The Wiccan Book of Days for Feb. 1 – Imbolc & Maiden’s Milk

Imbolc/Candlemas Comments
February 1

Imbolc and Maiden’s Milk

Between February 1 and 2, Wiccans celebrate the Sabbat of Imbolc(also known as Oimelc or Candlemas), and the return of the Goddess from the underworld in her maiden or virginal form, as exemplified by the Celtic Goddess Brigit (“High One”), Bride or Brigid the name under which the Christians sanctified her. In Ireland, Brigit was venerated as a protector of livestock, a bestower of fertility upon the natural world, a promoter of healing and a patron of poetry and the blacksmith’s art. Oimelc means “ewe’s milk,” for this was the day on which ewes usually began to lactate, and the Goddess’s association with milk was preserved in the notion of Saint Brigid of Kildare’s cows producing milk thrice daily.

“Flowery Words”

In northern climes, the emergence of early spring flowers is evidence that nature is awakening and that Brigit is among us again, so pick a posy and pour a glass of cow’s milk on the ground as a libation to the Goddess.

Magickal Graphics

Crone’s Corner – Imbolc Ideas Having to do with Fire

 

Crone’s Corner – Imbolc Ideas Having to do with Fire

by Starhawk, Anne Hill, and Diane Baker

Brigit Fire
Whether we circle around a hearth, outdoor bonfire, or kindle a blaze
in a cast-iron cauldron, in the season of Brigit we welcome the
return of light. Here are some suggestions for a safe and cheerful
blaze.

Cauldron Fire
You will need:
a cast-iron pot of any size
a lid that fits snugly, for putting out the fire
bricks, hotplate or other heat-resistant material to set the cauldron
on.
Epsom salts
rubbing alcohol
To keep the blaze going for 45 minutes in a five quart cauldron, you
need 1/2 gallon of Epsom salts and approximately 4 to 6 pints of
rubbing alcohol
Any cast-iron pot can be made into a cauldron with a fire of Epsom
salts and rubbing alcohol. This is a very safe blaze. Once the
cauldron is secured on a heat-proof surface, pour the Epsom salts in
until the bottom is covered, approximately 1 inch deep. Pour rubbing
alcohol over the salts until the alcohol is about an inch higher than
the salts. Hold a lighted match just above the alcohol. The liquid
will light and produce a strong orange flame. The flame burns cool,
unlike a wood fire, and it is difficult to burn things
in. When the flame gets low, cover to snuff out completely. Add more
rubbing alcohol to the cauldron and relight carefully. The warmer the
rubbing alcohol, the more quickly it ignites. This fire recipe leaves
a significant amount of sediment in the bottom of the cauldron. For
this reason, it is best to dedicate a pot strictly for cauldron use.

Kindling a Fire
This holiday is a good time to teach your older children how to set a
fire and kindle a blaze. Most children are eager to help lay a fire,
but may be too scared to light one. Using long matches often eases
their fear, and with supervision they can become quite proficient at
lighting fires. Children are great at gathering wood. A note of
caution about burning found wood, however: Make sure you inspect the
wood. Scrap plywood gives off toxic fumes, as does wood that has been
painted or coated with urethane. Make sure the wood you are burning
has not been coated with creosote. Creosote is a dark, often tarry
preservative and is commonly found on wood washed up on the beach.
Its fumes are toxic, and when burned, the treated wood creates a
smoky, stinky blaze. Creosote is easy to identify by its smell, which
resembles that of turpentine or paint thinner.

Egg Carton Fire Starters
You will need:
paraffin wax or beeswax (old candle stubs work great for this)
the bottom halves of cardboard egg cartons
sawdust, pine needles, scraps of cotton material, dry pinecones, or
shredded paper
scissors
a pot
Reuse all those old candle ends in this practical, convenient fire
project. Stuff each cardboard egg holder with sawdust or other
flammable material. Melt the wax in a pot, over low to medium heat.
When the wax is melted, carefully pour the wax into each depression
in the egg cartons. Make sure the wax does not overflow. Let cool.
After the wax has cooled down, use scissors to cut the fire starters
apart from each other, leaving the hardened wax inside its cardboard
shell. To use, set one or two fire starters in your fireplace,
surround with kindling and larger wood, and light. The fire starters
will keep burning long enough to light even the most stubborn logs.

Fire Safety
Never leave candles lit and a blazing fire unattended. It is a good
idea to have a pail of water or a fire extinguisher close at hand
when having a fire. If you often light fires at your home, try
growing an aloe vera plant, or keep some of the pure gel on hand in
the fridge, to use as first aid for burns. Fires at the beach are
popular in all seasons, and eliminate some of the risks of fires in
the woods or in the meadow. Few people are aware of how to extinguish
a beach fire safely, however. Covering up a beach fire with sand
actually insulates the coals, keeping them burning through the night.
Those hidden coals will still be red-hot in the morning waiting for
an unsuspecting person to step on them. Always douse a beach fire with
water – seawater works as well as fresh water – until there are no
more live coals. Wait for the steam to clear; then using a stick,
turn over all the coals to make sure no smoldering coals remain.

