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February 2 Imbolc – Groundhog Day

by Pat Hacker | February 2, 1998

Groundhogs don’t hold a lot of fascination for me – there does not seem to be a real story there, more like a photo op.

In Ireland, we would be celebrating St. Brigid’s Day on February 2, and I think she has a great story. She is the fire goddess, the sun goddess,“the Bright One,” also known as Brighde, Bridget, Brigid, Brigantia and, guess what – our word “bride” is derived from her name.

She was sometimes divided into three:

  • virgin
  • mother, and
  • hag/crone/wise woman.

There is a link between St. Brigid as virgin bride and Imbolc, the pagan day described below, the earliest beginning of spring.

At St. Brigid’s shrine in the Irish city of Kildare, it is said that 19 priestesses kept a perpetual flame burning in her honour. She was the patroness of smithcraft (fire of the forge), poetry (fire of feeling) and healing (especially midwifery, for this time of year is also lambing season when sheep start to give milk). Bonfires mark her holiday. When the Catholic Church came to Ireland, it couldn’t erase St. Brigid, nor was it prepared to make her a full-fledged saint, so it canonized her. The festival in her honour was given the Christian name of Candlemas and all the candles that will be used in the church during the year are blessed.

Groundhog Day now has some meaning for me. It is more about the sun and its companion shadow (shadow means more winter, no shadow means less winter), more about the awakening of earth, more about what is stirring in each of us, than about the local groundhog. I’ll have a thought for St. Brigid too as I gather with friends in warmth and reflection.

The pace of modern life is pretty fast, but daily life has not always been so. Ancient people, and modern people who live close to the land, recognize the natural pace of nature and know that everything is a process and cannot be hurried. To try to hurry nature is to interfere with a natural process and risk producing an artificial product or result.

At the beginning of February, pagan folk feel the earth making its first moves toward coming to life. Below ground, dormant roots are beginning to stir. Seeds are silently preparing to come out of their sleeping stage and, within another six weeks, will begin to waken.

For women who have had children, and for those who will, there is a very special moment during pregnancy when the mother realizes that the sensation she is feeling in her belly is that of her baby moving. This discovery of movement, the realization that the fetus is alive and can be felt being active, is called “quickening.” It is a cause to celebrate; life is stirring. Quicken is an old word meaning “to come to life.” The Christian Apostle’s Creed mentions “the quick and the dead” referring to those who are alive.

You don’t have to be pregnant to understand the experience of quickening in other ways: as with the earliest discovery of a feeling and the realization that this feeling is developing and coming to life; or an idea that begins as a shadow and grows clearer; or a plan that starts as a dream to emerge eventually as a reality. There is in each of these scenarios a time, a moment, when the discovery of pale but definite beginnings is understood.

All living things, including the earth itself, follow rhythmic, predictable, repeating cycles and patterns. In the cycles of women’s bodies, we are born, spend time as children, then with the onset of menstruation we become adolescents, then adults characterized by the mother phase, we then grow old and stop menstruating, becoming crones. We die and spiral again into a new but different life in rebirth.

Imbolc, or Candlemas as it is also called, is a time of intuition and looking forward; it is a time to light candles and remember that as the days grow longer the physical world begins to change. We might choose this time to consider what is ahead of us and make the commitment to ourselves and to our futures to realize and fulfill dreams and visions. This is a time of beginnings and of re-dedication to oneself, to others, to beliefs and values, and to the earth.

a ritual
  1. Gather with a few friends, inside or outside. Whether you decide to start outside and later move indoors, or enjoy your celebration entirely indoors, fire for both light and heat will play a role in the arrangements. A large, warming fire will have to be set outside, or use many candles indoors to create light and mood.
    • If you are doing your work indoors, fill your centre cauldron with earth or sand, which you may have to buy or scoop from indoor flower pots.
    • If you decide on special clothing, white and pale colours suit the occasion.
    • Food – crescent-shaped butter cookies flavoured with orange flower water, honeycakes and fruit nectar will remind us of the promise of the days to come.
    • A lightly scented anointing oil and some rain water or melted snow can also be placed on your alter or in the centre of the circle.
    • Any personal objects you want to have charged by the ritual may also be placed on the altar. If you are doing your work outdoors, a major fire will be the centre of your circle.
  2. Prepare the altar in advance with five candles; blue for [and at] the west, green for north; yellow for east and red for south. Have a black candle for the centre of the circle.
  3. Decide who will guide the ritual and who would like to call in the quarters. When everyone is assembled, choose one person as convenor to lead the procession, to create the circle. This person may use the besom (broom) making sweeping motions as she leads the others into the circle.
  4. When the circle is formed, let all join hands and breathe deeply and silently together for some time.
  5. CALL IN THE ELEMENTS OR THE FOUR DIRECTIONS:

    • Standing, face the north marked by the green candle on the alter and invite into the circle the energy of the north, the earth, the deep sleeping reservoir of knowledge and secrets, of wisdom and soul and slumbering stone once molten, now solid, ever transforming. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Standing, face the east marked by the yellow candle on the altar and call in the spirits of the east, of air, of breath of life, of intellect and imagination. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Standing, face the south marked by the red candle on the altar and have the convenor invite the spirits of the south, of fire, of heat and passion, of energy and creativity to join the circle. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Standing, face the west marked by the blue candle on the altar and have the convenor invite the spirits of the west, of emotion and remembrance, the place of the gate to otherworld to join our circle. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Light each candle on the altar in the order in which they were called: north, east, south and west.

