During these recent months, in writing my posts in this blog, I've started in using the term "Traditional Roman spirituality" instead of "Traditional Roman Religion". This choice has been caused by the fact that in my opinion the word "Religion", in its modern sense, is unlikely to be effectively capable to describe the more authentic and deeper meaning of the Roman Via to the Divine (as system expressing the synthesis of the whole Ancient Spiritual Tradition).
When considering the Traditional Heritage, one can say that this system shows different extents and levels on the base of the personal disposition of who is approaching to it.
One may be thus legitimately satisfied in considering Gods and Goddesses through their "functions", demanding support and favours. In this perspective, Mars becomes "the God of War", Venus the "Goddess of Beauty", Minerva "the Goddess of Wisdom", etc. In this expression, this system is likely to work as a real Religion where Gods and Goddesses punish evil people, provide gifts and so on. There's nothing bad in this: but this is Religion.
When we look at the works by the Emperor Julian or Proclus, Iamblichus or Plotinus within this perspective, often we cannot understand what they are discussing about. All this appears as a chaotic, irrational, absurd, annoying, out-of-date theoretical philosophical work. So this is the question one should make: what are these Magistri talking about?
If we overcome a popular and profane religious dimension, trying to "understand", it is possible to realize that Gods and Goddesses, and all the Forces expressing the Divine, are terms of a complex vocabulary describing a form of "Knowledge" or a description of the World, Nature and Universe (at micro and macro levels). This is what I refered to when for example I have recently discussed about Mercury or Apollo: they express extremely complex concepts about the (micro and macro) Universe.
In a very broad sense, we are dealing with an approach moving side by side to the scientific one. Modern Science is a "tool" useful to understand, widening rational knowledge which, through its theories and laws, provides us with a phenomenal description of the Reality and the Universe. But science is not an absolute interpretation key: it shows different perspectives and approaches. Moreover science is not the sole interpretative key. Just consider geometry. The common adopted geometry is the Euclidean Geometry which is one of the possible geometries. Non Euclidean geometries provide completely different scientific results, which are however considered absolutely valid. This is to say that, by changing basic principles and axioms, science may achieve completely different descriptions of the Nature and the World. It is important to remind also that science consider only the dimension of physical phenomena: science provides a description about how Nature works, but it says nothing about what Nature really is.
This perspective shift requires a different form of Knowledge capable to make the World visible through completely different eyes. It's like wearing some glasses to correct a severe myopia. The reality around us is always the same: I can observe it within a scientific, technical or technological point of view, but I can focus it also within a different visual perspective.
Vesta, Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Mercury, through their "qualities", may "talk to me" about something extremely complex: they are interpretative keys, forms of understanding and knowledge, possible interpretation of the Universe.
Knowledge provided by the Roman Via is not however based on logical demonstrations (in this sense it is often considered as a "non-Knowledge"), but rather on transcendent experiences. Sometimes these experiences may drive to conclusions similar to the scientific ones because there's no conflict and opposition between them, but rather integration. Consider for example Pitagoras or Hypatia who integrated these visions about the Everything.
It is important to evidence this idea of "experience" because the Traditional Roman Spirituality, being a "practice", provides a Knowledge resulting from a direct and personal experience. Within this dimension there is no space for faith, belief or opinions, in a profane sense. Similarly it is not possible to use rationality or rational thinking in this Via to the Knowledge. This is a totally different level and stage. There are no prayers, no profane meditations, no expressions of passionate, emotional and sentimental devotion. The dimension of Religion has been definitively overcome.
This is a form of Knowledge essentially linked to Contemplation or a direct connection to the Divine. Contemplating means building in his/her own inner being (by the otium or the absence of any action and thought), the Temple as Sacred Sapce for the identification with the Divine. In this way, it is possible to understand the idea of Plotinus according to whom "we must imitate Gods and Goddesses": knowing is being, becoming an unique entity with no differences. We cannot achieve a God if we are unable to become that God.
A Cultor and a Cultrix are "those capable to see" with a direct experience of the Divine, without dogmas, theories, philosophies, doctrines: with a no (conventional) knowledge (unknowing).
Nonetheless, all this requires continuing committment and efforts: a great discipline is needed as form of learning. If we want "to know" (in this new meaning) we must change ourselves. This Change is the central core of the Roman Via to the Spiritual Growth: this explains why this is a "practice" as ethical system (involving everyday behaviors in every moment of the life) giving a deep print to the personal existence.
The Traditional Roman Spirituality is thus an experience which has to be lived even before a series of norms, rules and ceremonies. If so, one could manage it with a deep study: in this way one might acquire perhaps only "erudition" however unable to provide any support in really understanding the Roman Spirituality. This inner change produces a "translation", a transfer of meanings, ideas, concepts. Archaeology, literature, philosophy, history or philology are not at issue because the level has completely changed and one might miss the point: this is a "living level".
If not undertaken, the lack of inner change will constraint us at the erudition sphere will facing also the risk to be blocked in a folkloristic (often ridiculous) stage. Rites have a value (with an instrumental role) when they can help us in providing us with a real knowledge, when they help us in change us, because they are part of a Method. And when rites are connected to their original value, it is possible to understand their sense and role: from the dancing of the Arvales to the rite of lighiting the fire of Vesta with the Sun rays.
Personally, I am just starting to understand just few very small pieces about all this: I'm moving in the darkness catching just a glimpse of it. I cannot grasp a lot yet. Even in this case the images of Mercury and Apollo come to my mind...
This is a Via, a path, a long walking whose final destination is not surely the most relevant aspect of the issue...