Sunday, February 1, 2009

Punxsutawney Pagan?!

Many of Americans will be celebrating Groundhog's Day on February 2nd right on schedule as they do each year hoping for relief from the wintry weather that has them trapped indoors. How many would still do so if they realized that Wiccans delight in their acceptance of this pagan holiday?

The Groundhog Day came into being in North America during the late 1800s. Thanks to the combined effort of Clymer H. Freas, a newspaper editor, and W. Smith, an American Congressman and newspaper publisher. They organized and popularized a yearly festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the State was populated predominantly by German settlers. The festival featured a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil which used to foretell how long the winter would last. This very popular event is still being held and is called Groundhog Day.

There has been a concerted effort in popularizing and commercializing the Groundhog Day across the United States. Chuck Wood is The Committee for the commercialization of Groundhog Day's official mascot. The movie "Groundhog Day," has played a key role in popularizing the schedule of Events in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on and around February 2. Apart from Pennsylvania, fascinating Groundhog Day events are also held in other states, especially, Nebraska, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Arkansas, and California.

In its earliest incarnation, Groundhog Day was Imbolc, a pagan celebration associated with fertility and weather divination. The word, Imbolc is Gaelic, the language of the Celts. 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. In Irish, Imbolc (pronounced im'olk) from the Old Irish, meaning "in the belly", referring to the pregnancy of ewes, and is also a Celtic term for spring. Another name is Oimelc, meaning "ewe's milk". Some Celts and Neopagans shorten the name to Brigid, referring to the Celtic goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft, to whom the day is sacred. There is a strong association between Imbolc and Brigid, a Celtic fertility goddess. The holiday is a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Rituals often involve hearthfires, special foods, divination or simply watching for omens (whether performed in all seriousness or as children's games), a great deal of candles, and perhaps an outdoor bonfire if the weather permits.

Wiccans celebrate a variation of Imbolc as one of four "fire festivals", which make up half of the eight holidays (or "sabbats"), of the wheel of the year. Imbolc is defined as a cross-quarter day, midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara). The precise astrological midpoint in the Northern hemisphere is when the sun reaches fifteen degrees of Aquarius. In the Southern hemisphere, if celebrated as the beginning of Spring, the date is the midpoint of Leo. Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc (also known as "Candlemas") is the traditional time for initiations.

One folk tradition that continues in both Christian and Pagan homes on St. Brigid's Day (or Imbolc) is that of the Brigid's Bed. The girls and young, unmarried women of the household or village create a corn dolly to represent Brigid, called the Brideog ("little Brigid" or "young Brigid"), adorning it with ribbons and baubles like shells or stones. They make a bed for the Brideog to lie in. On St. Brigid's Eve (January 31), the girls and young women gather together in one house to stay up all night with the Brideog, and are later visited by all the young men of the community who must ask permission to enter the home, and then treat them and the corn dolly with respect.

Brigid is said to walk the earth on Imbolc eve. Before going to bed, each member of the household may leave a piece of clothing or strip of cloth outside for Brigid to bless. The head of the household will smother (or "smoor") the fire and rake the ashes smooth. In the morning, they look for some kind of mark on the ashes, a sign that Brigid has passed that way in the night or morning. The clothes or strips of cloth are brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection.

On the following day, the girls carry the Brideog through the village or neighborhood, from house to house, where this representation of the Saint/goddess is welcomed with great honor. Adult women — those who are married or who run a household — stay home to welcome the Brigid procession, perhaps with an offering of coins or a snack. Since Brigid represents the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence is very important at this time of year.

When the pagan holidays were transformed into Catholic equivalents, two new holidays emerged from Imbolc. One, Saint Brigid's Day (a.k.a. Saint Bridget's Day), was celebrated on February 1. Saint Brigid's Day honored an Irish saint, named after the Celtic goddess, who was a contemporary of Saint Patrick's.

But how did a groundhog become the symbol for a holiday that was marked by a candle procession? Well, the Romans, for instance, had celebrated a rough equivalent to our Groundhog Day in early February -- only a hedgehog was in charge of the weather divination, not a groundhog. And such beliefs survived the Christianization of Europe (going "underground," if you will), attaching themselves to Candlemas Day as folklore. European settlers in North America kept the pagan tradition alive, but substituted the native groundhog for the European hedgehog. Clearly, Imbolc and the older traditions have won out: today in North America, almost everyone in the general public has heard of "Groundhog Day," while mention of "Candlemas Day" would generally draw expressions of puzzlement!

Most people have now distanced themselves from fertility rites, purification rituals and weather divination. Nonetheless, on some level, don't we still intuitively associate fertility and purification with spring?

We are a nation that was founded on religious freedom. But we began tolerating other religions to the point of not only accepting them but now embracing them as our own. It's little wonder that the God of creation is lifting His hand of blessing from our nation. We have ceased worshipping the Creator and begun worshipping the creation. We esteem God's creatures, trees, the seasons and the earth itself much more highly than the God that created them, and us.

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Rom 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
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Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day
http://www.theholidayspot.com/groundhogday/theday.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc
http://landscaping.about.com/cs/pestcontrol/a/groundhog_day_4.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_of_the_Year
http://www.healinghappens.com/wheel.htm
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1 comments:

Kelly Irvin said...

Very Informative. Thank you.

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