Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Kalendas Februarias

Modern Date : February 1st

Kalendas Februarias
The Kalends of February

This is one of the dies nefasti a day on which no legal action or public voting could take place.

This was said to be the day, in 1468 BC, when Pharaoh Tuthmoses III of the 18th Dynasty seized control of Egypt, upon the death, likely murder, of Hatsheput. Hatsheput, the first female king, had ruled peacefully for seventeen years. She had initiated a culture of peace, building temples and sponsoring the arts. In a vindictive fury, Tuthmoses II tore down her statues and chased her supporters into hiding. A subsequent rebellion against Tuthmoses III led to militarization of the country and the foundation of empire. Ten days later he set out for Armageddon.

February is a month in which particular reverence was shown to the spirits of deceased ancestors. In a familiar cultural dichotomy in which both death and life were celebrated, this was a month devoted to fertility, both of men and women, and of the land. Many of the rites had vestiges of agricultural overtones. It may be more than coincidence that the dead, who were either buried or considered to be in the "underworld", and the fruits of agriculture, both relate to the earth.

On the kalends of every month interest payments were due. The interest rate in Rome was normally 1/2% (per month).

February was named for the Roman goddess Februa, mother of Mars. As patroness of passion, she was also known as Juno Februa and St. Febronia from febris, the fever of love. Her orgiastic rites were held on February 14th, St.Valentine's Day. In Norse traditions, she is equated with Sjofn.

The Irish called this month Feabhra or an Gearran, the gelding or horse. The horse was used to draw the plough, but Gearran also means 'to cut' and 'Gearran' can be used to describe the 'cutting' Spring winds. To the Anglo-Saxons, this was Solmonath, "sun month," in honor of the gradual return of the light after the darkness of winter. According to Franking and Asatru traditions, this month is Horning, from horn, the turn of the year.

The first full moon of February is called the Quickening Moon. It shares the titles Snow Moon with January and November, Wolf Moon with January and December, and Storm Moon with March and November. February’s Moon is also called the Hunger or Hungry Moon, and it has been called the Ice, Wild, Red and Cleansing, or Big Winter Moon.

Aquarius and Pisces share power over February, with Pisces taking over around the 19th of February. Violet is the flower for those born in February. Though jacinth and pearl appear on some lists, amethyst is the jewel for those born in this month and for Pisces, while aquamarine is the stone for Aquarians. Other stones associated with Aquarius are chrysoprase, garnet, labradorite, lapis lazuli, and opal. Albite, aquamarine, chrysoprase, fluorite, green tourmaline, labradorite, moonstone, and opal are linked to Pisces.

February is a month sacred to the gods Mars (as Quirinus, or Romulus) and Juno, the wife of Jupiter.

An ancient Celtic festival considered the first day of spring. According to Blackburn(Oxford Companion to the Year), no information survives about the rituals associated with this festival, except that ewes were milked. Various scholars have derived the word Imbolc from Ol-melc (ewe's milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time, Im-bolg (around the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took place at this time. All of these meanings capture themes of the festival.

A medieval quatrain fills in a few more sketchy details:

Tasting every food in order
This is what behoves at Imbolc
Washing of hand and feet and head
It is thus I say

Much of the lore associated with Imbolc was probably absorbed into the customs surrounding St. Brigid's feast day on February 1.

St Brigid

The dandelion lights its spark
Lest Brigid find the wayside dark.
And Brother Wind comes rollicking
For joy that she has brought the spring.
Young lambs and little furry folk
Seek shelter underneath her cloak.
W. M. Letts

February 1st is the feast day of St Brigid, who began her life as a pagan goddess and ended up a Christian saint. The great high goddess, Bride or Brigid, was a fire and fertility goddess, perhaps embodied in the stars in the constellation we view as Orion. In her temple at Kildare, her priestesses tended an eternal flame. She presided over all transformations: birth and brewing, metal-smithing and poetry, the passage from winter to spring.

In Celtic lore, she is the daughter of the Dagda, the Good God, who marries her to Bres of the Fomors. Her name may be derived from Gaelic breo aigit or fiery arrow or (the Matthews prefer) a Sanskrit derivation Brahti or high one. As Bride, the Queen of Heaven, she seems to have been a sun goddess. In one tale, St Brigid carries a burning coal in her apron. In another tale, flames engulf her body without burning her.

