Happy…um, well, today is at least four different things. In the United States, popular culture celebrates today as Groundhog Day. The famous rodent known to his friends as P. Phil emerges from his burrow. If he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of awful Northern Hemisphere winter weather. In my Midwestern U.S. home, that means snow, ice, freezing temperatures and gray skies. Six weeks takes us almost all the way up to the spring equinox on Saturday, March 20th. If P. Phil doesn’t see his shadow, we get early spring-like weather, and we may actually see the sun again before April. At least, that’s what popular legend claims. In reality, I’ll probably be wearing long sleeves until mid-June.
On the Pagan calendar, today is Imbolc. “Imbolc,” I’m told, comes from the Gaelic for “in belly,” meaning the sheep are breeding and the ewes are getting lambs in their bellies. Imbolc is a hopeful day, when we look forward to the rebirth of spring even in the midst of the gloom of winter. Traditionally, yellow and white are the colors of Imbolc, worn to invoke the promise of spring sunshine. Another Imbolc tradition is lighting candles, another symbol of the lengthening days and shrinking darkness.
White is also worn by Pagans and Wiccans celebrating Brigit’s Day. Brigit (also spelled Brigid or Brighid) was one of the most important of the ancient Irish deities. She was the goddess of blacksmiths, associated with fire. She was also patroness of music, poetry, and all the arts. She was also responsible for making the crops come up in the spring. Brigit rode through the Irish countryside on a white cow with red ears, and its milk had magical healing powers. Brigit was basically your life-giving, life-sustaining mother goddess, akin to Demeter in Greek mythology.
In ancient times, the priestesses of Brigit kept themselves ritually pure to attend Brigit’s sacred fire. Her fire temple was, and still is, located in the Irish town of Kildare, south of Dublin. The name “Kildare” comes from the Gaelic for “church of the oak,“ and there was an ancient oak tree near the fire temple where Brigit was worshipped.
When the local people converted to Christianity, nuns took over the job of attending the fire temple, and Brigit was made a saint. The historical St. Brigit is said to have founded a convent and an abbey for monks in the late 400s, and today there is a magnificent cathedral in Kildare in Brigit’s honor. Its carvings are great works of art. Among the realistic carvings of bishops who are buried there, there is also a fine carving of a dragon…perhaps representing the Pagan religion, which never completely died out in Kildare.
On the Christian calendar, Imbolc and Brigit Day became Candlemas. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Catholic Church celebrates Candlemas as the day Mary the mother of Jesus took her son to the Temple of Jerusalem and offered a sacrifice so she could be considered ritually clean after giving birth, according to the ancient Jewish law. February 2nd is forty days after Christmas on the Roman calendar.
Candlemas was celebrated with a mass in which the church’s yearly supply of beeswax candles were blessed and carried in a procession while hymns were sung to Mary. Thus, Catholicism retained the Celtic customs of lighting candles and venerating a mother-goddess-archetype. The light from the candles is said to represent the guiding light of Jesus.
Whether you’re calling it Candlemas, Brigit’s Day, Imbolc, or Groundhog Day, have a good Y Mis Bach (Welsh for February). Now, please click this link to enjoy some sacred music about a candle kept burning in the window.