Consecrating a Garden to Ceres
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
Offered here is a series of rites for the transformation of a fallow area into a sacred garden dedicated to Ceres. Suggested here are prayers which are based on Latin texts, or which use formulas similar to those found in dedicatory inscriptions from Rome and among other Italic cultures of the Republican era. Some are taken directly from such sources, while others have been adapted; in both cases the source is indicated. To make such a transformation requires a series of steps to appease the guardians of the selected space and to expel any unwanted influences, as well as to gain the approval of the goddess and invoke Her presence into the garden.

I. The dedication

Gods and goddesses oversee every location. In addition a location may already be the residence of some unknown lesser deity. As a first step then the gods and goddesses need to be called upon to approve the project. General offerings are made of sweet breads and wine:
Di Deaeque veneror, qui haec locum colunt, precor quod rem meam propter quem veni vobis propitie respecta sit.

You Gods and Goddesses, who cherish this place, reverently I pray that the purpose for which I have come to this place may be looked upon favorably by you.

- Plautus: Poenulus, 950-3
Next a vow to Ceres is required, stating that a garden is to be dedicated in Her honor.
Hunc locum tibi dedico consecrorque. Ceres, qua domus tua Trinacia est et cuia habitatio ubique; Ceres, Mater Deorum, Dea testem te testrix mihi, si inhabites hortum meum tum ego, dico Dea, ut tu audias lactem bibere dato. Illaec advorsum si quid pecasso Dea veneror te ut miserus ego esse.

This place I dedicate and consecrate to you. Ceres, you who make your special home in Sicily and who inhabits every place; Ceres, Mother of the Gods, I declare to you as my witness, if you shall dwell in my garden then I, I say to you Goddess that you may hear, I will give you milk that you may drink. And if ever I should leave my vow to you unfulfilled I pray that I shall suffer misfortune.

- Catullus, Carmen XVIII; Plautus: Rudens 1338-49
The area must now be cleared in preparation for forming the garden. Trees may be removed and fallow lands plowed. First, however, the residing deities would have to be appeased and asked that the land be dedicated to Ceres in their stead.
Si deus, si dea es; quoium illud sacrum est, uti tibi ius est vino piaculo facere operis faciundi causa, ergo harumque rerum ergo, uti id recte factum siet, eius rei ergo te hoc vino piaculo quod libo bonas preces precor, uti sies volens propitius mihi domo familaeque meae liberisque meis, harumce rerum ergo macte hoc vino piaculo libendo esto.

If a god or a goddess you may be, for whom this place is sacred, it is only right then that I make this offering of wine for the work that I am about to perform here, in order that my work be made properly, for this reason I pray to you in good faith and make this offering of wine, that you shall look favorably on me, my house and my family, and my children. For the sake of these things, accept this wine in offering for atonement.

- Cato, De Agricultura, 139-140
II. Forming the sacred garden

The garden itself must now be built in a proper manner. This requires three basic steps. Forming the mundus at the center, building up the boundary, and marking off the area around the boundary. During the first step auguries are taken to ensure that the project meets with the approval of Ceres and the Aesai who are the shrouded gods.

The garden is laid out in the manner described by Pliny (Natural History XVIII. 76-77). Observe where the sun rises on the day of the equinox. On the sixth hour after sunrise, when the sun is at its height, face so the right shoulder points towards sunrise. With a hoe make a furrow through the central axis of your shadow. This line, called the decumamus, is made twenty feet or so, and points north; a small circle is made at its center, and the line also points south. Then a second line, the cardo, is drawn passing through the center circle on the axis of one’s shoulders. This line runs from east to west. Do not orient to the north, nor even plough or do any work in the fields or garden while the wind comes from out of the north. Nest are made two lines obliquely through the umbilicus circle to form an ‘X’. These will mark the solstice risings. Be sure to verify the southern direction and always lay out the land by it, as it never moves, but the east-west line shall.

In the umbilicus raise the gruma, a staff about the height of a man. There you are to raise a small square tent, the tabernaculum, opened to the south. Draw out the templum as a rectangle in a 6:5 proportion, designating the sixteen places of the sky, and read the auguries. If no sign is given disapproving the work you are undertaking, then form the mundus beneath the tabernaculum. The mundus is a pit, square in shape, the bottom is made smaller than the opening. Place within the mundus the votives to Ceres and cover with the ashes of the sacrifices that were made. Then cover the mundus with a stone.

Next a furrow is made, ploughed to build up the land that forms the boundary of the garden. With the right shoulder bared, and the plough turned inward, begin in the west and move in the direction of the sun deosil, forming a circle. This boundary is the sulcus primordialis.

