Daily Stuff 1-3-21 Day of Remembrance for Princess Olga

Hi, folks!

Last Minus Tide of the cycle at 9:45 PM of -0.2 feet. The shop is open only by appointment until the COVID #s come down, and we’ll probably stay closed until 2/1.Watch here for notifications about that! For appointments contact us at 541-563-7154, anjasnihova@yahoo.com, on Facebook or here on the blog, or just leave a note on the door! Featured photo by rena olson photography.

It got pretty wild yesterday. Wind, rain, downed trees, power flickers… We had one that re-set the electronics, but only the one. Various places in town actually had the power and/or internet out. Right now, it’s quiet. Things are wet, but there’s almost no wind and there are breaks in the clouds. We’re under a HIGH SURF ADVISORY until 4pm and you can hear the ocean roaring. There’s SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY until 6pm and from 6pm to 7am on Monday, a GALE WARNING .47F, wind at 1-10 mph and gusting, AQI 41-55, UV1. Chance of rain 100% today and 99% tonight. Showers should start up after lunchtime and then the storm should roll in during the evening. This won’t be quite as impressive as yesterday’s and give up Monday evening. Then Tuesday evening, another, giving up Wednesday afternoon, and then Thursday evening into Friday evening. One weather forecaster in Portland used to call this weather pattern “The front family”. They’ll get weaker as they come in and then from Friday on, it’s just rain and showers.

Yesterday we managed to get up a bit earlier than we have been and got a lot done. I was working on the office space. Tempus was working in back. You don’t want all the details…. think spring cleaning… urf….. In the evening we got some photos of various projects and did some cooking and fridge cleaning.

Today is our “different day”. Tempus is probably going to finish cleaning the bones today and then those will have to dry. I’m going to try again to do the “mock pear” confits that I was working on a couple of months ago. …and there’s sewing and more dishes and getting the boxes ready to go out. We may also take a run out to the park to see the space that we’re hoping to get. That also means a stop at the spring. It’ll be nice to have that be on the way home.

Knowledge is power wise

A photo of Yachats at night with a waxing crescent Moon keeping watch. Taken on 11/8/19 by rena olson photography, used with permission

Apricots
Apricot_tree_flowers

Today’s plant is the Apricot, Prunus armeniaca. Apricots are a delicious fruit, resembling a small peach, but with a flavor all their own. They were known in the ancient world, possibly being cultivated as far back as 3000BCE. Thought of as an aphrodisiac in the Renaissance it can be fermented into a yummy wine or made into the brandy, Barack. It has properties of healing and health, lust magicks and learning, mostly in educational circles. More here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apricot

Cosmic-Peace-peace-and-love-revolution-club-25787326-300-300

Festival of Pax, Goddess of Peace  (Our Lady of Peace) – In Roman mythology, Pax (‘peace’) was recognized as a goddess during the rule of Augustus.

On the Campus Martius (Field of Mars, God of War), she had a minor sanctuary called the Ara Pacis, dedicated to her on January 30, 9 BCE. Her temple was on the Templum Pacis (Forum Pacis) built by Emperor Vespasian on the site of a meat market, and was dedicated in 75. She was depicted in art with olive branches, a cornucopia and a sceptre. Pax became celebrated (in both senses of the word) as Pax Romana and Pax Augusta from the 2nd Century BCE.

In Greek mythology, she was Eirene or Irene (‘peace’), daughter of Zeus and Themis, one of the first generation of Horae. The Horae (the Hours, or Seasons) were Pax and her sisters Lawfulness, Wisdom and Order (Eunomia) and Justice (Justitia/Dike) are sometimes considered to be the three aspects of Themis. As goddesses of the seasons, they brought order to Nature. Eirene was the personification of peace and wealth and was depicted in art as a beautiful young woman carrying a cornucopia, sceptre and a torch or rhyton. (Links are dead, but quoted from Wilson’s Almanac here: http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/book/jan3.html ) More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pax_%28mythology%29 and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eirene_%28Greek_goddess%29

Isn’t it a cool idea to have Peace as a goddess?

Howlsnow
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The Days of Volos – Procines (January) 1-6 – These moonlit and frosty nights have a name: The Holiday of the Wolves. These days are set aside for the worship of the God of pets and of cattle, whose name is Volos. We give our thanks for the animals on these days, which bring food and sustenance to our homes from ancient times. We also defend them from the ravenous wolves which attack. (Slavic Pagan Calendar)

The Day of Remembrance for Princess Olga – Procines (January) 3 – On this day we celebrate Olga who brought glory and honor to herself for all eternity through her acts of heroism. She avenged her husband’s murder by slaying the perpetrator, Drevlane. She later gave birth to the Great Prince Sviatoslav and thus united all the Russias; a feat of great honor in her remembrance. Today is the day of a toast to the Great Paganess, Olga. (Slavic Pagan Calendar)

The shop is open only by appointment until the COVID #s come down, and we’ll probably stay closed until 2/1.Watch here for notifications about that! For appointments contact us at 541-563-7154, anjasnihova@yahoo.com, on Facebook or here on the blog, or just leave a note on the door!

Love & Light,
Anja

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Today’s Astro & Calendar

Waning Moon Magick – From the Full Moon to the New is a time for study, meditation, and magic designed to banish harmful energies and habits, for ridding oneself of addictions, illness or negativity. Remember: what goes up must come down. Phase ends at the Tide Change on 1/12 at 9pm. Waning Gibbous Moon – Best time for draining the energy behind illness, habits or addictions. Magicks of this sort, started now, should be ended before the phase change to the New Moon. – Associated God/dess: Hera/Hero, Cybele, Zeus the Conqueror, Mars/Martius, Anansi, Prometheus. Phase ends at the Quarter on 1/6 at 1:37am.

Gone but not forgotten – Quadrans Muralis used to lie above Boötes the Herdsman. The Quadrantids’ radiant is located — and still named for — this extinct constellation. – Sindey Hall; Restoration by Adam Cuerden; courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks this morning around 9:30 A.M. EST. That makes the hours before sunrise the best time to seek out shower meteors spraying from the radiant in Boötes. This shower is actually named for the now-extinct constellation that originally housed its radiant, Quadrans Muralis. That constellation appeared on star charts since is creation in 1795 until 1922, when the International Astronomical Union omitted it when creating the 88 standardized constellations we use today.

Quadrantid meteor shower – January meteor viewing reaches its peak with the perfectly timed Quadrantids, which could deliver up to two meteors per minute. – Astronomy: Roen Kelly

The Quadrantids’ radiant rises after midnight — not long after the Moon has also risen, washing out much of the dark sky. Still, you’ll likely be able to find Arcturus, Boötes brightest star; the radiant lies 32° north-northwest of the star. One easy way to find the radiant is to draw a line between Spica in Virgo through Arcturus — follow that line in the same direction for the same distance that lies between those two stars, and you’ll land right on target. Despite the bright Moon, the Quadrantid meteor shower is known for its bright fireballs, so it’s certainly worth stepping outside this morning if your skies are clear. What’s more, the shower’s expected maximum rate is a whopping 120 meteors per hour, increasing the chances that you’ll see some streaks overhead, even under poor conditions.

Orion the Hunter rises over the Grand Canyon in this image, snapped from the parking area for Yavapai Point. – InSapphoWeTrust (Flickr)

By early January Orion has fully come into his own. He’s now striding up the east-southeastern sky as soon as it gets dark, with his three-star Belt nearly vertical. Left of the Belt is orange Betelgeuse marking Orion’s eastern shoulder. Right of the Belt is bright white Rigel, his leading foot. The Belt points high up toward Aldebaran in and, even higher, the Pleiades, both in Taurus. In the other direction, the Belt points down to where bright Sirius rises shortly after twilight’s end. For more about Orion’s brightest stars see Fred Schaaf’s “Orion’s Magnificent Seven” in the January Sky & Telescope, page 45.

101021 – Jupiter and Saturn tilt down at dusk.

Jupiter and Saturn (magnitudes –2.0 and +0.6, respectively) still shine together low in the southwest during and after twilight, but they’re lower every evening. Jupiter is the bright one. Saturn, increasingly far to Jupiter’s lower right, is only about a tenth as bright. Their separation widens from 1.3° on January 1st to 2.1° on the 8th. But by then they are very low. How long can you keep them in view?

Old Farmer’s Almanac NIGHT SKY MAP FOR JANUARY 2021: THE BRIGHTEST SKY OF THE YEAR – https://www.almanac.com/night-sky-map-january-brightest-sky

Runic half-month of Eihwaz/Eoh 12/28-1/11 Represents the dead, and the yew tree, sacred to Winter shamanism. Nigel Pennick, The Pagan Book of Days, Destiny Books

Moon in Virgo

 

Goddess Month of Hestia runs from 12/26 – 1/22
Celtic Tree Month of Beth/Birch, Dec 24 – Jan 20
Uranus (1/14/21) Retrograde
Color – Amber
©2020 M. Bartlett, Some parts separately copyright

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Celtic Tree Month of Beth/Birch, Dec 24 – Jan 20, Beith – (BEH), birch – The silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) is the most common tree birch in much of Europe. It grows up to 30 m (100 feet) high, but is more often found in spreading clumps on sandy soils. It is one of the first trees to colonize an area after a mature forest is cut; this is probably a large part of its symbolic connection with new beginnings. It is cultivated in North America, often under the name of weeping birch. The three trees in my front yard form root sprouts that would take over the bed where they are planted if I didn’t cut them back. The common birch (B. pubescens Ehrh.) is almost as widespread as the silver birch, but grows primarily on acid or peaty soils. It can reach 20 m (65 feet) in height. Birches are members of the Birch family (Betulaceae). Curtis Clark

Beth – Birch – Ogam letter correspondences –
Month: November
Color: White
Class: Peasant
Letter: B
Meaning: New Beginnings; Changes; Purification.

