It seems quite impossible that the holiday of Candlemas should be considered
the beginning of Spring. Here in the heartland, February 2nd may see a blanket of snow mantling the Mother. Or, if the snows
have gone, you may be sure the days are filled with drizzle, slush, and steel-grey skies -- the dreariest weather of the year.
In short, the perfect time for a Pagan Festival of Lights. And as for Spring, although this may seem a tenuous beginning,
all the little buds, flowers and leaves will have arrived on schedule before Spring runs its course to Beltane.
"Candlemas" is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The
older Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc. "Imbolc" means, litterally, "in the belly" (of the Mother). For in the womb of Mother
Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her
womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. "Oimelc" means "milk of ewes", for it is also lambing season.
The holiday is also called "Brigit's Day", in honor of the great Irish
Goddess Brigit. At her shrine, the ancient Irish capital of Kildare, a group of priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual
flame burning in her honor. She was considered a goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing (especially
the healing touch of midwifery). This tripartite symbolism was occasionally expressed by saying that Brigit had two sisters,
also named Brigit. (Incidentally, another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus She bestows her special patronage
on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called "bride" in her honor.)
The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess
of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be "Saint" Brigit, patron saint of smithcraft, poetry,
and healing. They "explained" this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was "really" an early Christian missionary sent
to the Emerald Isle, and that the miracles she performed there "misled" the common people into believing that she was a goddess.
For some reason, the Irish swallowed this. (There is no limit to what the Irish imagination can convince itself of. For example,
they also came to believe that Brigit was the "foster-mother" of Jesus, giving no thought to the implausibility of Jesus having
spent his boyhood in Ireland!)
Brigit's holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires,
since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were
lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this
symbolism as well, using "Candlemas" as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical
year. (Catholics will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise's Day, is remembered for using the newly-blessed candles
to bless the throats of parishoners, keeping them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.)
The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon
holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan
holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts. The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but
it has to do with the old custom of "churching women". It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth.
And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn't be purified
until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young
Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore. Even our
American folk-calendar keeps the tradition of "Groundhog's Day", a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the
Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be "six more weeks" of bad weather (i.e., until the next old holiday, Lady Day). This
custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the
year." Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as "inverse" weather predictors, whereas the quarter- days are
used as "direct" weather predictors.
Like the other High Holidays or Great Sabbats of the Witches' year,
Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it's alternate date, astrologically determined by the sun's reaching 15-degrees Aquarius,
or Candlemas Old Style (this year, February 6th). Another holiday that gets mixed up in this is Valentine's Day. Ozark folklorist
Vance Randolf makes this quite clear by noting that the old-timers used to celebrate Groundhog's Day on February 14th. Once
again, this shows the resultant confusion of calendar changes and "lost days" that have accumulated down the centuries.
For modern Witches, Candlemas O.S. may be seen as the Pagan version
of Valentine's Day, with a de-emphasis of "hearts and flowers" and an appropriate re-emphasis of Pagan carnal frivolity. This
also re-aligns the holiday with the ancient Roman Lupercalia, a fertility festival held at this time, in which the priests
of Pan ran through the streets of Rome whacking young women with goatskin thongs to make them fertile. The women seemed to
enjoy the attention and often stripped in order to afford better targets.
One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries, and
especially by Witches in the British Isles and parts of the U.S., is to place a lighted candle in each and every window of
the house, beginning at sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. Make sure
that such candles are well seated against tipping and gaurded from nearby curtains, etc. What a cheery sight it is on this
cold, bleak and dreary night to see house after house with candle-lit windows! And, of course, if you are your Coven's chandler,
or if you just happen to like making candles, Candlemas Day is the day for doing it. Some Covens hold candle-making parties
and try to make and bless all the candles they'll be using for the whole year on this day.
Other customs of the holiday include weaving "Brigit's crosses" from
straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making "Brigit's
beds" to ensure fertility of mind and spirit (and body, if desired), and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles for the High
Priestess to wear for the Candlemas Circle, similar to those worn on St. Lucy's Day in Scandinavian countries. All and all,
this is certainly one of the prettiest holidays celebrated in the Pagan seasonal calendar.
