Phil saw his shadow this morning. In the wheel of the year, Groundhog Day is what we in North America now call the cross quarter day half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This is a feast day in many traditions; among the Celts it was the feast of Bride, Brigit, or Brighid, a goddess who was, among other things, the mother of eloquence, Breo-saighit, the fiery arrow shot into the belly of each and every poet. The day is called Imbolc, meaning “in the belly.” This is the day, pilgrims and seekers, to celebrate the crone of winter reborn as the maiden of the coming spring.
Imbolc was christianized as Candlemas, Bride as St. Brigid. Before Punxsutawney Phil, there was the simple rhyme:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear
there’ll be two winters in the year.
The sky is cloudy outside my window, so if I go by the rhyme and the rainy weather spring will come early here in Kentucky near the Falls of the Ohio. Only one winter. I have mixed feelings about that. I thrive on cold weather and adore winter. Spring, when it comes, terrifies me deep down, even as it exalts…spring comes like Jesus came to Lazarus, it calls the dead to rise and walk. Spring is resurrection, and as a manic depressive I know how painful resurrection can be. The joy of spring begins in pain, like phantom pain in a lost limb, except the limb grows back. The first crocus pushing through the litter of soil by the front walk stabs my heart like a long fermata in Bach as played by Glenn Gould. I in the meantime take cold comfort in the amputations of February:
February is the bitter month,
the dead month,
the wolf moon,
come home to roost,
when the milk
of inhuman kindness
comes first as beestings,
soft cold rain falls
and the hurting grass
begins to scab the frostbitten ground—
Cailleach, old woman, white owl,
folds her snowy wings
in a crevice of rock on the cliffs,
drinks from the well of healing,
and passes the grail
to the birch maid,
passes the grail,
white birch maiden Bride.
Today is the feast of Bride,
today we light her fire,
cook and eat the bread of wolves.
At the convent of St. Bride,
kept watch over her fire
for a thousand years,
one each night
for nineteen days.
On the evening of the twentieth day,
each twentieth day
for a thousand years,
the nineteenth nun brings the wood to the fireside
and says, “Bride, guard your fire.
This is your night.”
This is our night
to stand the watch with Bride,
to keep the fire alight.
The evangel of Bride’s foster son,
a man named John,
sent to bear witness of the light,
spoke this gospel:
The light in the darkness shines
and the darkness did not grasp it.
Yet we too came to bear witness
and this is our night
to tend the fire.
When we turn to warm our backsides
we may see, in clear sky,
stars in the darkness shine.
Note: In the text, “dead month” comes from the Scots Gaelic marbh mhios; “wolf moon” likewise for faoilleach. Cailleach means old woman; cognate Coileach is “owl.” Owls are often associated with the crone aspect of the Goddess. Beestings, or biestings is the first lactation of a mother after giving birth. The “nineteen nuns” are taken from a 12th century account of the convent of St. Brigid in Kildare, Ireland. In Scotland Bride was sometimes called Muime Chriosd, “foster mother of Christ;” Christ refered to as Dalta Bride, “foster son of Bride.” The quote from the Gospel of John is part of the first verse of that book, that begins so famously “In the beginning was the word…” my version is a little different from the King James, the Koine Greek runs “to phos en tai skotia phainei kai ai skotia auto ou katelaben” of which “the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness did not grasp it” is an almost literal translation.