How to celebrate the Armilustrium

Armilustrium 2021 at l’Appartement du Sôgmô in Ann Arbour, Quercus Candida

Celebrating the Armilustrium is pretty easy and all it takes is a few ingredients! Ok, the ingredients are sometimes a little daunting, but all it really takes is a dinner and a ritual. That’s it!

The Armilustrium, if you don’t know, is the most important cultural holiday in Sandus. We have been celebrating it now for almost a decade and, in that time, how we celebrate had grown and developed but some things have never changed. Since the beginning, it has always involved an intentional dinner and a ritual, as simple or elaborate as you wish. But what exactly is the Armilustrium?

Originally and historically, the Armilustrium is an archaic and lesser-known Roman holiday held on 19 October according to extant Roman fasti, or calendars. Its name comes from arma (“arms,” or weapons) and lustrum, a ritual cleansing. Historians have surmised that the holiday has to do with the seasonality of warfare and the returning of troops, hence the name. It is on this day that Roman citizen-soldiers, returning from summertime conflict, would stop in an area on the Aventine hill and would cleanse and purify their weapons before returning home.

That, at least, is the Roman version of this holiday. But the Sandum Armilustrium is much different. As a pacifist country, we do not wash weapons but the metaphorical weapons that we use in our country: typically books and other sturdy materials that are philosophically meaningful to us. This is also a time to do some “fall cleaning,” as opposed to spring cleaning. After the ritual, too, we enjoy a nice dinner where everyone has contributed something and there may be additional entertainment. The Sôgmô, for example, has begun a tradition of commemorating the “October Horse,” another opaque Roman ritual, with racing-themed games like Mille Bornes or Mario Kart. The winner even wins a horse head mask!

How your Armilustrium looks is entirely up to you. You can celebrate alone, of course, but where’s the fun in that? Nevertheless, we are here to give a few suggestions and ideas if this is your first time celebrating or if you want to get more ideas about how to celebrate.

  1. Planning your evening
    1. Elaborate evening with a schedule
    2. Simple ritual and dinner
  2. Menu-making for your dinner
  3. Planning your ritual
    1. Ritual fit for a Sôgmô
      1. Ritus armis lustrandis Sôgmônis
    2. Crafting a (simpler) ritual
  4. Picking out an outfit
  5. Music for the Armilustrium
  6. A few easy décor ideas
  7. Making the Armilustrium your own

Planning your evening

Before you even begin to get ready, give a moment to think about what kind of holiday you want to celebrate. Do you want to go all out, or are you feeling something more casual? Unless you’re the Sôgmô, it probably does not matter how formal or rigid you make the holiday, you just want to make it something fun!

Elaborate evening with a schedule

Your evening can look as elaborate or as casual as you want. An elaborate evening may look something like this schedule below, taking anywhere between 3 and 5 hours.

  1. 17:00: Greeting Hour: appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, apéritifs
  2. 17:30: Crafting of Intentions
  3. 18:00: Ritual, featuring various blessings, prayers, and the important arms-washing lustrum
  4. 19:00: Epulum Dinner, served potluck-style or in courses
  5. 20:00: Entertainment, such as games, music, or drama
  6. 21:00: Desserts and/or digestifs
  7. 21:30: Nightcap and send-off of guests
  8. 22:00: Cleaning!
Schedule for the 2019 Armilustrium

This is typically the schedule of a royal Armilustrium party, so there is a lot going on here with a dinner, ritual, and entertainment.

Here, there are four different “courses,” at the very least, though the epulum dinner (epulum means a ritual feast to which gods are invited) can also be multiple courses like any other dinner: soup, salad, main course, a cheese course, dessert, and a nightcap and/or tea and coffee course. The ritual, too, also can be very elaborate. The Sôgmô’s ritual includes all of the following: prefatory prayers, invocations of certain gods, a blessing for the altar, a speech, a blessing for the Armilustrium meal, readings from everyone’s texts, the ritual offering of food to Athena and the other invoked gods, the formal lustrum (the most important part of the ritual!), culminating prayers of atonement, and then a final conclusion. Very elaborate! There’s also at least some entertainment, such as with a planned bout of games or a drama that can be aired on a TV. There can also be ambient music playing, too, in the background throughout the evening.

Could there be more to do? Certainly! But if this is elaborate enough for the Sôgmô, it’s probably elaborate enough for anyone.

