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Isis Navigatum

March 5

The Romans celebrated the goddess Isis as the patroness of sailors and inventor of the sail. Apuleius has her say, “Devote to my worship the day born of this night…for at this season, the storms of winter lose their force, the leaping waves subside and the sea becomes navigable once more.”

Rufus gives details of a celebration held at a port city near Corinth. Women wore flower garlands and strewed petals; others held mirrors so the goddess could see herself and others sprinkled the streets with perfume. Devotees carried lamps, torches and candles. They were followed by pipers, flutists and choirboys. Beadles called out, “Make way! Make way for the goddess!” Priests advanced toward the sea, dribbling milk from a breast-shaped golden pitcher.

The procession stopped at the seashore, in front of a boat built for the ritual with heiroglyphics painted over the entire hull, a sail of shining white linen, a long fir mast, a gilded prow shaped like the neck of Isis’s golden goose and a long keel cut from a solid trunk of citrus wood. The hold was loaded with spice and other offerings. Priests cut the moorings and sent off the ship as an offering to “the queen of the stars, the mother of the seasons, the mistress of the universe.”

Z Budapest suggests blessing your boats with incense or casting flowers into the sea for luck.

From the Isis Navigatum ritual in London in 2015

From the Isis Navigatum ritual in London in 2015

For a long discussion of the ancient festival and a modern recreation of it at this article. And the photo comes from another re-enactment in London in 2015. You can see the invitation at this site.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Budapest, Z, Grandmother of Time, Harper 1989

First published March 5, 2016

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March 5
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