Once upon a time, more than 2 millennia ago, on the tops of the ancient and majestic old Balkans, the backbone of our homeland, on the tops of Hemus Mountain, the mighty lord of change, the god Mart, ruled. He was the master of spring changes, of shaking the earth from spring juices to stir the blood of young seeds and to explode new life on earth to turn green and start the real New Year.
This is the same god to whose name the Romans in their texts add a "s" in the name to turn it into Mars, inhabiting Mount Hemus. It is no coincidence that the ancient Roman New Year began on the first of March - the day of the god Mars, the new beginning, the spring, the "boiling of blood" on earth, the god of blood and military passion. That is why the name of the "Red God" adorns the planet Mars and the first month of spring in the languages of so many nations.
Spring is also the time when a new page opens for the family, waiting for the new harvest to feed their children, but also a time for a new beginning of hostilities, frozen during the cold winter season. It was then that men went to war and left their wives alone with their children at home.
Legend has it that when men went to war, on March 1st, women wove red and white threads decorated with beads and tied them to their wrists' wrists and ankles. Thus, they showed their respect for the gods of change and war, begged the protectors of the Thracian warriors - the god Mart and the goddess Belona, to give them courage and bravery to reap victory, as well as strength and health to return home. But who is the white Goddess and how does she intertwine her destiny with the fearful and mighty God of War?
Marto and Bellona
The story of where exactly the goddess Bellona was before fate brought her to the mighty Hemus Mountains has not been rumored for centuries. But one thing is for sure - love is not just human sweetness. It is a weakness when the two are separated, but it is a powerful force when "he" and "she" intertwine with each other on the path of life and beyond.
Bellona is the name of the woman who had mercy on the heart of the most daring and fearless warrior among the gods of the ancient Thracians - the god Mart. We are used to hearing ancient Greek stories about gods who have weakness and a soul-breaking love for mortal women. That was not Mart's love for Bellona.
His love was powerful, capturing his heart quickly and instantly like the blow of a sword the moment he saw Bellona at the foot of his Hemus mountain. This love remained there forever and their souls intertwined as if they had never been separated. It was love on an equal footing.
What do you think of Mart's bride? Gentle, gracious and silky? Maybe…, but if you add "defenseless" to it, don't expect mercy from her gentle hand.
At Mart and Bellona's wedding, the goddesses presented the new mistress of the Balkans with a crown woven of pink roses to adorn her hair. But Bellona disagreed. Outnumbering her husband in warfare, she adorned herself with the title "Goddess of War" instead of a wreath of pink roses. The crown of pink roses Belona dropped on the day of her wedding at the foot of the Balkan Mountains and this crown of roses still stands under the Balkans. The most enchanting, divine and fragrant roses, blessed with the love of Mart and Belona, still bloom there, and people call the place "Rose Valley" (near town of Kazanlak).
This love is still alive in the martenitsa ritual. The connection between Mart and Bellona is never broken, because the martenitsa is synonymous with the mighty and invincible God and Goddess of war, of victory over difficult times. They are symbols of hope. The martenitsa with the intertwined red man and white woman will forever remain a symbol of manhood and courage, of sacrifice and strength, which we all need after the long winter.
The martenitsa is among those symbols - beads from the necklace of the ancestral memory of the Bulgarian, passed down from generation to generation, which help us to preserve ourselves. It deserves to carry with it all its meanings woven into the white and red of its threads.
We know many legends about the braided red and white threads that we wear on the first of March. Contrary to political views, legends always manage to intertwine, reconcile themselves and weave in an inimitable way. Let us not forget the legend of Marto and Bellona, because perhaps it will bring us that missing hope and self-confidence of an ancient nation that we miss so much today.
On March 1st, let us adorn ourselves with this Bulgarian symbol and allow it to be more than we have thought so far.
Congratulations to Marto and Bellona - let us be healthy, strong, brave and united!