Simple ritual and dinner

Say you don’t want to organise five hours of things to do. That’s reasonable! It’s a holiday, afterall. All you really need to have a good enjoyable Armilustrium is a dinner and a lustrum, the purificatory ritual of washing books. The dinner can be a simple potluck with you and a few friends, while the ritual can just be the washing of what book or books you want to wash. That is it! The rest can be an open ended evening with friends and family.

The polluctum dish on the Armilustrium altar in October 2021, with Sandum Three Sisters Soup, bread, roasted cabbage, and cottage pie.

After you decide what kind of evening you want to have to celebrate, the next step is to think about the all-important question: what will you eat. If you want to go with a potluck-type dinner, you can ask guests to bring sides while you worry about the mains. You can prepare your autumn favourites that include ingredients that are in season and local. For example, in the Sôgmô’s household, it’s tradition to make Sandum Three Sisters Soup (recipe found in Heart & Hearth), which is a descendant of indigenous Three Sisters Soup. But if you don’t live in the woodlands of North America, it may be odd to cook an indigenous North American dish, so it may be just as good to cook something that reflects your geographic location and cultural traditions. In addition to Sandum Three Sisters Soup, the Sôgmô often prepares a cottage pie or two (one with meat and another vegetarian), though you may also decide to cook a roast of some sort.

Menu for the 2019 Armilustrium

After figuring out the mains, you can think about sides and desserts. Perhaps guests can contribute vegetables, bread and butter, and maybe even a dessert. There are no particularities here, though you can always lean heavily into a fall theme. In the Sôgmô’s household, autumn-themed escalivada or roasted vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, onions, and eggplant are often served, as well as pies for dessert. Mixed berry pie is the Sandum national dessert, but this is a time for fall-themed treats. If you live in North America, pumpkin spice may be driving you crazy right about now, so maybe a unique dessert with apples or pears like wine-poached pears or tarte tatin or even a spiced flan might be just the conclusion you need to your meal.

If you are planning on having a longer form ritual, too, you may want to lead with appetizers before you get started to whet everyone’s appetite. Your beginning pickings can be a variety of things, such as bread with butter and cheese, olives, nuts, dolmades, or a variety of pickles. Or perhaps this is the time to serve some roasted vegetables, but the ideal here is to have something small such as finger foods to hold everyone over until the ritual is over and the dinner is blessed (if you are doing that).

Finally, you may want to think about pairing drinks with your dinner. If you are making Three Sisters Soup, a bold white or a sombre red might do the trick, though you could also bring in a fruity cider. Any fall-themed beer or spirit would do, too. If you don’t drink (or are too young), you can still think about making non-alcoholic mocktails or selecting particular soft drinks and/or juices to go with your meal. There are a plethora of different online resources to help you pair drinks with your menu! Just Google your main dish and “pairs with…” or “pairings for…”

But most importantly: have fun! We always love this bit of creativity, and the meal changes year after year. You may even want to make a fun little menu for the evening and pass it around to your guests, if you want to make the holiday all the more important.

Planning your ritual

Much of this information has been covered above, but to recap: your ritual can be as elaborate and meaningful as you want to make it, or you can just wash some books and be done with it. But any Armilustrium celebration needs a lustrum (that is, the ritual washing of books as arma) at the very least.

Ritual fit for a Sôgmô

The Sôgmô presiding over the 2018 Armilustrium rite

As mentioned above, the Sôgmô’s ritual is perhaps the most elaborate, since they are the Flamen Minervalis, the leader of the Collegium Sacerdotum and in particular of the Sandum cult of Athena, our matron goddess and national symbol. Since the Armilustrium is one of the three “grand holidays” of the Cult of Athena, the Armilustrium devotes special attention to Athena as the protectress and goddess of our micronation, but there are also a handful of other gods that are invoked: Janus who is typically invoked first, Jupiter, and Mars as the god of war and homesteads. (The ritual also has space for guests to invoke their own gods, if they wish.) If you come from a religious tradition that forbids prayers to other gods than one, then you may choose to only invoke that one god. You may still politely encourage others to invoke their own gods, too, whether publicly or silently.

Invocations are only one part of the more elaborate ritual, though. A few things to consider, if you wish to do this long form ritual, include the types of offerings that you will make, what additional gods you will invoke, and any additional prayers you wish to make. Below are the different sections with a brief explanation about each. The primary ritual agent performing the ritual is called a sacerdos, though with such a long ritual it is helpful to have an attendant or two.

