Lemuria (also Lemuralia) Ancient Rome’s annual threeday festival for appeasing the Lemures, the spirits of the dead, especially those of an evil nature. According to legend, the festival was inaugurated by Romulus after his murder of his brother, Remus, and was called Remuria. The festival took place on the ninth, 11th and 15th of May, which made the entire month unlucky for all sorts of activities, especially marriages.
During Lemuria, businesses and temples were closed, and people observed rituals for the dead. On the third and final day, the merchants held a festival intended to resume normal activities and help businesses prosper. Images made of rushes were cast into the Tiber River.
The most important ritual of Lemuria was performed during the last night by heads of households to protect their homes against Ghosts. In the middle of the night, each participant washed his hands three times, placed black beans in his mouth, and walked barefoot through the house tossing other black beans over his shoulder while calling out, “With these beans I do redeem me and mine.”
The incantation was repeated nine times without looking backward. It was thought that any ghosts present would follow along, pick up the beans and then leave until Lemuria the following year. While walking, the man also kept one hand in the sign of the horns—the thumb crossed over the two middle fingers and the index and little fingers extended—an amuletic gesture which protected him against any ghosts he might unexpectedly encounter (see AMULET; Charms AGAINST Ghosts). To close the ritual, he washed his hands again, and then banged brass cymbals while urging all uninvited spirits to depart the premises.
The ancient Greeks had a similar festival for propitiating ghosts, and the Romans absorbed some of the customs into Lemuria. The Greek observances were held over three days earlier in the year in February or March. Temples and businesses were closed. Residents were careful to avoid contact with ghosts by smearing their doors with pitch and chewing whitehorn, a type of hawthorn used in folk remedies to lower blood pressure and the heart rate (and also considered an effective amulet against vampires). On the final day, sacrifices were made to Hermes, the wing-footed messenger god who escorted the souls of the dead to Hades, and ghosts were invited to leave. See BEANS.
- Finucane, R. C. Appearances of the Dead: A Cultural History of Ghosts. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984.
- Leach, Maria, and Jerome Fried, eds. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979.
Some people believe that an advanced civilization called Lemuria once existed, on either an island or a continent surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, though there is no evidence that this was the case. The concept of Lemuria was actually created by nineteenth-century scientists as an explanation of why fossils of a primate called a lemur had been found in Europe (later they were found in North America as well) while living specimens of the animal had only been found in Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. These scientists theorized that there was once a land bridge connecting Africa and India, and English zoologist Philip Schlater named it Lemuria after the lemurs. German naturalist Ernst Heinrich Haeckel subsequently expanded on this theory, suggesting that the first human beings came out of Lemuria, which eventually sank in the ocean. Haeckel said at the time that this explained why no fossil evidence of the “missing link” between humans and apes—that is, of a creature representing the evolutionary step between these two species—had ever been found.
The idea of this lost land might have remained an obscure theory if not for the work of medium Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who discussed Lemuria in her 1888 book on the occult, The Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky said that spirits of the Orient had psychically made her aware that Lemuria had been a real place, a continent that once took up most of the Southern Hemisphere but eventually sank into the sea, and she provided detailed information about the people who supposedly lived there. Several other people subsequently built on Blavatsky’s stories regarding Lemuria, including H. Spencer Lewis in his 1931 book Lemuria: The Lost Continent of the Pacific.
Lewis suggested that survivors of the sinking of Lemuria had taken up residence deep within Earth beneath Mount Shasta in California. These beings, Lewis said, were 7 feet (2.1m) tall and had a third eye in the middle of their foreheads, which they covered with a special headdress. In the 1950s some who believed Lewis’s story took UFO sightings in the Mount Shasta area as proof that the Lemurians are real and had developed space travel.
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning