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Mundus Patet! When the ancient Romans got a glimpse of the Underworld

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Three times a year the Romans — and not just the ones in Rome, but in cities all over the region — would roll back a stone opening a hole to the underworld. And what would they do? Dump food in there. You know, for the dead.

Today would have been one of those days. October 5 was one of the three days when the priests would declare that MVNDVS PATET, or "the sky lies open."

"Mundus" meant "the world, the universe, or the heavens," and in this case means something like the sky, and that's because they thought of our world as being the sky of the underworld. And in the underworld live both the dead and the "infernal gods," the gods below.

In fact, one Roman author wrote, Mundus cum patet, deorum tristium atque inferum quasi ianua patet: "When the mundus lies open, it's as if the door of gloomy and infernal gods lies open."

The king of the infernal gods was Dis Pater, which, if you translate it literally would sound like the first half of those "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" books. And he had to be rich because we have to get into his realm to find stuff like gold and silver.

Ancient writers disagreed about mythology and names, like whether Dis was the same as Pluto, or Pluto was the same as Hades. Was Hades the god or the underworld itself, or both? But one thing the art, at least, seemed to agree about was that the king of the infernal gods had a beard.

That guy could have at least been a contender at our recent facial hair contest at Las Vegas Bikefest.

But it's kind of weird that the Romans opened up a doorway to the land of the dead in October, and dropped in the first fruits of the harvest. It sounds a bit like Halloween. So consider Dis/Pluto/Hades the first (unofficial) entry in this year's recommendations for Halloween costumes for the bearded man.

Keep your eyes open for this year's official list coming soon, and in the meantime checkout our 2015 costume list and our 2014 costume list.