Ritus armis lustrandis Sôgmônis
  1. Preface: an explanation about the ritual, the holiday, and what gods are invoked and why
  2. Font purification: this prayer purifies the bowl of water used to wash the arma (i.e., the books) and the sacerdos, the ritual agent(s) performing the ritual
  3. Altar blessing: this short prayer consecrates the altar used in the ritual
  4. Invocation(s): the sacerdos invokes Janus, Jupiter, Mars, and Minerva, then asks guests if they have any additional gods to invoke, and finally calls upon the gods “who cherish this State” to listen
  5. Various Offerings and Prayers, typically with a short introduction about the Armilustrium’s context within the wider year. Each offering must be enumerated and declared aloud, e.g., “I offer You this incense and candles. May You accept it.”
    1. Offerings of incense and candles are made first
    2. Additional offerings can be made, such as wine, flowers, or other decorations
    3. The food offering, the polluctum, is offered to a statue or image of Athena
    4. Blessing for the Armilustrium Meal: at this point you may bless the dinner you will eat after the ritual
    5. Final prayers: the Sôgmô typically makes a few final prayers and formally offers bread and wine to Athena
  6. Lustrum Armorum, or the Washing of the Books
    1. The sacerdos or person presiding over the ritual begins and, while washing their book with a towel dipped in the blessed water, recites the phrase (in Latin, in English, or both): haec aqua armis impuritates eluat, ut pluvia aera purgat. Ita esto! “May this water cast out impurities from these arms, as the rain cleases the air. So mote it be!”
    2. Next, either read a selection of the text you have brought or give a brief explanation about why the text is meaningful to you.
    3. Then, repeat and go around in a circle until everyone has completed the lustrum.
  7. Atonement: On behalf of everyone present, the sacerdos should ask for forgiveness to all the invoked gods “if anything in this ritual was displeasing to You” and the sacerdos should expiate whatever fault(s) (vitium) committed.
  8. Obeisance: the sacerdos asks the gods to “return this (hoc, meaning the ritual and all its prayers) in kind, according to my piety”
  9. Confirmation: finally, repeat the following in Latin and in English:
    Quod bonum faustum felix fortunatum salutareque sit habeamus ego (your name) et tota Civitas Sande.* Ita esto!
    “May I, (your name), and the entire State of Sandus* have what is good, auspicious, fruitful, fortunate, and wholesome. So mote it be!”
  10. Dismissal: finally, announce the conclusion of the ritual and invite all to eat.

This is the long form ritual, and long it certainly is. You can read the most recent version of the ritual below.

* If you are not a citizen of the State of Sandus, you can replace tota Civitas Sande (“the entire State of Sandus”) with omnes qui adsunt (“everyone who is present”).

Crafting a (simpler) ritual

You may decide that a ritual with ten different sections is, well… a bit outside your wheelhouse, or too much to do alone for yourself or a few others. All you really need to do, then, is just perform the lustrum without much additional fanfare, though you can also throw in a few introductory prayers if you want.

Here is the recipe for a lustrum:

  1. Fill a bowl with enough water to come up at least halfway or higher. Get a clean towel or rag that is appropriate for use in a ritual. On an appropriate table or high surface in your living room and/or in your living quarters, place the water bowl in the centre and your towel off to one side, and stack your books to the other.
  2. You may want to decorate the table and/or the room with some seasonally-appropriate décor, and you will likely find that you want to light a light source (e.g., a candle, a diya) of some kind or another on the table. Be sure to put the flame, if there is one, away from where people will be working with the books: you do not want to knock your light onto your precious, meaningful books!
  3. Optional: Take off or leave on any footwear, according to your tradition. Invoke a god or gods of your choosing and bless the water. Place offerings as you desire on the table and, addressing the god(s) you have invoked, say: “I offer this so that you may be propitious toward me. Please forgive any fault in my doing this.” Give any additional prayers as you wish, or recite any aspirations and intentions that you have in your performance in this ritual.
  4. Place out food for your guests that you will consume before or after your ritual. Either dig in now, or move on and lustrate!
  5. Lustrum: Dip your towel into the water. Begin by picking up your book and, before you wash the book, recite: “May this water cast out impurities from these arms, as the rain cleanses the air! So mote it be!” (Latin: Haec aqua impuritates armis eluat, ut pluvia aera purgat. Ita esto!) Clean one book at a time, though you only need to recite the saying once. Go one by one until everyone has washed their books.
  6. Conclude your ritual as you please and, if you have not already, eat!

