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That's what this website is here to find out. Witchology.com is the website of WICA - the Witchcraft Information Centre and Archive - founded in 1999 as a research and education provider specialising in the areas of Witchcraft, Wicca, Paganism, Magic (Magick) and the Occult. We have been online continuously since 2000.

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Ancient Pagan Festivals

Explore the following information to find out more about the ancient Pagan customs, rituals and magic associated with this time of year.

Fornacalia, Festival of the Furnace

By Dr Leo Ruickbie, Director of WICA.

Origins and History of the Fornacalia


Fornacalia (pron. FORNACA'LIA) was a festival in honour of Fornax, the goddess of furnaces, to ensure that the corn (grain) would be properly baked. The word fornax is a diminutive of fornacula meaning a 'kiln' or 'furnace'. According to tradition, this ancient festival was instituted by Numa. The precise time to celebrate the Fornacalia was proclaimed every year by the Curio Maximus, who announced in tablets, which were placed in the forum, the different part which each curia had to take in the celebration of the festival. Those persons who did not know to what curia they belonged, performed the sacred rites on the Quirinalia, which fell on the last day of the Fornacalia.

The Feast of Ovens

The Fornacalia was a feria conceptiva - a movable feast, but always celebrated before the 17th of February. It was celebrated at the level of the curiae, which is something like a ward or neighbourhood. Every curia had a leader called a curio who had to be at least 50 years old and was elected for life, and a citizen charged with ensuring the observence of curial religious feasts (called the flamen, but not offically a priest). The thirty curiones collectively comprised the college of curiones led by a Curio Maximus ('greatest curio') who, until the end of the 3rd century BCE, was always a patrician. Every curia had its own meeting house where members met to celebrate the curial feast days. Even at the zenith of the Roman Empire these were always simple, homely places devoid of ostentation. Offerings of cakes of grain and perhaps some first fruits were made here. Each year the Curio Maximus would announce the date of the Fornacalia and post a separate notice for each curia in the Forum, probably indicating where each curia should gather for the final part of the celebration. It is believed that every family in the curia brought far, that is, spelt (a kind of grain), to be toasted in the meeting hall and sacrificed to ensure that the household ovens wouldn't be burnt in the coming year. Then the curiae assembled for a collective feast. If on the last day of the Fornacalia (17th of February) anyone had missed the feast or was not a member of a curia (or had forgotten which one he belonged to), he could make a private sacrifice at the general assembly of all the curiae called the Quirinalia. Because of this the Romans called the Quirinalia the Stultorum feriae, the 'Feast of Fools', although Plutarch was not convinced of this derivation.

The Fornacalia continued to be celebrated up until the time of Lactantius (c. 240 - c. 320).


Primary Sources
  • Lactantius, i.20.
  • Ovid, Fasti, ii.527.
  • Pliny, H.N. xviii.2.
  • Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 89.
Secondary Sources
  • Smith, William, (ed.), A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. John Murray, 1875, pp. 545-6.

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