A Winter Solstice Ritual

Apollonius Sophistes
© 1996


This ritual compresses the Consualia (for Consus, God of the Storage Bin), the Saturnalia (for Saturn, God of Sowing), and the Opalia (for Ops, Goddess of Plenty) into a single festival, a Brumalia, or Winter Solstice (Bruma) ritual. The Saturnalia Chants are available on a separate page, which may be printed for use in the ritual.

The 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). (There is additional information available on the Saturnalia, Consualia and Opalia; see De Saturno & Jano Tractatus for background information on Saturn.)

This ritual is dedicated to the Gods and may be used for any nonprofit purpose, provided that its source is acknowledged.

I. Equipment & Supplies

  1. Saturnus Image/Simulacrum Saturni Saturnus should be an old, dignified but jovial man; his usual attribute is the sickle. For this ritual, the image needs to be standing and have legs that can be bound. A traditional Father Christmas or St. Nicholas may work well. Look for an image with nature symbols (e.g. plants) and symbols of bounty (e.g. a cornucopia or bag of presents). If possible, the image should have a reservoir inside capable of holding oil; if this is not possible, have a separate vessel that can be placed in front of or behind the Saturnus.
  2. Ops Image/Simulacrum Opis (optional) Ops is Saturnus' wife and sister, so they should look about the same age; She is an Earth Mother. A "Mrs. Claus" image may work, if you have used Father Christmas for Saturnus.
  3. Consus Image/Simulacrum Consi (optional) There is no traditional image for Consus, so far as I am aware, so use an image compatible with Saturnus and Ops. Attributes associated with grain are very appropriate.
  4. Candles/Cerei A number of small wax candles, of sufficient number that everyone can keep one.
  5. Corn Oil/Oleum Frumentarium Enough to fill reservoir in Saturn.
  6. Oil Lamp/Lucernus In which to burn corn oil. (A lamp of the sort Father Time, or the Tarot Hermit, is shown carrying, is especially appropriate.)
  7. Woolen Yarn/Filum Lanae (several feet) For binding Saturn's feet. It is best to have ten pieces (for the ten months to December), each long enough to tie a bow around Saturn's feet.
  8. Self-setting Clay, Play-Dough, etc. For making Sigillaria ("little figures").
  9. Ingredients for Decorated Cookies At least one cookie for every participant.
  10. Treasure Chest/Thesaurus Large enough to hold the grains and pennies. Optionally, large enough to hold cookies and treats to be produced "magically."
  11. Seed corn, Barley, Other Grains Try to use uncracked grains.
  12. Pennies (optional) Use shiny, new pennies.
  13. Cauldron of Local Soil Enough soil to hold all the candles, pushed into it.
  14. Ritual Robes For the formal sacrifice, Romans wore a toga. Worshippers provide their own ritual robes.
  15. Banqueting Robes (optional) For the banquet after the sacrifice, Romans changed into the Synthesis, a brightly-colored garment of light muslin, like a tunic on top, but loose like a toga on the bottom. Normally, worshippers provide their own banqueting robes.
  16. Caps/Pilei (optional) At the banquet it is customary to wear a red Pileus, a loose peaked cap of felt (e.g. the Phrygian cap, the "Liberty cap" or bonnet rouge of the French Revolution). Alternately, one may use store-bought or home-made party hats, or Santa hats! According to tradition, men wear the peak folded forward, while women wear it folded back over their necks. There should be enough Pilei for everyone.

II. Preparation

Saturnus Image

If this is the first time the Saturnus has been used, bind his feet with lengths of yarn and consecrate it; if the Saturnus has already been used, it will still be bound from the last Saturnalia. Tie simple bows, not too tight, so that they will be easy to loosen.


Make the cookies and decorate them with simple faces; they should look similar to the Sigillaria (see below). Make at least enough for all the participants. (A bean may be baked into one of the cookies as a means of selecting the Ruler of the Saturnalia.) Other small treats (e.g. candies, especially candy corn kernels and chocolate "gold coins") may also be provided. For the "magical transformation," wrap the cookies and treats in a cloth to make a flat package that can be placed on the bottom of the Treasury before the ritual.


