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Romans Gods and Goddess: Picus

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Introduction to Picus

The ancient Romans Gods and Goddess contain a wealth of stories and legends, wrapped in Myths which typically provide a story with a morale code designed to influence the reader into behaviour as fitting Romans culture of the era.

In this article, we look at Picus and the myths and legends surrounding Picus, Picus relationship to and with other Romans Gods and Goddess and key events and stories which relate to ancient astrology and the changing seasons.

About Picus

Was the mythical king and founder of the first city of Latium, called Laurentum, he was famous for being and skilled rider, and augur (augury the art of divining by birds). It seems his first love was Canens, a song nymph, but he was said to be so handsome that many others sought his affection. One of these was Circe, generally described as a witch with great powers and knowledge and herbs, able to transform men into beasts or any other living creature that took her fancy, but it seems she was really a wood or forest nymph. One day when Picus was out hunting, Circe spotted him and falling in love with him instantly, she used herbs and her womanly charms to entice him, but he rejected all her advances rudely, and Circe retaliated by turning him into a woodpecker (Latin. Picidae) Canens his wife searched for him for six days, then in despair drowned herself in the Tiber. In his new guise as a woodpecker, Picus fell in love with the goddess Pomona, who was the personification of the ripe fruits of trees, including nuts, but Pomona rejected him, hardly surprising as he was more likely to feed on her, than love her. Another source states that Pomona accepted his advances, but Circe turned her into a pica, another type of bird, perhaps of the same family, but that seems odd to me. Some Italians associated Picus with Mars, and considered his transformation stemmed from his powers of Augury, but that maybe, through observation, as woodpeckers are generally loners, and fierce defenders of their territory, or even certain fruit trees, within it, although this may only be when it bears fruit, otherwise the connection is dubious. One practice connected to Picus, is worth considering, it concerns the practices of the Sabines, and the later Samnites, who were probably an off shoot of the Sabines, as a result of this practice. It seems in periods of strife or extreme danger to the existing community a vow was made to Mars concerning the offspring born during the following spring, however it related to all those under the age of twenty-one alive at that point in time. Now we must consider this carefully, the danger was not one of war, because logically even in the First World War, young lads of 16years managed to sign up and fight for England, and historically fourteen-year old children have taken part and died in battles, even younger children have played roles in many modern wars. We might consider this action not that far removed from the action of Lemmings, who when their population reaches a point where it can no longer sustain itself, suddenly commit suicide by running headlong to the cliffs and dive into the freezing waters below, and certain death. So, the great danger was not war, but famine, and the vow originally meant that in the spring the younger generation would be sacrificed, to allow the elder and more knowledgeable generation the best chance of survival, thus, the best chance, to get through those times and re-establish themselves. This evil practice, was later replaced, by that of either the whole generation, or perhaps those within a certain age group being led to another area under the protection of the gods, or a god, and then they were abandoned, leaving it up to nature to whether they could establish a new colony, or perish. Quite how such a practice was associated with woodpeckers seems obscure, however, young woodpeckers probably face such dangers in finding and establishing their own territory, no doubt having to often expel those already resident, and the only other point is that woodpeckers tend to migrate during the daytime. I suspect that the practice, did not include babies and infants, but only those children considered of age, which could range perhaps between twelve and twenty-one years, thus being in the vigour and flower of their youth were deemed most likely to have a chance, either to establish a new colony, or die trying. The Roman religion had its counterpoint, in the Devotio, in which an individual sacrificed themselves, in the hope of gaining the protection or victory by the gods for those he or she had sacrificed herself for.

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