Beyond the mounded boundary of the aggeri set stones to mark the extent of the poemerium, a space on either side of the sulcus primordialis that is to remain cleared. Thus the garden is formed. In front of the mundus, on the west side, erect a simple altar of turf or stone, on which to make sacrifices.

III. Ambarvalia

With chant and dance the offerings to be made to Cerus, consort of Ceres, are to be carried around the perimeter of the Garden of Ceres. After the garden is completed ambarvalia will be conducted for Ceres and/or Cerus. In ancient times the sacrifice made was a suovitaurialia; that is, a sacrifice of a sow, an ewe, and a cow when made to Ceres, or a boar, ram, and bull when made to Cerus. Such blood sacrifices were not always used however, as under the proscriptions of Numa, and appropriate offerings may be substituted instead. This first ambarvalia is made to Cerus, calling upon Him to expel any evil influences from the garden that might do harm to any plants or flowers, who are the daughters of Cerus and Ceres. The ambarvalia is made three times around the perimeter. The perimeter is to be swept, aspersed with vervain water, and incensed with laurel or frankincense. As one conducts the ambarvalia, the feet stomping in rhythm, a chant is lifted:
Pro filiae calamus:
Enos Cere juvate! Enos Pater juvate! Enos Cere juvate!
Horto Pater celere: Horto Cere celere. Hort Pater celere!
Neve sine ruina, neve sine vastita, viduata ne sine,
Limes sali detine omnigenum malefi, Pater Cere celere,
Si nos quando incurrunt, cruor satur fueri cum vim sui comede.
Enos Cere juvate! Enos Pater juvate! Enos Cere juvate!
Pater Cere triumpe! Pater Cere triumpe! Pater Cere triumpe!


For the Daughters we call out:
Cerus assist us, Father delight us; Cerus come to our aid.
To our garden father hurry; to our garden Cerus come; to our garden Father hurry.
Do not allow ruin to take us, nor devastation, or even destitution to become our fate,
From the boundaries of our dance keep back all evils; Pater Cerus hurry to us,
And should the evils rush upon us, sate yourself on their gore and feed upon their power
Cerus assist us, Father delight us, Cerus come to our aid,
Triumph Father Cerus, triumph Father Cerus, and triumph Father Cerus.

- Carmen Fratrum Arvalum
At the completion of the ambarvalia, before the entrance to the Garden of Ceres on the west of the sanctuary (fanum), face to the east and cast out the evil influences that might remain within:
Exi! Si hodie natae, si ante natae;
Si hodie creata, si ante creata;
Hanc pestem; hanc pestilentiam;
Hanc viduitam; hanc vastitam;
Hanc siccitam, hanc calamitam, hanc intemperitem;
Hac religione evoco, educo, excante,
De istis herbarum consereris. Exi!


Get out! Today from the daughters, before entering the daughters;
Today created, before they were created;
This disease, this pestilence;
This want, this desolation;
This drought, this misfortune, this inclemency of weather;
With pius rite I call out, I summon, I sing forth,
From the herbs and plants of this field. Be gone!

- Marcellus Empiricus, De medicamenti 15.11: Incantamente magica
Next is made the sacrifice on the boundary to Cerus. At the beginning of the sacrifice offerings are made to Janus, Jupiter and Juno. First for Janus burn incense of laurel. Cut the strues cakes, stack them into a pile, and then with the knife feed them into the flames:
Jano Pater, te hac strue ommovenda bonas preces precor, uti sies volens propitius mihi liberisque meis domo familiaeque meae.

Father Janus, in offering you these strues cakes, I pray in good faith that you may be favorable to me, to my children, to our home and family.

- Cato, De Agricultura, 134
Then wine is poured in offering to Janus:
Jane macte estae strues esto, macte vino inferio esto.

Janus, for the same reason as I have offered you strues cakes, I now offer you this wine.
Next burn saffron, sage, and orris root for Jupiter and Juno, offering them fertum cakes in the same manner as above:
Jupiter Junoque vos hoc ferto obmovendo bonas preces precor uti sies volens propitius mihi liberisque meis domo familiaeque meae. Mactete hoc ferto.

Jupiter and Juno, in offering these fertum cakes to you, I pray in good faith that you will be favorable to me and my children, to my home and family. By this offering may you be strengthened.

- Cato, ibid
Next wine is poured for each in turn:
Jupiter macte isto ferto esto, macte vino inferio esto.
Mater Juno isto ferto esto, macte vino inferio esto.


Jupiter for the same reason I offered you fertum cakes, I now offer you this wine.
Mother Juno, for the same reason I offered you fertum cakes, I now offer you this wine.