Phagos – Beech Ogam letter correspondences to study this month
Month: None
Color: Orange-brown
Class: Chieftain
Letter: PH, IO
Meaning: New experiences and information coming

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Tides for Alsea Bay
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Day        High      Tide  Height   Sunrise    Moon  Time      % Moon
~            /Low      Time    Feet     Sunset                                    Visible
Su   3     High   3:46 AM     7.1   7:53 AM     Set 11:06 AM      86
~     3      Low   9:11 AM     3.3   4:50 PM    Rise  9:57 PM
~     3     High   2:45 PM     7.7
~     3      Low   9:45 PM    -0.2

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Affirmation/Thought for the Day – I remember freedom. I remember who I Am. I am free.

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Journal Prompt – Wiki – If you were in danger, who would protect you?

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Quotes

~   Better to fight and fall than to live without hope. – Volsunga Saga, c.12
~   My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder. – William Golding (1911-1993) English writer
~   Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need. – Will Rogers (1879-1935) US actor, humorist
~   Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. – Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) Dutch philosopher

January is here,
With eyes that keenly glow–
A frost-mailed warrior striding
A shadowy steed of snow. – Edgar Fawcett (1847–1904)

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Imbolc Magick – Lore – Celebrating Candlemas, Information compiled by Waverly Fitzgerald

Celebrating Candlemas

Candlemas is one of my favorite holidays of the year with its promise of a new beginning. Poised at the start of early spring, when buds and bare green stems are poking through the soil in some more temperate parts of the country, like the Pacific Northwest where I live, it renews my belief that I can make my life better, shed the old skins of past beliefs and bad habits and launch into a new bloom. 

The promises of the return of the light and the renewal of life made at the winter solstice are now becoming manifest. It’s the dawn of the year. It’s time to creep out of the hibernation of winter, cautiously like the Ground Hog who supposedly emerges on this day to check his shadow. It’s the time of germination. It’s the traditional time for new beginnings in pagan covens, when new members are initiated and take a new name, while solitary practitioners might dedicate themselves to a deity and make a pledge to a course of action or study during the year.  This initiation may come to you whether you choose it or not. Vicki Noble wrote in Shakti Woman about the powerful initiatory dream that activated her kundalini energy which came to her on Candlemas.

I’ve had a harder time than usual discerning which holidays to include in this packet, mostly because the two strands of Candlemas (I think of them as white and red, new moon and full, innocence and spring fever, candle wax and hot flame, Agnes and Agatha) are interwoven into so many holidays of early spring including:

The white thread of Candlemas

  • Imbolc, the Celtic festival whose rituals have probably been inherited by
  • St Bridget
  • Candlemas
  • Purification of our Lady
  • Sementiva, an ancient Roman sowing festival
  • Ground Hog’s Day
  • St Blaise, on whose early February holiday seeds are blessed
  • St Agnes

The red thread: full moon festivals of early spring

  • St Agatha, whose celebration features the same torches that probably once burned for Juno Februata
  • Lupercalia, the ancient purification/spring fever ritual of the Romans that became
  • Valentines Day
  • Purim
  • Mardi Gras


The Quarter Days

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the quarter days are “the four days fixed by custom as marking off the quarters of the year, on which tenancy of houses usually begins and ends, and the payment of rent and other quarterly charges falls due.” Both Maire MacNeill and the OED make a distinction between the English and Scottish (Celtic) quarter days (sometimes the English call the Scottish quarter days cross-quarter-days, and vice versa):

Celtic/Scottish                                            English

Imbolc/Candlemas (Feb 1)                             Lady Day (Mar 25)

Beltane/Whitsun (May 1)                               Midsummer/St John  (June 24)

Lughnasa/Lammas (Aug 1)                            Michaelmas (Sep 29)

Halloween/Samhain (Nov 1)                           Martinmas (Nov 11)   

                                                                    Christmas (Dec 24)

The English quarter days are closely aligned with the equinoxes and solstices (although they have been shifted slightly to fall on the nearest Church holidays).  The equinoxes and the solstices are astronomically determined, based on when the sun moves into a particular zodiac sign, which is why they slip around (over a 3 day period) from year to year. By choosing the closest church holiday, the quarter days became fixed on the same date each year, more convenient for planning.

The Celtic or Scottish quarter days are related to agricultural phenomenon rather than the movements of the sun. Feb 1st (Candlemas/Imbolc) is the time when branches bud and bulbs poke through the soil (at least here in the Pacific Northwest where our seasons correspond quite nicely with the old Celtic seasons). May 1 (May Day or Beltane) is the time when the May tree flowers and the flowers begin their dance of attraction. August 1 (Lammas or Lughnasad) is the time of the first harvest, when the grain is cut. And November 1 (Halloween or Samhain) is the last harvest, the end of the agricultural year and the start of the dark time of hibernation.

In America, we tend to think of the equinoxes and solstices as the start of each season but the old British names for the holidays (for instance Midsummer on June 24) suggest an older understanding in which they mark the midpoint of each season. The Celtic quarter days are then the starting dates for each season. This was certainly the way the Celts looked at it. They thought of Samhain (Nov 1) as the start of winter, which was also the start of their year, and Beltane (May 1) as the start of summer, when the flocks were driven out to their summer pastures.

The quarter days have always been seen as significant moments in time. They liminal times, like gateways between the seasons, sometimes viewed as auspicious and sometimes as dangerous.

In Celtic lands, these quarter days were celebrated with great assemblies, like the Teltown Fair (on August 1). On these occasions, people gathered for religious ceremonies, judicial proceedings, marriages and fairs, games and races. Great bonfires are associated with most of the Celtic quarter days; often fires were rekindled. Protection rites were also performed: Bridget’s crosses were made for Imbolc, special bannocks crumbled in the corners of barns on Lughnasa.

It was unlucky on quarter days to give away anything (just as taking anything out of the house on New Year’s Day brings bad luck) so too, giving away fire (in the form of kindling or ember) or milk or rennet might mean the household would go without in the coming season. This ill luck applied to the Monday after the Quarter Day as well.

To prevent your cows from being bewitched, draw water from the well before sunrise, pour it into a pail over a silver coin and give the “silvered” water to your animals to drink. I like this idea of silvered water for protection–perhaps you could use this on your house plants, your domestic animals and yourself.

The first Monday of the Quarter,
Take care that luck leave not thy dwelling.

Quarter days were also good days for divination. On the island of Lewis, girls noted the name of the first man they met on a quarter day, since he would have the same last name as their future spouse. The quarter days were considered lucky for getting married, setting out on a journey or starting a new project.

According to MacNeill, special bannocks were made on each of the Quarter Days: a large one for the family and smaller ones for each individual. People ate them outdoors and threw a piece over each shoulder, saying: “Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep; there to thee, fox, spare my lambs; here to thee, eagle, spare my goats; there to thee, raven, spare my kids; her to thee, martin, spare my fowls; there to thee, harrier, spare my chickens.”

The Monday after a quarter day is another time for a special divination called a frith. The frithir fasts during the day and at sunrise, barefoot and bareheaded, walks around the household fire three times saying prayers to the Virgin Mary and St Bridget. Then with closed eyes, the frithir goes to the threshold, places a hand on either side and asks a specific question about the coming season. She then opens her eyes and notes what she sees, interpreting them in light of her question.

Imbolc

An ancient Celtic festival considered the first day of spring. Unfortunately little is known about the rituals associated with this holiday, 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.

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. Bridget’s holiday 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.

Text Box: Icon of St Brigid by Patricia Banker from her website
www.saintspreserved.com
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. Another famous emergence is described in this ancient poem:

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.

The snake links Brigid with the Roman Tellus Mater, the chthonic earth mother honored in the rituals of Sementiva, and often shown suckling a snake. The snake has always been a symbol of resurrection and new life, both for the way it emerges from the underworld and the way it sheds its skin.

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.

In the west Scottish highlands, midwives blessed newborn babes with fire and water in Brigid’s name. The midwife would pass the baby back and forth across the fire three times (perhaps recalling Demeter’s dipping of Triptolemus in the fire), carry the baby around the fire there times and then perform the “midwife’s baptism” with water, saying

A small wave for your form
A small wave for you voice
A small wave for your speech
A small wave for your means
A small wave for your generosity
A small wave for your appetite
A small wave for your wealth
A small wave for your life
A small wave for your health
Nine wave of grace upon you
Waves of the Giver of Health.

In most cultures, the woman of the house is responsible for keeping the hearth fire burning. In the west Highlands, the housewife spoke a charm invoking Brigid as she carried out this task. The embers were spread in a circle, then divided into three equal heaps.and one central heap. Three turves of peat were placed between the three heaps and the center and the whole covered with ash. The charm wrapped the protection of Brigid around the house and its occupants. Brigid is also the goddess of many healing wells. Thus her symbols are both water and fire.

First Sowing

Pamela Berger has written a book, The Goddess Obscured, about the rituals celebrated at the time of the first sowing when the earth is awakened and the seed placed in the belly of the earth. This is a significant moment in a community which depends on the earth for sustenance. The fields were purified and offerings were made to the goddess.