Make flat, oval faces, of self-setting clay, play-dough or something similar; make at least one for every participant. Make a hole for hanging in each one, so that later, for the Dionysia, they can be hung on a pine tree.

III. Location

It is best if the Saturnalia can be conducted out of doors, where the participants can touch the Earth. If this is not possible, the Cauldron of Earth can be used.

IV. Timing

The text of the Sacrifice takes about 15 minutes; the actual ritual will be longer, depending on the number of worshippers. There are several options for the date on which to hold the Saturnalia:

According to Julian Date (Dec. 17)

In the Julian calendar, the Saturnalia took place on Dec. 17; it was preceded by the Consualia (Dec. 15) and followed by the Opalia (Dec. 19). The celebrations typically lasted for a week (Dec. 17-23), ending just before the (late imperial) festival for Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) on Dec. 25 (the Solstice in the pre-Julian calendar). Before the reforms of Julius Caesar, the Saturnalia and Opalia may have been on the same day (14 before the Kalends of Jan.).

According to Solstice (Dec. 21)

At one time Dec. 17, the Julian date of the Saturnalia, was the first day of Capricornus, marking the coldest season. Since the sun now enters Capricorn on Dec. 21, the Solstice, it would be appropriate to celebrate the Saturnalia on the Solstice; the seven days of celebration would then end Dec. 27.

According to Christmas Season (Dec. 25)

The week of Saturnalian celebrations fits nicely into the Christmas-New Year week, with the Saturnalia falling on Christmas day. A variant of this is: Consualia (Dec 21/solstice), Saturnalia (Dec 24/Xmas Eve - so gifts come after ritual), Opalia (Dec 26 or 27); Saturnalia celebrations (Dec 25- 31); Lesser Dionysia (Dec 31/New Year's Eve); then Roman New Year celebrations.

V. Ritual

A. Terminology and Notation

B. Preliminaries

C: When gathering, worshippers greet each other with "Bona Saturnalia!"

C: Before going to the temple, it is appropriate to visit the store room or pantry, open it and give thanks for the stores. (This corresponds to the Consualia before the Saturnalia.)

S: Erects the temple (casts the circle) in the usual way. For example:

We circle round creating sacred space,
invoking from the Heavens holy grace.
We call the Gods to guard our solemn rite,
and ward this hallowed ground with walls of light.
Let sky above and earth below unite,
a bond established by Olympic might.
Let fear and discord leave without a trace,
and peace prevail within this holy place.

Let word be deed by this decree.
As it is said, so must it be!
(Sit verbum factum hoc decreto.
Ut dictum est, sic statim fiat!)

C: During the procession, as each worshipper enters the temple, he or she takes a handful of grain and pennies.

C. Sacrificium (Sacrifice)

  1. Prologue
  2. Condens (Putting Away)
  3. Interlude
  4. Edens (Bringing Forth)
  5. Epilogue

1. Prologue

S: When everyone has formed a circle, S says:
Welcome to the Saturnalia!
The Circle of the Year is cut in fourths,
and in the ancient lands of Greece and Rome
the darkening time from autumn equinox
to winter solstice was the time to plow
and plant the ground, to store away the seeds.
When this was done the people rested through
the winter months, until the Sun returned.
Three ancient Gods are honored at this time:
Saturnus, Ops and Cônsus are Their names.
Now listen to the Myth of Saturn's reign:

Before the mighty Gods that rule the world
from high Olympus' snowy peak were born,
Saturnus was the king of all the Gods
and Ops, His sister, was His wife and queen.
But when the time had come to yield His throne
in favor of a younger God, His son,
then Father Saturn would not step aside.
A fight ensued between the old and new,
Till Jove had thrown Saturnus from the sky.
He tumbled down to Earth, and with His wife
He made a ship and sailed to this, our land.
He taught the people many useful arts,
to save the seeds and sow them in the ground,
so we need never have to search for food.
He showed us how to breed our animals
so we might always have their meat and fur,
so they would help to plow the fertile Earth.
Saturnus first taught folk to strike bright coins
from shining silver, glittering gold and bronze.
He showed how money might be put away,
and saved, and put to use another day.
In these and other ways Saturnus made
our lives much easier and free.
His happy reign was called the Golden Age,
when there was food enough for everyone,
and people shared the bounty that they had,
and no one ever stole or fought or lied.
But when the end had come to Saturn's reign,
He wisely chose to set aside His crown.
He sailed away beyond the Northern Wind,
to Hyperborea, where He now sleeps,
upon a hidden island at the Pole,
where He awaits another Golden Age.
But till that happy time is come again,
in this, the coldest season of the year,
we go in thought to Saturn's snowy realm
to wake from sleep the ancient kindly king,
and ask Him once again to walk with us,
and let us live for this short time with Him,
enjoying blessings of His Golden Age.
I wish you, "Bona Saturnalia!"

