Blue_Diamond02F7.gif (991 bytes)THIS PAGE
Mock King
An Ancient Age
Roots of the Christmas Tree
Associated Festivals
Rural Dionysia

The Festival of the Sigillaria

gift giving tradition

The festival of the sigillaria, or terra-cotta seals was the last day of the Saturnalia. Romans used to give gifts like fruits and nuts, wax candles or lamps tied up with bits of holly signifying the return of light with passing of the winter equinox.  Children could expect to receive  small dolls made of dough or terra-cotta rings, seals and other tiny objects. This day  was also the best time for great feasts in your specially decorated house festooned with lots of greenery like holly.

Business Halted

Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this period, peace was to prevail dispensing of punishments suspended and courts closed; wars ceased.
Also the schools closed and many business and government offices closed.


A joyous recreation of an era of blessed peace, economic justice and social equality. War was banned; executions were suspended; slaves were liberated; and all persons were considered equal for the duration of holiday.

Joining in spiritual community to honor the Divine

Feasting -- sharing food with family and friends; on-going eating and drinking;  widespread intoxication

Class distinctions suspended; food for all; masters waiting on servants and slaves.

Fire -candles lit and given as gifts. New fires kindled to represent new Solar year

Gambling in public which was otherwise forbidden

Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn, Romans used holly not only for decoration but also as a lucky token. They would exchange sprigs and decorate gifts with it to mark undying friendship and good fortune in the year ahead. Holly, unlike most plants in winter, is at its best.  Greenery Homes would be decorated with wreaths and garlands of greenery

decorated with bits of gold or silver metal representing the sun and replicas of Bacchus. They might also place 12 candles on the tree to honour the sun god. Trees were not brought indoors (the Germans started that tradition), but decorated where they grew. Trees might also be decorated with baked goodies. The commonest shapes were fertility symbols, suns and moons and stars, baby shapes, and herd animal shapes

Singing going from house to house while singing naked
The Revels

Play -mock king the Lord of Misrule--would be crowned,
Masquerades particularly  cross-dressing, role reversals such as male-female and topsy-turvy, inversions of the social order like master-slave.

Debauchery A time of wine, women, song, and letting loose your sexual impulses.

Dancing & Music dancing in the New Solar Year in the streets. The crowds thronged the streets much like at today's great Carnavals.  It was good time for  gaming, gambling,  jokes, pranks, & partying


Dress: The whole population threw off the toga, which left you with only one free arm, and instead wore a loose gown, called a synthesis which was like a fancy tunic and much better for uninhibited days of frolic.  Another popular style of dress was the pilleus, a felt cap normally worn by the freed slave, it symbolized the freedom of the season.

Relaxing with Family and Friends renewing bonds, sharing celebration.

Gift Giving on the last day the Sigillaria

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
---Victor Hugo
One Saturnalia custom happily anticipated by the slaves was a feast given them at which they were served by their masters to commemorate that, under the reign Saturn, all men were equals. On the day of this feast, the master of the house would present the slaves with a small conical hat made of wool (later made of paper) for them to wear as a symbol of their freedom and equality.

Winter Solstice

Like a vagabond
the sun straggles to the south.
The geese follow. Winds
fill the empty spaces and fear rises
like a ghost from summer's ashes.

In woods I find again the ancient tokens:
the Ivy, the Holly, the Mistletoe.
The hollyberries are our blood,
the green is Her enduring flesh,
the white is what we cannot see.
Savoring the wine of summers past,
I wonder what will sustain us between lives..

~~ William J. Wilson,

The Carnaval Celebration that became Christmas & New Year'S Eve

The customary greeting for the occasion is "Io, Saturnalia!" — io (pronounced "yo") being a Latin interjection related to "ho" (as in "Ho, praise to Saturn"

Saturn: Italian drawn work,
from an embroidery pattern book of 1587

It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business....Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.
Seneca the younger--From the Epistolae  around 50 A.D

"whole mob has let itself go in pleasures." --- Seneca

quem tu scilicet ad tuum Catullum misti, continuo ut die periret, Saturnalibus, optimo dierum!