Candle Hat
One holiday tradition in Scandinavian countries is for the girls to
wear garlands in their hair that hold a circle of lit candles and
bless the light’s return. We’ve adapted this candle custom to honor
the returning light for Brigit. These paper hats are a simple and
safe variation. Draw an inner circle on a 9-inch paper plate, about
an inch from the rim. Next draw very light lines dividing the circle
into quarters. Draw four rectangular candle shapes, keeping the
dividing lines as guides for the candles’ centers. The rectangles
will meet in the center of the plate in a small square. Cut out the
candle shapes, preserving their connection to the ring at the rim.
This connection serves as the base of the candle. Bend candles
from their base to stand upright. Decorate candles with markers,
crayons and glitter. use the discarded plate material to cut flame
shapes. Color them bright flame colors, then glue or staple them to
the top of the candles.

Brigit Candles
You will need:
1 recipe salt dough clay
a bowl of water
8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper, one for each candle
wax paper, cut into 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheets, one for each candle tape
1 T vegetable oil
toothpicks
small bowl
candle making supplies
Honor Brigit with new special candles. These candles use molds made
from coiled salt dough ropes so that each completely unique candle
bears the spiral imprint of the coil.

Taper Candles
Make ropes by rolling salt dough clay between your hands. Each rope
should be two or three feet long and 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. If
younger children can’t manage such lengths, have them make smaller
segments that can be joined later with a little pressure and water.
Dip your fingers into the bowl of water occasionally if the dough
tends to crack. Roll the paper into a 1 inch wide cylinder and tape
it shut. Around this cylinder, tape a piece of wax paper. Coat the
wax paper with a thin layer of oil. Lightly moisten a salt dough rope
with water. Lay the paper cylinder on its side at one end of the
rope. Roll it along the dough, wrapping the rope up the cylinder
until it is six inches tall. Be sure the edges of the coiled rope
always touch. To provide extra support, at intervals stick several
toothpicks vertically through the coils. Make a bottom for the mold by
shaping another piece of salt dough into a 3/4 inch thick circle
that’s larger than the coiled tower in diameter. Moisten the bottom’s
surface, then carefully lift the coiled tower onto the bottom piece
and press gently to make a seal. Pull the paper cylinder out. This
slides out easily, leaving the wax paper. Remove it by gently tugging
on the wax paper with one hand while you support the clay coils with
the others. Inspect each part of the mold, looking for tiny cracks
where melted wax could leak. Press these shut. If the coils start to
sag, quickly fashion a paper cylinder around the outside of the coils
and tape it closed. Trim it to the same height as the clay, so it
won’t get in the way when you are pouring wax. Set the mold in
an empty bowl, in case wax leaks through. You are ready to pour.
Pouring the wax is thrilling. Go very slowly up each level to make
sure no wax is leaking through. If a leak appears, carefully pinch it
shut and pour again. Insert the wick. The wax will harden within an
hour, long before the clay dries. To unmold, just unwind the clay. If
some sticks, soak the candle in cool water and then gently rinse off
the clay. The candles have a wonderfully craggy spiral looping from
bottom to top, and burn with a lovely strong flame.

Beehive Candles
You can also make beehive candles with great success by coiling ropes
of salt dough in a small, deep bowl. A rice bowl is the perfect size.
It’s easier to start with making a spiral, about 3 inches across,
outside of the bowl, then transferring this into the bottom of the
bowl. Next coil the rope inside the bowl until you reach the top. The
candle is burned with the dome side up, so the wick has to be
extended through the wax at the bottom of the bowl. When the wax is
firm enough to insert the wick, use a slightly larger straw than
usual, and push it firmly through the candle, into the dough beneath,
straight to the bottom of the bowl. The candle unmolds easily: Lift
candle and mold from the bowl and uncoil the mold.

Brigit Candleholder
To echo the Goddess’s symbol of the serpent, make this candleholder,
which resembles a coiled snake. Follow directions for making a mold
for taper candles, with the following differences:
1. Size your holder by wrapping a paper cylinder around whatever
candle you intend to use. Remove candle before proceeding further.
2. Dough ropes should be about 1/2 inch wide and a foot long. If
candleholder is taller than 4 inches, use toothpicks for extra
support.
3. Make the bottom by coiling a rope into a small circle. 4. After
the paper cylinder has been removed, use your candle to gently test
of the open end of the candleholder is large enough to accommodate
the candle. If it’s too small, delicately press the opening wider. If
it’s too large, fill in with bits of salt dough.
5 Bake the holder as directed. Turn after the first hour to be sure
it does not stick to the pan.
6 Cool completely after baking. Then paint with snaky patterns,
finishing with eyes on the end of the top coil.

