- In Roman lore, evil spirits that harm and frighten the living. Larvae, also known as lemurs, are demonic ghosts of the dead who, because of their misdeeds in life, are punished in the afterlife by being sentenced to exile and eternal wandering without a home. They do not bother good men, but they harass men of evil intent. The counterpart of the larvae are lares, benevolent ghosts of the dead who guard people, homes, and places. Apuleius described both of these types of spirits in De deo Socratis:There is also another species of daemons, according to a second signification, and this is a human soul, which, after its departure from the present life, does not enter into another body. I find that souls of this kind are called in the ancient Latin tongue Lemures. Of these Lemures, therefore, he who, being allotted the guardianship of his posterity, dwells in a house with an appeased and tranquil power, is called a familiar [or domestic] Lar. But those are for the most part called Larvae, who, having no proper habitation, are punished with an uncertain wandering, as with a certain exile, on account of the evil deeds of their life, and become a vain terror to good, and are noxious to bad men.Romans observed a festival in May called Lemuria, for appeasing the spirits of the dead, exorcising them from households, and preventing them from causing trouble. Businesses and temples closed. The most important ritual took place on the last night of the festival, when the larvae or lemures were exorcised. The homeowner or head of the household washed his hands three times, placed black beans in his mouth, and walked barefoot through the house, making the sign of the horns with his hands (see evil eye), tossing black beans over his shoulder, and saying, “With these beans I do redeem me and mine.” This incantation was repeated nine times without looking backward. The evil ghosts who followed would pick up the beans and depart, leaving the residents alone until the following year’s festival.The Greeks had a similar festival, observed in February or March.In The City of God, St. Augustine commented on larvae, believing them to be wicked demons, in reference to comments made by Plotinus:He [Plotinus] says, indeed, that the souls of men are demons, and that men become Lares if they are good, Lemures or Larvae if they are bad, and Manes if it is uncertain whether they deserve well or ill. Who does not see at a glance that this is a mere whirlpool sucking men to moral destruction?For, however wicked men have been, if they suppose they shall become Larvae or divine Manes, they will become the worse the more love they have for inflicting injury; for, as the Larvae are hurtful demons made out of wicked men, these men must suppose that after death they will be invoked with sacrifices and divine honors that they may inflict injuries. But this question we must not pursue. He also states that the blessed are called in Greek eudaimones, because they are good souls, that is to say, good demons, confirming his opinion that the souls of men are demons.FURTHER READING:- Augustine. The City of God. Translated by Marcus Dods, George Wilson and J. J. Smith; introduction by Thomas Merton. New York: Modern Library, 1950.- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. 3rd ed. New York: Facts On File, 2007.- Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Rosemary Ellen Guiley. 2009.