Statue of groundhog Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario
Halfway between the Winter Equinox and the Spring Equinox is the cross-quarter day which the Celts called Imbolc (eem’ ul). We call it Groundhog’s Day, February 2, though the names are different they come from the same Celtic tradition.
Some ancient traditions marked the change of seasons at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. To reconcile the two traditions humans chose the actions of the groundhog prognosticated which date was the first day of spring . Sometimes spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes winter lasts 6 more weeks until the equinox.
Imbolc marks the day when daylight makes significant progress against the night.
Wikipedia tells us:
“The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearth fires, special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits. Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:
Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.
Which translates as:
“The serpent will come from the hole
on the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”
Imbolc is the day when the Cailleach — the hag of Gaelic tradition — gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather because that means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.”
Fire and purification are crucial aspects of this festival. Brigid (also known as Brighid, Bríde, Brigit, Brìd) is the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smith craft. As both goddess and saint she is also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.
Coming at lambing time, around 31 January, Imbolc (or Oimelc) celebrated the beginning of the end of winter. New lambs were born, and a dish made from their docked tails was eaten. Women met to celebrate the return of the maiden aspect of the Goddess. This survived into Christian times as the Feast of Brigid: the saint was a Christianized version of the pagan goddess who was the daughter of the Dagda (see page 00). In the Outer Hebrides, Celtic Christian celebrations of this festival lasted into the twentieth century, with women dressing a sheaf of oats in female clothes and setting it with a club in a basket called ‘Brid’s Bed’.”
Celtic astrology combined a lunar and solar tradition. The fire festivals, of which Imbolc was the second of the Celtic year, celebrated the cycle of fertility and the joining of the male and female principle. Samhain was the seeding time. It was considered the first day of the new year while Imbolc celebrated the maturation of the eternal feminine principle to a maid of marriageable age. Imbolc anticipates the spring, even as young maids anticipated their future role as wives. At Beltane, the next cross-quarter day between the spring Equinox and the Summer Equinox, Bridget and her lover, the Sun god born at the Winter Solstice, joins on Beltane in the sacred marriage.
In Celtic astrology, solar tradition, with months of roughly thirty days and corresponding the entrance of the sun in certain constellations seems to have been the province of day to day affairs. Every learned man is said “that every educated Irishman knew the names of the signs of the zodiac in order, and the correct day and month when the sun entered the signs.” http://cura.free.fr/xv/14boutet.html
The lunar tradition, similar to the Vedic tradition of 27 lunar mansions was the province of the Druid priests, whose job was to “tame” or reconcile the lunar calendar with the solar calendar.
The combination of the solstices and the Cross-quarter days as a set of ritual festivals is very reminiscent of the Vedic concept of “Yokes in the Wheel of Time”. Since these days always marks a festival in honor of some point in the cycle of fertility they seem to this astrologer to be mediators of the male and female principle, the mundane and the spiritual.
From what symbols and processes the Druids extracted their predictions from their “Science of the Stars” we are still largely ignorant. There is no evidence that they practiced astrology on the personal level that Western and Vedic do. Until we find out more, we are left with the tantalizing clues left in the rituals of the seasons, which for the case of Imbolc has morphed in the American tradition of Groundhog’s Day.
Photo published under a Creative Commons License as listed by Wikipedia.