europe:
"The festival of the Terminalia was celebrated 23 February on the day before the Regifugium [New Year's Day]. The Terminalia was celebrated on the last day of the old Roman year, whence some derive its name. Februarius was the last month of the Roman year. When the intercalary month Mercedonius was added, the last 5 days of Februarius were added to the intercalary month, thus making the 23 February the last day of the year."
This messy system was somewhat corrected by Julius Caesar when he introduced his Julian Calendar in 46 BCE. But even today, February is a period of unusual time-keeping; we have an extra day every fourth leap year. The blurring and reinforcement of boundaries between the seasons, in the landscape, and in how we count time itself are all long associated with this day.

Oddly, people still observe Terminalia, as you can see on a dedicated site, here; it confirms that people are meeting today around the world, from Glasgow to Osaka, to explore the psychogeographical boundaries of their communities.

Other aspects of Terminalia's paganism survive, in dark rumours about blood sacrifice, and stories of stolen time between the seasons. A leap year day, February 29, is a modern echo of the earlier tradition which marked several days as uncertain; there is extra time to be added, or a chunk of time that needs to be erased. Given that the obviously-older-god Terminus refused Jupiter's boundaries and demanded that his sacrifices be delivered through Jupiter's temple ceiling to the open sky, there is an ironic notion of freedom from fetters in these time slips. There are tales on the Internet which say that today, 23 February 2019, some people will combine these pagan ideas to worship immortality in awful ways. This is how old superstitions revive in the Post-Postmodern period, and live on in chatter in the cybersphere - and in other places.

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