Candlemas: Purification and Emergence

by Jesper Toad

27018943_10156228950485116_338088523_oThe celebration of Candlemas—sometimes called Imbolc,  Imbolg, or Oimelc—falls midway between the winter solstice and after the fields, long harvested, have been plowed into the ground in preparation for the new year’s sowing, and the vernal equinox.  Candlemas marks the first stirrings of spring after the winter’s long dark; the thaw in just beginning for many of us, the world emerges from beneath the shroud of snow, and life unfurls from old roots and bones.  Although February second is also Ground Hog’s Day in North America, reflecting the move the United States played to shift the end of winter and the beginning of spring from the first of February to the vernal equinox, it nevertheless is embedded in the turning of the seasons: If the groundhog sees his shadow, winter continues, and if he does not see his shadow, spring will soon come early.  The dry and cold energies of the dark are waning at this cross-quarter day, and overtaken by the swelling of the wet, cold tide of spring. Situated between the still lifelessness and the first stirrings of life, the mythic elements of Candlemas are concerned with purification and the emergence of light, warmth, and life.

Observances that occur around the first of February predominately feature two mythemes, one concerning the blessing from a saint or goddess upon the upcoming year, and a second recognizing the growing light as the days become longer.  Many Contemporary Pagans associate the opening of spring with Bride or Brigit (two spellings among the many regional variations).  Rites revolving around this Catholic Saint appear to have been framed against an older, pre-Christian, deity or spirit, and were originally geographically limited to Ireland and the surrounding islands.  However, the past handful of decades been popularized in the canon surrounding the wheel of the year.  These rituals feature the greeting of Saint Brigit with cakes laid upon the windowsill and the making of a bed in a corner or by the hearth so that she may rest from her journeys.  Sometimes a sheaf of grain, decorated with shells and ribbons, is fashioned into a likeness of the Saint for this celebration.  The criosog Bridghe, or Brigit’s cross,  an equal-armed figure made up of rushes and sometimes straw, were made on the eve of Imbolc, and hung in the eves to protect and bless the dwelling over the duration of the upcoming year and to keep it safe during inclement weather (Hutton, 1996, pp. 134-138).  When in Ireland I visited a park that had painstakingly moved historic cottages from their original foundations, presenting them as artifacts of a folk life that had all but disappeared from the island.  In several of the cots there were constellations of crosses tucked into the thatch, blackened by generations peat smoke.  Candlemas was more widespread, and a reflection of the theme of awakening reflected through the mythology of Catholicism.  Candles were blessed upon February first, and were featured in processions and often kept throughout the year to be lit for protection during storms and to bless the home (Hutton, 1996, pp. 139-145).

I am presenting here a few bits of litany that I hope can easily be woven into your celebrations for this season: a short ritual featuring the crios Bríde, and a simple candle blessing for the season.

The Crios Bríde

The crios Bríde—the girdle of Bride–was a circle of plaited straw or rushes marked in each of the circle’s four quarters by additional cross-shaped constructions and often decorated with bright bits of cloth and ribbons.  In parts of Ireland it was paraded through the town by children, and its arrival was greeted as a good omen for the upcoming year.  Men and woman would step through the crios Bríde in an act of purification, emerging fresh and new—reborn—from the circle of rushes, and strengthened to face any illness or hardship the upcoming year might bring (Harrow, Kondratiev, Miller & Reddington-Wilde, (2003), p. 136).  I have rewritten the verses in Kondratiev’s description of the Irish ceremony, finding inspiration in the heroic Italian Rispetto, a type of poem originally written to pay respect to a woman.  For this ritual you will need a representation of the crios Bríde, either a great circle of straw or reed decorated as above, or perhaps a plaited cord of suitable size that one could pass through the loop created when the ends are tied together.  Since the symbolism is one of rebirth—a girdle or belt is worn around the area of the womb and pelvis—red seems to me to be an appropriate color to feature in the construction of the crios Bríde.  I imagine the crios Bríde being passed around the circle, with each person presenting and aiding the next to pass through.

The crios Bríde is presented and the following rhyme is recited:

This fortune’s scarlet girdle circles round

The twelvemonth of the season’s spinning gyre!

And three times through the cincture shall confound

The ills of flesh, of soul, of spirit dire.

An individual passes through the crios Bríde three times; each time the following words are said:

All maladies of body, heart and mind

Are purified, renewed, reborn, refined:

 

After passing through the third time the final part of the litany is recited:

Whoever passes thought this girdle’s girth

Shall sevenfold increase in health and mirth!

 

The Candle Blessing

On the night of Candlemas this prayer might be recited over the candles to be used for the coming year:

Sweet Lady whose hands turn the gyre

Past winter cold to emerging

Warmth and light—the snow is melting

Behold this light, it heralds spring.

 

In ev’ry seed a flower waits

To lend is beauty willingly;

Each candle hides a blessed flame

Behold this light, it heralds spring.

 

Blessings on these sacred candles

That their bright flames may forward bring

Good blessings on our house and kin

Behold this light, it heralds spring.