This medieval Anglo-Saxon plowing charm, preserved in a manuscript in the British Museum and recorded by Berger, was said by the farmer while cutting the first furrow:

Whole be thou Earth
Mother of men.
In the lap of God,
Be thou as-growing.
Be filled with fodder
For fare-need ofmen.

The farmer then took a loaf of bread, kneaded it with milk and holy water, and laid it under the first furrow, saying:

Acre full fed,
Bring forth fodder for men!
Blossoming brightly,
Blessed become;
And the God who wrought the ground,
Grant us the gifts of growing,
That the corn, all the corn,
May come unto our need.

Sementiva

Berger suggests that the Candlemas rituals for appeasing the earth at plowing may be derived from a Roman festival, Sementiva (from the word for seed which also gives us semen).  Ovid is the first to mention it and includes it in his calendar of festivals under late January, but it was apparently not fixed to a particular date but took place whenever the fields were ready for sowing. To appease the earth goddess, who has been been “wounded” by the plow, the farmer made offerings to Tellus Mater and Ceres which included flat cakes, seed and a pregnant sow. Tellus Mater, the Roman earth mother, was often depicted in early art with a snake nursing at her breast.

Later Joannes Lydus says Sementiva was celebrated on two days, the day of sowing and seven days later when the seeds began to sprout. On the first day, sacrifices were made to Demeter (who corresponded with Tellus Mater), the earth that received the grain, and the seventh day, sacrifices were made to Kore (who corresponded to Ceres), the creative force of the seed.

A first century BC poet Tibullus describes the festival in more detail. Participants abstained from sex the night before, bathed and put on new clothing. Ceres and Bacchus were invoked and asked to provide abundance and protect the grain from danger. A lamb was sacrificed and the cattle and fields were purified. Perhaps the cattle were driven between smoky bonfires as the Celts did at Beltane or torches were carried around the fields. 

Virgil describes a typical procession around the field in this passage:

…But chiefly pay
Fit worship to the gods. Make sacrifice
Each year to sovereign Ceres, when the grass
Is green and glad, the winter making end
And gentle Spring is in the air, when lambs
Are fattening, when the wine grows smooth and mild,
And sweet is slumber in cool hillside shade.
Let all the country youth of manly prime
On Ceres call, bearing her tribute due
Of honey mixed with milk and sweet, new wine.
Three times around the freshly bladed corn
The blessed victim guide, while all the choir
In gladsome company an anthem sing,
Bidding the goddess to their lowly doors.
And let no reaper touch the ripened corn
With sickle keen until his brows bind
With twine of oak-leaf, while he trips along
In artless dance with songs in Ceres’ praise.

Groundhog’s Day

The festival of Brigid is one of emergence. In America, instead of goddesses emerging from the underworld or serpents slithering out of holes, we watch for the ground hog to pop out of his burrow. 

Many animals are emerging from hibernation as the hours of sunlight increase. The bear is a true hibernator; it sleeps through the winter with a slower heart rate and a lower body temperature, without eating or urinating or defecating. Many other mammals that seem to hibernate, like raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, chipmunks, hamsters and hedgehogs, actually go into dormancy, rather than true hibernation, and wake up occasionally to move around and eat.

In England, the animal that comes out of hibernation on this day is the badger. Since there are no badgers in America, this role was assigned to the groundhog (or woodchuck). If the groundhog comes out of his hole and sees his shadow on February 2nd, he goes back in and winter continues. If he doesn’t see his shadow, then winter will soon be over.

Weather Divinations

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.

Purification of Mary/Our Lady of Candelaria

The Catholic Church, as it was wont to do, found an opportunity to superimpose a Christian holiday on an existing pagan festival. 

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 Christ’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, 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  and the legends of St Brigid. The fire represents the spark of new life, like the seeds blessed in northern Europe on St Blaise’s Day and carried home to “kindle” the existing seed.

St Blaise

I vividly remember St Blaise’s Day from a Catholic childhood for on this day we went into the dim church and knelt at the Communion rail while the priest came up to each of us and held a pair of crossed white candles against our throat, to ward off disease. (The crossed candles create the same shape as the Brigid’s cross, obviously an ancient protection symbol.)

An early Bishop of Armenia (where people worshipped Mihr, the god of fire, with bonfires and carried home embers to kindle their own hearth fires), Blaise became the patron of throat diseases because he saved a child from choking.

Like St Nicholas, St Blaise appears to be one of those saints who accumulated the legends and lores of earlier deities and folk customs around his name, perhaps because his name, sounds like wheat (ble) in French or crops (biade) in Italian.

In medieval times, he was the patron saint of plowmen. On his holiday, women brought a pail of seeds to the church to be blessed. Half of the seed was left as an offering to the church, the other half taken home and mixed with the regular seed before plowing.

St Blaise was also the patron saint of shepherds and the woolen industry because he was allegedly martyred on the stone table used for combing out wool and flayed with the prickly metal combs that remove tiny stones from the wool. As with other saints who suffered peculiar forms of martyrdom, the connection with sheep probably came first. Both St Bridget and St Agnes are also associated with sheep and this is the time of the year when lambs are being born.

Carol Field says that the feast day of San Biagio is especially celebrated in Italian towns where wool was worked. One of the most elaborate ceremonies takes place in Taranta Peligna, a small community in Abruzzo, where the townspeople work communally to make hundreds of special breads called panicelle in the shape of a four-fingered hand. The fingers are said to represent the collaboration of dyers, spinners, weavers and finishers The breads are baked on February 1st, but distributed on Feb 3rd, the official holiday, at the church at the same time the priest is blessing the throats of the faithful.

In Lombardy, people eat a slice of panettone on St Blaise’s day to protect against sore throats during the year. In Serra San Bruno in Calabria, the cookie for San Biagio is called an abbacolo and is baked in the form of a question mark or bishop’s scepter. The young men of the town offer them to their sweethearts. If the girl breaks the piece in two and gives part back to the boy, keeping the other for herself, it means she will marry him. Sicilians serve tiny white breads shaped like grasshoppers and called panuzzi or cavadduzzi or miliddi, thus honoring the saint who rid Sicily of an infestation of grasshoppers.

The LaPlante sisters in their light-hearted guide to Catholic saints, recommend the following ritual, adapted from the Catholic throat-blessing ceremony, to be used whenever you are in need of healing. Bake (or purchase) two long skinny loaves of bread (or use two candles). Light another candle, preferably beeswax. Cross the two loaves (or candles) at your throat and say this prayer:

Saint Blaise
Pray for me
[Command that this obstruction Go up or go down]
Deliver me from illnesses of the throat
And every other evil.

Then eat the bread and drink a cup of tea (sweetened with honey) while the candle burns.

Blaise is invoked against wolves since he supposedly forced a wolf to return a pig he had snatched from a poor widow. But the Greek Orthodox honor St Blaise, under the name of St Vlasios, on February 11th. If you have to work on this day, you should first sew a cloth bag behind your back and get someone to ask you what you are sewing. The proper reply is: “I am sewing stone and whetstone. I am sewing up the wolf’s jaw.” I find intriguing the mention of the whetstone (which I associate with Brigid and her patronage of metalcraft) and the wolf, the animal of Lupercalia.

The Slavonic god of farm animals is called Vlas or Volos and is definitely lurking behind the guise of St Blaise. In Slavic areas, it is traditional to eat goat or mutton (from animals slaughtered in front of the church) and wheat cooked in butter and honey. In Aetolia, women are not supposed to carry firewood and it was said that Vlasios Cattlestrangler would drown any beasts of burden carrying loads on this day.

St Agatha

St Agatha is a third century Sicilian martyr. Like St Agnes, she was a lovely, noble and wealthy young girl, who was martyred for her refusal to marry. She had attracted the attention of a powerful man, Quintanus, the king (or consul) of Sicily, who subjected her to terrible tortures when she spurned him. Perhaps the worse, certainly the most gruesome: her breasts were torn off. She was also put into a brothel, raped, racked, beaten, torn with iron hooks, burnt with torches and imprisoned without food or water She finally expired after being rolled over live coals and broken potsherds.

This picture of St Agatha from Lives of the Saints shows her surrounded by symbolic objects–a bell, a brazier of smoking coals and a pair of iron tongs (perhaps those used to rip off her breasts)–with Mount Etna (looking very much like a breast) smoking in the background. Early Christian icons showed Agatha carrying her breasts on a plate. Later they were mistaken for bells and she became the patron saint of bell founders. She is also the patroness of nurses, the protector of valleys and is invoked for protection from breast diseases and fire. In Italy, special pastries or nougats, shaped like breasts and called St. Agatha’s breasts, are eaten on her feast day.

Her feast day is February 5th but the festivities in Catania, the center of her worship begin on February 1st. It is celebrated with poetry contests, fireworks, music, confetti and processions. Wooden structures called candelore which are shaped like bell-towers are carried through the streets. When they stop, muskets are fired and the men who carry the candelore perform the annacata, a dance in which each one waves his candle about trying to make it burn out first. St Agatha’s veil, which was taken from her tomb and is preserved at Catania, is said to help prevent eruptions of Mount Etna

Agatha’s name comes from a Greek word, agathos, meaning good, which was the epithet of many Greek divinities, including the agathos daimon (the good spirit of the household) and Agatha Tyche (good fortune).

Perhaps Agatha’s predecessor was a fertility goddess whose prominently-breasted figure was carried about the fields during sowing time. Berger in The Goddess Obscured describes the importance of such customs at this time of the year when the fields are plowed in preparation for sowing. Some scholars have noted parallels between the festival of the Ship of Isis celebrated in Egypt around March 5th and the worship of St Agatha in Catania. The Isis festival, described by Apuleius, included a torch-lit procession with worshippers carrying an image of the goddess. One of the priests carried a golden vessel shaped like a breast from which milk poured to the ground.