The legends about the goddess Brigid gradually became associated with the (somewhat spurious) Saint Brigid who founded the first convent in Ireland (where else?) at Kildare. Her emblem is a cow and many legends tell of how Brigid kept guests at her abbey supplied (often miraculously) with milk and butter. Her flower is the dandelion, whose yellow flower is the color of butter and whose stem when broken releases a milky sap. St Brigid supposedly helped at the birth of Jesus, thus she is the patron saint of midwives and pregnant women. She is also the patron of poets, scholars, healers, dairymaids and blacksmiths, recalling many of the arts under the protection of the goddess Bride.

On the eve of her feast day in Ireland, people put out a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the Saint and an ear of corn for her white cow, offerings for the grain goddess like the loaf buried in the first furrow. Wheat stalks are woven into X-shaped crosses to be hung from rafters as charms to protect homes from fire and lightning.

In Ireland, the birds known as oyster-catchers (in Gaelic they are called Gille righde, the servants of Bride) appear on St Brigid's day and are said to bring spring with them.

During the 19th century, Alexander Carmichael collected and compiled folk customs from the West Highlands, including many revolving around Bridget. On her holiday, women get together to make Brigid's crosses at night. They also dress the corn doll or last sheaf (from Lammas or autumn equinox) in a bridal gown and put her in a basket which is called the Bride's bed. A wand, candle or other phallic object is laid across her and the Bride is invited to come for her bed is ready. If the blankets are rumpled in the morning, this is seen as a good omen. Obviously the goddess whose mating brings life to the land is not the abbess of a convent but the great fertility goddess.

Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries
In Greece, on this day and the next, they celebrated the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries. Triptolemus, who had been cured of a childhood illness by Ceres, was taken around the world on a chariot and shown the wonders of nature. When he returned home to Eleusis he built a magnificent temple to Ceres and established the worship of the goddess. These rites, the Eleusinian Mysteries, surpassed all other Greek religious celebrations in their solemnity and splendor.

The first Day of the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone is the Day of Preparation for Initiation. The Eleusinia festivals are divided into the greater and lesser mysteries. The events celebrated at the Greater Mysteries commemorate the descent of Persephone into the world below. The Lesser Mysteries honor her return to light and to her mother and were celebrated between winter and seedtime. These lesser mysteries were observed at Agrae near the Ilissus. In later times, the smaller festivals were preparatory to the greater, and no person could be initiated at Eleusis without previously seeking purification at Agrae. It was required that the person initiated in the Mysteries was of unblemished moral character.

Also during this time a Greek festival honoring Dionysos, god of wine and of all passionate, ecstatic experience, in anticipation of the moment when Dionysos re-emerges from his winter phase as Hades/Pluton, king of the underworld, and is reborn in the Spring as the young god of male sexuality and ecstatic love. During this festival the vines are pruned and sprinkled with old wine, thus symbolically using the old blood to refresh the ever-renewing young blood of new life.

St Tryphon
His emblem is the pruning knife and he is known as a protector of vines and fields and a killer of rats and caterpillars. On his day, vineyards and fields are sprinkled with holy water and blessed. Working in the fields is not allowed, and it is said that one man who disobeyed this injunction and went out to work cut his own nose off.

Juno Sospita
At the beginning of the month, Juno Sospita, the neighbor of the Phrygian Mother Goddess, was honored with new shrines. The name literally means "Juno the Savior", but some scholars maintain that the word "sospita" is derived from a very early form of Latin and may mean something considerably different. Some see Juno Sospita as the protector of women in childbirth (and, by extension, the goddess of deliverance); some see her as a warrior, while others have a completely different view of her purpose in the Roman mythology. The Temple of Juno Sospita was in the Forum Holitorium in Rome.

Candlemas Eve
This is the official last day of the Christmas season and also the last date for taking down the Christmas greens. Leaving them up after Candlemas is bad luck.

Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve

Down with the Rosemary and Bayes
Down with the Mistletoe
Instead of Holly, now upraise
The greener Box (for Show).

The Holly hitherto did sway
Let Box now domineer;
Until the dancing Easter-day
Or Easters Eve appear.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)


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