C: All reply:
Bona Saturnalia!

2. Condens (Putting Away)

S: Slowly fills Saturn Image with oil and explains:
When Saturn rules, all things are turned around,
and everything becomes its opposite.
Just once each year this Image is filled up;
it's empty while Saturnus lies asleep.
We feed Him with the oil that's pressed from corn,
the golden nectar from the nuggets born.
So also we in wisdom store away
our energy to use another day.

Drink deep, Saturne, of this golden oil!
Return our gift and bless our sacred soil!

S: After a pause, S places Thesausus forward and says:
Saturnus has an aid, the God of Storage Bins,
who guards the seed corn; Consus is His name,
which means to hide things, mostly underground.
We open up the secret storage chest
and place the seed corn safely into it.
From what we've reaped, we always save a bit,
uneaten, using it to seed new growth.
A portion of our hard-won money, too,
we put away to use another day.
And even some of our best thoughts are hid,
to later bring to light when they can grow.
All this and more is hidden in the Earth,
committed to the care of Mother Ops.
Remember all the bounty you have reaped;
Consider what it's wise to save inside.

Begin to circle sunwise now before
the altar; each time that you come to it,
deposit some, not all, of what you hold,
and place it in the sacred Treasury.
Keep circling till you've given everything
away, and while you circle, chant these words:

"Save the seed corn for the sowing;
Plant the seed to start it growing."

S: When everyone has been around at least three times, S says:
But now your weary work is almost done;
commit to Consus all the rest you hold.

3. Interlude

S: When everyone has empty hands, S closes the Thesaurus, and says:
You may stop chanting now; your seeds are safe!
In darkness they must lie until the time
when Sun returns to wake the seeds from sleep.
So also Saturn sleeps upon His bed,
awaiting to be waked and called to come,
to leave the Pole and bring His gifts to us,
abundant blessings of the coming light.

December was the tenth month of the year,
in ancient Roman times, the year's last month.
And as the baby hides within the womb
for nine full months, but sees the light of day
within the tenth, so also everything
will be reborn beneath December's Sun.

S: The Treasury may be moved back and replaced by the Cauldron of Earth.

4. Edens (Bringing Forth)

S: Pass Candles and Sigillaria to first worshipper on left, so they are passed around sunwise to all adults, including back to S. S explains:
Let each adult pass on the gifts, around
the sacred circle, moving like the Sun.
Since ancient times these gifts have been exchanged:
the waxen candles, calling forth the Sun,
the little figures, symbols of our souls.
These inexpensive gifts have been decreed
by Saturn, so that no one will feel poor.
S: If children are participating, S says:
Now give your little figure to a child,
to any child you like, but please make sure
that every child receives a little face;
the waxen candle must be kept by you.
C: The adults give their Sigillaria to children. If no children are present, the adults keep their Sigillaria.

S: Lights candle of first worshipper to his left, and bids him or her to pass the flame to the next so that it passes sunwise around the circle and back to S. S says:

Now as the Sun revolves around the Earth,
we pass the light around the circle thus,
and as each year the Sun returns to us,
the candle flame comes round to bring rebirth.

The lights remind us how Saturnus led
us from the murky night of ignorance,
and freed us from the dismal darkness of
starvation, to the light of wiser ways.