Some ideas for a fun Imbolc activity:
- Cast a circle around a living evergreen tree and meditate within the
- Light white, green, and blue candles in the circle
- Bless a bowl of seeds and let them sit over night where the moonlight
can (if possible) shine upon them. Save them to plant on Ostara!
- Place a wheel on your altar
- Decorate your altar with white candles and lights (like the white
Christmas tree lights you can purchase at many places during the winter months)
- Fill a dish with cut-out paper snowflakes and keep in on the altar
or on a table. Alternatively, you can fill a dish with real snow for presence in your Imbolc rite, but naturally this will
only be for temporary use as the snow will (of course) melt.
- Make a crown of thirteen red candles
- Make your own besom (witch's broom) to purify your ritual space by
sweeping out the "old" to start anew
On your altar should be placed a circle of 13 stones and, within the
circle of stones, a circle of 13 candles. Within the circle of candles should be spread some maize - i.e. corn meal - and
in that a waxen female candle to symbolize the Goddess on your altar. On the eastern side of the altar should be placed a
small sheaf of grain with a candle inserted inside it.
You should dress in your usual ceremonail garb for Magickal rites or
skyclad, as you prefer.
Retire to bathe in salt-water (use sea salt) before the ritual. As
you do so picture the water cleansing the soul and spirit, just as it cleanses the body. When you have dressed, annoint yourself
with a holy oil. When you have prepared yourself, sit in a dim quiet place and light a candle - ONE THAT IS NOT BEING USED
IN THE RITES - and meditate on how at this time of year the Goddess in her fiery aspect AS LIGHT was welcomed back into the
Temples and the Homes of the land.
Take this candle and walk slowly to your altar. Place it in the circle
of the 13 candles. Then light the two altar candles, which are seperate from the circle of lights also, and the incense. (Incense
should be stick or powdered incense on charcoal in a swinging burner.) Then light all the quarter candles in the 4 directions,
starting in the east and going clockwise.
cast your circle in the usual manner, but Invoke the Goddess with the
following: "Sacred womb, giver of the secrets of Life, Mother of all that exists in the Universe, I ask your guardianship
of this gathering and your assistance in my work. I am gathered in celebration of your gifts and my work is most holy. SO
MOTE IT BE"
and Invoke the God in the following manner: "Fire of the sky, guardian
of all that exists in the Universe, I ask your guardianship of this gathering and your assistance in my work. I am gathered
in celebration of your gifts and my work is most holy. SO MOTE IT BE"
(continue with the circle casting if it is not already finished)
Light the 13 candles and then the Goddess candle in the center and
say: "Warm and quickening Light awaken and bring forth beauty for thou art my pleasure and my bounty LORD and LADY OSIRIS
AND ISIS" (or you may substitute whatever names your circle uses for the God and the Goddess - or those you personally prefer)
Reflect a moment on the coming of the light and offer up the incense.
say "O ancient Ones Timeless Goddess and Sacred King who art the heralds of springtime and it's bounties be with me now in
celebration Hail to Osiris and Isis Harvest giver and blessed Lady Let this be a time and a place sacred to your power and
your beauty SO MOTE IT BE"
Light the candle in the sheaf of grain and hold it up with the loaf
of bread in the other hand and say (or the cakes - whatever you or your tradition uses for the cakes and wine/juice ceremony)
"My Lord and Lady, as the seed becomes the grain, so the grain becomes the bread, Mark the everlasting value of our seasons
and their changes. "
Break a piece of the bread or cakes off and burn it as an offering
in the central candle.
Then say " IN the deepest Icy Winter the seed of the Earth lies deep
within the womb of the Great Mother. The Spring brings the heat of the Father and with their joining comes new life. The completion
of the cycle brings brings food to the children of the world. As I taste the food I shall know the wisdom of the cycles and
be blessed with the food of wisdom throughout my life" consecrate cakes and wine/juice in the usual manner and partake of
them, but first raise your chalice or drinking horn and say
"Hail to thee ISIS Hail to thee Osiris For thou art blessed"
After this commune in meditation with
the Lord and lady for a while, then close the circle in your usual manner.