 

(from “Circle Round” By Starhawk, Diane Baker and Anne Hill

 

Courtesy of Witches Moon

 

Candlemas: The Light Returns

Candlemas: The Light Returns
by Mike Nichols

It seems quite impossible that the holiday of Candlemas should be considered the beginning of Spring. Here in the Heartland, February 2nd may see a blanket of snow mantling the Mother. Or, if the snows have gone, you may be sure the days are filled with drizzle, slush, and steel-grey skies — the dreariest weather of the year. In short, the perfect time for a Pagan Festival of Lights. And as for Spring, although this may seem a tenuous beginning, all the little buds, flowers and leaves will have arrived on schedule before Spring runs its course to Beltane.

‘Candlemas’ is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The older Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc. ‘Imbolc’ means, literally, ‘in the belly’ (of the Mother). For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. ‘Oimelc’ means ‘milk of ewes’, for it is also lambing season.

The holiday is also called ‘Brigit’s Day’, in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit. At her shrine, the ancient Irish capitol of Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. She was considered a goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing (especially the healing touch of midwifery). This tripartite symbolism was occasionally expressed by saying that Brigit had two sisters, also named Brigit. (Incidentally, another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus She bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called ‘bride’ in her honor.)

The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be ‘Saint’ Brigit, patron SAINT of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. They ‘explained’ this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was ‘really’ an early Christian missionary sent to the Emerald Isle, and that the miracles she performed there ‘misled’ the common people into believing that she was a goddess. For some reason, the Irish swallowed this. (There is no limit to what the Irish imagination can convince itself of. For example, they also came to believe that Brigit was the ‘foster-mother’ of Jesus, giving no thought to the implausibility of Jesus having spent his boyhood in Ireland!)

Brigit’s holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well, using ‘Candlemas’ as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year. (Catholics will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise’s Day, is remembered for using the newly-blessed candles to bless the throats of parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.)

The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts.) The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of ‘churching women’. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn’t be purified until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess.

Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore. Even our American folk-calendar keeps the tradition of ‘Groundhog’s Day’, a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be ‘six more weeks’ of bad weather (i.e., until the next old holiday, Lady Day). This custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that ‘If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.’ Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as ‘inverse’ weather predictors, whereas the quarter-days are used as ‘direct’ weather predictors.

Like the other High Holidays or Great Sabbats of the Witches’ year, Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it’s alternate date, astrologically determined by the sun’s reaching 15-degrees Aquarius, or Candlemas Old Style (in 1988, February 3rd, at 9:03 am CST). Another holiday that gets mixed up in this is Valentine’s Day. Ozark folklorist Vance Randolf makes this quite clear by noting that the old-timers used to celebrate Groundhog’s Day on February 14th. This same displacement is evident in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as well. Their habit of celebrating the birth of Jesus on January 6th, with a similar post-dated shift in the six-week period that follows it, puts the Feast of the Purification of Mary on February 14th. It is amazing to think that the same confusion and lateral displacement of one of the old folk holidays can be seen from the Russian steppes to the Ozark hills, but such seems to be the case!

Incidentally, there is speculation among linguistic scholars that the vary name of ‘Valentine’ has Pagan origins. It seems that it was customary for French peasants of the Middle Ages to pronounce a ‘g’ as a ‘v’. Consequently, the original term may have been the French ‘galantine’, which yields the English word ‘gallant’. The word originally refers to a dashing young man known for his ‘affaires d’amour’, a true galaunt. The usual associations of V(G)alantine’s Day make much more sense in this light than their vague connection to a legendary ‘St. Valentine’ can produce. Indeed, the Church has always found it rather difficult to explain this nebulous saint’s connection to the secular pleasures of flirtation and courtly love.

For modern Witches, Candlemas O.S. may then be seen as the Pagan version of Valentine’s Day, with a de-emphasis of ‘hearts and flowers’ and an appropriate re-emphasis of Pagan carnal frivolity. This also re-aligns the holiday with the ancient Roman Lupercalia, a fertility festival held at this time, in which the priests of Pan ran through the streets of Rome whacking young women with goatskin thongs to make them fertile. The women seemed to enjoy the attention and often stripped in order to afford better targets.

One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries, and especially by Witches in the British Isles and parts of the U.S., is to place a lighted candle in each and every window of the house, beginning at sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. Make sure that such candles are well seated against tipping and guarded from nearby curtains, etc. What a cheery sight it is on this cold, bleak and dreary night to see house after house with candle-lit windows! And, of course, if you are your Coven’s chandler, or if you just happen to like making candles, Candlemas Day is THE day for doing it. Some Covens hold candle-making parties and try to make and bless all the candles they’ll be using for the whole year on this day.

Other customs of the holiday include weaving ‘Brigit’s crosses’ from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making ‘Brigit’s beds’ to ensure fertility of mind and spirit (and body, if desired), and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles) for the High Priestess to wear for the Candlemas Circle, similar to those worn on St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavian countries. All in all, this Pagan Festival of Lights, sacred to the young Maiden Goddess, is one of the most beautiful and poetic of the year.