Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ante Diem IV Nonas Februarias

Modern Date : February 2nd

Ante Diem IV Nonas Februarias
Fourth Day to the Nones of February

This is one of the dies nefasti a day on which no legal action or public voting could take place. The dies nefasti of February were days of religious ceremony honoring the dead and heralding the rebirth of the Spring and its associated fertility.

February is a month sacred to the gods Mars (as Quirinus, or Romulus) and Juno, the wife of Jupiter. Juno (Hera) was the mother of Mars, called Ares by the Greeks, and sometimes Enyalius. Ares was often accompanied in his bloody campaigns by Enyo, the murderess goddess of war who was known as Bellona by the Romans. Ares paid no attention to which cause was right or wrong and was concerned only with where he could cause maximum carnage. The Romans held a milder, more honorable view of Mars, honoring him as the son of Zeus and the father of Romulus.

It is also a month in which particular reverence was shown to the spirits of deceased ancestors. This was a month devoted to fertility, both of men and women, and of the land, and celebration of the coming Spring.

Venus enters Aquarius
On this day Venus enters the sign of Aquarius, where she'll remain until the 26th, when she enters Pisces. She enjoys all the talk and gossip that flow in the air sign of Aquarius -- but she prefers Pisces, where she is exalted in the water element of her deepest feeling.

Festival of Februalia
Festival of Februalia, honoring the old Roman goddess Februa, mother of Mars, later merged with Juno to become Juno Februa, that is, "Juno in fever", patroness of the passion of love. This festival thus embodies the transition from the latent vitality of late winter to the sexual awakening of spring, symbolized in many cultures by weather rituals -- such as Groundhog Day -- in which sun or rain, light or shadow, indicate whether winter will continue to rule, or yield soon to spring.

Candlemas/Purification/Presentation/Our Lady of Candelaria
Jewish women went through a purification ceremony 40 days after the birth of a male child (80 days after the birth of a female child) and brought a lamb to the temple to be sacrificed. According to Mosaic law, Mary and Joseph would also have brought their first-born son to the temple forty days after his birth to offer him to God, like all first-born sons, along with a pair of turtledoves.

The Presentation was originally celebrated in Jerusalem on November 21st but once Jesus's birth was fixed on December 25th (near the winter solstice), the Presentation and Purification rituals would fall forty days later, in early February when torches were carried around the fields.

First celebrated on February 14th, in 350 at Jerusalem, when it would have coincided with the Roman festival of Lupercalia, it was later moved up to February 2nd. Pope Sergius declared it should be celebrated with processions and candles, to commemorate Simeon's description of the child Jesus as a light to lighten the Gentiles. Candles blessed on this day were used as a protection from evil.

This is the ostensible reason given for the Catholic custom of bringing candles to church to be blessed by the priest on February 2nd, thus the name Candle-Mass. The candles are then taken home where they serve as talismans and protections from all sorts of disasters, much like Brigid's crosses. In Hungary, according to Dorothy Spicer(The Book of Festivals), February 2nd is called Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman. In Poland, it is called Mother of God who Saves Us From Thunder.

Actually this festival has long been associated with fire. Spicer writes that in ancient Armenia, this was the date of Cvarntarach, a pagan spring festival in honor of Mihr, the God of fire. Originally, fires were built in his honor in open places and a lantern was lit which burned in the temple throughout the year. When Armenia became Christian, the fires were built in church courtyards instead. People danced about the flames, jumped over them and carried home embers to kindle their own fires from the sacred flames.

The motif of fire also shows up in candle processions honoring St Agatha (Feb 5) and the legends of St Brigid (Feb 1). The fire represents the spark of new life, like the seeds blessed in northern Europe on St Blaise's Day (Feb 3) and carried home to "kindle" the existing seed.

The English have many rhymes which prognosticate about future weather based on the weather on Candlemas Day:

If Candlemas Day bring snow and rain
Winter is gone and won't come again
If Candlemas Day be clear and bright
Winter will have another flight.

These are all similar to the American custom of predicting the weather on Groundhog's Day, in that you don't want the groundhog to see his shadow. In Germany, they say that the shepherd would rather see the wolf enter his stable than the sun on Candlemas Day.

The ancient Armenians used the wind to predict the weather for the coming year by watching the smoke drifting up from the bonfires lit in honor of Mihr. The Scots also observed the wind on Candlemas as recorded in this rhyme:

If this night's wind blow south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and snow there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man, woman and brute.

This was also a holiday for Millers when windmills stand idle. In Crete it is said that they won't turn even if the miller tries to start them.

Ground Hogs Day
In England and Germany, the animal that comes out of hibernation on this day is the badger. In America, this role is assigned to the groundhog (or woodchuck), a relatively solitary, burrowing animal.

Bruce Stutz in his book on Spring(Chasing Spring) explains why the groundhog hibernates and the role light plays in waking him up. As the temperature drops in late fall and the hours of sunlight decline, the groundhog's body starts producing more melatonin which make him sleepy and less interested in sex. He crawls into his burrow where his body temperature drops to near freezing and his heart rate slows from 75 to 4 beats per minute. Some time in spring, the pineal gland (which produces melatonin) turns off and the groundhog wakes up, his testosterone rising. Stutz says think of the groundhog "as a sex god promising fertility." He rises from his burrow, looking for signs that winter is over and female groundhogs.

Legend says that if the groundhog sees his shadow, he goes back in and winter continues. If he doesn't see his shadow, then winter will soon be over. This custom seems to reflect the early understanding of this day as the turning point between winter and spring. The association of this day with divination, particularly weather divination is a long standing custom.

An ancient Irish poem refers to the snake emerging from the hole, at the same time the Queen (Bride) emerges from the Mound (the place of burial, Winter). Again, the sense is awakening after hibernation, rebirth after death, the Spring Maiden replacing the Cailleach of Winter.

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.

Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries
In Greece, this was the second of the three days on which they celebrated the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries. Plutarch said of the Eleusinian Mysteries, "When a man dies he is like those who are being initiated into the mysteries...Our whole life is but a succession of wanderings and painful courses...but as soon as we exit, places of purity receive us, with songs and dance and the solemnities of holy words and sacred visions."

Feast of Vasant Panchami
In the Hindu calendar, Feb. 2 is the great feast of Vasant Panchami, sacred to Saraswati, goddess of learning, honored this day in rites and customs ranging from ceremonies of pitri-tarpan, in honor of ancestors who have imparted love of learning to their grandchildren, to blessing rituals in which young children are formally taught their first words. The white swan, symbol of non-attachment and purity, is especially associated with Saraswati today. Her image, and her devotees, are clothed in yellow, symbolizing the spiritual gold, saffron and honey that come with patient, selfless effort.

Sul-Minerva of Bath is a British-Roman deity associated with Brigid as a goddess of knowledge and healing is celebrated today. Her sanctuary is described as an “ashless” fire referring instead to her sacred spring. If Sul is cognate with the Goddess of Silbury Hill, there might have once been a procession to her sacred spring, the Swellowhead which begins to flow again in February “when the Queen comes from the mound.”


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