Seasonal Rituals & Celebrations – The Rich History Behind Groundhog’s Day

The Rich History Behind Groundhog’s Day

Have you noticed in the last week or two that the light is with us just a wee bit longer each day? Can you begin to feel a little shift in the air, a difference in the winter stillness?  It is a time of inspiration, drawing in of breath, sitting still, and listening It’s a time of purification, initiations, and prophecy. It is also the time of the Celtic holy-day, Imbolc or Brigit’s day, Christian Candlemas, and Groundhog’s Day.

In ancient times, when people lived in sync with the cycles of the Earth, they created celebrations to honor the turning of the seasons on the solstices and equinoxes, as well as the four “cross-quarter” holidays which fall halfway between those four seasonal points.

In that earth-centered wheel of the year, February 2nd is one of those cross-quarter days; it’s been six weeks since the Winter Solstice in December and we have another six weeks to go before the Spring Equinox in March.

Seeds and bulbs that were planted last Fall are vibrating under the Earth, not quite ready to sprout. In the animal world, that energy of “quickening,” that first tiny flutter of life, was represented by the Gaelic word for this pivotal point, Imbolc, which means “in the belly or in the womb.” It was also known as “Oimelc” meaning “ewe’s milk.” In Europe this was a time when pregnant ewes began to lactate, a sure sign that winter was ending.

The goddess Brighid is the “mother” of the groundhog!

In the Celtic tradition, this was a holy day honoring the Great Triple Goddess, Brighid or Brigit..  She was also known as Brigantia in England, Brede or Bride in Scotland, Blaze in France. Her nickname was Biddy and children went door to door, asking for alms for “old Biddy,” to insure good fortune for the harvest to come. Her sacred flame was kept burning at Kildara in Ireland by either nine or 19 priestesses until 1250 and the site can still be visited today.

Brighid is the Goddess of creative inspiration, poetry, healing, and smithcraft. So, for those of you who are artists, writers, craftspeople, or healers of the heart, mind, or soul, you can call on Brighid to guide and inspire you, especially at this time.

Her festival was so ingrained in the culture that the Christian Church, in an effort to wipe out her pagan ties, re-named the holiday St. Brigit’s day, in honor of a saint who is, in reality, the Goddess. This was also the Christian holy day of Candelmas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, since women were considered to be ritually unclean for 40 days following the birth of a son (even Jesus, apparently) and 80 days after the birth of a daughter.

Omens were sought on Candlemas day for the new growing season, especially its weather. Animals were said to come out of hibernation to provide helpful predictions for the end of winter, which of course, is the origin of our modern Groundhog’s Day.

Fire is a common element in mid-winter festivals all over the world

During the Roman celebration of Juna Februta, fires were lit and candles burned in her honor and to support Ceres in her search for her daughter in the underworld

The Aztecs extinguished all their fires and lived in five days of darkness and reflection, then re-lit them to coax back the Sun and welcome the New Year.

In the Iroquois nation, the False Face Society went to every home and extinguished fires then blew the ashes on the family to purify them before they re-lit the fires.

The Nganasan people of Siberia celebrated the return of the sun after many months with their Clean Tent ceremony. Shamans would pray for three to nine days in a tent specially erected for the rite, and while children played outside, the shamans received guidance and protection from their spirit guides.

Li Ch’un is the Chinese festival welcoming the onset of spring which they correlated (like the Aztecs) with the New Year, occurring at the beginning of February. Five colors are associated with Li Ch’un – black, white, red, green, and yellow, representing the five elements, five types of grain, and five weather conditions. An ox is decorated with all five colors by a blindfolded man, and whichever color prevails, forecasts the weather for the growing season.

Here’s a simple ritual of your own to ignite the themes of purification, quiet reflection, and prophecy, during this sacred time of Imbolc, Feast of Brigit, and yes, even Groundhog’s Day!

  • First, create sacred space by lighting LOTS of candles in a circle, and even a fire if you have a fireplace (remember this a fire festival)
  • Place a bowl of paper slips in the center of your candlelit ritual space, as well as your favorite divination tool(s) — tarot, runes, I-ching, etc.
  • Take a moment to reflect on what you want to release from the past year – unhealthy habits, negative mind talk, toxic relationships, you name it. Write each one on a slip of paper, crumple it up, and throw it outside your little circle! Then, in the spirit of spring cleaning, sweep them up and throw them into the fire, or burn them in a safe place.
  • Now you’re ready to do your own forecasting — if the little groundhog can predict what’s ahead for the Spring, so can you. The famous psychologist Carl Jung studied these ancient divination tools, believing that the answer to every question lies somewhere around us and we just need to open new channels to receive that information. Ask open-ended, general questions — “What do I need to know about…” or “How can I best support myself in the next few months?” – and see what bubbles up.

Now that you’ve weeded the soil of your inner garden, you’re ready to plant seeds on the Spring Equinox so you can bloom into your fullest beauty and potential!

Connect with Deborah on The Wellness Universe.

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