Saturday, 22 January 2011

Candlemas - Festival of Lights

Candlemas will shortly be with us, as the light returns after a long dark winter. It's commonly celebrated in modern times in early February, although ideally, the time is dictated by the landscape and the changes that are happening within it. In Roman times, it was a purification festival. The Scots Gaelic peoples celebrated Oimelc, which translates as 'Ewe's milk'. The milk and the birth of lambs was thought sacred to water and Brigid, the Goddess of Wells. Irish Gaelic peoples celebrated Imbolg, meaning 'In the belly'. It is a festival of fire, but gentle fire to signify the gradual return of light. Candlemas heralds the Spring Quarter, the return of fertile crops and the fertility of creatures around us.

The goddess associated with Candlemas is Brigid, (Brigit, Bridget, Brighid, Brid, Briid, Brede, Bride, Brig). Brigid is the goddess of healing, poetry and fertility. Her two sisters are goddesses of laws and smiths, and along with her sisters, she is seen as a triple-aspect goddess with respect to these gifts rather than the ages of maiden, mother and crone. Brigid's name features in many surnames and place names, often associated with holy wells. Well dressing and tying of clooties to the trees near healing wells still take place as ways of honouring Brigid

There is a little Hebridean ceremony of Brigid's Bed, which features in J.G. Frazer's 'The Golden Bough'. A sheaf of oats would be dressed by the lady of the house and the servants of each family, in women's clothes, then laid with a wooden club in a large basket (Brid's Bed). The lady and servants then called out 'Brid is come, Brid is welcome', before they went to bed. In the morning, if the impression of the club was left in the ashes of the fire, it foretold of a fruitful year. If there was no impression, it foretold a bad year.

Altar candles were consecrated at this time of year, hence the name Candlemas. After the service, these candles were taken home and preserved as they were said to hold curative or protective qualities. In England, a particularly large candle may be lit on Candlemas night, the family would gather round it and celebrate with a feast, until it burned down.

It is also a time for clearing and taking down the Yule decorations, if they haven't already been taken down. Candlemas is the time for taking down, with suitable ceremony, the Yuletide greenery if it has not already been removed. We will be gently burning some of our Yule greenery, along with the ashes we saved from the Yule log. Now the temperature is rising, it seems a long time since we sat under the cold night sky in December, and lit the fire in the snow.

On the Welsh borders, after the Yule greenery was taken down, a bowl of snowdrops was brought in to bring 'white purification' to the house, despite the fact that snowdrops were considered unlucky at other times of the year. Snowdrops were also named Candlemas Bells and Purification Flowers for these reasons.

Hail to thee, thou sun of the seasons,
As thou traversest the skies aloft;
Thy steps are strong on the wing of the heavens,
Thou art the glorious mother of the stars.

Thou liest down in the destructive ocean
Without impairment and without fear;
Thou risest up on the peaceful wave-crest
Like a queenly maiden in bloom.

I've took this Sun Prayer from Carmina Gadelica, it's made me think about the role of the Sun and what we have yet to experience from our seasons this year. It's been on my mind while the last of the winter sun dazzles me through our kitchen window....


  1. Fantastic post Jules - really interesting and informative. In a book I have, snowdrops represent consolation. Judging by the temperature at present, I should postpone Candlemas until a little later this year!

  2. I found an interesting post on Candlemas, which presents it in light of various traditions:

  3. Thankyou Sanchez! Good to meet you, and I love to explore other information....thanks.

  4. Thankyou Sanchez! Good to meet you, and I love to explore other information....thanks.