Friday, February 03, 2006

Ante Diem III Nonas Februarias

Modern Date : February 3rd

Ante Diem III Nonas Februarias
Third Day to 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.

February is a month sacred to the gods Mars (as Quirinus, or Romulus) and Juno, the wife of Jupiter. Juno (Hera, was the 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.

Juno, also called Saturnia and known as Hera by the Greeks, was the daughter of Cronus (Saturn) and regarded as a paragon of motherly virtues. She was the divinity of sacred marriage and childbirth, and was prone to violent wrath at every violation of her marriage bed with Zeus.

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, and celebration of the coming Spring.

Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries
In Greece, this was the third and final day on which they celebrated the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries. Many Romans sought admittance to these mysteries, incuding Marcus Aurelius, who succeeded, and Nero, who did not. Cicero, who succeeded, implied of the rites of Eleusis that "...they seem to be a recognition of the powers of Nature rather than the power of the Gods."

St. Blaise
In the Roman Catholic calendar, feast of St. Blaise, whose efficacy in the prevention of throat diseases inspired rituals like those of the preceding day, Candlemas. Crossed, unlighted candles, symbolizing purification of speech, are held at the throat of those receiving the blessing.

Like St Nicholas, St Blaise appears to be one of those saints who accumulated the legends and lores of earlier deities and folk customs around his name, perhaps because his name, sounds like wheat (ble) in French or crops (biade) in Italian.

In medieval times, he was the patron saint of plowmen. On his holiday, women brought a pail of seeds to the church to be blessed. Half of the seed was left as an offering to the church, the other half taken home and mixed with the regular seed before plowing (like the Armenians bringing home embers from the sacred fires of Mihr).

St Blaise was also the patron saint of shepherds and the woolen industry because he was allegedly martyred on the stone table used for combing out wool and flayed with the prickly metal combs that remove tiny stones from the wool. As with other saints who suffered peculiar forms of martyrdom (for instance, St. Agatha, Feb 5), the connection with sheep probably came first. Both St Bridget (Feb 1) and St Agnes (Jan 21) are also associated with sheep and this is the time of the year when lambs are being born.

In another interesting connection with this month (and the holiday of Lupercalia, Feb 15), Blaise is invoked against wolves since he supposedly forced a wolf to return a pig he had snatched from a poor widow.

Carol Field(Celebrating Italy) says that the feast day of San Biagio is especially celebrated in Italian towns where wool was worked. One of the most elaborate ceremonies takes place in Taranta Peligna, a small community in Abruzzo, where the townspeople work communally to make hundreds of special breads called panicelle in the shape of a four-fingered hand. The fingers are said to represent the collaboration of dyers, spinners, weavers and finishers The breads are baked on February 1st, but distributed on Feb 3rd, the official holiday, at the church at the same time the priest is blessing the throats of the faithful.

In Lombardy, people eat a slice of panettone on St Blaise's day to protect against sore throats during the year. In Serra San Bruno in Calabria, the cookie for San Biagio is called an abbacolo and is baked in the form of a question mark or bishop's scepter. The young men of the town offer them to their sweethearts. If the girl breaks the piece in two and gives part back to the boy, keeping the other for herself, it means she will marry him. Sicilians serve tiny white breads shaped like grasshoppers and called panuzzi or cavadduzzi or miliddi, thus honoring the saint who rid Sicily of an infestation of grasshoppers.

This Japanese holiday marks the official end of winter, and is the last remnant of the old Japanese festival calendar, before it was Westernized and New Year's Day moved to January 1st. The name means "season-boundary."

On this last day of the year, the male head of the household went around the house scattering roasted soybeans, one for each year in the life of each family member. Meanwhile his family chants Fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto! "In with good luck, out with demons!"

In public ceremonies, celebrities throw beans off balconies of shrines and other important buildings. They are trying to hit the demons and all the misfortunes they represent. In the comic ritual plays of the season, crowds of shrinegoers throw the dried beans at devil dancers carrying grotesque weapons.

Why beans? Perhaps, suggests Rufus(The World Holiday Book), because the word mame means both bean and good health. An ancient Japanese health charm is to eat a roasted soybean for every year of your age.