Monday, April 21, 2014

Beans & The Dead.

A recent discussion with the Thiasos of the Starry Bull briefly involved prohibitions regarding beans by certain cults (some Orphic sects, and more importantly, the Pythagoreans). I seemed to recall that the bean was discussed by Jake Stratton-Kent in the Geosophia, but couldn't find the relevant section.

EDIT: I found the relevant section. Geosophia, volume 2, p. 204:
 “Ovid tells us in his Fasti that at midnight the head of the family rose and made a sign with the thumb inside closed fingers (the Sign of the Fig) to be free of fear of meeting a ghost and after washing his hands in spring water he took nine black beans and either threw them over his shoulder or more likely held them in his mouth and spat them out, being careful not to look behind him,  as is usual with many chthonic rituals. After this he spoke the incantation nine times: haec ego emitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis (with these beans I redeem me and mine). Washing his hands again he and probably others of the holsehold beat metal pots together like cymbals, walking through the house saying nine times: Manes exite paterni! (Family ghosts, depart!)

The same type of beans were also cast onto graves of the deceased or burned as an incense of exoricsm, the smell being disagreeable to the spirits; incantations were muttered and drums and metal pots beaten.”

Over the weekend, however, I recalled that Pliny the Elder had discussed the bean (albeit in brief) in The Natural History (Book XVIII, chapter 30):
“In our ancient ceremonials, too, bean pottage occupies its place in the religious services of the gods. Beans are mostly eaten together with other food, but it is generally thought that they dull the senses, and cause sleepless nights attended with dreams. Hence it is that the bean has been condemned by Pythagoras; though, according to some, the reason for this denunciation was the belief which he entertained that the souls of the dead are enclosed in the bean: it is for this reason, too, that beans are used in the funereal banquets of the Parentalia. According to Varro, it is for a similar cause that the Flamen abstains from eating beans: in addition to which, on the blossom of the bean, there are certain letters of ill omen to be found.”
 Simoons, in Plants of Life, Plants of Death has this to say of the bean:
“The association of beans and other legumes with death and the dead has survived in modern times in Europe. A prime example of this is their use as funeral foods in various places. In the past in certain parts of Berry as well as in the neighboring Marche in central France, for example, people always included a dish of beans or dried peas among the items served at a funeral dinner. In the Marches of central Italy, a family coming back from the burial joined in eating a large plate of kidney beans. Beans were also a major element of funeral dishes in Sardinia. In parts of the Friuli in northeastern Italy, it was customary for people to eat bean soup on the day the dead are commemorated. Elsewhere a special bread or cake that includes rye and vetch (likely Vicia sativa, a relative of the fava beans) has been served to persons who come to pray for the dead person. After a funeral in the Fimini region of northern Italy, the mourners returned to the home of the deceased for a funerary dinner which consisted of chick-pea soup. The serving provided for the deceased was later consumed by a member of the family. As for eastern Europe, I have uncovered a fragmentary report of beans having had ties with the dead among the Slavic people, too. I refer to an account of the former Polish-Russian province of Pintschov, where beans and honey were considered foods of the dead, and at memorial dinners, food consisted of beans and peas boiled in honey-water.

Beans and other legumes have also been used in Europe on All Souls' Day...” (P. 251 – 252.)
He goes on at length, eventually discussing funerary honey-cakes and the like. I have a few other sources to dig up, which if found, will require a second entry. But that's no bother. I'll add more later if/when I come across it.

Jack.

2 comments:

aediculaantinoi said...

I always thought part of it was also rather practical and perhaps obvious: you eat beans, you fart, and the gods don't like the icky smells, they much prefer incense and the like to "the incense of the buttocks," so to speak.

Jack Faust said...

PSVL: And there's always that, too.