The Everyday Lore Project

9 May 2020 – Lemuralia

9 May 2020 – Lemuralia

Today is another two-parter as the action takes place at midnight again. It’s Lemuralia, or Lemuria, an ancient Roman festival that takes place over three consecutive odd days (9, 11, 13) in May, and has echoes with Samhain and Halloween. 

So it’s said there are ne’er do well spirits floating around tonight that need ousting. These ghosts might include deceased ancestors who’ve got the hump. And if you’ve been a little assassination happy, slain enemies waiting to get their own back. Anyhow, the bottom line is tonight you may have attention seeking ghosts roaming around your home wishing you ill. And if the thought of that gives you the heebie jeebies, there is a ritual you can perform that will appease them. At midnight. With beans. Spitting optional.

Ovid recorded the original instructions, but as with all rituals, there are variations. However, the main thrust seems to be you must:

  • perform the ceremony barefoot
  • put your thumbs between your first and second fingers
  • wash your hands
  • wander round your house throwing, or spitting, black beans for the spirits to pick up
  • recite ‘with these beans I cast, I redeem me and mine’ nine times (Latin version available)
  • wash your hands again
  • clash some copper together
  • shout ‘ancestral spirit, depart’ another nine times
  • look back
  • go to bed

Now, I have some concerns, like how do I wash my hands if they are in the mano fica configuration (a gesture made to ward off evil spirits)? And, how am I supposed to recite anything with a mouth full of beans? Also, the black turtle beans I found in my cupboard have a Best Before date of Jan 2012, even with washing, should I be putting them in my mouth? 

So I’m going to spend the rest of the evening at a virtual pub quiz on Zoom pondering all of the above and preparing how I’m going to perform this ritual. Not that I think any spirit is particularly gunning for me, but you can never be too careful with family, ancestral or otherwise.

Luckily I’m ineligible to go down the Vestal Virgin ritual route which involves preparing animal sacrifices. Although I can see the attraction of lobbing thirty effigies of old men into a river on May 13…


Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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