A few days ago, Baring the Aegis reader and Athenian tour guide George Rockos shared an image and a bit of an ancient Hellenic custom on the Facebook wall of Baring the Aegis. He spoke of a practice where a red-and-white piece of string was tied around the wrist, and called it 'Martes'.

It seems the name this practice is best known as is 'Martenitsa', and refers to a mostly Bulgarian practice that is very much alive and kicking. Within the tradition, Martenitsas are gifted to loved ones on the first of March, and then worn until the month ends, or a stork, swallow, or blossoming tree is spotted. At that point, the Martenitsa is hung on a tree as an offering. We all know March is a temperamental month, so it is not odd that this practice in Bulgaria and other Balkan countries serves to appease Baba Marta: 'Grandmother March'. Other names for the modern festival with very antique roots are: Marta, Marti, Martaki, Martitsi, Martogaitano, Martuvane, and many more.

It seems that the traditional Bulgarian martenitza can include coins, cloves of dry garlic, beads, iron rings, hairs of horsetails, snail shells, in addition to the white and red threads. It is considered a talisman, a charm against evil forces. It seems that 'children wear their martenitzas on the right wrist, around the neck or on the breast, while young girls and brides wear it around the neck or woven into their hair. Men, however, tie the martenitza above their left elbow or left ankle. Martenitzas are tied on young animals and all fruit trees'.

Although I can not find any reliable sources that definitively state so, there are those who claim that the practice was also known in ancient Hellas, and there are two versions of this lineage. One is that the ancient Hellenic version of the practice is called 'Martes', or 'Martis' (μάρτης), and was linked to a well-known Hellenic deity: Ares. Ares, it seems, was born in ancient Thrace, now a part of Bulgaria, and the ancient Thracians asked Him for much of the same things as Baba Marta is asked for today.

The second trace of the tradition of Martenitsa to ancient Hellas comes in the form of a 'króki' (κρόκη). It seems that, during the walk from Athens to Eleusis for the (lesser?) Mysteries, the mystai stopped various times, and one of those times, officials known as 'Krokidai' would tie a yellow woolen thread known as the 'króki' around the right hand and left wrist of each of them.

Whatever the case, the tradition is kept alive even in modern day Greece, and if it appeals to you, you might enjoy adopting this practice next year. If anyone has more, or more reliable, information on this practice, I would love to hear about it.