S: When his candle has been lit, completing circle, says:
Now come around and let the adults put
their candles in this cauldron filled with Earth.
And come around and let the children place
their little figures in the Treasury.
In dedicating symbols of our souls,
we dedicate ourselves to Saturn's work,
but give ourselves through children to the task.
C: The adults plant their candles in the cauldron of Earth; the children place their Sigillaria on the altar. S does same with his.

S: When this is done, S pours oil from Saturn into the oil lamp and lights it, while saying:

Saturnus brings the Sun's bright golden light
that wakens hidden seeds to come to life.
The seed is nourished in the fertile Earth,
by Saturn's wife, the Queen of Plenty, Ops.
S: When the lamp is lit, S says:
This time of year we loosen Saturn's bonds.
The ancient God awakens from His sleep,
and rules the Earth as in the Golden Age.

Now circle round again and say this chant:

"Bring the light to wake the seed;
Let the shoot from earth be freed."

Continue circling sunwise, faster now;
continue chanting; call the holy Sun!

S: As each woolen bond is untied from Saturn's feet, S prays:
Saturne, Ancient Father, hear our prayer!
As we untie Your woolen bonds this year,
so let the hidden seeds be brought to birth,
and let Your Golden Age return to Earth.
S: When energy has been raised sufficiently, calls out:
Now stop, and all call out three times with me!
Io Saturnalia!
Io Saturnalia!
Io Saturnalia!
S: Produces "by magic" the cookies and/or other treats. For example, S opens the Thesaurus and pulls up wrapped cookies through the deposited seeds, pennies and Sigillaria, opening it to reveal the goodies. While doing this S says:
Behold the gift of Saturn! See His work!
Behold how seed and money are transformed!
And see how carefully saved and hidden seeds
become the fruits that satisfy our needs.

Come forward now and taste the fragrant fruit,
the gift of Saturn and His sister Ops.
But share it with the people near to you,
for that's the law in Saturn's Golden Age.
Continue to enjoy till all is gone.
But don't neglect the Gods when all is well;
first touch the sacred Earth of Mother Ops,
and looking skyward where Saturnus dwells,
remember these two Gods and Consus too.

C: Each comes forward one at a time, touches the earth and looks skyward in prayer, then takes a cookie or other treat.

S: Says "Bona Saturnalia" to each celebrant as they come forward.

C: Should break off pieces and share with one another. Drink may also be offered and shared. Blessings may be exchanged, such as:

"May you always have enough, and some to share."
"May you never thirst!"
"Bona Saturnalia!"
S: When everyone has received, S touches Earth and offers formal thanks to Saturnus, Ops and Consus:
You gracious Gods: Saturnus, Consus, Ops,
accept our thanks and look on us with love.
And let us see that seed corn must be saved,
that we need light to bring our seeds to fruit.
As we have done this day, so every day!
C: Repeat:
As we have done this day, so every day!

5. Epilogue

S: Speaking more informally, says:
We very soon shall have our festive feast,
our little taste of Saturn's Golden Age.
Rejoice tonight for every rule's reversed!
Please dress in something comfortable
and wear a silly Saturnalia cap!
S: May produce paper caps for those that don't have their own Pilei. S continues:
Soon one of you will be the chosen one,
the Saturnalia Ruler, picked by Chance,
to be the Lord or Lady of Misrule!

Before you leave the temple, will you please
accept a candle, take it with you too;
this way you'll take a little of the light,
the blessings of the Saturnalia.
The children too should take with them a gift,
a little earthen image, if they want;
the rest will be donated to the Earth.

The rite is ended, now all join with me,
and raise the sacred cry of Saturnalia:

Io Saturnalia! Io Saturnalia! Io Saturnalia!

D. Convivium (Banquet)

All: Change into informal clothes for the Convivium. The traditional robe is the Synthesis and the hat is the Pileus.

S: Chooses the Saturnalia Ruler a bean baked into one of the cookies, by a specially marked candle or by some other means.

E. Closing the Temple

S: Closes the temple in the usual way. This may be done after the Convivium, if it is held in the temple, or before it, if it is held elsewhere.

F. End of Saturnalia

S: At the end of the Saturnalia season (traditionally, 7 days), thanks Saturnus for His gifts and rebinds the image, keeping it this way until the next Saturnalia.
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