Baba Marta: Slavic Goddess of the Liminality of March

In South Slavic folk belief, the month of March is personified as a goddess named Baba Marta (“Old Woman March”). The erratic weather patterns typical of this month are ascribed to the goddess’ seemingly fickle nature: She likes to be an Old Winter Hag one day and a beautiful Spring Maiden the next, ushering in either snow and cold or balmy temperatures with sunshine, depending on Her mood.

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Just yesterday here in Chicago, in fact, we had a freakish snowstorm with near-zero-visibility conditions overtake the afternoon after a spell of Spring-like weather. When I spoke to my parents on the phone and we discussed the weather, we all agreed that Baba Marta was having a grand old time causing the mid-month snowstorm. My mother sang the “Baba Marta” nursery rhyme / children’s poem she remembered as a child. It was composed by the beloved Serbian poet, Jovan Jovanovich Zmaj (1833-1904; fun fact: his last name is the Serbian word for “Dragon”!). I’ll write it in transliterated Serbian first and then translate it into English:

Baba Marta, narod veli

Chas sneg, chas vedrina

Sprolechem se vrlo chesto

Usput sretne zima!

 

Baba Marta, the people say

Now blizzard, now clear sky

Springtime very often

Meets winter!

 

For many Indo-European cultures, the year began with the arrival of Spring and the main Deity presiding over the transition from the old year to the new aptly has characteristics of a liminal nature. This Being can can alter the hinges of Reality, alternating between What Was and What Is Yet to Be. The Kalends of Ancient Rome commemorate the arrival of the month of March and the new year by celebrating the Matronalia, a days-long festival honoring several goddesses (“the Mothers”), chiefly Juno as the Supreme Mother and Bona Dea but also Anna Perenna, the Goddess of Time-Keeping. The Romans honored mortal women as Their earthly counterparts. (Interestingly, in the UK Mothers’ Day takes place in March [it took place this past Sunday].)

The Slavic Baba Marta reminds me of tales I have heard from Ireland and Scotland of the Cailleach Bheara/Bheur, the ancient Goddess of the Land, Hag of Winter, Who, when She sees fit, can transform Herself into a beautiful Spring Maiden (Bride or Brigid in Scotland), often by rejuvenating Herself in a sacred body of water. Doubtlessly, these tales wove their way into Arthurian lore of the late Middle Ages with the recurring “loathly lady” characters like Dame Ragnell, women of power who can transform themselves from frightful crones to seductive young lovers when knights worthy of their help learn the valuable lesson that a woman’s greatest desire is to never have her sovereignty forfeited.

Many Slavic cultures retained the folk memory of these goddesses long after Christianity displaced Their official worship. Customs like the burning of the (female) effigies of personified Winter during the Maslenitsa festival in Russia and the Ukraine, a Carnival-like celebration that precedes the start of the Lenten season, or the March 1 exchange of “martenisti” figures on Baba Marta’s Day in Bulgaria show that the death-dealing Winter Witch and the life-affirming Goddess of New Beginnings are ever in Their peoples’ hearts.

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Bulgarian Martenisti effigy.

Slava, Baba Marta! / Glory to Baba Marta!

The Spring 2017 Issue of Isis-Seshat Journal Is Now Available!

Isis-Seshat journal is the quarterly publication of the Fellowship of Isis, a worldwide religious community that celebrates the 41st anniversary of its founding this spring. I’m pleased to commence my third year of serving as its Executive Editor, a position I inherited from my late Archpriestess here in Chicago, the Rt. Rev. Deena Butta. I’m happy to announce that the Spring issue is now available as a PDF. Continue reading

Announcing the Call for Submissions for the Spring Issue of Isis-Seshat Journal

I hope the Lunar New Year of the Fire Monkey has gotten off to a very good start for everyone! This solar transit in Aquarius has kept me very busy (both my Ascendant and Moon in my natal chart are in Aquarius), very socially engaged in Chicago’s broader Pagan and occult/magical communities, and eager to implement projects both spiritual and artistic sprung from felicitous, unanticipated idea exchanges with like-minded souls met through networking. (My mentors in the business world have always been 100% accurate about networking: It happens everywhere, not just behind office doors at planned events–so yes, always have your business cards on hand whenever you leave the house!)

I was very pleased with how the Winter issue of Isis-Seshat journal turned out; it went into production and was delivered to contributors and subscribers three days early, despite a Mercury Retrograde! And all surplus printed copies, for the first time ever, have been completely sold out, so I want to extend my deepest thanks to all new readers who have approached me both online and offline to request a copy! The issue’s theme of Divination definitely resonated with many, and from places as far away as Germany, the UK, and even Australia, FOI members heeded the call for submissions and sent me informative and thought-provoking essays that made my heart happy to print. My thanks to everyone who helped make the Winter issue the wonderful publication that it is!

And so I naturally turn my thoughts, as the journal’s Executive Editor, to the Spring issue. As I plot Isis-Seshat’s editorial calendar for all of 2016, actually, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be continuing this trajectory of having very specific themes. I’ve decided that the Spring issue’s theme is going to be “Worlds Beyond: Mapping Out the Soulscapes Encountered in Ritual.” From exploring the states of consciousness we reach in the apogee of the rituals we perform to establish and maintain contact with our Holy Powers, as well as detailing our encounters with those Powers, to discussions of various culturally specific cosmologies that delineate the Worlds inhabited by our Gods and spirits, this Spring issue is going to serve as cartography for the ardent witch, the devoted priest(ess), the selfless shaman, the courageous magician, and the neophyte newly launched on her or his journey of spiritual self-exploration.    Continue reading

Hypnosis Naturalis

Restorative contact

Made in the refashioning of a wintry spell

A glimpse of reptilian hide

Beneath the dull gleam of the non-waves

Photo (c) by my friend Jovan Radakovich, www.countrad.blogspot.com

Photo (c) by my friend Jovan Radakovich, http://www.countrad.blogspot.com

Forest hush interrupted

By startled stork wings

A white blur in treetops pricked by

Budding sensations

And why not delight

Despite the overhead cling of gray expanse

Unpenetrated by shaft of sun?

 

Why not delight

Despite the din of debris and

Slicked ghost swirls of stains

Upon the land’s liquid mirror?

 

Why not delight

In the midst of this yawning grave,

This unthinking hum of collective

Motion to nowhere?

 

Now here

is treasured medicine,

Spun by untold minds at dreaming’s dawn

 

Now here

is quickened lifeblood

Splashed against the haze of infinite crossroads

 

The gazes of gods guide my stumbling footsteps aloft.

 

Now.

 

Here.