 

Jesper Bio image

 

Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at jespertoad@gmail.com. 

 

Harrow, J, Kondratiev, A, Miller, G W, & Reddington-Wilde, M. (2003).  Devoted to you: Honoring deity in Wiccan practice. New York, NY: Citadel Press Books.

Hutton, R. (1996), The stations of the sun: A history of the ritual year in Britain.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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Seeds of Growth in Southern California

by Krystal Rains

21688079_sAmong other traditions of the New Year, I participate by choosing a ‘word’ to focus on during the upcoming year. My word for 2018 is “Growth”. While that has many personal meanings, my work with the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) is certainly a significant part of it. I cannot imagine a better opportunity for me to share the seeds of my ‘growth’ than in this Imbolc season newsletter.

In 2013, a fellow female Veteran let me know that she was attending a meeting 5 minutes from my home, and that became my first introduction to SLOLA. While I wasn’t up to vegetable gardening at that time, the mission of this organization was something I was excited to support, and I joined for a lifetime membership fee of $10.  Founded in December 2010, the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) is headquartered at The Learning Garden at Venice High School. The San Fernando Valley branch was the first out-growth of the main library when they recognized the significant difference in climate between the SFV and Westside LA, and what and how to grow in the different regions. In the past few months there have been new branches opening in Woodland Hills and Altadena with another soon to open in Watts.

“SLOLA MISSION is to facilitate the growth of open-pollinated seeds among residents of the Los Angeles Basin. We are building a seed collection and repository, educating members about the practice of seed-saving, and creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners. We seek to preserve genetic diversity, increase food security and food justice in our region, safeguard alternatives to GMO’s, and empower all members through a deeper connection with nature and the experience of self-reliance. We will strive for excellence in all that we do, knowing the preservation of seed is a sacred trust.”

Unlike a seed bank, a seed library is interactive. Members can check out seeds for free in the hope that they will take them out, plant them and in the next two years, let a few of the plants ‘bolt’ and bring some of those seeds back to the library. Many members also donate favorite seeds to the library to expand the collection. Meetings include a presentation to spur enthusiasm and learning for members of all interests and skill levels. Presentations I have enjoyed have been about Peppers, Tomatoes, composting (traditional and worm), several urban farms in the LA Basin (including a couple of field trips), water capture systems, and recently a presentation by the founder of the Palestinian Seed Library.  Each branch has a slightly different perspective and format. Our SFV branch includes a luncheon potluck, the Woodland Hills branch is part of a community produce exchange, and the Venice and Altadena branches have various presentations.

My recent contribution to our local branch was a presentation on “Seed Saving in the Native Garden”. I have my own California Native Garden that started over 9 years ago with whole plants; it is designed to self-seed when appropriate, but this gave me a chance to learn more about native plant seeds and seed saving. After my first presentation at SFV in October, I was asked to present at the Woodland Hills branch in December, again in January at the Venice main branch, and in Altadena on February 3rd.

Native plants might sound unusual in a fruit and vegetable garden, but there are important reasons to add a few native plants in your own garden. Many people are aware of the problem of the honey bee colony collapse. This is devastating for many reasons, and as an herbalist, I value my honey bees, but I also value the over 1400 native California pollinators. Using native plants in your gardening is as important as their use in large agricultural farms and vineyards, because it increases the yield and health of the other plants. Those native pollinators require specific plants to survive, just as the Monarch Butterflies require milk weed, but they pollinate many other plants. For more information on Native plants, I recommend the Theodore Payne Foundation and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, two important organizations in the history and preservation of our California native plant species.  Their members literally wrote many of the books on the subject. As native plants are becoming more popular, you will find many gardens and nurseries carrying them. There are other organizations in other areas of Southern California that are great resources too, but these are what I am most familiar with. The California Native Plant Society has an amazing reference  for landscaping, called Calscape, that includes which at nurseries you can find the plants locally. The appropriate season to plant and seed most of our local native plants has nearly ended (although native milk weed should be planted in early spring), but I hope that these resources will give you inspiration to plan and design some interesting upgrades in your own gardens. Plan on planting between October and January of next season as this will give the plants the best chance at surviving our harsh summer temperatures when many are dormant.

Continuing on my personal theme of “growth,” I am excited to be working on edibles in my own backyard this year. I already have two citrus trees, some herbs, and succulents. A recent visit with a friend and her very active imperfect gardening has inspired me, especially as she shared plants, cuttings and seeds. My ancestral heritage is farmers on both sides of my family, but childhood divorce separated me from the family that would have helped me learn to grow, cook and preserve food at just the age that I would have started. Each of the steps I take on this part of my path is forging a better connection with my ancestral line in a healthy and productive way. I have emotional blocks and anxieties that have slowed my connection, but I can hear the encouragement in my heart each time I attempt something new in my gardens.

Links:

Seed Library of Los Angeles
My native garden album on Facebook 
Altadena Seed Library presentation event
Theodore Payne Foundation 
Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden
California Native Plant Society
Calscape (a service of the Native Plant Society)