- Cato, ibid
Next is made the offerings to Cerus for His assistance in guarding the Garden of Ceres and the plants and herbs to be grown within its borders. Laurel and mints are burned as incense. Three offerings should be made. Perhaps most appropriate for Cerus are strips of beef, drizzled with oil and coated with flour, which are then grilled and consumed. Bread drizzled with oil, cheese and arugula or other herb might be offered as a substitute. Milk with honey, oil, and wine are poured as libations. At Iguvium three bulls were sacrificed along with two different grains, and wine and mead were poured as libations.
Pater Cere, te precor quaesoque uti sies volens propitius mihi domo familiaeque nostrae, quoius rei ergo terram meam hortemque meam dona circumagi iussi, uti tu morbus visos invisosque, viduertatem vastitudinemque, calamitates intemperiasque prohibessis defendas averruncesque; utique tu fruges herbasque grandire beneque evenire siris duisque bonam salutem valetudinemque mihi domo familiaeque nostrae; harumce rerum ergo, terram hortemque meum lustrandi lustrique faciendi ergo, sicuti dixi, macte hisce dona immolandis esto; Pater Cerus, eiusdem rei ergo macte hisce dona.

Father Cerus, I pray to you and ask you, that you may be favorable to me, our home and family, for the sake of which I have ordered these offerings to be brought around my land and garden, in order that you may prevent, repel, and divert diseases seen and unseen, deprivation and desolation, misfortune and inclement weather, and that you allow the fruits and herbs to grow and turn out well, and give good health and well-being to me, to our home and family; for the sake of these things, for the purification of the land and the garden, and for the purifying as I have said, may you be strengthened by the sacrifice of these offerings; Father Cerus, for the same reason may you be honored by these offerings.

- Cato, De Agricultura 141
IV. Affirmation of the Dedication

Now that the garden has been built, the land and the herbs growing within the garden purified, the final phase is to consecrate the garden to Ceres in fulfillment of the vow made earlier. This will entail making a sacrifice to Ceres within the garden itself, involving several steps. First, however, one must enter the garden with a libation for the god or goddess who previously resided on the land, and now will act as guardian of the entrance to the Garden of Ceres.
Bibite, festivae fores; potate. Fite mihi volentes propitiae.

Drink, festive entrance, drink up, and be inclined to favor me.

- Plautus, Curculio, 89
Enter the Garden of Ceres. No iron or steel utensils may enter the Garden of Ceres; one should be dressed in white on this first occasion, with no binding or knots in their clothes or hair, and it is perhaps better to enter barefoot. On other occasions other colours may be worn as appropriate. Sweep the area around the altar on which sacrifices will be offered, and asperse it with verain water. Circle the altar three times, knocking on the ground around it with the augur lituus or with a wooden instrument and incense the altar with frankincense. Standing at the altar before the mundus, facing East, offerings to Ceres that will later be made should include any or all of the following: sweet cakes drizzled with honey, piles of wheat and spelt, salt, beans, rape seed, fruits and herbs of the garden, and libations of milk mixed with honey. Hyacinths, poppies, dragontail, and pennyroyal, or other flowers in season should be placed on the altar. A fire is built directly on the altar or in a special urn. Incense of laurel, poppy seed and pennyroyal is to be burnt.

Taking the Auguries

The central part of the ceremony of dedication is the sacrifice to Ceres. At the altar shall stand a priest to perform the ceremony, along with assistants, and augur(s), and tibicae or musicians who are to play throughout the ceremony. The procession of the ambarvalia is lead by a main celebrant, approaching the altar with his right hand held forward at waist level, his palm up. Before any sacrifice may be made auguries are taken to ensure that nothing may prohibit it from taking place at that time. If the augurs see no ill omens, then the main celebrant should order that the sacrifice be made. This he or she may do by calling out,
Ei, perscrutamini frumenta, accerse hostias, ut ego sacrificem sacrissima Cereri

Go, search for the grains, fetch offerings, that I may sacrifice to Ceres most holy!
Child assistants (gemelli) should then bring forward the various offerings that are to be made to Ceres and the other deities. These are handed to the assistants who await them at the altar. The gemelli are then dismissed and return among the celebrants. The priest should then invoke the deities who will act as witnesses to the ceremony; his left hand raised to the Dii consentes, his right hand beaten on his chest as each name is invoked.

Invocation of the Di Deaeque
Jane, Juppiter, Mars, Quirinus, testem vos testor mihi huic caerimoniae. Illaec advosum si quid pecasso, Di maximi, veneror vos ut miserus ego esse.

Janus, Juppiter, Mars, Quirinus, I call on you to bear witness to this ceremony. And if I do anything to violate this, great Gods, I pray that I shall suffer misfortune.

