(SOME GLEANINGS) by Autumn Moon
Here's a rag bag of snippets (many of which may be familiar already to some readers) from many sources, from which each reader is welcome to take their preferred pieces and ignore the rest. For convenience I will use the name of Candlemas because this most often appears in folk lore, poems and so on.
Candlemas falls in the month of February whose name comes from the Roman "Februa" - the feast of purification. In Gaelic, it is the month of ravaging wolves and in Anglo-Saxon Solmonath - the month of cakes, now offered to the gods. Foxes are said to begin to mate now and February is reputed to be the best month for breeding dogs. Alan Bleakley says of the festival, "Imbolc ... when the ewes break their waters, lamb and lactate to feed their young ... is sacred to water and to Brigid, goddess of wells. This is the spring quarter, the coming fertility of crops and the birth of animals. It is the time of the growth aspect of the Goddess, the quickening goddess, who spins the fates of the newborn."
Many readers may recall the use made by the Farrar's of the little Hebridean ceremony of Briid's Bed recorded in The Golden Bough. A sheaf of oats would be dressed by the mistress and servants of each family in women's clothes, and laid with a wooden club in a large basket ("Briid's Bed"). The mistress and servants then cried "Briid is come, Briid is welcome" just before going to bed. In the morning, if the impression of the club was in the ashes of the fire it forebode a fruitful year - if not, a bad one. The symbolism is not hard to interpret. A similar custom was to lay a bed near the door and then go outside and call three times "Bridget, Bridget, come in - thy bed is ready." A candle, or more than one, would be left burning all night. The Manx invitation is "Brede, Brede, tar gys my thie tar dyn thie ayms noght. Foshil jee yn dorrys da Brede, as lhig da Brede e heet staight." (Bridget, Bridget, come to my house, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Bridget, let Bridget come in.)
There was a custom in Blidworth, Notts. where, on the Sunday nearest to Candlemas, an old wooden rocking cradle, decked with flowers and greenery, would be placed in the candle-lit chancel near the altar. The boy-baby most recently baptized would be laid by the vicar in the cradle and blessed during the service, before being returned to his parents. Might this custom have its origins in that of Briid's Bed?
Frazer suggests that the corn spirit was represented in some places by the pig and records the relevance of the spirit at sowing time as well as at harvest; and for crops generally, not just corn. Thus at Candlemas in parts of Germany people would eat pea soup and dried pig ribs, the ribs afterwards being hung in the room till sowing time when they would be put into the sown field or in the seed-bag as a protection against earth-fleas and moles, and to cause the flax to grow well.
Altar candles would be consecrated at Candlemas - hence the name. The Puritans disapproved: one angry sermon referred to the "notorious acts" of John Cosens who, one Candlemas Day, spent no less than two hours in "climbing long ladders to stick up wax candles in the said cathedral church" - no less than 220 plus 16 torches to be precise! Candles distributed after service were taken home and preserved as they were believed to have curative or protective powers. In England a specially large candle might be lit on Candlemas night and the family gather round it, feasting until it burned out.
There was a Scottish Candlemas custom whereby children would bring money to buy candles for the schoolroom. Later this developed into gifts for the schoolmaster himself - the boy giving the largest gift being appointed Candlemas King. He reigned for six weeks with certain privileges including being able to remit punishments. In a mixed school a Candlemas Queen might also be appointed.
Candlemas is the time for taking down, with suitable ceremony, the Yuletide greenery if it has not already been removed. Herrick in his Hesperides, says:
|Down with the Rosemary and Bayes|
|Down with the Mistletoe|
|Instead of Holly, now up-raise|
|The greener Box for show.|
Private pews would be swept lest a stray leaf was overlooked
|For look how many leaves there be|
|Neglected there (maids trust to me)|
|So many GOBLINS you shall see.|
On the Welsh borders, after the greenery was taken down a bowl of snowdrops might be brought in to give the house "the white purification" although snowdrops in the house at any other time were considered to bring bad luck. Snowdrops were also called Candlemas Bells or Purification Flowers.
The remains of the carefully-tended Yule log in some customs continues the fire theme from the Winter Solstice, calling to mind the themes of fertility and protection at Candlemas - the quickening of the year. Herrick again:
|Kindle the Christmas brand and then|
|Till sunne-set let it burne|
|Which quencht, then lay it up agen|
|Till Christmas next return.|
|Part must be kept wherewith to tend|
|The Christmas log next yeare|
|And where `tis safely kept, the Fiend|
|Can do no mischief there.|
Graveside doles may reward some study. They were (or are) ancient charities whereby the bounty of the donor was distributed from his or her graveside at a specific date. Some of these took place at Candlemas such as George Carlow's provision for the gift of loaves from his gravestone at Woodbridge, Suffolk; or William Glanville's gift of forty shillings to each of five boys who could go to his tomb on "the anniversary of his death", (2nd February) lay their hands upon the tomb and recite certain Christian matters and then, more interestingly perhaps, read out the 15th chapter of I Corinthians. It discourses on resurrection and the replacement of the "natural" body with the "spiritual" body. Compare the Christian goal of a "once and for all" spiritual renewal when the "corruptible" body is replaced with an "incorruptible" one (at Judgement day), with the witch's theme of spiritual renewal each Candlemas - a continually repeating and refining process.