(..and this was the book
which you sent your Catullus to kill him off at once on the very day
of Saturnalia, best of days!
---Catullus XIV: on receiving a gift of bad poetry

"Rich or poor, whoever he is, he boasts that he shares the table of the emperor."
---Statius, writing of the Feast of Saturn (1st century AD).

During My week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.
---Lucian, Saturnalia

It was celebrated in ancient times by the rustic population as a sort of joyous harvest-home, and in every age was viewed by all classes of the community as a period of absolute relaxation and unrestrained merriment. During its continuance no public business could be trans­acted, the law courts were closed, the schools kept holiday, to commence a war was impious, to punish a malefactor involved pollution.

"For how many years shall this festival abide! Never shall age destroy so holy a day! While the hills of Latium remain and father Tiber, while thy Rome stands and the Capitol thou hast restored to the world, it shall continue"
Statius Silvae, I.6.98ff).

It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business....Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga."

Seneca the Younger around CE 50:
 This comic contains nudity, cartoon sex, and historical factoids which might be considered blasphemous to certain religions. If such things disturb you, you probably shouldn't read this. ...Shall we continue?  
"When Saturn rules, all things are turned around,
and everything becomes its opposite."

Saturnalia or Brumalia

A Winter Solstice Ritual
by Apollonius Sophistes whose primary sources for this ritual are Macrobius' Saturnalia (Bk. I, Chs. 7, 8, 10, 11) and Scullard's Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic (pp. 205-7).
© 1996

Associated holiday festivals

Phoebe (crescens) = soror Phoebi = Luna/Diana

  • Consualia, end of sowing season festival (December 15).
  • Dies Juvenalis, Coming of Age for Young Men (mid-December).
  • Feast of Sol Invicta, the Unconquered Sun, set in 274 A. D. (December 25).
  • Brumalia, Winter Solstice on pre-Julian calendar (December 25).
  • Christmas (December 25), Christians move Christ's birthday to this date in 336 A.D.
  • Janus Day and Beginning of Calendar Year (January 1), set in 153 B.C.; again in 45 B.C.
  • Compitalia, blessing of the fields rural festival (January 3-5).
  • One Saturnalia custom happily anticipated by the slaves was a feast given them at which they were served by their masters to commemorate that, under the reign Saturn, all men were equals. On the day of this feast, the master of the house would present the slaves with a small conical hat made of wool (later made of paper) for them to wear as a symbol of their freedom and equality.

     In Cicero's time, the Saturnalia lasted seven days, from December 17-23. Augustus attempted to limit the holiday to three days, so the civil courts would not have to be closed any longer than necessary, and Caligula extended it to five. Still, everyone seems to have continued to celebrate for a full week.

    Juventas, or Iuventas, is the Goddess of Youth, Roman mythology’s version of the goddess Hebe of Greek mythology. A celebration was held for all the youth who had come of age (14 years old) in the preceding year. Boys offered a coin to her when they wore a man's toga for the first time. The temple of Juventas on the Capitol was more ancient than that of Jupiter. She also had a second temple in the Circus Maximus.

    WheN was Jesus Born?
    The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth.  The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus.  This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.

    Jesus Christ, Sun of God

     Titan = Sol = Phoebus/Apollo
    Mock King
    Roman soldiers stationed on the Danube in the reign of Maximian and Diocletian [wiki]are recorded (by Franz Cumont [wiki]) to have chosen a young and handsome man to resemble Saturn from among them by lot thirty days before the festival. They dressed him in royal attire to resemble Saturn. He went about in public attended by a retinue of soldiers and indulged his passions no matter how base and shameful. At the end of thirty days, he then cut his own throat on the altar of the god he personated.
    In the year 303, the lot fell upon the Christian soldier Dasius but he refused to play the part of the heathen god and to soil his last days by debauchery. He refused to give in to the intimidation of his commanding officer Bassus and was accordingly beheaded by the soldier John at Durostorum on Friday 20 November 303 being the twenty-fourth day of the Moon at the fourth hour (Frazer [wiki]

    The pre-Christian Mock King rituals have been recognized later in the ceremony of Twelfth Night or the Epiphany. After Twelfth Night when the 3 kings arrive on January 6th, the Carnival season starts, which lasts through Mardi Gras. In some places such as New Orleans, Louisiana, the night of January 6 with the first Carnival celebrations is called Twelfth Night. In some places, Twelfth Night celebrations include food traditions such as the king cake or tortell.

