1 March: The Moon Festival
An interesting article on some rituals related to the Mother Earth.
There are places around the world where cults linked to Mother Earth are still remembered.
In Sardinia, Italy, they celebrated that particular moment of passage between the end of February and the beginning of March.
1 March in the ancient world
A quick search in the Roman world allows us to confirm the suspicion.
On 1 March in the Roman world at least two significant things happened: the fire guarded by the vestals was extinguished and rekindled as a new fire. In this sense, the 1st of March was understood as the second beginning of the year. A true new New Year. This meant that it was a truly significant date. A day of power.
The Matronalia were celebrated. On the occasion of the Matronalia, the goddess celebrated was the powerful, feminine, generative Juno, invoked by women in childbirth as Iuno Lucina.
Among the various epithets by which Juno was known was ‘Moneta’ traced back to an Indo-European root whose meaning would be Moon, lunation. 1 March was the feast of Juno, and therefore of the Moon. And since Juno/Moon was in connection with childbirth, conception, and the menstrual cycle, it is not surprising that dew, its expression, was understood to be useful for generating health, abundance, and above all fertility, all of which lead to much sought-after good fortune. The same moon is still invoked in Sardinia today for strength, agility and above all money.
1 March is also celebrated in other places around the world, linked by this and other customs to Sardinia. I refer to Romania, Moldavia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Greece.
On the occasion of Mărțișor (Little March), small amulets are given to men and women.
The amulet consists of a rope made of intertwined red and white threads. The Mărțișor is considered a protective talisman that balances good and evil.
In Bulgaria, the amulet is called marteniza and can consist of simple red and white threads, bracelets or dolls made of cloth, wool and cotton.
When in thread form and/or the amulet bracelet or necklace is worn on 1 March. It is then hung on a tree or placed under a stone (making a wish) at the first sign of spring. Signs of spring are the flight of a stork, a swallow or a flowering tree. Martenizas can never be worn after 1 April.
In these localities, 1 March is considered a public holiday: traditionally, it was believed that Baba Dochia, the Great Mother Earth, often associated with the Roman Juno, should not be disturbed on that day: it is on that day that she decides whether to awaken spring or keep winter alive.
Dew, moon and health
The recurring elements in this cultural corpus are diverse, but the real protagonist is the dew, bearer of health, healing, and fertility.
When in Sardinia you say dew you mean moon.
Dew: healing and abundance
Dew, in the above-mentioned localities is called s’arrosu ‘e mrartsu (dew / condensation / dew of March) and was collected the night before the first of March.
There were at least two reasons for this:
1. Dew and cosmetics
The dew was used for washing the face, arms and legs. In this way, chapped skin, sunstroke, and spots on the skin due to tanning would be prevented during the following year. The efficacy of the dew was closely linked to when, where and how it was collected.
In some cases it could be collected in any cultivated field, in others only in barley and/or fodder fields. In still other cases, the dew had to be collected only from the leaves of the woolly thistle (kanna de morai) or in the datura stramonium (in Sardinia erba de dente, ischizza babbau, nughe agreste, stramòniu) (in Italy erba del diavolo, erba maga, noce spinosa, stramonio).
An ever-recurring constraint is the time of harvesting: the dew had to be collected under the influence of the moon, before sunrise.
Beauty in this case means health. The use of dew therefore had a preventive and/or protective purpose.
The connections with the rituals associated with the cycle of St John are obvious. In St John, dew is rarely mentioned, but the use of flower water has almost the same protective function.
2. Dew and abundance
The value of the element is made clear by the fact that there are various ways in which dew is stolen. Whatever is stolen is to be considered precious. Dew is more than precious: dew is sacred because it brings fertility to fields and abundance to homes.
The materials: a sheet (in some cases warm from the thief’s sleep) and/or a tablecloth is required to carry out the theft. Crucially, the cloth had to be linen and woven in the home.
Iter: the magical theft had to take place this way. Before sunrise, the thief alone or in the company of a partner had to go to someone else’s field. The field could belong to a particularly hated person.
With the ritual, one could steal another’s fortune. The theft of the dew would have meant the failure of the crops in that particular field to ripen. The dew absorbed in the sheet, once squeezed into the thief’s wheat field, would in contrast guarantee him an exceptional year.
The connection between dew, abundance and good fortune does not escape us here. Dew, especially if collected at that particular time, is a guarantee of life, prosperity and happiness.
The connection we need to make here is that between dew and the moon.
It was a shared certainty that dew was a direct product of the moon that brought health (mothers would roll their children among the dew-laden herbs of 1 March to protect them from any illness during the following year. Among the most popular herbs was periwinkle), beauty (see above), fertility (of fields, animals and women. Women who were unsuccessful in conceiving a child on St John’s Night were advised to rub their genitals on the dew-rich grass), abundance and good fortune (dew was stolen mainly to steal abundance from the fields and good fortune from the owners of the fields).
The fact that dew is the protagonist of the festivities in question, must make us think that 1 March was once an important date on which lunar or moon-related deities were celebrated, and perhaps the moon itself
I conclude this article with the hope that the festivities in honour of 1 March – lunar, animistic, naturalistic – once rediscovered will allow for a stronger connection and perhaps a more sustainable stay in our habitat.
The first of March in some localities of southern Sardinia by Pinuccia Piscedda, Brads, 1976
Le piante nella tradizione popolare della Sardegna, Aldo Domenico Atzei, Carlo Delfino editore
The doors of the year: seasonal ceremonies and animal masquerades, Enrico Comba, Margherita Amateis, OpenEditionBook