Festival for Mars
(Roman) Ancient: Kal. Mar. (new moon).
In pre-Julian Roman calendar, March was the first month, the time when nature returns to life after the winter; thus this day was the old New Year’s Day. The month is named for Mars, who is much more then a war god; He is the protector of family and field. Cato prescribes (De Agri Cultura, cxli) the following prayer to Him (abridged):
Father Mars, I pray and I beseech Thee to be merciful and gracious unto me, and to my house, and to my family; therefore has the offering been brought around my field, my house, my farm; that Thou might turn away, ward off, remove all sickness, seen and unseen, barrenness, destruction, ruin and untimely influences. Grant good health and strength to me, my house and to my family. For this goal, to purify my farm, my land, my ground, for making expiation, please accept these offerings, Father Mars.He is offered strues (finger-cakes) and ferta (oblation-cakes). In addition, prayers and libations are offered to Jupiter and Janus.
Mars is further honored on this, His birthday, by the Salii (Dancers or Leapers), two groups of twelve priests, who dance in armor and carry ancilia (ancient, bronze-age figure-eight shields). In ancient times one of these shields was the original ancile that had fallen from the sky as a gift from Jupiter. The Sallii dance through the city to flute music, and sing a song so ancient that even the Romans didn’t understand its words. According to Frazer, the clashing arms routs the evil spirits and the stamping feet and leaping promotes the earth’s fertility. The priests feast throughout the month.