Martenitsa is one of the oldest and most interesting symbols. For its meaning and origin there are different views. Some researchers seek connection with the time when Tsar Kaloyan lived, others returned further back in the past – in the era of Asparuh. There are those who try to impose their belief that the oldest martenitsa is from the land of Iran. Overall, however, all these statements are based mostly on personal desires and are not supported by solid arguments. I think the truth is quite different and it may surprise many of my countrymen.
Although we do not know the details of how much further in time the tangled roots of white and red thread goes, we instinctively feel that it concerns something important, something which has arisen in the past but due to its importance has survived until today. This is no accident, it is just instinct, many of our scientists believe that the martenitsa has an apotropaic impact, i.e. it is a charm having magical powers and ability to protect the holder .
For this feature of the martenitsa, the Bulgarian ethnographer Mikhail Arnaudov mentioned long ago . Here is the view of the author, “The first of March (also March the 9th, St. Mladentsi) goes somewhere in the beginning of summer. Therefore, as a similar dates the peasant foretell the coming period of time and resorted to spells to protect from evil and providing domestic work. Martenitsas that children and young people put on the arm, and the fires that are being made, means to remove the malicious forces” .
The protection function and the particular importance of the red and white: “Red is used not only for aesthetic reasons but also because of the magical character – in folk beliefs red color repels evil. White and red are used as contrasting colors.
There’s no accident that the red and white are widely used in Bulgarian folk costume and embroidery.
More details we receive from the study of Ivanichka Georgieva . She’s even paying attention to the material which in the past have been martenitsas:
In Bulgarian ritual practices the woolen occupies a large place. The newlyweds moved into their home in white cloth or white and red woolen thread. With wool they decorate the wedding tree in the Rhodopes. Widely spread in connection at home is the custom on March the 1st to be tied for health with martenitsi – twisted with white and red woolen thread .
Against curses wool is knitted and worn as red wool. In the circle of the above habits can be seen that the wool has a certain functional purpose. Before all, it is apotropaic – as such it is in maternity and other customs which banishes evil forces … wool belongs to the earth, it is associated with chthonic forces. Located at the foot of the world tree. It is the link with the underworld, where her magic force brings fertility, the same function performed at wedding customs.”
As successful for the study of Ivanichka Georgieva may be considered the work of Vania Lozanova, which also sees the martenitsa as an object of apotropaic magical protective and of major importance. According to prof. Lozanova the origin of this particular subject should be sought in the distant past:
“In general terms twisting white and red woolen thread, the so called ‘Martenitsa’ is a kind of symbolic gesture of magical play of the merger between markings with white thread (male) and red-creating (female) aspects of primordial unity. To this day in the traditional Balkan culture twisted white and red thread of the 1st of March rituals are magical gestures that seeks impact on fertility.
One of the key elements of martenitsa is the twisting of wool yarn. Not twisted thread tis not a martenitsa. Informants reported for monochrome martenitsi made only by natural or white only painted red wool. .
Twist of red and white threads are carrying coded symbols of fertility, the reconciliation of opposites into creative primordial beginning, when nature wakes up and was revived in the mystery of spring blooms. Many are convinced that martenitsa is purely a Bulgarian tradition, but some of the specific features of the 1st of March rites and especially tying the twisted white and red woolen threads are the fruit of a centuries-old spiritual tradition and descend from a Thracian ( Paleo – Balkan ) and Hellenistic times .
Certainly Professor. Lozanova is right, that there is sufficient information allowing to say that martenitsa and rituals associated with it are echoes of tradition from the time of Zalmoxis , Orpheus and shrouded in hyperborean mystery. Inherent for a professional, Vanya Lozanova supports her claims with rich source material. Our researcher links the Bulgarian customs Hellenic Eiresione (twig on which are twisted white and red threads) and associated with him rituals practiced by Paleo-Balkan peoples.
Talking about a Eiresione the holiday Panatenei, Lutatius (Schol. Ad. Stat. Teb . 2, 737) draws attention to the red and white threads, knotted at the branch (purpureis nexibus supra dicta pendebant, quae tamen interjecta diuobus predibus candida fila discriminabant).