    Twelfth Night is when all Christmas Decorations should be removed so as not to bring bad luck upon the home. If decorations are not removed on Twelfth Night, they should stay up all year!

    In pagan Rome, the celebration of the Winter Solstice began on December 17 with the feast of Saturn -- also called the Saturnalia. Through December 23rd, the Roman world engaged in merrymaking and the exchanging of gifts in honor of father sun and mother earth./font>

    The Saturnalia festival has an astronomical character, referring to the completion of the sun’s yearly course, and the commencement of a new cycle. Saturn, from whom we get the word for the day of the week, Saturday, represented by the sun at its lowest aspect at the winter solstice. The earth is cold, most plants are dead, and it was believed that the sun might also be approaching death. Today winter solstice is around December 21, but because of calendar changes, it was originally December 25th. Saturnalia celebrated the sun overcoming the power of winter, with hope of spring when life would be renewed. In Roman times, href="../bacchus">Bacchus, the god of wine, became the lord of these festivals.

    Deities honored around Winter Solstice time 
  • Saturn - equivalent to Greek Kronos the son of Uranus (Heaven or Sky-Father) and Gaea (Ops)Earth-Mother) and the youngest of the Twelve Titans , God of Agriculture; .
  • Ops - Mother Earth, Goddess of Plenty;  partner to Saturn and Consus. In the syncretic Roman polytheistic view, associated with their other great mother dieties, Cybele and Juno. The followers of Opis paid their vows sitting and touching the earth of whom she was goddess
  • Sol Invicta - Sun God; Feast of Sol Invicta, the Unconquered Sun, set in 274 A. D. (December 25) The dominate cult among Rome's elite during the rise of Christianity. A sophisticated use of archetypal symbols and rites of initiation to effect high moral standards; “temperance, self-control, and compassion -- even in victory”. A early model of Masonry which also has roots in the Egyptian temple system
  • Consus - God of Storebin of Harvested Grain. Consualia, end of sowing season festival (December 15).
  • Juventas - Dies JuvenalisGoddess of Young Manhood; related to Greek Hebe of Youthful Beauty. Coming of Age for Young Men (mid-December
  • Janus - God of Beginnings and Gates; Solar God of Daybreak; Creator God. Janus Day and Beginning of Calendar Year (January 1), set in 153 B.C.; again in 45 B.C.
  • Bacchus (Dionysus) Brumalia, Winter Solstice on pre-Julian calendar (December 25) originally the Greek winter holiday associated with Dionysus and wine. By the time of the winter Brumalia, the wine was ready to be poured into jars for drinking.
  • Christ Christmas (December 25), Christians move Christ's birthday to this date in 336 A.D.
  • Saturnalia festivities began with ritual and sacrifices in the Temple of Saturn. The statue of the god was hollow and refilled with fresh olive oil, as a symbol of his agricultural functions. The woolen bonds which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue within were loosened on that day to symbolize the liberation of the god. There was a public banquet, which Livy says was introduced in 217 BC (there also may have been a lectisternium, a banquet for the god in which its image is placed in attendance, as if a guest. After the rituals, the celebrants shouted the cry of "Io, Saturnalia!", a sign for the happy festivities of the season to begin.


    Saturnalia Myth
    In the Greek myths, Kronos (Saturn) was the Roman Deity of Time and an ancient Italian Corn God known as the Sower. Male ruler of the Roman Gods prior to Jupiter, Saturn's weapon was a scythe or sickle.  Kronos was one of the twelve titans. Upon the advice of Gaea (who understood the changes of life and knew that Uranus would never, of his own accord, yield to the younger generation), Saturn castrated his father and thus separated Heaven from Earth. Gaea created out of flint...a mineral of her own substance...a sickle with which to complete the deed. It was the tool by which life was cut down at the time of harvest and was crescent-shaped like the moon, symbolic of cyclic rise and fall. It was believed that the spilled blood of Uranus formed such creatures as the Giants and the Furies, and that his genitals (which were tossed into the sea eventually produced the beautiful Venus/Aphrodite).