St Agnes

St Agnes was a 13-year-old Roman girl who was martyred during the reign of Diocletian in the fourth century BCE. Like many saints of this time period (Lucy is another good example), the story of her life is spurious, perhaps based on nothing more than her name. One legend says that she refused the suit of a Roman noble. Her father, a prefect, condemned her to be exposed in a public place but her long hair grew miraculously longer and covered her entirely. Another legend says she was the daughter of a virgin and a man who had renounced sexual love (this seems to imply she was a miraculous child like St David, Merlin or Christ). She was killed for refusing to marry a Roman officer, saying she already had a spouse who could not be seen with mortal eyes. She is thus the patroness of young girls and chastity. Accused of being a Christian by her rejected suitor, she was placed in a brothel where she inspired such awe in the male patrons that none dared approach her except for one foolish fellow who was struck blind for his impudence. Eventually she was condemned to death for refusing to renounce her faith. “She went to the place of execution more cheerfully than others go to a wedding,” wrote Ambrose, himself a saint.

Agnes is usually pictured with a lamb and lilies. Her name comes from the Greek word agnos (chaste) but it was early on confused with the Latin agnus (which means lamb). In Rome, two lambs are brought into the church of Sant Agnese on her feast day, where they are presented at the altar and blessed. The wool shorn from these sheep is used to weave the pope’s pallium for the year. Keats in his poem, “The Eve of St Agnes,” refers to the holy loom used by the secret sisterhood to weave St Agnes’ wool. Other saints with feast days around this time are also associated with sheep and lambs (St Brigid and St Blaise) and this is the start of the lambing season in England. Perhaps St Agnes carries the qualities of a goddess who protected lambs. Walker says she is a Roman-Jewish version of the Holy Ewe Lamb (Agna), virgin incarnation of the Ewe-Goddess Rachel, but I’m not sure I believe this any more than I believe the brothel story.

Even though the spurious St Agnes chose death rather than marry a pagan Roman officer, the eve of her holyday has been for centuries a time when young women seek visions of their future mates. Most of the methods suggested are quite challenging.

According to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, you should take a row of pins and pull out everyone while saying a pater noster. Stick one in your sleeve and you will dream of your future mate. I’m not sure if this works if you don’t know the Our Father in Latin. Perhaps it doesn’t matter as the words simply represent your effort to make the process sacred, in which case you can write your own charm along the lines of the following:

Fair St Agnes, play thy part
And send to me my own sweetheart
Not in his best or worst array
But in the clothes he wears each day
That tomorrow I may him ken
From among all other men.

To dream of your future mate, you must fast during the day and keep silent. No one, not even a child, should kiss you. At bedtime you must don your best and cleanest night dress.

Another method requires the making, in silence, of a dumb cake of salt and water, supplied in equal proportions by friends who help you make it in silence. You then divide it equally and each takes her piece, walks backwards to bed, eats the cake and jumps in bed.

In Northumberland, the girl is told to boil an egg, extract the yolk, fill the hole with salt, eat the egg shell and all, then recite the above lines of entreaty to St. Agnes. This will insure a significant dream which cannot be revealed to anyone.

Aristotle’s Last Legacy (written in 1711) provides another, even more unpleasant, method for provoking an oracular dream of your lover. All you need to do is sprinkle a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of thyme with urine three times, then put each sprig into one of your shoes and put your shoes by your bed and say:

St Agnes, that’s to Lovers kind
Come ease the Troubles of my Mind.

If these seem too difficult or unpleasant, you can always try the simple charm of peeling an apple in one long strip and throwing it over your left shoulder to see what initial it will make or simply paying careful attention to your dreams.

For a special treat, find a copy of John Keats’ poem The Eve of St. Agnes and read it aloud.

Mardi Gras and the end of Carnival

Lent is the name for the six weeks before Easter, a time of fasting and penitence in the Catholic church. This is also a time of initiation, when those wanting to join the church undergo an intense course of study and preparation for their baptism at Easter. In this, it resembles other purification and initiation rites of February.

Before Lent begins, however, there is an intense burst of revelry and indulgence known as Carnival. The name Carnival is usually derived from carne vale, “good-bye to meat,” since devout Catholics abstain from eating any during the six weeks of Lent. But Carol Field in her book on celebratory Italian food mentions the carrus navalis, the great wheeled ship featured in a Greek Dionysian ritual celebrated on the cusp of winter and spring. The ship was drawn through the streets with Dionysus lounging on it, grapes in hand, probably throwing loot and encouraging women to bare their breasts as in contemporary Mardi Gras celebrations.

Carnival peaks on Mardi Gras, the Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, named for the glorious fatty foods which are the typical fare for this day. People indulge in meat but also rich foods, usually deep-fried pastries, often filled with cream and sweets, like jam-filled doughnuts, fritters, blinis and pancakes.

Orloff’s description of Carnival customs still observed in Telfs in the Tyrolean Alps gives us a glimpse of some of the ancient aspects of this festival. At dawn, a baker, an innkeeper, a chimney sweep, and a peasant carry a golden sun on a pole through the village, begging the sun to shine down on the carnival. Later the Wilden appear, men and boys in grotesque masks and costumes of moss, representing winter. They roam the streets, drunk and riotous, attacking anyone who crosses them. There is a simulated bear hunt, then another procession headed by a lantern bearer whose role is to search for carnival in the darkness of winter. He makes room for the Schleicher, the spirits of spring. Each wears a fantastic hat, a mask showing the face of a young person and a giant bell. Each carries in his right hand a stick stacked with pretzels (symbols of the sun) and in his left a linen handkerchief. The Schleicher do a magic circle dance, with slow, deliberate steps, their bells awaken the slumbering earth. This is followed by a mock tribunal (making fun of local politics and gossip) and the squirting of the crowd with water from the mouth of the carnival baby.

Field describes a variety of Carnival celebrations in Italy. One of the wildest occurs in Ivrea which imports a trainload of blood oranges from Sicily for wild battles in the Piazza which leave the combatants bruised and dripping with the blood-red juice, probably a substitute for earlier times when the violence was more serious.  These battles, common to many Mardi Gras celebrations (in England Shrove Tuesday is a time for football matches) may represent the battle between winter and spring.

In previous centuries, during Italian Mardi Gras celebrations people threw confetti (sugared almonds), candles, beans, caramels and coriander seeds rolled in plaster or flour and left to dry. Some of these make sense—the beans, for instance, recall the Roman feast of Parentalia when black beans were thrown to propitiate the ancestors—while the candles evoke the candles of Candlemas.  Nowadays shaving cream is sprayed everywhere leaving everyone and everything covered in white foam.

Masked balls are part of Carnival celebrations in many places, particularly in Venice, Austria and Germany. According to Pam Mandel who spent a winter in Austria, the present day events are somewhat like debutante balls but in earlier times, the anonymity of masks and costumes allowed people to engage in licentious behavior that would normally be censured.

Goethe attending a carnival celebration in Rome in 1787 wrote a beautiful passage about the effects of the candlelight processions of Shrove Tuesday which Carol Field quotes:

The darkness has descended into the narrow, high-walled street before lights are seen moving in the windows and on the stands; in next to no time the fire has circulated far and wide, and the whole street is lit up by burning candles.

            The balconies are decorated with transparent paper lanterns, everyone holds his candle, all the windows, all the stands are illuminated, and it is a pleasure to look into the interiors of the carriages, which often have small crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, while in others the ladies sit with coloured candles in their hands as if inviting one to admire their beauty.

Sia ammazzato chi non porta moccolo. ‘Death to anyone who is not carrying a candle.’ This is what you say to others, while at the same time you try to blow out their candles….

The candles once again link this holiday with Candlemas (and if Easter actually coincided with spring equinox, the festival from which it’s derived) then Shrove Tuesday would be six weeks earlier around the same time as Candlemas). I also like the sinister game of blowing out the candle, again suggesting the darker, combative side of this festival.

Lupercalia

The Lupercalia was one of the most important Roman festivals, a rowdy fertility festival celebrated on February 15th (a full moon festival back when the months started on the new moon). It was loosely connected to the legend of the wolf that suckled the twin babies, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, in her cave the Lupercal on Palatine Hill.

On this day, a band of priests called Luperci gathered at the Lupercal, sacrificed goats and a puppy and made offerings of a sacred grain mixture, mola salsa. Two youths were smeared on the forehead with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off with swatches of milk-soaked wool. After a feast, they stripped off their clothes, wrapped themselves in the still-warm, still-wet skins of the sacrificed goats and ran around the circumference of the hill, striking everyone they met with goatskin thongs, called februa. Being struck by these whips was considered lucky for women who wanted to become fertile.

The whipping may have served several functions. It may have stirred up the blood. Or it may have been considered an expiation, a way of driving out sins and demons (as the Japanese expelled them at Setsubun by throwing beans (see Feb 5)). A similar custom is found at Carnival time in France and Germany: inflated pork bladders, said to contain the souls of the dead, are attached to sticks and used to beat members of the opposite sex.

When the Pope first tried to ban the Lupercalia in the 5th century, there was so much outrage that the papal residence was completely surrounded by the angry mob. He backed off and the festival was not officially banned again until the next century.

Valentine’s Day

There is no connection between either of the two St Valentines (a Roman priest martyred in the third century and a martyred bishop) although many legends have been invented to explain it. One story says that Claudius II during a time of unpopular military campaigns cancelled all marriages and engagements, hoping thereby to channel the energy of the young men into the martial arts. Supposedly Valentine, a priest in Rome during this time, secretly married couples, thus incurring the wrath of the emperor and martyrdom.

The custom of sending valentines may derive from the custom of drawing lots (names of partners) at the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia or with the worship of Juno Februata in whose honor on the eve of her feastday (Feb 15), according to my Lives of the Saints, boys drew names of girls. St Francis de Sales trying to abolish this heathen practice in the mid-sixteenth century suggested drawing the names of the saints (with boys drawing the names of female saints, and vice versa). This does not seem to have caught on. According to Hutton, the custom of sending valentines began in England in the 15th century, and was more popular at first among the middle classes, who sent signed valentines (not anonymous ones). In Japan it is now the custom for women to give chocolates to men on this day, particularly their superiors at work.

In the Middle Ages, people believed that birds chose their mates on this day. This was the time of year when the courtship flights of birds, particularly of members of the crow family, were visible. I find it amusing that the Backyard Bird Count sponsored by Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and Audubon is scheduled on Presidents Day weekend, usually close to Valentine’s Day.

There was a folk superstition, mentioned by Shakespeare that the first person you meet on Valentine’s Day will be your true love. Ophelia plays with this idea when she says to Hamlet:

Good morrow, ’tis St Valentine’s Day
All in the morn betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine.

Jews celebrate the rowdy full moon festival of Purim with bawdy jokes, indulgence, gambling and dressing up in costume, all customs that link it with other springtime festivals of excess like Mardi Gras. Although Purim ostensibly celebrates the overthrow of the wicked tyrant Haman who was murdering the Jews, scholars believe the festival actually has roots in an ancient Persian spring holiday which featured a mock battle (like those often linked with Carnival and Easter).

People bring noise-makers to the evening service, to drown out the name of the tyrant Haman during the re-telling of the story of Esther. Some write his name on bits of paper which they tear up and toss into the air; others have his name written on the soles of their shoes which they stamp on the floor. The Talmud recommends drinking until it is impossible to tell the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai.”

After the service, everyone eats, hamantaschen, three-cornered cookies filled with poppy seeds or jam, which are said to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. But they also resemble the triangular filled pastries in the shape of a woman’s sex used to celebrate the  Roman birth goddesses and that would certainly go along with the bawdy flavor of the holiday. Not everyone eats hamantaschen at Purim. German Jews eat gingerbread men. Egyptians eat ozne Haman, deep-fried sweets shaped like Haman’s ears.

This festival is also called The Festival of Lotteries, because of the lots cast by Haman to choose the day to destroy the Jews. But playing games of chance is a feature of other festivals of reversal like Saturnalia and Twelfth Night and other festivals of reversal. At Purim, sometimes a Purim-rabbi is elected to give a mock sermon.

In traditional Jewish towns, teams of Purimshpielers tour the streets, juggling and singing, dancing and acting, wearing costumes and presenting plays on Jewish history. In Tel Aviv, there is a parade and carnival including a beauty contest to choose Queen Esther from among the women.

The traditional Purim dinner includes kreplach and peas, particularly chickpeas, a huge challah, and, ever since the turkey was brought to Europe from North America around 1524, turkey. Some say the turkey is served in remembrance of Ahasuerus, who was a foolish king, but it may have more to do with the scope of his kingdom, for he ruled from Ethiopia to India, and the turkey was known in Hebrew as “the Indian cock.” 

Candlemas Themes

Emerging (from hibernation)
Purifying
Propitiating the earth mother with milk, water and bread, sometimes a lamb
Asking for protection
Plowing the fields
Sowing
Blessing of seeds
Lighting new fires
Blessings candles
Processing with torches
Eating dairy foods and grains
Wearing new clothes, especially white clothes
Weather divinations (smoke or sun)
Making Brigid’s crosses

Mardi Gras, Purim & Valentine themes:

Eating rich foods, especially foods fried in fat and dripping with butter and sugar
Dressing up in costume, wearing a mask
Acting wild, taking liberties, doing things that you normally wouldn’t do
Drinking excessively
Mock battles and other competitive games
Mating rituals
Heating the body, getting the sap flowing (through whipping, running, sex)

Candlemas Activities:

Blessing seeds
Planting seeds
Taking a new name
Making valentines
Creating a collage vision of the new year
Making a pledge for the year for self, neighborhood and the world
Dedicating yourself to a path, a spiritual practice, a deity

Candlemas Candles

I like to make candles on Candlemas, particularly because this is the last of the three winter holidays (Halloween, Yule and Candlemas) in which candles appear as an important symbol.

Most candles are made of paraffin which is a beef by-product and most candle-making instructions assume you are using paraffin. If you are a vegetarian, you may choose to work with beeswax instead. You can buy beeswax in candle-making stores, order it on the internet or find a beekeeper with a surplus of wax to sell it to you.

Candlemas candles represent the rising energy of the new season and thus, whether you are giving them as gifts or making them for your own purposes, use colors and scents and objects which symbolize the qualities you wish to manifest in the coming year. For instance, for abundance, you might want to make a green candle with a penny as the weight for the wick. There are whole books on candle magic, listing the correspondences for colors and scents, which you can consult, but your own personal associations are undoubtedly more valid when making candles for yourself.

There are many ways to make candles but I prefer the old-fashioned way. Here’s what you need:

Water
Double boiler
Old sauce pan for melting wax
Paraffin or old candles or beeswax
Candle wicking
Pencil, small stick or dowel    For molds, use waxed milk cartons, tin cans, salad molds (coat lightly with oil so they won’t stick), glass jars, toilet paper rolls, etc.
Crayons or food color for color
Herbs or essential oils for scent

In Herbal Treasures, Bob Clark provides these important warnings when working with hot wax:

Never heat wax directly on a flame or burner
Never leave the room while wax is heating
Never leave the materials within a child’s reach
Always protect yourself and your clothing from molten wax
Always cover the floor and counters with plenty of newspapers
Always keep a cover, a box of salt or a fire extinguisher handy

Boil water in the bottom half of a double boiler. When water boils, reduce to a simmer. Candle wax is always melted in a double boiler because it is extremely flammable. You can create a double boiler effect by placing tin cans inside a pan of boiling water but then you have the problem of safely removing the hot tin can from the boiling water. Better yet, buy a battered old saucepan with a heatproof handle at a secondhand store and nest that inside a larger saucepan. Before setting your old sauce pan (or tin cans) in the boiling water, fill it with shavings from paraffin blocks or old candles or beeswax.

Cut a wick for each candle so it is about 2 inches longer than your mold. Tie one end ot a pencil or stick and set it on top of the mold so the wick is centered and reaches the bottom with an inch extra. Weight the bottom (which is why store candles have those silver squares at the bottom); a penny will do. Some people use a taper candle, even a birthday candle as a wick.

Maggie Oster suggests three ways to sent a candle. Grind potpourri (or any herb) into a fine powder and add to the melted wax. Snip fresh herbs into small pieces with a scissor and add to the wax. Add drops of essential oil.

My daughter taught me a way to make interesting candles which are much admired. Some of you who are as old as me will probably remember these from grade school. Simply fill a milk carton with ice cubes, then pour the wax on top of them. I’d recommend using an actual candle for the wick since that will give you a stable center. The ice cubes melt as the hot wax pours over them but they leave interesting pockets and caves in the finished product.

Pour the melted wax into the molds. This is the tricky part and should not be done by children, or clumsy adults for that matter. Last time I made candles I tried to pour hot wax out of a hot tin can I was holding with tongs. I lost my grasp on the tongs and dropped a tin can of liquid green wax, remnants of which can still be seen on the refrigerator, linoleum floor and my suede boots.

As the wax cools, a depression will form around the wick. Fill it with more wax until it is level. Allow the wax to dry thoroughly, then remove the candle from the mold. If you are using milk cartons, you can simply tear the paper away. For other molds, immerse the mold in hot water.

Magical candles should never be simply thrown away after their use—I believe this notion comes from the fact that once you have marked it as significant, you should continue to treat it that way. Folklore says you should dispose of remaining wax in a body of running water. But since that seems possibly bad for the environment, I recommend saving remnants of previous candles and combining them in one multi-colored candle which you could then burn for the healing of the earth.
New Year’s Collage

For several years, I’ve been getting together with friends to make magical New Year’s Collages on Candlemas. After casting a circle and creating sacred space, we gather together over a table piled with pictures, glue, scissors, glitter, photographs and other items that will help us create a visual representation of what we want to bring into our lives during the new year. I always keep my newest collage above my desk where I can see it every day, but the walls of my room are covered with the old ones, all icons of my dreams.

The first year I made a collage which showed different things in the four directions for the four seasons. The lighthouse picture I put in the east has become the Watchtower of the East for me and I see it every time I call that direction. I also put a llama in the south in that collage and that was the summer I found a llama I could buy and a place to keep it (I chickened out and never called about the llama).

Sometimes I use symbols to represent qualities I want. One particularly creative year the central images in my collage were a nest and a flower. Another year, uncomfortable with being too blatant about what I wanted, I put a glimpse of a rumpled bed seen through a half-closed door in my collage, and that’s exactly what I got–a glimpse of sexuality.

My friend, Liza, made a collage that became a portal. When she slept with it over her bed, she felt presences come into her room. She eventually moved it to another location where it did not have quite the same impact. I give you these examples to let you know how profound these images can be.

