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Laboratory - The anguane and their knowledge of the best time for farming tasks


One of the most noteworthy skills, that Ladinian legends credit the anguane with, is their knowledge of the best time to perform farming tasks. Until now, I has always considered this feature as independent form the others and uneasy to explain. It got to my mind, however, that a simple and straightforward explanation does exist, that can be logically connected with the other attributions of this character.


As an instance, we can find in DeRossi (in "Il maso “Vivan” a Mazzin"; see also “Un ricco raccolto” [a rich harvest]) a vivana (=anguana) who “was also able to tell for certain which was the best time for seeding, harvesting, collecting and for all other home activities”. The tyrolean Saligen had the same capability. The general opinion is that this feature must be connected with the fact of representing something of a “fertility spirit”.

We already investigated two passages by Wolff (the Croda Rossa and Le Nozze di Merisana [Merisana’s wedding]), from which we can conclude that the anguane, during the Bronze Age, represented a sort of priestesses of the cult of the Sun and water. In the Croda Rossa we find an anguana who greets sunrise every morning; in the Nozze di Merisana we have an association among the Sun, a sacred pond, the nymphs who inhabit it and a specific event (the “wedding”) that happens at high noon. On this subject, we observed that this pond is located due south of the sacred mountain that Ey-de-Net climbs before leaving for battle, and concluded that the “wedding” might consist in the observation of the midday Sun’s passage on the vertical of the sacred mountain, seen reflected on the pond water mirror

On the other hand, we can easily understand that, for a Bronze Age farmer, the uncertainty about the best moment when to perform agricultural tasks had to be caused not by the lack of “agro-historical” data on the most appropriate season, but by the lack of any precise calendar reference. Today people use to seed, to say, “on St. John’s day”, but, if I have no calendar, how can I know when St.John’s day is? I can only proceed by approximation.

The simplest way to create a reasonably accurate solar calendar is to observe the point of the horizon where the Sun rises. At our latitudes, this point moves along an arc of about seventy degrees, reaching 55° of azimuth on summer solstice (i.e. North-East, 10 degrees East) and 125° (South-East, 10 degrees East) on winter solstice, at which time the cycle reverts and the sunrise point “moves back”. The average shift is therefore about 0.4° per day (maximum at equinoxes, minimum at solstices), i.e. a little less than a whole solar diameter (0.5°). As a consequence, an attentive and constant observer of the sunrise against a horizon indented by mountains far away can easily answer the non-trivial question “what day is today?” as a function of the constantly shifting position of the Sun at its morning rise.

The anguane, just by the daily observation of of the sunrise point, might therefore have created, over time, a rudimentary agricultural calendar, by correlating the historically most favourable season for the various tasks with the position of the sunrise point in that period. Thence they might easily determine that, as an instance, the best day for seeding was when the Sun (as seen from their sanctuary) rose “behind the third peak of mount So-and-So”, and on that date they could convey to the farmers the information that the time of seeding had come.

It is possible that this simple (but vital!) calendarial function contributed more than any other to cast on the anguane an aura of mastering nature’s cycles and also, by extension, of a patronage on the agricultural fertility and, by a further easy extension, on fertility in general. The capability itself of foretelling the future, that often is a feature of theirs, might have taken its root from this “magic” knowledge.