Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Old, Older, Oldest?

If Candlemas be mild and gay,
Go saddle your horses and buy them hay;
But if Candlemas be stormy and black,
It carries the winter away on its back.

Forgetting that Candlemass is a Swedish metal band big in the 80's...It’s no accident that February 2 is both Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Imbolc this year.

All signify the triumph of light over darkness, spring over winter. Today is the astronomical midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Candlemas, a Christian feast day, got its name from the candlelit processions that accompanied it. Groundhog Day, a holiday that uses a furry prognosticator to foretell the coming of spring, depends on the presence (or not) of sunshine for its forecast.

Thus the day is known for weather rhymes, such as Half your wood and half your hay, / Should be gone and be left on Candlemas Day, a reference to the halfway point of wintery weather.

The oldest of the rites - Imbolc or Oimelc, two names which refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring.

In the county of Shropshire, the snowdrop, first flower of spring, took the place of candles, being named, “Candlemas bells,” “Purification flowers” or – with a faint remembrance of Brigid, perhaps – “Fair Maid of February.”

In Ireland and Scotland, an effigy of Brigid was carried about from door to door as in Scotland. Often the figure of Bride was fashioned from a churn-dash covered with straw, emphasizing her presence in the dairy; sometimes it was a child’s doll decked out for the occasion, and sometimes a young girl dressed in white represented Brigid herself. The girl might hand out a Brigid’s Cross to each household, for the saint’s special cross was an important part of the Irish celebrations in all parts of Ireland. These crosses of rushes or straw were made on St. Brigid’s Eve and hung in the house and often in byre and stable too, to honor Brigid and to gain her protection. The crosses took shapes that are not traditionally Christian, but bear marked resemblance to symbols of the sun in cultures throughout the world. One kind was actually not a cross at all, but a figure with three legs, recalling the three-fold nature of the goddess-saint. It is, in fact, an ancient Celtic symbol known as the triskele.

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