Visualization has always been acknowledged as an important skill in practising magic but, with the publication of Shakti Gawain’s pivotal book, Creative Visualization, it became well known in the general culture so that now every book about success in any field counsels the value of clearly visualizing what you want.

Gwendolyn Endicott in The Spinning Wheel suggests making a collage in the shape of a mandala. She recommends putting something that represents you in the center of the picture. Then fill in the different quadrants with images appropriate to those seasons, directions or elements. Or place images of things you want to create at the four cardinal points and images of what you want to attract into your life in between.

Making A Brigid’s Cross

Brigid’s Cross is the name for a wheat weaving pattern which is used for protection. It is similar to the God’s Eye pattern which is also used for protection.

I found several different explanations of how to make a Brigid’s Cross. This one seems the easiest, and produced (at least when I did a paper mock-up) a symbol that resembled the picture.

The Brigid’s cross is usually made from wheat that does not have heads so you could also use any other plant material that is relatively flat and smooth, like wide blades of grass. If you are using wheat straw, soak it in cool water for at least a half hour before beginning, then wrap in a towel for 15 minutes to soak up the water. You will need 28 wheat straws.

Take two pieces of wheat and put them one on top of another like a plus sign. Fold the top of the vertical piece down over the horizontal straw so it is lying on top of its other half. Turn the whole thing 90 degrees counterclockwise so the folded part with two pieces is to the right and the longer straw is now vertical. Fold the top half of that vertical straw down over itself.

Turn the whole thing again 90 degrees counterclockwise. Add a new straw by placing it to the right of the vertical folded straw and behind the horizontal folded straw. Fold this new straw that you added. Turn the whole thing again. Add another straw the same way you did the last one.

Keep on turning your piece and adding straws. Place the straws next to each other, not on top of the previous round. It may be hard to keep it all together at first but it will get easier as the weave grows bigger. When you have added in 28 straws, tie each of the four ends off about 4 inches from the center. Trim the ends of the straws.

New Year Pledges

Many years ago, on Imbolc, I was accepted into a year-long class taught by two respected elders in the magical community in Seattle. All potential participants in the class were interviewed and 13 of us were selected by lot. The class was offered to us for free; our only commitment was to attend every one of the weekly sessions for the entire year. I remember being nervous about the scope of this commitment. It seemed more demanding than any I had made before (except, perhaps, to my daughter when she was born; I’ve never been married–that’s a commitment that gives me pause).

At times, during the start of the year, when the group was struggling to coalesce, I felt unsure about my choice. But because I made a commitment, in sacred space, with solemn intention, I never considered dropping out. As the weeks passed, I felt a sort of joy grow within me at my perseverance; in fact, because of my commitment to stay in the group, I was outspoken about what wasn’t working for me. By Winter Solstice, with only six weeks to go, I felt buoyant and amazed that the year had gone by so quickly. There were many marvelous rewards gleaned from this commitment, but one of the most profound was the experience of making a year-long pledge and keeping it.

Now I make a pledge every year, incorporating it into my Candlemas ritual. I like to use an idea I learned from the Reclaiming Community in San Francisco, which sponsors a Brigid ritual every year, of making three pledges: one to myself, one to my community and one to the world. (Sometimes when the world seems too large, I make a pledge to myself, a pledge to my community and a pledge to the Goddess.)

One year, when I was feeling stressed about the lack of time in my life, I made a pledge to take one day off a week. This meant that I would schedule no work, no obligations on that day. It would be an open day, which I could devote to spiritual practice, relaxation, whatever I pleased. Many times during that year, I felt certain that I needed to use my day off to catch up on work or that it was the only possible day I could meet with someone. But, by and large, I was able to follow through on my commitment, by reminding myself that I had made a solemn vow in the presence of the Goddess and such a vow should not be lightly broken. Taking a day off on a regular basis taught me the importance of the rhythm of rest in the cycle of time. It was a great year, a time of relaxation and good health and balance.

Not all commitments come to fruition exactly the way we wish. Two years ago, I enrolled in a priestess training program offered by my friend Joanna Powell Colbert. Even the preparation for this program was instructive, as we were asked to write out why we wished to be priestesses. It should have been a clue to me that I couldn’t think of any good reasons, but I went ahead anyway, and participated for a few months in the rituals, reading and homework. It took a while before I realized that the time commitment was too great for me and I regretfully withdrew.

However I took with me one new idea that has become the cornerstone of my spiritual life. Joanna asked us to commit to 15 minutes a day for a spiritual practice. I loved listening to my sister priestesses, who were considering many ideas including a daily self-blessing and dancing for 15 minutes to sacred music. I finally chose a simple practice of greeting the directions each morning when I first go outside. 

For the past several years, my pledge has been to a creative project that puts me in greater touch with the natural world around me. One year I took photographs in the cemetery near my house on each of the eight seasonal holidays. This became a wonderful practice of setting aside time for spiritual pilgrimage and also produced a wonderful series of photographs.

The following year I wrote a haiku (almost) every day, usually based on something I saw during my walk with Chester the dog. The haiku is a difficult form and I was disheartened when I approached the end of the year without having produced any one that was truly produced the effect I think a haiku should have, of startling your heart awake. But just this morning I recognized that the practice had irrevocably altered the way I see certain natural phenomena in my neighborhood. The fat buds puffing up on the cherry trees down the street are now always rosary beads to me.

This year I am hoping to integrate my seasonal studies, writing and my website by writing a (semi-)weekly short essay about ways to align with the season or celebrate a particular holiday that come from my immediate experience.

New Year Pledges are different than New Year resolutions in that they have a spiritual dimension and are made in a sacred way. Although I undertake them seriously, I also make them with great joy.

Candlemas Foods

The traditional foods of Candlemas represent the themes of the season: new life in the form of grain, eggs, milk and seeds.

Pamela Berger comments: “The custom of eating grain products at sowing time is nearly universal.” These are just some of the pastries eaten on Candlemas in various parts of Europe: blinis, pancakes, fritters, loaves, crepes, beignets, doughnuts, eclairs. The round and golden shapes of the pastries represent the sun, and using wheat from a previous harvest to make them attracts a blessing on the growth of grain in the new year.

Dairy products are also common because of the availability of fresh milk, but also appropriate for milk is the first food of almost all mammals.

It also makes sense to eat foods that represent seeds on Candlemas. In Leegmoor in Germany they eat field peas in sauce on this day. Other choices

For a complete Candlemas meal, here’s a recipe from Ritual of the Hearth by Roberta Sickler for a meal she calls Conception:

Snow pea Soup (any kind of pea or lentil soup would be good)

Spring Quiche Supreme (a spinach quiche)

Whole Wheat Challah bread sprinkled with poppyseeds and served with poppyseed butter

Navettes

In Marseilles, they eat navettes on Candlemas, dry boat-shaped cakes made from butter, flour and sugar syrup flavored with orange flower water. Some scholars believe they orginated in Egypt and represent the boat that carried Isis whose feast day of opening the waters is celebrated in early March. But in Marseilles, they say they represent the boat in which Mary Magdalene sailed from Jerusalem to Provence.

In Albi, a similar Candlemas treat is made with candied fruit or almonds and shaped like a spindle, which was the secret emblem of the Cathars, a medieval heretical Christian sect.

This recipe makes the traditional navette which has been sold on Candlemas near the Abbey of St Victor for over a century. The recipe makes about 30 cookies.

6 cups flour
5 T butter, cut into pieces & softened
2 cups superfine sugar
2 t grated lemon peel  2 T orange-flower water
2 eggs
1 cup water

Mound flour on a work surface and make a well in the center. Into the well, put the butter, sugar, lemon peel, orange-flower water, eggs and water. Knead everything together thoroughly until it makes a smooth dough.

Flour the work surface and divide the dough into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a cylinder about 1/2 inch thick. Cut each cylinder into three pieces and curve each into a boat shape, pointed at both ends.  Place the boats on a buttered baking sheet and allow to rest for several hours.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and bake the cookies for 15 minutes. They will keep a long time in an airtight container.

Shrovetide Pancakes

But hark, I hear the pancake bell,
And fritters make a gallant smell;
The cooks are baking, frying, boyling,
Stewing, mincing, cutting, broiling,
Carving, gormandising, roasting
Carbonading, cracking, slashing, toasting – Poor Robin’s Almanack for 1684

Dorothy Spicer writes that the English celebrate Shrove Tuesday with feasting, cock-fighting, egg-rolling, football games and races, singing for Shrovetide cookies and most importantly pancakes. The pancake was such a important feature of the celebration that the day was named Pancake Day and cooks competed in silly contests to see who could “toss the pancake” the highest in the pan.

Spicer provides the following recipe and recommends serving the pancakes rolled in sugar and flavored with lemon. Of course, you can also use your favorite pancake recipe.

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 t salt
1 t grated lemon rind  6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups milk

Mix flour, salt and lemon rind. Beat the egg yolks thoroughly and add with the milk to the dry ingredients. Beat the batter until smooth. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Grease a hot griddle or skillet with a little butter. Pour on a very thin layer of batter, making cakes about 5 inches in diameter. Bake until delicately browned on once side—about a minute—then turn and bake on the other side. Spread each pancake with jelly, or sprinkle with powdered sugar and roll up while hot.

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen pancakes.

Hamantaschen

Traditionally served on Purim, the Jewish full moon holiday of early spring, these little triangular shaped pastries, bursting with poppy seeds, were originally called mohntaschen, poppyseed pockets. The name was changed to Haman’s pockets and are said to refer to Haman’s three-cornered hat. Other explanations say they represent his purse or his donkey ears. But one wonders. Helen Farias points out that the triangle has long been a sign of the vulva, and when bursting with seeds, these treats are oozing with the seedy fertility of life.

