Happy winter mid-point to spring! Whether you call it Groundhog Day, Candelmas, Imbolc, or St. Brighid’s Day, the point in the annual cycle of days and seasons where we are in this current year has been marked in the Northern Hemisphere for tens of hundreds of years.
I am a veritable fountain of information on February 2nd because 24 years ago, February 2nd, 1989, I stepped off a train in Tucson with only a couple of bags, to begin a life together with the man who is now my husband. We married close to the Summer Solstice of that year, but one of our favorite anniversaries is Groundhog’s Day. Yes, we have many anniversaries, and no, what occasions they mark are none of your beeswax. I’ve researched the day, okay?
Imbolc is the “pagan” observance of the day. I’ve never really been able to figure out what pagan is. When I was little I was taught by a very nice Sunday School teacher who was 3 zillion years old and spoke of things ancient from personal experience. She taught me that pagan meant any belief that wasn’t Christian. I later learned that wasn’t quite right, but I have come around once again and have realized that any belief system that is not Fundamentally Christian is viewed as a Pagan belief by Fundamentalist Christians who, apparently, are trying to take over the United States political and judicial system. Pagan equates with evil in these people’s thesauri. So I don’t like the word. Although I personally refer to it as all it really means is that is one of the four primary Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May) and Lughnasadh (~1 August). Wicca is too modern a religion to be as structured as it seems to be from my perspective. I am personally suspicious of all religious ritual. I guess I am a gnostic at heart. What I believe, I believe because of personal experience.
What the Wiccan/Pagan perspective does offer is the recognition of natural, earth-based cycles. Every woman understands cycles, lunar and otherwise. Even our non-agrarian, industrial society kept seasonal celebrations under the guise of various religious holidays.
Enough religious history. Now for etiology! Woot! Imbolc comes from the word oimelc which translates as the phrase “ewe’s milk” in the old Irish tongue. Now is the tiime for preparation for the birth of spring lambs.
St. Brighid Day is really nothing more than the transliteration of one of the forms of the Goddess associated with the Celtic observance of Oimelc into the pantheon of Saints within the Catholic Church that was made to assist with the incorporation of Celtic peoples into the Roman Empire by overlaying Christianity onto existing observances.
Our culture has a memory beyond that of any one slice of time in one place. Thousands of years of our history was spent with the majority of our population dedicated to agriculture and husbandry. Even when we don’t know why we do things, we continue to do them. Our American ritual of determining the likelihood of six more weeks of winter or an early end to winter predicted by the amount of sunshine on the morning of February 2nd comes from the same Northern European traditions of observing the midpoints between the solstice and equinox.
Somehow there may also be some sort of connection to ritual reincorporation of a woman into the community 40 days after giving birth as per the Christian observance coming out of the Jewish observance. February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas.
No matter what the exact travels of the observance of the midpoint between winter and spring from Europe to the U.S., when I was out with my dog Daisy this afternoon on a walk, it looked and smelled like spring. I think we are due for a long, wonderful spring.