I was reading something Timothy wrote a while back recently about stumbling across interesting ideas while researching another concept and thought I’d share a recent example. I have to frankly admit to that ready access to Wikipedia is a source of almost constant distraction in this regard, but even when I used to read encyclopedias when I was younger, I was constantly getting lost in the cross-references, often finding them more interesting than the entry dealing with my my original enquiry. It’s one of the things I love most about research, the serendipitous discover of unknown gems, like stumbling upon a freshly minted coin in the street.
As background, I’m currently trying to work up a Mystery cult involving tree worship, which led from considering nonhuman loamwalkers as potential leaders a Mystery cult within the Redcaps, which in turn was triggered by a single sentence within the Story Seed: “The Trees Conspire Against Us” in Realms of Power: Magic relating to the Redcap group known as the Broken Branches. All this is therefore a legitimate extension of my Redcap project, combined with my clear interest in hedge magic, right?
OK, perhaps I’ve become a bit sidetracked…
So I came across a fascinating idea, the pomoerium, a sort of sacred boundary dating back from the ancient founding of Rome associated with various religious and legal restrictions. At it’s edge lies the Gardens of Mascaena, which I discovered and decided would make a great cult locale for the Broken Branches, but the pomoerium demands some sort of attention. It’s associated with some unusual traditions which beg to be made into some sort of story element.
Foremost among these was perhaps the strict prohibition of burying the dead within the boundary, but additional taboos prohibited carrying weapons inside, the restriction of magistrates’ powers and an interesting concept that soldiers reverted to the status of civilians within its bounds. Generals lost their status upon entering the pomoerium, except on the day of a triumph and even Julius Caesar had to buy the rights to have his ashes interred within the boundary. (Apparently they interred them outside anyway, but Trajan managed to have his ashes sealed beneath his column however, which makes me wonder if there’s a story in that exception somewhere). Exactly what happened if the taboos were broken is unclear, but the concept was taken seriously by the Romans to the extent that executions and also murders were performed outside the boundary – the assasination of Julius Caesar taking place outside the boundary to avoid sacrilege being a specific example. I’m thinking ancient Mercurian ritual initially, but some sort of geas like effect linked to the daimon responsible for Rome would work also.
The sacred area was not the just land outlined by the Servian walls, nor did it include all the classical seven hills but was instead carefully bounded by cippi, small milestone-like markers of stone that indicate the boundary was deliberately set at the time of its creation The boundary was later expanded by Sulla, Claudius, Augustus, Nero and Trajan, again suggesting some deliberate manipulation of the sacred space enclosed. I suspect the cippi could serve well as focus objects for Hermetic Architecture Mysteries, if they aren’t already somehow relics of lost Mercurian magic – I have a fondness for considering Roman milestones as potential suitable objects of Hermetic and Mercurian rituals, so perhaps I’ll revisit that sometime.
It strikes me that the pomoerium is an excellent classical example of a specific Target: Boundary on one hand and on the other an example of a clear demarcation between the defined locus of the tutelary genius locus of Rome and territory belonging to “the Outside” or “not-Rome”. In other words, inside the boundary was considered the city of Rome proper and sacred, but outside was simply the ager, territory belonging to Rome but not formally or legally a part of the city and thus profane.
As in ArM5 terms the Romans of the Republic era were not monotheists and therefore the sacred nature of the pomoerium is not aligned to the Divine, but the existence of a tutelary diety of Rome ie. a powerful Magic spirit or daimon in the form similar to a genius locus of a edifice or man made rather than natural locale, is well established. Although often referred to as “Roma” or the euphemism “The Spirit of Rome”, the true name of the deity responsible for the city of Rome however was a sacred secret – apparently only ever revealed only by the unfortunate Quintus Valerius Soranus, perhaps he was an early Mercurian wizard that broke one of his cult’s initiation vows?
This all sounds a lot like a prototype for the Aegis of the Hearth ritual doesn’t it?
Like with many of these gems, I really can’t currently fit this idea into any of my defined current projects and I’m not planning to do any specific Rome material in the future (except perhaps Ostia, but only as an extension of the Mythic Genoa project), but it’s something I’d like to flesh out further sometime.