    With his sister-wife, Rhea  (Ops) Kronos (Saturn) is said to have sired six of the twelve gods and goddesses of Olympus. However, Kronos was jealous of his children, and, fearing that they would seek to overthrow him as he had done to his father, swallowed his first five children. Rhea tricked Kronos by substituting a stone for the baby Zeus (Jupiter) and secreted the infant off to Crete. When he reached adulthood, Zeus forced Kronos to regurgitate his siblings. United, the siblings waged war and defeated their father and imprisoned him and the other Titans in the underworld.

    Recalling An Ancient Age
    According to some folktales, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto were representative of Air, Water and Death...the three things that time itself cannot kill...and the overthrow of Saturn symbolized the demise of the old culture which worshiped this ancient God. According to Roman mythology, after Saturn was dethroned by his son Jupiter (Zeus),
    he hid himself (latuit) in the countryside, called Latium in his honour. At the invitation of the god Janus, he reigned, together with his wife, Ops, over Rome's golden ages, bringing prosperity, abundance, and civilization. The Romans nostalgized that legendary state as the Golden Age of Latium. Many of the rites of the Saturnalia were intended to restore that long lost utopia--if only for a short time each year.

    Time cuts down all Things
    Since ancient history, time has been identified with Saturn.  The sickle (and later, the scythe) became representative of the cruel and unrelenting flow of time which, in the end, cuts down all things.

    Roots of the Christmas Tree
    Rome borrowed most of its mythology from its conquered people, primarily the Greeks. However the Saturnalia has strong roots in the central Egyptian mythological story.

    The Sun-god Osiris and his consort, Isis, together with Re-Atum, the "Father of the Gods," were regarded by the ancient Egyptians as the supreme rulers of a Golden Age of plenty called Zep Tepi or the "First Time." Their kingdom ended abruptly when Osiris was murdered by his evil brother, Seth. The childless Isis searched for the dismembered body of Osiris, which she then reassembled and resuscitated long enough to conceive a son named Horus. Horus was believed to be the reincarnation of Osiris, and the new husband of Isis, whose destiny it was to repossess the Kingdom of Osiris from the control of Seth.  

    The tradition of the Christmas tree symbolically portrayed the death and reincarnation of Osiris in his son, Horus:
    The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt it was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm-tree denoting the Pagan Messiah, as Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith. The mother of Adonis, the Sun-God and great mediatorial divinity, was mystically said to have been changed into a tree, and when in that state to have brought forth her divine son. If the mother was a tree, the son must have been recognized as ‘Man the Branch.’ And this entirely accounts for putting the Yule Log into the fire on Christmas Eve and the appearance of the Christmas tree the next morning. As Zero-Ashta, ‘The seed of the woman,’ ...he has to enter the fire on ‘Mother night,’ that he may be born the next day out of it, as the ‘Branch of God,’ or the Tree that brings divine gifts to men.

    Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship, Loizeaux Brothers, 1916,

    Among Christians the (lower case) word "saturnalia" came to mean orgy
    Orgy = Orgia = Secret Worship

     "The word "orgy" comes from the Greek word "orgia" meaning "secret worship". Since most secret worship involved sexual rituals, and Christians were opposed to anything sexual the word orgy came to have the debased meaning it has today, rather than the noble, spiritual meaning of the original word.
    Many words that are used to describe extreme religious fervor are also used to describe great sex, such as passion, bliss, and ecstasy. There were many orgies throughout the year as celebrations in the religion of the Goddess. Many of these celebrations have been taken over by the Christians who removed their sexual nature. The best known is undoubtedly Christmas taken from the pagan festival of Saturnalia......
    "In Roman times, Bacchus, the god of wine, became the lord of these festivals. During the Bacchanalian festivals the everyday rules were turned topsy-turvy. The masters waited on the servants. All sexual prohibitions were lifted. It was a time of true good will towards all men. Even dresses were exchanged with men dressing as women. Erotic dances were performed with a large erect phallus being carried around in the dancing processionals.

    Mary Ellen Tracy, aka Sabrina Aset, High Priestess
    of the Egyptian Church of the Most High Goddess

    Mithraism & December 25th: natalis solis invicti
    (birthday of the invincible sun)
    Before the 4th century, December 25th was best known as the birthday of the Persian hero and sun-god, Mithra. The myth tells that he sprang up full-


    Babylon's Nimrod

    Mithraism arose in the Mediterranean world at the same time as Christianity, either imported from Iran, as Franz Cumont believed, or as a new religion which borrowed the name Mithras from the Persians, as the Congress of Mithraic Studies suggested in 1971.

