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.”

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)