Today—February 2nd—is a big turning point. It’s a great cross-quarter day, midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In ancient, agricultural societies it was regarded as the beginning of spring—the time for first turning the soil in preparation for March planting. There were prayers and rituals centered on the fertility of the earth.
Imbolc was the pagan Gaelic name for February 2nd, and the Roman Catholic Church (as it always does so well) appropriated the pagan festival and renamed it Candlemas. On February 2nd priests would bless candles and distribute them to the people, who burned them in every window of their homes. It expressed a great yearning for the light, for spring, for fertility, growth and sustenance.
If you’re focused on the earth and praying for its fecundity, it makes sense that these people would be into weather divination. That’s where the groundhog comes in (or out, depending . . . ). As an old English song put it:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
They wanted a cloudy, rainy warmish day, not a clear, bright-cold one. If the groundhog peeked out and the sun cast a shadow, it was back in the hole. Six more weeks of winter.
Today where I live, it is cloudy and rainy—but a freezing rain clacking on a foot or two of snow. All the groundhogs in these parts are snowed in.
But it helps to know that today is a fulcrum, a tipping point. We are being pulled inevitably toward the light (I have noticed how the days are dramatically lengthening), toward the warmth of the sun and the renaissance of the earth.
It is so important to know where you are in the flow of things. These are the winter “doldrums,” the dead energy weeks when it seems like cold and barrenness will last forever. Unless we can feel the pull of the light we get depressed, we watch commercials for Caribbean vacations and feel even worse, we have to eat more or drink more or find some kind of diversion.
I saw my neighbor Fred out shoveling his walk this morning. It was raw. “Any chance you’ll be lighting a fire when you get inside?” I asked.
“I’d say a one hundred percent chance. I brought in the wood last night—I’m set.”
I will light a fire today too.
Lean into the light. Trust it. It is pulling us toward the life of the world.