Monday, February 7, 2011

Candlemas and The Land Ceremonies Charm

Candlemas and Brigid

    Where can one begin in relation to this rich subject?  I suppose that one would begin with the old festival of Imbolc (also Imbolg and Oimelc,) literally, “ewe's milk,” celebrated on February first.  This would mark the time when the ewe's were milked at the beginning of spring.  It has been suggested by some authors, that the name implies purification, which many of it's rites have included, based upon the theory that the word used to denote milking is derived from an Indo-European root word meaning purification, but I have seen no evidence of this. 

    Regardless of the origins of this feast day it later became dedicated to the goddess/saint Brigid/Brigid/Bridget/Bride.  Brigid was, and is a patron goddess/saint of poetry, the hearth, family, healing, metal-working (thus making her important within smith honoring Craft traditions,) fire, and education.  In certain regions she also seems to have held an association with battle, animals and nature in general.  It bears mentioning that there have recently been several authors to question her relation to fire. All associations aside, it is somewhat unclear how the goddess/saint became linked with the festival.  What we can be sure of, is that she was most certainly associated with the day by the dawn of the modern era. 

    By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tradition held that Brigid would visit the homes of the virtuous on the eve before her feast day.  During this time it was customary to place a cloth, ribbon, garment, etc. upon the window-sill overnight to be blessed by the goddess/saint in her passing.  Supposedly, this would then protect the wearer from headaches. It was also customary to hold a formal dinner to mark the passing of winter on her feast day.  A portion of this feast, often bread or a cake, was placed on the same sill as an offering to the passing goddess/saint.  St. Brigid's Crosses were also woven from rushes and hung over doorways or in rafters as a greeting to her on her holy day.  These crosses have four equal arms and bear some resemblance to the swastika.

    Another custom celebrating Brigid was to dress straw doll in clothing and decorate it with shells, stones, crystals, flowers and jewelry.  These decorations would be added to the doll as it was taken in a procession from house to house where homage was paid to it.  In some regions the procession was conducted by the young women who would wear all white as a sign of their purity and youth.  The elder women would have a bed made, often of straw, for the effigy of the “Bride” next to which a wand made of a “feminine wood” was placed. A chant would accompany this in similar manner to: “Brigit, Brigit, come over, thy bed is ready,” “Bride, Bride, come over and make your bed,” or “Bride, Bride, come in, thy bed is made. Preserve the house for the Trinity.”  The morning following this celebration the ashes of the fire would be studied to see if the goddess/saint had truly visited the household.  If a mark was found, it was a good sign. If no sign of the Bride was seen it was an ill omen.  The remedy for such an ill fate was to bury a cock at the crossing of three streams and to then burn incense on the household fire before next laying down to bed.  

    In England, it should be noted that this day is associated with the stirring of hibernating snakes.  A charm against such goes like so:

Today is the day of Bride,
The serpent shall come from the hole,
The queen will come from the mound,
I will not molest the serpent,
The serpent will not molest me.

    To the witch there is obvious symbolism found herein.  The queen coming from the mound is the resurrection or reincarnation of the spring goddess upon the Earth.  The serpent in this instance could be an actual serpent, or on a more esoteric level, symbolize a “second winter.”  This charm would be a call to the emerging goddess to guard the land against the second winter (or late ending winter) or else protect the petitioner against the fangs of snakes.  On a note that will sound closer to home for some traditional crafters, this could also be the queen coming forth as the spring goddess and the serpent representing something more positive, the revitalization of the power of the Land.