- Plautus, Rudens 1338-39
Having called the gods to act as witness to the ceremony, the priest then makes offerings to each in turn. Appropriate incense in burned on the altar. Cakes are cut and piled in preparation for offering. Wine poured into a paterna for making libations.
Iano pater, te hac strueo ommovendo bonas preces precoruti sies volens propitius mihi

Father Janus, in offering you this heap of cakes, I pray with virtuous prayers, in order that you may be favorable and gracious to me.

- Cato, De Agricultura, 134
Iano pater, uti te strue ommovenda bonas preces bene precatus sum, eiusdem rei ergo macte vino inferio esto.

Father Janus, as in offering you the heap of cakes prayers were well spoken, for the sake of the same things, be honored by this humble wine.

- Cato, De Agricultura, 134
Similar prayers and offerings are then made to Juppiter, Mars, and Quirinus in turn.

Ordering the Sacrifice

The priest then turns to the chief celebrant and asks, “Do you order me to make this sacrifice to Ceres?” Upon an affirmative answer, the priest then says, “I demand of thee, (name or title), some tufts of grass.” The celebrant then replies, “Take those that are pure.” The priest then asks, “Do you constitute me as the representative of those who have gathered here, that on their behalf this sacrifice is made, sanctioning also my vessels and assistants?” To which the celebrant replies, “So far as may be without hurt to myself and those so gathered, I do.' A small portion is cut away from one of the piles of grain offerings. The priest touches the forehead of the celebrant with a pinch of the grain and then places it into the fire on the altar. The smoke is observed to see that the offerings are acceptable. (Livy, AUC 1.24)

Ceres must now be invited to enter the garden. By extending Herself to enter, She shall leave Her presence in the form of a numen within some object inside the garden. Generally a rock or stone, or a statue is used for this purpose, where the numen will reside.
Ceres alma precor venerorque veniamque ad horto peto ut tu venias; propitiique ad me meosque venias. Sic haec ita feceris ut sciamus intellegamusque, voveo vos libamenta facturum bene mereri de religione Cereri.

Nuturing Ceres, I pray, I entreat, I ask your indulgence, to this garden I ask that You come; come then to favor me and mine. If You make this to happen, that we know and are given a sign (of Your acceptance), I vow to You offerings of our first fruits and to well serve in Your devotion.

- Macrobius, Saturnalia 3.9.7-8
The Litany of Ceres

Offerings are now made to Ceres and Her varied numina. As the first line of the litany is said aloud, pour a libation of milk and honey to Ceres, and offer a portion of grain into the flames upon the altar.
The priest beats his chest as each numina is addressed, and another libation is made to Ceres with the last line of the litany:
Sanctissima Ceres cuia habitatio Trinarcia tua est et ubique, Mater Deorum, bonas preces precor,
laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo.
Vervactrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Reparatrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Imporcitrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Insitrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Obaratrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Occatrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Sarritrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Subruncinatrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Sterculinia laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Messatrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Convectrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Noduterensa laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Tutilinia laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Promitrix laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo;
Sic veneror te, Dea Optima, laetus lubens laudes ago et grates gratiasque habeo.
Next the priest is to sanctify the various offerings to be made as part of the sacrifice. This is performed according to the Libri pontifices, sprinkling the offerings with mola salsa or with salt as may be appropriate, blessing them with sanctified waters and murmuring the invocation of Ceres in which She is addressed in Her secret name. Each offering is then to be sliced into with a sacred knife. At this point the offerings have been sanctified and may not be touched. From among the loaves of bread to be offered, one is selected, sliced into cakes, and piled. These cakes are then drizzled with honey.
Each cake in turn is then lifted with the sacred knife and fed into the altar’s fire. Herbs and other offerings are done likewise. Libations of milk and honey are poured.

The priest then touches each of the other loaves of bread with his hand, thus profaning them. These are then taken by his assistants to be distributed among the celebrants and eaten.

Having consecrated the garden and performed the first sacrifice to Ceres within its confines, the priest then says:
Sanctissime Cerere hoc hortem a solo dedo; sic votum solvo laetus libens.

To the most holy Ceres I dedicate this garden from the earth; thus I fulfill my vow gladly and willingly.
Concluding the Ceremony

Finally juniper is bay are burned as an offering to Vesta and a libation of wine is made Her, as in the manner performed to the other deities above. The priest then concludes the ceremony by announcing to the celebrants:
Illicet. Vadete in pacem Cereri.

It is done. Go in the peace of Ceres.
Now that the garden has been dedicated to Ceres, its confines purified, rites may be performed in its district in Her honor. The herbs of the garden are held to be sacred. They may be harvested as medicinal herbs to heal others, or for similar purposes. The first fruits of each year should be offered to Ceres, and a portion of any herbs harvested there after should likewise be given to Ceres.



Di deaeque vos semper bene ament.

Ab mano M. Horatii
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