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk
3/.4 cup sugar  1/2 cup pareve margarine
1 t salt
5 to 5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs

Soften the yeast in the warm water. In a saucepan, heat the milk, sugar, margarine and salt until the sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in two cups of flour and beat well. Add the yeast and two eggs and mix thoroughly. Stir in enough of the remaining dough to make a moderately stiff dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turn once and cover. Let rise until doubled (about 1-1/2 hours). Divide in half. Roll each half to a 17×12 inch rectangle. Cut into 4 inch circles

1 T oil
2 cups poppyseeds
1 cup water
1 egg well beaten
1/2 lb raisins

2 or 3 T jam
1/2 cup sugar   1 lemon juice and rind
1/2 cup honey
2 T bread crumbs
1/2 lb walnuts
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t each of nutmeg, ginger & cloves
dash of salt

Pour boiling water over the poppyseeds. Let stand until cool. Drain the water off the seeds, put them into a pot and add one cup of boiling water. Cook until dry. Watch carefully and stir; you may have to drain off a little of the water. Grind seeds, nuts and raisins. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste. Add lemon or spices to taste. Fill the dough circles with about 1/2 T of the filling. Bring two sides to the center forming a point and turn the top down to meet with the sides, forming a triangle. Pinch the seams closed and glaze with beaten egg mixed with 1 T of water. Bake at 350 until golden brown. Other popular fillings include apricot, cream cheese and prunes.

Finnish Shrove Tuesday Buns

Flamboyantly filled with rich and expensive ingredients—whipped cream and almond paste—these Shrove Tuesday buns are an indulgent contrast to the upcoming fast of Lent. They are served for morning coffee or for breakfast on top of a bowl of hot milk, or for dessert in a bowl of hot chocolate milk.

Shrove Tuesday or Laskiainen in Finland is a time for outdoor parties. Everybody lends a hand to build a toboggan slide, and children as well as adults take part in the fun. Lanterns and candles are hung in surrounding trees and afterwards everybody comes back into the house for pea soup and almond-filled Lenten buns for dessert.

1 package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup scalded milk (cooled)
1 cup sugar     
1 t salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup soft butter
5-1/2 to 6 cups flour

Dissolve the yeast in a large bowl of warm water and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, sugar, salt and eggs. Add the butter and 2 cups of flour, beating until satiny smooth. Slowly stir in the rest of the flour until stiff. Let it rest for 15 minutes covered. Knead for ten minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let double (this should take about 1 hour). Turn out onto an oiled surface. Cut into 36 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Grease a baking sheet and set the balls on it, flattening them slightly. Let rise until puffy. Brush with egg yolk. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 400 degrees until golden.

1/2 lb blanched whole almonds
1 cup powdered sugar 1 cup whipped cream
powdered sugar for garnish

Grind almonds until fine. Add the sugar and 1/2 cup of cream and blend into a paste. When the rolls are slightly cooled, cut a lid off the top, about 1/2 inch down. Hollow out slightly. Whip the remaining cream (add a little sweetening if you like). Put in a spoonful of filling, then whipped cream. Replace the lid. Sift the powdered sugar over the rolls and serve. Makes 3 dozen.

Fasching krapfen or Jelly Doughnuts

Little pancakes (known as Krebbel, Krapfen and Ballen) are served all over Germany on New Year’s Eve and on Mardi Gras. In Berlin, the pancakes go by the special name of Pfannkuchen. They have a spherical shape like that of a cannonball and were supposedly invented by one of Frederick the Great’s veterans who found work as a baker after being wounded in action.

Pam Mandel in her online journal about a winter spent living in Austria, writes humorously about the ubiquities of faschingkrapfen. They started showing up during the Christmas holidays but by Carnival week they had taken over. Every time, she and her husband returned home they found a new batch hanging from their doorknob, wrapped in paper towels. After a week of eating fresh jelly donuts every day, Mandel was looking forward to the austerity of Lent. The Krapfen had done their job, making her appreciate six weeks of vegetables, fish and pretzels.

This recipe comes from The Cuisines of Germany

3 cups flour
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 t yeast
4-1/2 T butter, softened
2 eggs  pinch of salt
grated peel of 1 lemon
1 cup marmalade or other filling
fat (or oil) for deep frying
confectioners sugar

All the ingredients should be at room temperature, except the lukewarm milk.

Sift flour into a large bowl and make a well in the center. Into the well, pour one half of the milk. Add in the sugar and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Sprinkle some of the flour over the yeast. After the yeast begins to foam (15 to 20 minutes) add the butter, eggs, salt and lemon peel. Slowly work in the remaining milk to make an elastic dough.

Knead the dough thoroughly, then roll out in a sheet about 1/2″ thick. Cut out round pancakes about 3 inches in diameter and place a little dab of filling in the center of half of the pancakes. Brush the edges with water and set one of the other pancakes down on top of the filling. Press the edges together. Put a damp cloth over them and allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes. Heat the fat to about 350 and fry the Krebbel, turning just once, until golden brown on both sides. It’s best to cook only 2 or 3 at a time so the temperature of the cooking fat remains high. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with confectioners sugar. The tops of Berliner Pfannkuchen are sometimes glazed with sugar water. The original Krebbel were made without the marmalade filling so the dough was rolled out thicker.

Blinis

In Russia, the week before Lent is the time of the Butter Festival. And blinis are the favorite food. They are drowned in butter and topped with caviar, smoked slamon and sturgeon, pickled smelt and sardines, and herring. They are eaten with sour cream for tea and dessert. They are filled with ham and preserves. Leftover blinis are stacked with fillings and made into blini pieces. In rural areas, contests are held to see who can eat the most blinis.

This recipe for blinis, meant to be served with sour cream and caviar, comes from the Russian Tea Room, via Gourmet magazine and http://www.epicurious.com:

1/4 cup warm water
1 (1/4 oz) package active dry yeast
1 1/2 t sugar
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sifted buckwheat flour          
1/4 t salt
1 cup whole milk, heated to warm
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted & cooled
2 large eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 250. Stir together warm water, yeast and sugar in a bowl and let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt, then stir in the milk, 3 tablespoons of the butter and eggs. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a roasting pan filled with 1 inch of warm water. Let it sit for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a warm place until it’s doubled in volume, has bubbles breaking the surface and is stringy when scooped. (This batter can be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered. If necessary, add a few teaspoons of milk before using).

Stir the batter. Heat 1 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat and brush with some of the remaining melted butter. When the skillet is so hot that the butter browns immediately, lower the heat. Working in batches of four, spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into the skillet and cook, turning over once, until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer to an ovenproof platter. Keep the blinis warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Nun’s Ribbons and Lies

In Italy, everyone eats strips of sweetened, deep-fried dough called nastri delle surore or nuns’ ribbons during Carnival. These treats have regional names including bugie (lies) in Piednmont, chiacchiere (gossips) in Lombardy, chiacchiere di suora (nun’s gossip) in Parma, lattughe (lettuces) in Emilia-Romagna and cenci (rags and tatters) in Tuscany. In the sixteenth century in Venice, an author referred to them as fritelle piene di vento  (fried treats full of wind).

This recipe comes from Carol Field’s marvelous book, Celebrating Italy:

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 T sugar
scant 1 T liqueur (rum, cognac, grappe or Grand Marnier)
1 large egg      
Pinch salt
Grated zest of 1 orange
1-1/2 t vanilla extract
1 to 4 T milk
4 cups olive or sunflower oil
confectioners sugar

By Hand: Set the flour in a mound in a large bowl or on a work surface and make a well in it. Set the butter, sugar, liqueur, egg, salt, orange zest and vanilla in the center and mix them together. Slowly incorporate them into the flour, a little at a time, adding whatever amount of milk is necessary to make a dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and firm, 10 to 12 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and leave 45 to 60 minutes.

By Mixer: In the mixer bowl with the paddle attachment, combine flour, butter, sugar, liqueur, egg, salt, orange zest and vanilla, adding enough milk to get a dough that is firm enough to roll out very fine.  Cover with a tea towel for 45 to 60 minutes

With a rolling pin, roll the dough out very fine on a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into ribbons about 4 to 5 inches long and 1 to 1-1/4 inches wide. In some places it is customary to tie a knot in the center or twist the ribbon twice and pinch it closed in the center. Elsewhere bakers cut the dough into rectangles and make two parallel short cuts in the center.

Heat oil in a heavy deep-sided frying pan to 350 and fry a few of the ribbons at a time—very, very quickly (20 seconds at the most). Drain on plates lined with paper towels and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Agatha’s Breasts

There are all sorts of irreverent pastries prepared in Italy, including nipples of the Virgin and St Lucy’s eyes, but one of the most outrageous is called St Agatha’s breasts. These sweets (sometimes nougat, sometimes pastry) show up in Sicilian pastry shops around February 4th in time for her feast day.

This is not a recipe for St. Agatha’s Breasts (it’s a recipe for Aphrodite’s Cakes from Petherwin of Ghost Cat Farm) but I think it will produce a similar effect.

Small can of peach halves in heavy syrup
Dark brown sugar
Pastry dough for two crust pie (store bought or homemade)

Heat oven to 350.

