The Romans called this month Martius after the god Mars, who was the god of war and agriculture alike, since March opened the season for both farming and fighting. As a warrior god, Mars also protected the crops and so “it was to Mars that the Roman husbandman prayed for the prosperity of his grain and vines, his fruit trees and his copses.”  From this we get our name ‘March’. In the oldest known Roman calendar, the year began in March, though this was later shifted to January with the reforms of Julius Caesar.
In the UK, we still say that March ‘comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb’, beginning with cold and blustery winds and ending with longer, brighter days. The winds of March perform an important function, and were considered by the old farmers to dry out the fields and make the soil right for planting. March was even called Hlyda or Lide in Old English, which is a reference to the loud winds.
We can feel energy building in the natural world as it responds to the increasing light during this month. Vigorous life is returning to the land; everywhere shoots push up through the earth, trees bud, flowers blossom, and animals and birds begin to mate – the earth is waking up. It is a time of renewal, of promise, of hope when the Sun God gains strength, when the Vegetation God emerges from the earth, and the Maiden Goddess is wreathed in flowers.
In ancient Greece the festival of the Anthestêria was celebrated  in honour of the god Dionysus Anthios (Dionysus the Blossoming), as the first flowers heralded his return in spring.  It fell when the fermentation of the wine made in the autumn was complete and it was ready to drink, reminding everyone that life and the seasons are cyclical, that what is born will die and be reborn again. All the temples of the gods were closed except the Limnaion, the temple of Dionysus ‘in the Marshes’, which contained a sacred spring, a passageway to the underworld. The temple was only opened on this one day of the year, and its opening unlocked the way between the worlds of the living and the dead, enabling Dionysus, who had been dwelling in the Underworld during the winter, to return, along with the shades of the dead attracted by the scent of the opening of the pithoi (large wine jars), left fermenting over winter, half buried in the Earth, and now ready to taste. Swaying masks of the Dionysus were hung in the trees, sending good luck and fertility wherever they looked.
The Hieros Gamos, the ritual marriage ofthe Basilinna (‘Queen’), to the god Dionysus was celebrated. In this ceremony, she represented Ariadne, the Cretan princess and daughter of Minos who helped Theseus to defeat the Minotaur, and guided him out of the labyrinth. Theseus abandoned Ariadne on Naxos, where she was found by the god Dionysus who married her. In one version of the myth she later hanged herself from a tree, and was rescued from the underworld realm of the dead by Dionysus. The themes here are all of emergence from the underworld, like the seed sprouting from the ground, like the vegetation god in spring. On the last day of the festival, it was necessary to purge the city of the spirits of the dead ancestors, so a meal was prepared for the dead and for the god Hermes Chthonios, their guide, who would take them back to the underworld. With this banishing of the dead, the god Dionysus and the year could finally be resurrected.
In ancient Rome, a ten day festival in honour of the vegetation god Attis, son and lover of the goddess Cybele, took place. A young pine tree representing Attis was carried into the city like a corpse, swathed in a linen shroud and decked with violets, then placed in a sepulchre in Cybele’s temple which stood on what is now Vatican Hill, near where St Peter’s stands.  On the Day of Blood, also called Black Friday,  the priests of the cult gashed themselves with knives as they danced ecstatically, sympathizing with Cybele in her grief and helping to restore Attis to life. That night was spent holding a vigil over the tomb. The next morning, a priest opened the sepulchre at dawn, revealing that it was empty and announcing that the god was risen. This day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment.  The worshippers cheered as the priest announced, “Be of good cheer, neophytes, seeing that the god is saved; for we also, after our toils, shall find salvation!”  The longer, warmer days of spring had come, and vegetation was emerging from the earth.
In an echo of the rites of Attis, in Western Christian tradition, Easter often falls during this month. It marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sacrificed on a cross, but when his tomb was opened after three days, it was found empty, and he was declared to have risen.
The Sun reborn at the winter solstice has gradually been gaining strength, and at the vernal equinox (around 21 March) the light finally overcomes the darkness, and the days become longer than the nights. The Saxons called March Lentmonat, ‘lengthening’ referring to the lengthening of days, a word the Christians adopted as ‘Lent’, the days leading up to the festival of Easter.
It is not surprising that many places of the ancient world celebrated New Year at the spring equinox, when the Sun entered Aries, the first sign of the zodiac, and the natural world renewed itself. The Babylonian New Year, for example, began after the vernal equinox with the twelve day festival of Akitu. It commemorated the defeat of the dragon-goddess of chaos Tiamat by the god Marduk, and the beginning of creation with the emergence of order out of chaos. To mark this, New Year was celebrated with a temporary subversion of order,  reminiscent of the customs of misrule in later western Europe, when the king was stripped of his jewellery, sceptre and crown before kneeling before the altar of Marduk and praying for forgiveness on behalf of himself and his subjects, before all his emblems of authority were restored, symbolising the annual renewal of his authority and nature alike. Influenced by these ancient rites, Iranians, Zoroastrians, the Parsis in India, the Kurds and members of the Ba’hai faith still celebrate New Year at the spring equinox with the festival of Nowruz (‘New Day’), and this has taken place in Iran for at least 2500 years. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, order over chaos, and the rejuvenation of the world as the warmth of the spring conquers winter.
Out of the winter, spring comes. Out of the darkness comes light. In the midst of despair is hope. The world is renewed with youth and vitality, freshness and vigour. The themes of this month are the emergence of the vegetation god with the green shoots, as the youthful Green Man, the Maiden goddess as the lady of flowers, birds nesting and egg laying, and animals mating, promising us that life will be renewed and continue.
The folk customs of the season reflect these themes. New clothes were often bought for Easter, particularly gloves and new bonnets for women.  With the increase in light, wild and domestic birds start laying, a symbol of renewal and fertility. Forbidden during the fasting of Lent, they could now be eaten for luck, or given as gifts. In many districts, eggs were coloured or eaten for luck at Easter, and there was (and in some parts of England still are) egg rolling down the hillsides, perhaps to reflect the passage of the Sun, or perhaps just for fun, and the winner is the egg that rolls the furthest. The Pace Egg mumming troupes go out, performing mumming plays in return for eggs and beer.  In Germany, it is important to eat something green, and fire wheels are rolled down hills, straw stuffed into large wooden wheels, set on fire and rolled it down a hill at night. If all wheels released roll straight down the hill it is said to bring a good harvest. 
The energies of this month are about warmth, hope, potential, planting, seeding, youth, growth, renewal and promise.
© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021
 James Frazer, The Golden Bough
 The full moon following the full moon of the Lênaia, and two moons following the full moon nearest the winter solstice.
 Federica Doria, Marco Giuman, The Swinging Woman. Phaedra and Swing in Classical Greece, online at ojs.unica.it/index.php/medea/article/download/2444/2053, accessed 27.11.18
 Anneli Rufus, The World Holiday Book, Harper, San Francisco 1994
 James Frazer, The Golden Bough,
 Louis Bouyer, (trans. I. Trethowan), The Christian Mystery: From Pagan Myth to Christian Mysticism, T.& T.Clark Ltd, 1990
 Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998
 Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998