At any point, you may elaborate the ritual with additional statements, prayers, readings, etc. Remember: the most important part, and even the only necessary part, is the lustrum itself! That is it.

the Honourable Sôgmô C. Soergel Publicola wearing their Sandum robes

Picking out an outfit

There isn’t some stricture about wearing certain clothes on the Armilustrium. You can wear whatever you want but, after a decade of putting on the Armilustrium (figuratively and literally), you may want to keep certain things in mind. Plus, anything seasonally-appropriare and -themed is a plus.

If you are the one presiding, whether as a host or as a sacerdos, that is, the primary performer in the lustrum ritual, you may want to go for a Sandum outfit or an outfit that is appropriate for a lot of activity with people present. By a Sandum outfit, you may want to wear a robe and clothes that you can wear a under the robes without being too warm. Otherwise, an appropriate outfit would be something that is seasonally appropriate, if not a little lighter, since you will be working during the ritual and the dinner. That said, as the one presiding, you may also want to dress even more finely since it is your event, your holiday, and by dressing in a special way you also will make the holiday special, too.

If you are not presiding, or do not want to dress up, wear something appropriate for your host and/or your guests and that you want to wear.

That said, to really get in the mood, you can always wear Sandum micronational robes. If you do not have robes, though, you can also take any blanket and wear it as a sanghati or chogyu or zhen. If you do wear them, you should not wear any shoes while you perform the ritual.

Music for the Armilustrium

You may be surprised to learn that, in fact, there is music you can listen to for the Armilustrium. In 2016 and 2021, Radio Patria shared playlists of music that can be played at an Armilustrium evening, while Channum Unum has also gotten in the mood by making a music video for the holiday playing the song Les feuilles mortes (Autumn leaves) by Jacques Prévert and Joseph Kosma.

Apart from these, you can play any appropriately autumn-themed playlist or music. Since the Armilustrium is not a holiday for the dead, but instead for the autumn season and as a reflection on seasonal change and impermenance, spooky Halloween music may not be best, unless you prefer that. Anything autumnal, jazzy, classical—in other words, ambient but season—will work.

A few easy décor ideas

If you already have fall décor, you could of course put it up! As mentioned above, Halloween or spooky fall-themed décor are not the usual vibe that the Armilustrium is known for, though you may decide you want it regardless just to make your life easier. But anything with fallen leaves, such as wreaths or garlands, as well as appropriately scented candles or other lights will of course work! You can put out some seasonal crops, and perhaps before you cut a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween you could leave your pumpkin unmaimed for the Armilustrium and still set it out somewhere.

You can also seek out ornaments and other decorations used for American/Canadian Thanksgiving, as well as other autumnal ornaments that you can craft by hand. A favourite in the sagamorial household is to put up wreaths, garlands, and to make an arrangement of flowers and/or foliage. But candles or any kind of lamps (such as oil lamps or even diyas) are a must, especially for use in more elaborate rituals. Feel free to also search for easy DIY crafts that will produce seasonal crafts, such as this helpful article about easy fall décor.

In the space where you will wash books, you may want envision how you will use the space and also how you want others (and yourself!) to see it, too. For example, how would you want to ornament the “focus” of your ritual? Do you want to focus on the washing of the books, and so frame your washing area with ornaments? Or will you instead focus on an altar or statue (such as of Athena)? What you want to highlight may change how you decorate a space, but remember: no matter what, ornamentation augments and alters a space. You may decide that you want to decorate the space if only because this will change your place from its regular, day-to-day abode to your own seasonal Armilustrium sanctuary.

Making the Armilustrium your own

Finally, the key point is to really make the Armilustrium meaningful for you and your guests. You have your own constructive and creative liberty when you put on the Armilustrium, not only because the Armilustrium is a micronational (and therefore “created”) holiday but also because all holidays are, in one way or another, “constructed.” Once you give thought to how you want to celebrate, these decisions may in fact become traditions for how you celebrate. For example, the existing Armilustrium rituals emphasise Athena as a kind of humanistic expression of our micronation, but if you are uncomfortable literally doing a ritual to a goddess then change the ritual as you see fit! If you don’t like Sandum Three Sisters soup, or if you don’t come from North America, or if you object to Sandum Three Sisters soup because it removes squash (one of the three sisters), then change it!

No one is forcing you to celebrate the Armilustrium, nor to celebrate it in the same way as everyone else. When in doubt, celebrate how you want to and make the holiday special however you please. Plus, in the end, you will have your own memories and traditions of the holiday that will make it all the more special.