Roll the pastry dough on a floured surface to 1/4 thickness. Place a drained peach half face down on a circle of dough, about 1 inch bigger than the peach. Roll out the other half of the dough and cut circles to completely cover the peach halves. Add about a tablespoon of brown sugar under each top. Crimp the edges together to seal. Then poke a small hole in the top of the creation.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for at least 20 minutes, without opening the oven. As they cook the brown sugar and peach juice will bubble out and the finished cake will look like a breast and nipple. Continue to cook until the pastry looks done.

Haman’s Ears

I think this recipe for Haman’s Ears would go nicely with Agatha’s breasts at a whimsical spring full moon feast.

Beat up 2 eggs and stir in 3 tablespoons oil. Then mix in sufficient flour to make a soft dough. Knead very thoroughly, break off small pieces and roll out on a floured board as thin as possible, to about the size of a meat to dry for an hour longer. Fry in hot oil until a very light brown. Drain and, if liked, sprinkle with castor sugar. Handle very carefully as they break easily.

Snowdrop

The Latin name for the snow drop is Galanthus, which means “milk flower” in Greek. I like the milky connotation for the flower of Candlemas. The species name, Nivalis, also Greek and means “near the snow line.”

            Deep sleeps the winter,
                        Cold, wet, and grey;
            Surely all the world is dead;
                        Spring is far away.
            Wait! The world shall waken;
                        It is not dead, for lo,
            The fair maids of February
                        Stand in the snow!

The snow drop, is also known as perce-neige (French for “piercing the snow”),  Candlemas Bells and Mary’s Tapers, the latter due to its arrival around Candlemas.

According to Laura Martin, some British churches remove the statue of Mary in early spring and scatter snowdrop blossoms in its place, a pretty conceit that might make a pagan scholar suspect that Mary is here standing in for Kore who emerges from the Underworld as the blossoms of spring.

The association of the snowdrop with Candlemas is quite old. A poem from An Early Calendar of English Flowers begins:

The Snowdrop, in purest white array,
First rears her head on Candlemas day.

In the language of the flowers, the snowdrop represents hope. In some English counties, it is considered bad luck to bring snow drop blossoms into the house when they first begin to bloom (the same taboo applies to primroses and violets) as the snow drop was seen as a death token.

Dandelion

The dandelion (taraxacum officinale)  is probably the one weed almost everyone can identify. Unfortunately few of us appreciate its magnificence. In my neighborhood, the appearance of dandelion greens is one of the true harbingers of spring.

The fresh greens of spring arrive at just the right time of the year to refresh bodies that have been living on stored and starchy food all winter. They contain minerals which the body needs in the spring to get through this transition season and move from the energy of winter to the energy of summer. Although we may find them bitter, compared to bland grocery store lettuce, the bitterness of these herbs tells us they have a tonic effect.

Young dandelion leaves are “salty and sharp” (in the words of Dr Dent-de-Leon speaking through Susun Weed) and can be used for salads until the flowers appear (and again in fall after the seeds have dispersed). Susun Weed suggests a salad of mixed dandelion and lettuce leaves with 1 chopped hard-boiled egg and croutons. Sounds like the perfect spring meal to me.

When the flowers are blooming, you can pick them for making various concoctions. Use them fast—after a day in a warm house, they start to go to seed. Susun Weed makes a dandelion aperitif by pouring a quart of vodka into a jar over two to three cups of dandelion blossoms, 2/3 cup of sugar and the rind of half a lemon. This should be capped and shaken daily for two weeks, then strained and drunk with ice and lemon, or hot water and honey. For a simpler, nonalcoholic brew, steep a handful of blossoms in a cup of boiling water, then add honey and drink to relieve aches and pains.

Almost everyone can identify the dandelion but if you are collecting dandelions later in the summer, be careful. At least here in Seattle, the dandelions bloom first and about the time they finish a dandelion-look-alike, the hairy cat’s paw, starts blooming. They can be distinguished in two ways. The hairy cat’s paw has furry leaves (hence the name) and the stems produce more than one flowering head whereas the dandelion has only one blossom per head.

Part of the fun of making dandelion wine is gathering the ingredients. When picking dandelions for dandelion wine, choose dandelions from an open field, like this one, far from any insecticide.

2 quarts dandelion blossoms
4 quarts water
8 whole cloves
1/2 t powdered ginger
1 cup orange juice
3 T lemon juice
3 T coarsely chopped orange peel
1 T coarsely chopped lemon peel
3 T lime juice
6 cups sugar
1 pkg dried yeast
1/4 cup warm water

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside. Wash the dandelion blossoms well. Put them in the water with the orange, lemon and lime juices. Add the rinds, cloves, ginger and sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for about an hour. Strain through filter paper (coffee filters work great). Cool. While still warm (but not hot), stir in the yeast.

Let stand overnight and pour into bottles. Allow uncorked bottles to set in a dark place for three weeks. By then the yeast should have stopped working (releasing gas) and you can cork and store the bottles in a cool place. Makes about 4 quarts.

Warm Camembert Croutes with Dandelion Greens

While searching for the dandelion wine recipe, I found this recipe from Gourmet, April 1997, which might make a lovely gourmet appetizer for your Candlemas feast:

While searching for the dandelion wine recipe, I found this recipe from Gourmet, April 1997, which might make a lovely gourmet appetizer for your Candlemas feast:

1 T unsalted butter, softened
4 1/2 inch slices from a baguette
1 1/2 t minced shallot
1 T white wine vinegar
1 t Dijon mustard       
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 of an 8 oz wheel Camembert cheese
5 cups dandelion greens or other baby greens such as mizuna or arugula
1/2 cup fresh red currants, if desired

Preheat the oven to 450. Butter baguette slices on 1 side and toast on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven for about 5 minutes or until pale gold. (You can toast these a day ahead of time, cool completely and keep in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature.) Preheat the broiler. In a large bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar and mustard. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Cut the cheese into 4 wedges. Top each toast with a wedge of cheese and broil about 4 inches from the heat for 5 minutes or until the cheese starts to melt. Add the greens and currants to the vinaigrette, tossing to coat. Serve the salad tossed with the Camembert croutes.

She Will  Bring the Buds in Spring

The music for this song comes from Kate Mark’s Circle of Song. Helen Farias suggests singing this faster and faster with each verse but ending with a slow rendition of the first line.

For she will bring the buds in the Spring
And laugh among the flowers.
In Summer’s heat, her kisses are sweet,
She sings in leafy bowers.
She cuts the cane and gathers the grain
When the fruits of Fall surround Her.
Her bones grow old in wintery cold,
She wraps her cloak around Her.

Candlemas Eve

Since Candlemas Eve is the last official day of winter, it’s also the last propitious date for taking down the Christmas greens. Leaving them up after Candlemas is considered bad luck. This poem by Robert Herrick describes the significance of this ritual act.

Down with the Rosemary and bays,
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.

The youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honor Whitsuntide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift, thus times do shift;
Each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, new things succeed,
As former things grow old. – Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Apparently it has been set to music but I wasn’t able to find a reference. Helen mentions that it’s sung to an anonymous melody perhaps Welsh.

Resources

Apuleius, Lucius, The Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, translated by Robert Graves, Penguin 1950
Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin 1965
Berger, Pamela, The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint, Beacon 1985
Bernstein, Ellen, The Tree’s Birthday: A Celebration of Nature, 1988. The copy I have says it can be ordered from Shorei Adamah, Church Road and Greenwood Av, Wyncote PA 19095. But I notice that Bernstein is the editor of a new book called Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet (Jewish Lights 2000) which contains a Tu B’Shvat liturgy. There is also a new book on Tu B’Shvat, Trees, Earth and Torah (Jewish Publication Society 1999) edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Hyman and Arthur Waskow which contains an article by Bernstein on cooking up a Tu B’Shvat seder.
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Breathnach, Sarah Ban, Mrs Sharp’s Traditions, Simon & Schuster 1990
Clark, Bob,in Herbal Treasures, edited by Phyllis Saudys, Storey Communications 1990
Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gadelica, Llindisfarne Press
Endicott, Gwendolyn, The Spinning Wheel, Attic Press 1994
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Fitzgerald, Waverly, “Speculations on Spurious Virgin Martyrs,” The Beltane Papers, Issue One, Beltane 92.
Hoever, Reverend Hugo, Lives of the Saints, Catholic Publishing Company 1955
Hutton, Ronald, The Rise and Fall of Merry England, Oxford University Press 1994
Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
LaPlante, Alice & Clare, Heaven Help Us: the Worrier’s Guide to the Patron Saints, Dell 1999
Letts, W.M, book published by Cuala Press, Dublin
Mandel, Pam, “Attack of the Jelly Donut,” http://nerdseyeview.tripod.com/austrianwinter
Marks, Kate, Circle of Song, Full Circle Press 1993
Martin, Laura C, Garden Flower Folklore¸ Chester CT: Globe Pequot Press 1987
Matthews, John & Caitlin, Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, Element 2000
Nathan, Joan, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, Schocken Books 1988
Orloff, Alexander, Carnival: Myth & Cult, Perlinger 1981
Oster, Maggie, Gifts and Crafts from Your Garden, Rodale 1988
Pennick, Nigel, Games of the Gods, Samuel Weiser 1992
Root, Waverley, Foods of Italy, Vintage 1992
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Scharfenberg, Horst, Cuisines of Germany, Poseidon Press 1989
Sidder, Roberta, Rituals of theHearth [out of print]
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman’s Press 1937
Spicer, Dorothy, From An English Oven, The Womens Press 1948
Stephens, Meic, Oxford Companion to Welsh Literature, Oxford University Press 1986
Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon Press 1982
Weed, Susun, Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing 1989

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Silliness – Silly Q&A – Question: Why do green beans meditate? To find inner peas!

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