On to games. Jethart Ba' is a traditional handball (originally football) game played in Jedburgh on Candlemas Day (and a later, moveable date) between opposing teams, membership of which depended on one's place of birth in the town. Balls decorated with coloured streamers were "thrown, run away with,'smuggled' from hand to hand but never kicked," as the teams went through the streets (where windows were understandably barricaded), sometimes overflowing into gardens and usually reaching the River Jed where there was much splashing and `dooking'. The game was apparently formerly even more vigorous resulting in casualties and even deaths. Similar games were placed in other parts of the British Isles, such as Scotland and Cornwall, for example, where "the [silver] ball in this play may be compared to an infernal spirit; for whosoever catcheth it, fareth straightways like a mad man, struggling and fighting with those that go about to hold him" and "The Hurlers take their next way over hills, dales, hedges, ditches, yea, and through bushes, briars, mires, plashes and rivers whatsoever: so as you shall sometimes see 20 or 30 lie tugging together in the water, scrambling and scratching for the ball." (Carew - The Survey of Cornwall 1602).
Some folk rhymes about Candlemas relate to the sometimes precarious balancing point between winter and spring:
|As the light grows longer|
|The cold grows stronger|
|If Candlemas day be fair and bright|
|Winter will have another flight;|
|If Candlemas Day be clouds and rain|
|Winter be gone and will not come again.|
|A farmer should, on Candlemas Day|
|Have half his corn and half his hay.|
|On Candlemas Day if the thorns hang adrop|
|You can be sure of a good pea crop.|
|This is the Day of Bride|
|The Queen will come from the Mound|
|This is the day of Bride|
|The serpent will come from the hole|
Paradoxically, although one of the fire festivals, Candlemas is also a day when traditionally lights are extinguished because the days are becoming longer:
|Candlemas Day, plant beans in the clay|
|Put candles and candlesticks all away.|
The goddess particularly associated with Candlemas is Brigit, Brighid, Brigid, Brigit, Briid, Brid, Brede, Bride, Bridget. The name Brig is said to mean Power. It is worth comparing the name with the word "bride". She is recorded as the Celtic goddess of poets, healing and fertility, a daughter of the Dagda with two sisters; goddesses of smiths and laws. One can see Brigit and her sisters as one triple-aspected goddess. The Farrars' book, "The Witches' Goddess", includes an entire ritual invoking Brigid and the particular help she can give, which is worth perusing. Starhawk's "Spiral Dance" gives a simple and effective power-raising chant emphasising the inspirational power of the goddess - the personal equivalent of the stirring of the seeds in the earth::
|HPS:||Fire of the heart|
|Fire of the mind|
|Fire of the hearth|
|Fire of the wind|
|Fire of the Art|
|Fire out of time|
|ALL:||She shines for all,|
|She burns in all.|
What of the God for this time? Suitable gods might be those connected with craftsmanship (e.g. Hephaestus if you use the Greek pantheon) and also those with watery associations, particularly water as used for inspiration and purification such as holy wells. Consider, for example, Mimir, if you incline to the Norse pantheon. Also gods of the underworld for we are still in the time of the Dread Lord, although Vivienne Crowley says, "At Candlemas the God releases the Goddess. Knowing that with his failing powers he can no longer hold her, he allows her to return to bring fertility to the Earth."
Candlemas is a fire festival but nowadays the gentle light of candles is used rather than the vigorous Belfire. The purpose of the candle flame ("the solitary flame symbolising the soul" - Pat Crowther; "the strengthening spark of light beginning to pierce the gloom of winter" - Farrar) is different from the fires used at the other great Sabbats. But bear in mind, for example, Brigid's other aspect as a goddess of smiths. She is connected with and controls both water (especially wells) and fire. (Incidentally, there is a St. Bride's well at St. Briavels in the Forest of Dean.)
Doreen Valiente describes the year as containing four "tides" which start at the equinoxes and solstices. Although Pat Crowther describes the tide starting at the Winter Solstice as positive, she suggests that it is the most dangerous tide for active magical working because it is the most spiritual tide, fit only for "a renewal of spiritual strength" during this "period of reflection and rest". She describes the tide as being that of Lustration - a time for meditation and purification. It need not be too solemn a time however, as I hope I have shown with the various customs for the festival. One merry chant suitable for the Sabbat is:
|Thus we banish winter|
|Thus we welcome spring|
|Say farewell to what is dead|
|And greet each living thing|
|Thus we banish winter|
|Thus we welcome Spring.|
(Eight Sabbats) whilst burning the Yule greenery.
Another pleasant ritual is suggested by Skelton:- At Dawn, circumambulate the garden clockwise saying:
This is the quickening of the year Tuber and seed and root quicken into the coming of the light into the growing of the year This is the quickening time of life Root and seed and tuber quicken in your darkness in your waiting Quicken into life burgeoning This is the quickening of the time of love Seed and root and tuber quicken gather strength in love and praise and blessed be!
And of course all self-respecting witches know the Candle Game, which is far from solemn!
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