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"The family as we know it today bears little of no relation to that ancient institution of which the Lares were the Keepers of the Gate....In those early days the title to the land was possession and use. Because it was to him the source of his life, because its cultivation gave him occupation, because upon the land he build his house and in the land he made his grave, therefore the land to ht archaic man was sacred; for not only was it the home of the living, it was also the place of the dead. And it was the dead ancestors in their graves who really possessed the land and, as the Lares, were the Keepers of the Gates.
"The belief of the ancient man in the ghosts of his fathers, with their unknown power to help and harm, was better than a title deed to secure each man in the possession of his land. Every man feared the Lares of every other man. The earth in those days was peopled with a host of spiritual beings — unseen, unheard, smiting with the pestilence, and killing with the plague. If any untoward accident befell a man, or sickness came to him after he had trespassed on his neighbor's land, then he, as well as his neighbor, ascribed his misfortune to the wrath of the Lares of that land. Thus each man had a wholesome fear of the ghosts of his neighbor. He was ready to fight his neighbor, whom he could see, but not his neighbor's ghosts, whom he could not see. In the good old days every house was haunted and every field bewitched, and it was the haunt and the bewitchment that was the safety of the house and the land. Domestic religion was the keeper of domestic wealth and life. It was the fear of the Lares that gave sacredness to property and made theft and trespass not only a crime but a sacrilege.
"This sacredness of property was religion in its origin. It existed for centuries before it gave rise to the civil laws that are now its security... Long before the reign of the law we had the reign of Lar. Each House-Father, absolute lord and master of his own house and land, was under the protection of his Lares; the fear of them and the dread of them was upon all the country-round about. If his lands were seized by a stronger man than he, his Lares were expelled from the land, the graves of his ancestors violated, and he and his household were either killed or reduced to slavery.
"This relation of the family to the land, and of the House-Father to the family, classified ancient society as master and slave, patron and client, patrician and plebeian... With the institution of the family, there came into existence a class of out-family men and women: runaway slaves, prodigal sons, remnants of broken families, -men and women without land, without Manes, without Lares, having no place at any family altar... Private property in land, the basic principle of the family, was the fruitful cause of poverty, with the wretchedness and degradation that always follow in its camp. That same poverty is today destroying the family and changing the face of civilization.
"Private property in land has, in the course of time, passed out of the keeping of the family Lares into the care of the civil law; what man had once to do for himself society now does for him. The Keepers of the Gates are no longer the Lares but the lawyers....
"The Lares of the archaic world, if they still haunt the earth and hover in the air, must look down in sad, bewildered wonderment upon the modern world, which to them must seem a mad world, wherein all sane principles have been driven out by crazy notions.
Here are millions upon millions of landless men with wives and children combining to secure the title of a few landlords to their land; these landlords doing nothing with or for the land but to take from it rents and profits. These two things, idle landlords and starving people, condemn the world as it is and call for a new race of Lares to visit the vengeance of the gods upon these profaners of the land."
"The hearth is the heart of the family life. To keep the fire alive on the hearth is the bounden duty of the family gods. We of the modern world have lost altogether those conception that made "hearth' and "altar" sacred words. Domestic religion sanctified domestic life. The Penates, who were the Spirits of Ancestors, were the Keepers of the Fire and of the Store....
"It was the domestication of fire that changed man from a savage, living upon roots and raw flesh, into a civilized being, feasting on roast beef and baked potatoes. It was the capture and taming of fire that made possible the home and the family. Because of this, the Penates, the Keepers of the Fire, are the best beloved of the family gods. With them the family was intimate as it gathered around the hearth when the day's work was over; they were present when the House-Father and House-Mother gave bread and meat to the children and the slaves, and after the dinner was over the Penates inspired the members of the household to speak words of love and wisdom one to another. The husband could have a secret from his wife, the wife from the husband, but to the Penates all secrets were open. The light of their fire penetrated to the marrow to the bones. All profanation of family life was an offense to the Penates, to be punished by the heat of fever and the cold of the chill.
"While the family slept, the Penates watched; all through the night the dull glow of their life was seen in the slow-burning brand lying in the ashes, that kept the fire alive on the hearth. If that fire died out, the Penates were disgraced, and the family shamed; for the life of the fire once gone was not easily restored. In these days of matches and electricity the smouldering brand has lost its usefulness and, therefore, its sacredness....Our modern impovements have improved these lovely gods out of existence.
"The Penates were not only Keepers of the Fire, they were also the Guardians of the Store. It was their duty to inspire the cook with skill to make delicate dishes for the family able, to watch the meat before the fire, to scare the rats from the cupboard. In the archaic world the gods were more useful than ornamental. The men and women of that world would laugh our gods to corn and think of them with pity, — gods shut up in churches, having nothing to do but to listen to the droning of prayers and the confessions of sins; gods who pass their dreary existence away from the warmth of the hearth, the smell of the cooking, the chatter of the maids and the stir of the family life!
A god upon a great white throne, with cherubim and seraphim bowing before him, may have power and dignity, but for comfort and good-fellowship one must go to the god who sits by the fire, inhales the odor of spice, and the flavor of the bread and the cake and the meat that are cooking in the kitchen. Such a god can understand the tribulations of the cook and the annoyances of the mistress; he knows by experience that fire burns and ginger is hot in the mouth. All other religion is cold and formal beside this initmate religion of the hearth."
Quoted from: Crapsey, Algernon Sidney. The Ways of the Gods. New York: The International Press, 1920. (Out of Print)
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