    The convenor will light the black candle in the centre saying, “As above, so below,” and the convenor will invite the Goddess in her many forms and aspects, as Maiden, Mother and Crone in the forms and traditions of Gala, Yemaya, Spider Woman, Ishtar, Mary, Inanna, Demeter, Kall, Kuan-Yin, Isis, Astarte, Hecate. Imbolc is the celebration most closely associated with Brigid, the Irish goddess who is the protector of hearth fire. Brigid is also credited with being the goddess of inspiration, poetry and healing. She is a good spirit to welcome into the circle.

  6. Pass a kiss around the circle and talk about the meaning of this cross quarter sabbat to each member of the group. Speak of the magic each person wants to work in the year to come.
  7. Each member of the circle will have a white candle which she may, in turn, light from the centre cauldron candle and then place in the earth inside the cauldron. For an outside ritual, the candles may be lit and placed in the earth or snow around the centre fire.
  8. Close the ritual by joining hands or holding each other at the waist and forming a circle. Swaying together, raise a cone of power by creating steadily rising sounds with voice and energy until the cone peaks and hopefully, you are all lifted right off the ground!

a word about “Groundhog Day”

February 2:

It is almost impossible for humans to get away from the deep rooted spiritual acknowledgment we make both consciously and unconsciously.

On Groundhog Day it is held that the groundhog comes out of her hole and looks for her shadow. If she sees it, she knows there will be six weeks more of winter.

Groundhog Day is the modern version of Imbolc. Represented by the groundhog, things stir and lookout from their dreaming darkness. Finding more light and warmth, but perhaps not enough, they prepare to emerge six weeks later, just around the spring equinox.

resources for this story

calendars

  • For We’Moon 98, Gaia Rhythms for Women which contains an astrological moon calendar, appointment book and daily guide to natural rythm for women, take a look at Wise Womyn Ways [www.teleport.com/~wemoon]

National Film Board of Canada films directed by Donna Reed

  • Goddess Remembered
  • The Burning Times
  • Full Circle

books

  • Sweet Secrets: Stories of Menstruation by KATHLEEN O’GRADY and PAULA WANSBOROUGH. Includes short stories by young women from around the world about menstruation, as well as health information. Second Story Press | 1997
  • Drawing Down the Moon, by MARGOT ADLER, Beacon Press, Boston | 1992
  • A Woman’s Book Of Rituals and Celebrations, by BARBARA ARDINGER, New World Library, San Rafael, CA, second edition | 1995
  • The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, by ZSUZSANNA BUDAPEST, Winghbow Press, Berkeley, CA
  • Rites of Passage, The Pagan Wheel of Life, by PAULINE CAMPANELLI, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN | 1994
  • Wheel of the Year, Living the Magical Life, by PAULINE CAMPANELLI, Llewellyn Publications, fifth printing | 1995
  • Ancient Ways, Reclaiming Pagan Traditions, by PAULINE CAMPANELLI, Llewellyn Publications, fourth printing | 1993
  • Wicca, A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner, by SCOTT CUNNINGHAM, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1993
  • The Great Cosmic Mother, by BARBARA MOR and MONICA SJOO Mor, Harper Row | 1989
  • Arladne’s Thread A Workbook of Goddess Magic, by SHEKHINAH MOUNTAINWATER, The Crossing Press, Freedom CA | 1991
  • Women-Church, by ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER, Harper and Row, San Francisco, CA | 1990
  • Encyclopedia of White Magic, by PADDY SLADE, Hamlyn Press, London | 1990
  • The Spiral Dance, by STARHAWK, Harper Collins, San Francisco | 1991
  • The Women’s Spirituality Book,by DIANE STEIN, Llewellyn Publications
  • Jambalaya, by LULSAH TELSH, Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA | 1990
  • Women’s Rituals, by BARBARA WALKER, Harper and Row, New York, NY | 1990
  • The Women’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, by BARBARA WALKER, Harper and Row, San Francisco | 1990

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

features

  • Seasonal Feature

  • September 22: fall equinox

    by Pat Hacker

    All religious traditions seem to have legends about going into the underworld to return again – a symbolic theme of death and rebirth that appears in a lot of popular films, too. The most famous and loved myth of the fall equinox and autumn season is that of Demeter and Persephone. One of devotion, faith, determination and sisterhood, it is a story about women. It is also the best way to understand why we have winter. read more