Modern Date : February 5th
The Nones of February
This is one of the dies nefasti a day on which no legal action or public voting could take place. The dies nefasti of February were days of religious ceremony honoring the dead and heralding the rebirth of the Spring and its associated fertility.
The rex sacrorum would appear on the steps of the Capitol on this day and announce to the people what days of the months would be holidays.
Title of Pater Patriae, Father of My Country, conferred on Augustus in 2 BCE.
The great Campanian earthquake occurred this day in about 62 AD, in which Pompeii suffered major damage. Seneca says, "This earthquake was on the Nones of February, in the consulship of Regulus and Verginius. It caused great destruction in Campania, which had never been safe from this danger but had never been damaged and time and again had got off with a fright. Also, part of the town of Herculaneum is in ruins and even the structures which are left standing are shaky."
February is a month sacred to the gods Mars (as Quirinus, or Romulus) and Juno (Hera), the wife of Jupiter (Zeus) and mother of Mars. Mars was known to the Greeks as Ares, the god of war. The war god was wild and ungovernable, a god who glorified in strife for its own sake and revelled in slaughter. He was thought to gloat over the death and destruction he caused. He was typically accompanied by his two sons Deimos (Fear or Terror) and Phobos (Dismay or Flight from Fear). The Romans held a milder, more honorable view of Mars, honoring him as the son of Zeus and the father of Romulus.
February is also a month in which particular reverence was shown to the spirits of deceased ancestors. This was a month devoted to fertility, both of men and women, and of the land.
Day of Prophecy and Divination
In the ancient western world, one of the most important days of the year for all forms of prophecy and divination, sacred to the goddess Tyche and her counterparts: Fortuna in Rome and Wyrd among the Celtic peoples. All were superseded in medieval Christian Europe by St. Agatha, whose feast is celebrated on this day.
St Agatha is a third century Sicilian martyr. Like St Agnes, she was a lovely, noble and wealthy young girl, who was martyred for her refusal to marry. She had attracted the attention of a powerful man, Quintanus, the king (or consul) of Sicily, who subjected her to terrible tortures when she spurned him. Perhaps the worse, certainly the most gruesome: her breasts were torn off. She was also put into a brothel, raped, racked, beaten, torn with iron hooks, burnt with torches and imprisoned without food or water She finally expired after being rolled over live coals and broken potsherds.
The picture of St Agatha in "Lives of the Saints" shows her surrounded by symbolic objects--a bell, a brazier of smoking coals and a pair of iron tongs (perhaps those used to rip off her breasts) - with Mount Etna (looking very much like a breast) smoking in the background. Early Christian icons showed Agatha carrying her breasts on a plate. Later they were mistaken for bells and she became the patron saint of bell founders. She is also the patroness of nurses, the protector of valleys and is invoked for protection from breast diseases and fire. In Italy, special pastries or nougats, shaped like breasts and called St. Agatha's breasts, are eaten on her feast day.
Her feast day is February 5th but the festivities in Catania, the center of her worship begin on February 1st. It is celebrated with poetry contests, fireworks, music, confetti and processions. Wooden structures called candelore which are shaped like bell-towers are carried through the streets. When they stop, muskets are fired and the men who carry the candelore perform the annacata, a dance in which each one waves his candle about trying to make it burn out first. St Agatha's veil, which was taken from her tomb and is preserved at Catania, is said to help prevent eruptions of Mount Etna
The many associations of St Agatha with fire and embers resonate with other early February observances. The Celtic St Brigid, whose feast day is on February 1st, is also associated with fire (and as Bride, the Queen of Heaven, she seems to have been a sun goddess). In Armenia, the fire god Mihr was honored at this time of year and embers carried back from the central bonfire to each family's hearth.
Agatha's name comes from a Greek word, agathos, meaning good, which was the epithet of many Greek divinities, including the agathos daimon (the good spirit of the household) and Agatha Tyche (good fortune).
Perhaps Agatha's predecessor was a fertility goddess whose prominently-breasted figure was carried about the fields during sowing time. Berger in The Goddess Obscured describes the importance of such customs at this time of the year when the fields are plowed in preparation for sowing. Some scholars have noted parallels between the festival of the Ship of Isis celebrated in Egypt around March 5th and the worship of St Agatha in Catania. The Isis festival, described by Apuleius, included a torch-lit procession with worshippers carrying an image of the goddess. One of the priests carried a golden vessel shaped like a breast from which milk poured to the ground.
In Spain she was represented as an old woman, stuffing winter into her sack, possibly a carryover from Befana of Italy. She was said to live in cemeteries and was associated with cats and death.