Even with heavy snow falling, dark skies, and frigid temperatures, an “Aurora Hunter” from Bulgaria brought a hint of spring to a special European Space Agency (ESA) event. Last weekend, thirty influential social media personalities from around the globe descended onto Tromsø, Norway as part of the ESA’s “#AuroraHunters” initiative. During the multi-day/night event, leading experts from Europe shared science and culture knowledge of space weather to ESA’s invited Aurora Hunters. But individual Aurora Hunters also shared a taste of culture from their homeland at this truly international event.
Aurora Hunter Liubomis Baburov joined the Aurora Hunters from Bulgaria and brought with him the custom of the Martenista.
In Bulgarian folklore, “Grandma March”, or “Baba Marta”, is a grumpy older woman whose mood swings violently. To ask this folklore character for mercy for a quick and easy end to winter and a pleasant start to spring, Bulgarians wear a Martenitsa on March 1. A Martenitsa comes in different forms; typically, it’s a white and red yarn ornament, often worn on a wrist. The white in the ornament represents a sign of beauty, purity, innocence and joy while the red symbolizes vitality, health, love, victory, courage, and the light of a rising or setting sun. Based on Bulgarian tradition, the wearer of the Martenista is to keep it until they see a sign of spring outside, such as a bird returning from migration, a blossoming tree, or a fresh spring flower growing. According to folklore, the arrival of these spring things signals that Baba Marta is in a good mood and ready to retire for the season. When the spring sign appears, people will often remove the ornament and put it on the branch of a tree, thus giving it good health and luck.
There are other traditions and legends tied to the Martenista too. While most put it on a tree branch, others put it under a stone with the idea that the kind of insect closest to it the next day will determine the person’s health for the spring and the balance of the year. According to folklore, if the creature is a worm, the year will feature great health and success. The same fortune is associated with an ant, although that person will need to work hard to reach success. However, if the closest insect is a spider, that signals trouble; the person may not have good luck, health, or success for the rest of the year.
In true Bulgarian tradition, Baburov gave out bracelets made of red and white string, affixed with a bead, to Aurora Hunters at the ESA event. According to tradition, Martenista are always given as gifts and not bought for oneself.