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Candlemas

by Raven

Like most Pagan holy days, Candlemas is honored on its eve - February 1st, and celebrated on its day - February 2nd. Unlike most Pagan holy days, this day was not co-opted by the Catholic Church fathers, although they did try. Once they discovered the people would not give up this celebration of "Spring Returning" they tried to divert it into a celebration of Lady Mary’s Churching Day. "Churching" was the custom of ritual purification of a new mother. Since erotic love was considered dirty and sinful, the reproductive act was often condemned as the ultimate pollution of a woman’s body. She was not allowed into a church for forty days after giving birth (eighty, if she gave birth to a girl). At the end of her quarantine, she was permitted to receive the ritual cleansing of the church and rejoin the congregation. Needless to say, the idea that "Our Lady" would need such a ceremony for giving birth to the God went over like a lead balloon, and Candlemas retained its original connotation.

The original title of Candlemas was Imbolc, meaning "in the belly" or "the surrounding belly" - a reference to the fertile Mother Earth. It is a festival designed to encourage the return of Spring and fertility to the earth. It was believed that if the day of Imbolc was cloudy and wintry, then winter had spent itself, and spring could commence. If , however, the day was fair and balmy, then winter had not yet peaked and the people would have to endure another six weeks of rain, snow, and cold. This ritual can be observed today in the tradition of "Groundhog Day" - since the little guy will only cast a shadow if the sun is out. Although this seems like a cute little custom, it has very serious roots.

As the winter was a harsh and difficult time for our ancestors, it is understandable that they would ritually encourage an early spring. They did this by appealing to the Gods, most especially to the Goddess Brigit, and by lighting candles to symbolize the return of the Sun, and thus of Spring. Candle burning has long been a way of attracting spiritual blessings to a household, at Candlemas it was considered a spiritual "life-line" between the people and the Goddess, firmly anchoring her blessing and aid within the family and clan.

The place within the home that is most holy to Brigit is the hearth. It was customarily the source of light and heat for the household, it was also the area where our ancestors cooked and prepared food. This area was considered to be the "heart" of the house and the center of life within the home. This sacred place is the centerpiece of Imbolc observance. Most Imbolc rituals center around a fire, and many modern Imbolc rituals involve sending up specific requests to the Goddess within the Imbolc fire.

Because this is a celebration of new beginnings and breathing new life into old ventures, it is a good time to start new projects and re-evaluate old ones. It is the best time to do "Spring Cleaning", and an excellent opportunity for ritual dedication and empowerment. So take time out and clear away what is spent to make space for the blessings to come.

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