Vanya Lozanova adds other interesting details: “The initiation of the magicians in Thracian mysteries particularly important is the gesture of girding the lower part of the body to the initiate with a purple ribbon – the colour of the Great Goddess . Close association with a red wedding veil of Bulgarian – a sign of its transition from maiden status to that of wife and mother. The transition from winter to summer was marked and games of the Kukers, whose clothing, a red belt perhaps suggests a long-forgotten and irrational semiosis of ritual practice with markedly ambivalent features that recall only the first day of March. Even today, it is believed that the red colour in the decoration of the Survachka has apotropaic impact.
Bulgarian Martenitsa hanging on a twig
The parallels mentioned by prof. Lozanova can not be denied, can not be denied and its interpretation on the particular importance of the colour red. Since the dawn of human civilization the color red is considered sacred and having magical protective effect. Not accidentally the red ocher was even being usesd in symbolic funerals in our lands. As an example it can be indicated burial №2 and №4 from the Varna necropolis. Using red ocher there during the funeral of the mound Radingrad near Razgrad. These are rituals of the fifth millennium BC.
The most valuable work of Professor Lozanova is, that it is given and the possible origin of the Eiresione – the equivalent of our martenitsa . The data is clear, there is presented fairly important information, helping to understand who are the people who have created a ritual object that can be seen as an early version of the Bulgarian martenitsa.
Here’s some information used: “In the said commentary of Eustatius to Homer’s Iliad ,Krates concerns the appearance of the custom of Eiresione of the precedent with ensuing famine and infertility in Attica. The Athenians, on the advice of the Delphic oracle, dedicated to Apollo one wrapped in woolen threads, a sacred branch and establish this tradition as magical gesture to ensure fertility.”
The story of Lycurgus retort in the same passage of Eustatius is an enlarged and literary processed version, that generalize the myth of ensuing famine and infertility over the whole inhabited world. It is integrated by the myth of hyperborea. A similar story offers a fragment of Hippostratos, repeated by lexicographers Harpokration. When this happens, Apollo gives Foretelling to the consultants of the oracle hellenes and barbarians that the athenians should pray for all. Among the many nations sent by messengers to the oracle is the sent from hyperborea, Abaris. He comes to Greece, receives from Apollo Foretelling that hunger will be repulsed if the Athenians offer for all sacrifice and began traveling the world: through his mouthm the god disclose to the inquiried Hellenes and barbarians the answer of the oracle.
Athenians make the sacrifice with hanging all decorated with fruit and on one Eiresione and the trouble is spurned. In commemoration of this they repeat this annual custom. The holiday is called Panopsia and Athenians call it Pianepsias.
The mythological cirlce of the hyperboreans seems also to be familiar with the ritual gesture of Eiresione – according to preserved in Hesychius fragment comedy “Deliadi” of Crateuas , the hyperboreans honor twigs under the open sky.
All these circumstances suggest that the origin of Eiresione, though edited by ancient authors in the typical for the second half of the 5th century BC., athenian patriotism traced back to a more ancient Eastern Mediterranean festive circle centered cult of Paleo-Balkan solar deity of the island Delos. Underlying outlined festive ritual complexes are incorporated ancient traditions of Amphictyonic island inhabitants to which they belong and Thracian tribes under item. The so called “Hyperborean diagonal” .
Although the data presented by prof. Lozanova are plentiful, it need to be given a few more clarifications. Wrapped in red and white threads and decorated with fruits branch called Eiresione / εἰρεσιώνη, was not created by the Greeks .
According to the old sources the ritual occurs in Attica, but from Strabo we know that in ancient times, especially in the times before the Trojan War, Attica belonged to the Thracians , and in Давлида, Phocis has reigned Tereus:
“Attica was once held by the Thracians who came with Eumolpus, Daulis in Phocis by Tereus “ – Strab.VII.7.1
The statement of Strabo is not just a legend, Robert Buck mentions in his work that available here Thracian gods, cults, and Thracian toponyms in Attica, Viotia, Malia and Arcadia talk about Thracian presence in these regions – “At the History of Boeotia” , s.67.
… To be continued