The Feasts and Festivals of
February 1, 2, and 3

by Tracey Couto

 

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the month of February is associated with frigid temperatures and long dark nights. A blanket of snow covers the ground more often than not, and the world is silent and devoid of life. Winter is in full swing and most creatures have either hibernated or departed for warmer climates. Yet even in this most desolate time of year, tiny signs of spring begin to sprout. The days are noticeably longer since Yule, a few hardy plants begin to peek out of the cold hard ground, and one by one the birds and animals emerge from their winter retreat. The promise of spring fills us with hope that light and warmth will return and breathe life back into the world once again. For our half-starved ancestors shivering in their ill-equipped homes, this was cause for celebration.

In ancient Greece, spring’s return was celebrated in late January to early February with the feast referred to as the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries. This feast commemorated Persephone’s return from the underworld, where she spent the previous six months, to her mother Demeter, the Goddess of Life on Earth, with whom she would spend the next half of the year. The Greeks would light their torches and hold a procession to symbolize the search for Persephone and then hold a feast to celebrate her being found.

Also in late January to early February, our pastoral ancestors celebrated one of the four great Celtic fire festivals called Imbolg, which means “in the belly” and refers to the pregnancy of sheep and of Mother Earth herself. Meanwhile, Roman pagans walked the streets with burning candles in honor of the Goddess Juno Februata, the virgin mother of Mars responsible for bringing the fever of love to the world.

An early Christian version of these celebrations, known as Candlemas, was held on February 2. Candles representing the returning light were blessed at Mass and then brought home to keep storms, demons and other evils away. Today’s Christian celebration, known as the Presentation of the Lord or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, honors the day Mary took her infant son Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, where she received the prophecy that he would be a light to the world.

The Feast Day of Brigit, held on February 2, honors the Celtic Fire Goddess of Healing, Smithcraft, Poetry and Fertility/Birth. Her Christian counterpart, St. Brigid, whose feast day is February 1, was a charitable Irish abbess who lived in the 5th and 6th centuries, possessing similar characteristics to the Celtic goddess. Stories passed down sometimes intertwine the two, describing both as virgins who assisted pregnant women and associating both with the Sun, fire, domestic animals, crops, milk, healing waters, metalwork, the arts and beautiful writing. Both are described as slender, with hair of gold. While St. Brigid is best known as a scholar and for her production of beautifully decorated manuscripts, the goddess Brigit was known for brewing fine ale, and both have been associated with curing eye ailments. Brigit the goddess is invoked for her powers of divination, and Brigid the saint for her miracles.

The Feast Day of St. Blaise is celebrated on February 3 in honor of a Christian priest who was martyred around the year 316. Blaise was arrested and imprisoned by a Roman governor during the persecutions. It is believed that this former physician and patron of animals performed miracle cures for people with throat ailments. His reputation came from his saving the life of a fellow prisoner, a young boy who was choking on a fishbone. He has been affiliated with the goddess Brigit because of his healing powers, his love and care for animals and the connotation his name has with fire (blaze). Perhaps they are both an incarnation of the same soul?

No matter which way you choose to dress up and celebrate these early days of February, some underlying themes stand out — the promise of spring’s return; cleansing, purification, and healing; and initiation and personal transformation. This is the time of year to rid yourself of objects that you no longer use or need, as well as the ways of thinking that no longer serve you, in order to make room for the thoughts and things that better define the person you would like to be. In essence, you are releasing the old you and transforming into a new and more evolved you.

An Imbolg Ritual

For those who would like to take an active part in the customs and traditions this Imbolg, start a few days early and pre-spring clean your entire house. Clear out any clutter and clean surfaces with wash water containing rosemary while listening to your favorite music. Finish each day of cleaning with a rejuvenating bath and a nutritious supper. In the 24-hour period before you celebrate, you may want to partake in a cleansing fast of liquids (water, tea and healthy juices), fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and substitute honey for sugar — or you can opt to just give up a few of your favorite treats for 1-3 days.

On the day of the ritual, you can set up your altar with the objects related to Imbolg such as: a white cloth with silver glitter, some red (cinnamon or bayberry) or white candles to represent fire, incense (cedar, pine or juniper) or a feather for air, a chalice or shell for water, a bowl of salt or a favorite stone for earth, dried healing herbs tied with a red or white ribbon for the healing element, a tiny craft tool (anvil or hammer) or something you created with your hands to represent smithcraft, and a calligraphy or handwritten poem for the poetry element. Feel free to add any of your favorite items or anything else that falls under Brigit’s dominion. Be as creative as you like.

The ritual begins with a warm soothing soak in a bath scented with oils, herbs or bubbles prepared to your liking. Light some candles and play some soft relaxing music while you soak to add to the relaxation experience. Take a few deep breaths in and when you exhale, release the cares of the day. Follow suit with the tribulations of the past year. Let go of any pain, fear, anger or disappointment with each exhalation and replace it with healing energy, courage, love and hopes realized as you inhale. Read something inspirational, such as a prayer, mantra, affirmation or piece of literature. Then vigorously wash every inch of yourself from head to toe.

After your bath, dress in comfortable clothes or a robe of white or red if you have one. Purify the room where you will be doing the ritual by waving some incense and sprinkling salt water throughout the room and over your altar. Take a few deep breaths to clear your mind and center yourself in Earth’s energy, then light a white candle. Ponder the habits, things and old ways of thinking and being you would like to remove from your life and write them all down on a piece of paper and then burn it. Next, write down your new thoughts, beliefs, and ways of thinking and being and make them into affirmations you can later copy and carry with you, attach to different places about the home or office or use as a signature on your e-mails or posts.

Now light the red candle and silently meditate on your work, craft or activities you would like to take part in this year. Shift your focus to your health and then formulate a plan to heal any parts that need it and write them down. Next, think about projects or problems that need insights and understanding and write down any messages that come through. Finally, meditate on the things you would like to create or new skills you would like to learn and write those down on your list. Take a chalice or small bowl filled with milk and honey, hold it in your hands, close your eyes, make a wish on it and then take a sip. Grab your Tarot cards (or preferred method of divination) and focus on the year ahead while shuffling. Pull three cards to represent what will blossom in the spring, three more for what will ripen through the summer, and another 3 to show what awaits harvest in the fall. For a shorter reading, you can spread the deck face up and pull the card under the 8 of Pentacles, the Star and the Temperance cards to reveal the goddess Brigit’s message for you. Be sure to record your reading(s) to ponder later.

Extinguish the candle and pour the concoction of milk and honey onto the ground outdoors to invoke Brigit’s help with your wish. Now it’s time for the feast, which can be as fancy or simple as you would like. If you would like to keep with the same themes of our ancestors, have ham, rabbit, venison, quail, partridge, duck, chicken, goose or fish for your main dish and turnips, carrots, cabbage, beets, radish, dried peas and mushrooms, lentils or peas on the side. Season your meal with dill, sage, parsley, onions, garlic, pepper and honey and wash it down with water, milk, cider, beer (ale) or wine. For dessert, bake or buy a pie or bread filled with apples, pears, plums, blackberries, cranberries, cherries or walnuts.

In between dinner and dessert, do whatever you consider fun — perhaps put on some Celtic music, stand back-to-back with a partner, link your arms together and dance; write a poem; make some candles, a Brigit corn dolly with or without a bride’s bed; or play some fun games. The important thing is to do something fun, meaningful and that makes you happy while celebrating the return of spring and productivity. Enjoy the rest of your winter. Here’s to a happy and prosperous spring!