    In later times these St. Brigid's Day customs were often celebrated in conjunction with the festival of lights, Candlemas, honoring the purification of the Virgin Mary on February second.  This day was said to mark the return of Mary to the temple in Jerusalem to be purified after giving birth to Jesus Christ. On Candlemas day, new candles would be blessed upon the high altar in the church.  Some of these candles would be burnt before the image of the Virgin, while others were taken home and burnt to protect against storms and sickness. From these customs we get our name “Candlemas.” This custom may be traced back to Roman times when people would process through the streets (not unlike the Bride custom) bearing candles and torches in honor of the goddess Februa (namesake of the month February) who was the mother or Mars.  This practice was eventually banned by the Church and the custom of lighting candles for the Virgin was thus instated.  This was also seen as a time for purifying the self.  Brand has this to say of the adaptation of the custom in his Popular Antiquities: “he (the Pope) thought to undo this foule use and custom, and turn it into God's worship and that of our Lady's.”  Somehow this was supposed to have “hallowed” the old Roman festival. There was a  particular divination associated with Candlemas night and the held in Ireland.  On Candlemas night candles are named after each member of a family and then lit.  The first to burn out is the first to die, and so on to the last.

    In the northern countries the Anglo-Saxons would give offerings of cakes to their gods during the month of February which they called “Sol-monath” or “Cake Month.”  I have also seen this festival referred to as “Disting.”  This custom can be seen in the “Land Ceremonies Charm” of the eleventh century.  It bears mention that this could be the origin of the customary leaving a cake or loaf of bread for Brigid. The festival of lights, however, had much appeal upon it's arrival in these northern countries where the winters were quite dark and cold, more so than in Mediterranean Rome.

     The whole of the Candlemas celebration was meant to honor the first stirrings of spring, though spring does not always stir at this time of year in the temperate regions of the world.  Because of this association, much weather lore has become associated with these days.  The most popular bit of lore in my native North America, is that of Groundhog Day.  On February second, the legend says, the small groundhog shall emerge from his home in the earth from a long winter of hibernation.  If he sees his shadow and flees back into his home, six more weeks of winter are said to follow.  If, on the other hand our rodent protagonist does not flee but stays out and about, an early spring will befall us.  There is another adage that states:

If Candlemas be fair and clear,
Two winters will you have this year.

    Winter on continental Europe may well be on it's way to ending by this time, but in America, it is not always so.  Those born in my native Michigan, or on the New England coast can testify that there have been many winters in which fair whether has broken in February only to lead to more harsh blizzards following into the early so called “spring.”  There is a rhyme which warns the farmer of this “second winter” and have him take the proper precautions:

Half the wood and half the hay
You should have on Candlemas Day.

    This is a very true statement in the northern continental states.  These fortifications would be very necessary for the early American farmer to survive the foul “second winter” so common to our shores. This weather lore may quite possibly bear a connection to the emergence of the spring goddess or Bride of antiquity!

    It is worth mentioning that the festival of lights falls at a time when, although frigid in northern climes, the days begin to become noticeably longer, thus we get the celebration of the waxing light or festival of lights.  In many Craft communities this waxing of light heralds the coming of spring and so Candlemas/Imbolc, though still in the heart of winter's bitter cold, marks the beginning of the spring quarter and is marked by the sigil of the five branched stave which represents the hand held up with five fingers raised.  In some covens the festival of Candlemas also marks the beginning of the ritual year.  In certain variations of the myth of the coming of spring from winter the hag goddess imprisons the maiden goddess of the spring in the late autumn only to find her rescued by a gallant knight when the tide of Candlemas arrives. While in other tales they are the same goddess who grows old in the autumn twilight and is made youthful again at Candlemas by drinking from a well of youth or some other mystical means.

The Land Ceremonies Charm of the Anglo-Saxons

    The Land Ceremonies Charm is often quoted or misquoted in modern pagan ritual and magic, though I wonder how many of these would be magicians know the origins of the words that they speak.  For any educated pagan, some of the words found within this charm should seem familiar.  The charm itself dates back, at least, to the early eleventh century.  It may well be that this was a series of separate charms strung together to make one great and impressive ritual.  The purpose of the rite would seem to be an assurance that a crop would thrive.  Many pagan elements would seem to be present in the rite, though the written variation which survives today is very much a Christian one, going as far as to require a  mass priest to fulfill certain functions.  I will here summarize the rite. 

    The Land Ceremonies Charm begins by stating that it is a remedy to improve crops and land that will not properly produce, or to remove any ill tidings and bewitchments placed upon the land.  It then goes on to state that one should go by night and dig up four tufts of earth, one from each corner of the land to be cured.  It then states that honey, oil, milk, and yeast from each beast living upon the land (livestock) and one sprig of each “nameable” plant growing upon the land excepting the buck-bean.  Holy water is then to be applied and allowed to drip three times upon the underside of the tufts.  Then the practitioner must say: Grow and multiply and fill the earth, followed by three Our Father's.
    Following this the tufts must be taken to a church and the “mass-priest” must sing four masses over the tufts while the green side faces the altar.  The tufts are then returned to their places of origin upon the land before the sun sets and one aspen cross is placed beneath each.  Upon the four arms of each cross must be written “Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.”  These crosses are placed in the bottom of each hole and the tufts are placed over them.  The words Cross of Matthew... and likewise for each are are uttered over the  crosses before placing the tufts over them.  Following these steps the words “Grow, etc...” are said nine times followed by an equal number of Our Father's.  Then the practitioner must bow nine times to the east and say:

Eastwards I stand, for favors I ask,
I ask the glorious Lord, I ask the great God,
I ask the Holy Guardian of Heaven,
I ask the earth and heaven above
and the just, holy Mary
and the heaven's might and the high hall,
that I might be able this charm, by the grace of God
with my teeth intone with fixed purpose
make these crops start growing for our benefit,
fill the earth with firm faith
beautify the surface for the prophet said
that he should have recompense on earth who alms
distributed justly according to the Lord's will.

    Following this the practitioner must turn thrice clockwise then lie down at full length, recite the Litany followed by the Sanctus.  Then the Benedicite must be chanted with arms outstretched followed by the Magnificat and the Lord's Prayer, thrice.  The land must then be commended to Christ and Mary and to the honor of the land owner. 

    As if this were not elaborate enough, there is more to follow.  An unidentified seed must be taken from “a charity seeker” and paid twice what it is worth.  All of the ploughing gear is gathered together and in the wood is inserted the seed, frankincense, fennel, hallowed paste, and hallowed salt.  This would take the place of some form of plough blessing.  The seed is placed in the body of the plough and is done lastly with the words:

Erce, Erce, Erce, Mother of Earth
may the Almighty, the Eternal Lord, grant you
fields growing and thriving
increasing and strengthening,
tall stems, fine crops
both the broad barley
and the fair wheat
and all of the crops of the earth.
May God eternal grant
and his saints that are in heaven,
that his crops be protected against any and all enemies,
and be guarded against ills of any kind,
against the sorcery spread throughout the land.
Now I pray the Creator who made the world
that there should be no woman so word-skilled, no man so cunning
as to be able to change the words thus spoken.

The plough is then driven forth to cut the first furrow while saying:

Greetings to you, earth, mother of men!
May you be full of growth in God's protecting arms,
filled with food for the benefit of mankind.

Then meal of each type grown upon the land is taken and a loaf of bread as broad as the palm of a hand is baked, kneaded with mild and holy water and lain in the first furrow.  This is then recited:

Field full of food for man,
brightly seeding, you shall be blessed
in the holy name that created this heaven
and this earth that we live on;
may the god who made these grounds grant us the gift of growth
so that for us each grain shall come to fulfillment.

Then the following is said thrice: Grow in the name of the Father, be blessed. Amen. Followed by the Lord's Prayer thrice.  With this the charm is done.

    The pagan and Christian elements are both obvious in the rite, and it is quite likely an old pagan rite later claimed by the Church.  One can see by reading this rite how it might be appropriate to the festival of Candlemas and the waxing light.  It is only appropriate for such a fertility rite to take place in the dawn of the season of fertility and planting.  This was one of my first impressions when I first came into contact with this rite.  As such, I have adopted it's use as an agrarian ritual for use within traditional covens at the tide of Candlemas.