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                                  C A N D L E M A S  
                               by Gwydion Cinhil Kirontin
           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, literally, "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 19 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 parishioners, 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 Maiden Goddess.
          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 
      guarded 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.

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