    “Since earliest history, the Sun has been celebrated with rituals by many cultures when it began it's journey into dominance after it's apparent weakness during winter. The origin of these rites, Mithrasists believe, is this proclamation at the dawn of human history by Mithras commanding His followers to observe such rites on that day to celebrate the birth of Mithras, the Invincible Sun.”
    The Online Mithraic Faith Newsletter [no longer available]

    grown from a rock, armed with a knife and carrying a torch. Shepherds watched his miraculous appearance and hurried to greet him with the first fruits of their flocks and their harvests. The cult of Mithra spread all over the Roman empire. In 274 AD, the Roman emperor Valerian declared December 25th the Birthday of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun.

    Mithras, the sun-god, was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, the winter solstice and worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun.  He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of righteousness against the dark forces of the god evil.

    "The great god, cut off in the midst of his power and glory, was symbolised as a huge tree, stripped of all his branches, and cut down almost to the ground. But the great Serpent, the symbol of the life restoring Aesculapius, twists itself around the dead stock...and lo, at its side sprouts a young tree - a tree of an entirely different kind, that is never to be cut down by a hostile power -...and thus shadowed forth the perpetuity and everlasting nature of his power, how that after having fallen before his enemies, he has risen triumphant over them all. Therefore, the 25th of December, the day that was observed in Rome as the day when the victorious god reappeared on earth was held at the Natalis invicti solis, '
    The birthday of the unconquered Sun."
    ---Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship, Loizeaux Brothers, 1916
    Greek Counterpart: Lesser or Rural Dionysia
    Tunisia Mosaic showing Dionysus carrying what could fairly be called a Christmas Tree. The present day north African country of Tunisia was the home to the great pre-Christian City of Carthage. The long story of Dionysus includes his conquering travels to Africa and India and likely refers to the first conqueror of the world, Alexander the Great from Macedonia
    More Tunisia mosaics

    During the last half of December a festival known as the Rural Dionysia was held. Everyone including slaves would be expected to participate.

    According to Plutarch, there would be a procession comprised of the carriers of a jar of wine and a vine, someone leading a he-goat, next the Basket-bearer [Kanęphoros] carrying a basket of raisins, then the carriers of an erect, wooden phallus-pole, decorated with ivy and fillets, and finally the singer of the Phallic Song [Phallikon]. The god was carried into the city to represent Dionysus coming into the city. This was a distinctly fertility oriented ritual, with genitalia shaped cakes and orgiastic revels. but at a time determined by each village.
    More about
    Rural Dionysia


    December 3 Festival of Bona Dea. Women only.

    Brumalia, Winter Solstice

    Four thousand years ago or so, ancient Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of year. They set the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month. Sun-worshipping Egyptians had the idea.

    Sacaea was the Persian version. The annual renewal festival of the Babylonians was adopted by the Persians. One of the themes of these festivals was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and slaves exchanged places. A mock king was crowned. Masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed.

    In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine designated December 25, the birthday of the Roman Sun-God Mithra, as the birthday of Jesus Christ, thereby placing the true Savior among the pantheon of Roman gods.  Constantine succeed in drawing Christians into the pagan celebrations of Rome, which procured the religious unity needed for the success of the Holy Roman Empire.
    Some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators. They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.” As part of the Saturnalia carnival throughout the 18th and 19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles. When the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in 1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation"
    ---David I. Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, p. 74.


    The second greatest holiday in Brazil is Revillion or New Year's Eve

    The annual Christmas Office Party and New Year's Eve as well as a number of Carnavals around the world still keep this more exuberant original Saturnalia spirit alive. The Kukeri of the Balkans and as far away as Ireland can come out en masse on New Year's Eve. In the Caribbean, the Bahamas JooKooNu

    Macrobius: The Saturnalia in Latin text

    by Barbara Aho

    "Allegory of Winter" (Saggitarius/Capricorn Symbolism) by D. Rahoult

    Main Page: