My First Butzemann

Meet my first Butzemann, Alfred der Nei.

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Ever since hearing about the Urglaawe tradition of making a Butzemann, I’ve wanted to make one, especially since I’m an enthusiastic gardener. I finally did last weekend.

I don’t have a sewing machine, and if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use it, so first I went to the craft store to see what they had there that I could use. They had 12 inch blank muslin dolls and straw cowboy hats to fit them. Perfect!

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If I wasn’t going to make his body myself, I wanted to at least make his clothes. I used the bottom of one of the legs of a pair of worn-out jeans to make overalls for him, and for his shirt I used the sleeve of a worn-out green t-shirt. I know that Butzemenner are supposed to have new clothes all to themselves, so I hope he doesn’t mind that his clothes are made out of recycled materials. I did have to hand-cut and hand-sew them with needle and thread, which took a lot of effort, so I hope that infused him with more energy, even if they did turn out a bit ragged and asymmetrical.

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Butzemenner also need to have some plant material from the land they are supposed to protect, and a heart of some kind. For that, I had to do a little “surgery” on him. I undid the seam on his left side (you can kind of see that in this picture) to insert a “spine” into his back made of a branch from one of my tomato plants that was killed by frost. For his heart I used one of the Calico lima beans I grew in the garden this year, so his heart also doubles as more garden plant material. After those things were inserted through the incision, I sewed him back up and got to work on his clothes.

When his clothes were done, I drew on his face and hair with a Sharpie. When I read up on how to construct a Butzemann, it suggested including runes in his creation. I drew four runes on him: Inguz on his right hand, Berkano on his left hand, Jera on his right foot, and Othala on his left foot. I then breathed Ansuz into his mouth, trying to mimic how Odin gave the breath of life to Ask and Embla.

I gave him the name Alfred, which is an old English name that means “Elf Counsel.” I thought it would be good if he was counseled by the Elves. That means the rest of his family line from now on will have the surname of Alfredsen.

Next it was time to take him around to show him what he will need to tend and protect for the next nine months. I introduced him to our two cats, Basil and Lily (it was easy for Lily, because she had been lying beside me the whole time when I was working on Alfred’s clothes). I showed him the back garden, which has peas and kale growing in it right now. Then I took him around to the front garden where the garlic and potatoes are growing. I also showed him the tomato, pepper, and tomatillo plants I have started in pots that will be ready to plant in the ground in a few weeks.

He then got introduced to the fruit trees. While we were out there we noticed the pomegranate is starting to leaf out, and the satsuma is starting to recover from the freeze, but the Meyer lemon still looks like it’s in bad shape. It’s lost all its leaves and there is no sign of new growth. I really should have done a better job covering it up when it got down to 23 degrees. I asked Alfred to give it some special attention to help it recover and grow back. The kumquat, loquat, and fig tree are all in good shape. This year I would like to plant some more fruit trees, maybe a couple of dwarf apples, or maybe a peach or pear.

The last thing I did was introduce him to my husband, who was working on a flower bed he’s building in the front yard out of cut limestone.

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Since I have crop plants in both the front and the back of the house, I decided that Alfred should live on the mantle in the living room where he’s in the middle of everything. If I posted him facing one garden, he’d be facing away from the other one, and I don’t want him to neglect anything.

I made a cake to celebrate Groundhog’s Day, so Alfred got a slice once I was done making him and giving him a tour of the house and he was on the mantle. The next morning I gave him a cup of coffee so he’d be ready for his first full day on the job. I have this little coffee cup that I think was originally a votive candle holder. It’s about the size of a shot glass, and I think it makes a good mini cup for him.

I’ve also decided that whenever I do any major work in the garden, like planting or harvesting, I’ll bring him with me so he can watch. I also had him watch over our usual Charming of the Garden Tools ritual I’ve been doing every year since we moved here.

Now if only I knew how to pronounce “Butzemann.” When I was trying to explain all this to my husband, he was like, “butts – a – man?” I guess that’s how you pronounce it. Pronunciation is a problem I’ve always had with Heathenry, and Urglaawe is no better. I’m not sure how to pronounce Urglaawe either, now that I think of it.

Oh well, I’ve already gotten pretty fond of Alfred. It’s going to be hard to burn him come October, but I guess that’s part of the point.

In Search of Texas’s Groundhog

Last weekend I celebrated Imbolg/Candlemas/Groundhog’s Day/whateveryoucallit with my usual Charming of the Garden Tools ritual. My husband and I gave the hoes, shovels, and spades a good cleaning and sharpening before taking them to our backyard ritual circle to be sprinkled with wine that was then given to the land spirits.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this holiday, and I’ve decided that I like the idea of doing a garden and garden tool blessing based on the Charming of the Plow tradition from England and will keep doing it. Yes, I know that was technically in late January, not February 2, but close enough.

I also like Groundhog Day, which is a big deal to the Pennsylvania Dutch Heathens (Urglawwe). I like the idea of celebrating critters coming out of hibernation as part of an early-spring holiday. Besides, we need a holiday between Yule and Easter. I guess in secular American culture that’s covered by the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, but I like having a more nature-oriented observance in there too.

But the problem is groundhogs don’t live in Texas.

And I’m not sure if any mammals hibernate here at all. In Germany the hibernating animal was probably a badger, but the closest thing we have to a badger here are skunks, and I don’t think they hibernate. Groundhogs are actually a type of ground squirrel, but the squirrels here don’t hibernate either and seem just as active in January as they are in March, judging from how fast they eat up my birdseed. Austin does have an armadillo named Bee Cave Bob who’s supposed to be our version of Punxsutawney Phil, but armadillos don’t hibernate either. The last time I saw one it was digging around in my neighbor’s lawn under their Christmas lights in mid-December.

The only critters here that definitely hibernate every winter are cold-blooded critters like frogs and toads. In fact, weekend before last we had to “rescue” some hibernating toads that were under a boulder in our backyard that we had to move. Thankfully we didn’t squish any of them, but five of them had burrowed under there, and that night it was going to get very cold, so we kept them in a plastic tub in the house overnight. When we found them under the rock they were comatose, but after spending the night in the warm house they were up and hopping around and looked healthy. We released them around noon so they’d have plenty of time to find a new shelter before it got cold again that night.

I love my toads, but Toad Day doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it.

I’ll probably keep calling it Groundhog Day just because that’s what everyone calls it, and that Bill Murray movie was great, but the search for a Texas groundhog substitute continues. Texas weather is just so weird and unpredictable this time of year that it’s hard to pinpoint “this is spring now.” In the past week it’s been near freezing on some nights AND in the low 80’s on some days.

Which I understand is kind of the point of this holiday. Is it spring yet? It’s hard to tell. With no groundhogs around, which creature to I trust to make that call? Armadillos, skunks, and squirrels all don’t seem to have the best judgement to me. Hrrmmm.

Is it spring yet?

That’s the question that seems to be the underlying theme of all the pagan February holidays I know about: Imbolg, Candlemas, Charming of the Plow, Groundhog’s Day. It’s an important question. Here in Central Texas, February can bring sunny weather with temperatures pushing 80 degrees, or a sudden cold front that brings ice and even sleet or snow.

You have to be very careful to not be fooled by the warmer days and go ahead and plant your frost-sensitive plants, only to have them killed by a sudden late February or early March freeze. Then again, sometimes that late freeze never comes. Sometimes our true last freeze of the winter really is in January. This weekend it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 70’s, even though the last couple of nights have been getting down to 34. I haven’t done a Charming of the Plow ritual yet, since last weekend was cold and rainy, so I’ll probably do that this weekend. I have a nice bottle of mead I got from a home-brewing friend at Yule that will make a nice offering. I also made an absolutely delicious Meyer lemon cake from a couple of lemons off the tree in our front yard. I always like to include homegrown stuff in holiday feasts and offerings. My husband and I had a few slices ourselves already and it’s so good I had to hide the rest to make sure some was left for the gods and spirits.

My husband and I are still trying to figure out what would be an appropriate animal to substitute for the groundhog as a symbol of this time of year. It doesn’t get cold enough around here for any mammals to hibernate. The best we’ve been able to think of so far are the frogs and toads. They do hibernate, and last week when we had another warm spell, I finally heard some croaking again when I got home from work. The sound was coming from a stock tank in a nearby ranch.

Frog’s Day instead of Groundhog’s Day? Would that work?

Imbolc 2013

I ended up doing two Imbolc rituals this time. After writing about how I associate Freyr and Gerd with my own marriage, I decided it would be appropriate to include my husband in a ritual. He’s not as religious as I am, but he’s spiritual and open-minded. I don’t think he’d ever do rituals by himself; he’d rather just go for a hike, but he’ll participate in rituals with other people.

I decided to do a ritual on Friday night with him, and if I felt like it, I’d do another solitary ritual later. I set up everything around the hearth again, just like with Yule. Earlier that day I baked a poppy seed cake for offerings. I’m supposed to offer cakes to the gods for Charming of the Plow, right? I thought that would be a good cake to offer, since it has seeds in it. I also got some milk, since Imbolc is associated with milk, and my husband wanted to include brandy.

One thing I was soon reminded of is the big difference between doing a solitary ritual and leading a ritual for other people. I didn’t think it would be as big a deal with just my husband, but just like when I’ve led rituals before for groups of people, I found my mind primarily occupied with taking care of the other person, directing them on what to do next, explaining why we’re doing this or that, and worrying about whether they’re getting something out of it or are just bored with the whole thing. I never get a chance to commune with the spirits myself in those situations.

Group rituals are different when you’re not leading them yourself, so you can relax. I’ve been to some really good group rituals that were very moving, but also to some that totally failed. Leading a successful ritual is very satisfying, though. It’s just satisfying in a different way than being a participant in one, or doing a solitary ritual. I think there’s value in all three.

Anyway, when I did the ritual with my husband, I found myself skipping over some parts in the liturgy or losing my place a lot. This would probably be less of a problem if I had more practice with ADF style ritual. My husband didn’t even know how the ritual was “supposed” to go, so I don’t think it bothered him at all.

For the offerings, we gave the fire a slice of cake, actually throwing it into the fire to burn up. We gave the tree an offering of milk, and the well an offering of brandy. The gods got more milk. When I took the Omen, I forgot what questions I was supposed to ask, since the February liturgy didn’t have them in there like the Yule one did. I ended up just asking, “Is there anything more you’d like us to know?” and got Sowilo, Hagalaz, and Nauthiz. Hmm, that doesn’t seem good.

For the Working, I wanted to do something that would improve our job situations, since they’re both less than ideal. I’m underemployed, while my husband is working at an extremely stressful job. I blessed my laptop as a symbol of my job, and then we put together a mojo bag from a kit I got from Natural Magick to improve my husband’s job situation. He tucked it away deep into his briefcase.

After the ritual, my husband said he liked it, and asked about the runes. I told him what each one meant, and he also got worried about Hagalaz. I told him that’s pretty much the worst rune in the Futhark. He asked how many runes are there, and I told him 24, so he said that sounds pretty bad if that’s the worst one out of 24. I told him Sowilo is one of the best, though, so maybe that will balance it out.

Saturday we ended up spending most of the day working on my herb garden around the back porch, because it was such a beautiful day outside. I had planned on making a delicious roast chicken dinner, but by dinnertime we were both so tired, we ended up ordering pizza and watching Groundhog Day with Bill Murray on TV instead. I saved the chicken to make on Sunday, stuffing it with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme from the garden, and roasting it over potatoes, carrots, and onions. Holidays are all about food to me, after all!

Monday was when I decided to do my solitary ritual. This semester I don’t have any classes to teach on Mondays, so it’s a day for me to work at home grading papers, preparing lessons, etc. After working most of the morning on that, I decided I had better get my solitary ritual done that afternoon while most of my neighbors were still at work, since I wanted to do it outside.

One of the things both my husband and I love about this house (which we moved into almost exactly a year ago) is our 0.8 acre lot. Both of us wanted a BIG yard, with room for gardens, fruit trees, wild areas, and a ritual area. We made our ritual circle in the middle of the back yard, under a circle of trees, mostly live oaks, with some mountain laurels and a few other trees mixed in. It didn’t take me long to figure out that was the spot for our Sacred Grove.

The Sacred Grove in our backyard

The Sacred Grove in our backyard

My husband is the one who ended up building the altar. There was already this big oak stump in the yard, so he set it in the ground, upside down, with a flat rock on top. He was inspired by Seahenge, which also had an upside-down tree in the middle. He may not be that much into ritual, but he sure gets excited when it comes to building pagan things! We have plenty of limestone rocks here as well. I made another altar lower to the ground, underneath the stump, to give us more surface area. Right now we have cairns at each of the four directions, but eventually I’d like to make a complete circle with smaller rocks.

I used a simpler setup for the ritual this time. I put the bean pot I use for the Well on the ground by the tree stump, and a candle on top. The tree stump itself would be the World Tree, so I liked having the candle for the Upper World on top and the pot for the Lower World on the ground. I put the rest of my materials on the lower rock. We used up the last of our brandy on Friday, and I’m getting short on booze, but I found a bottle of sweet red wine to use. It was supposed to become mulled wine for Yule, but that never ended up happening, so I thought I might as well use it now. For the Working, I decided to do a Charming of the Plow with my garden tools. I gathered them all up, hosed the dirt off of them, and put them in my wheelbarrow.

The outdoor altar set up for SDF solitary Imbolc

The outdoor altar set up for SDF solitary Imbolc

I’m really glad I found the time to do a second ritual, because this time I could really pause and feel the presence of the spirits. My only company was one of our cats lurking around the perimeter of the circle. I did get paranoid a few times when I heard cars drive by, worried that some of my neighbors might interrupt, but that never ended up happening. We have planted some understory shrubs around the ritual circle to eventually give us some privacy, but it will take a while for them to grow big enough.

One thing that was really nice about doing this outside was all the birds singing. When I got to the Statement of Purpose, I went on about the cardinals, phoebes, chickadees, and doves singing all around me. Squirrels dashed around through the trees gathering materials for their nests. It really felt like spring was in the air! Having actual oaks all around me also helped with the Grounding and Centering. “I stand with the strength of an oak” is a lot easier to visualize when there’s an oak right in front of you. I offered cakes and wine, and left the cake out there on the ground. There’s a big, fat opossum that checks on the Sacred Grove at dawn every morning to see what offerings I’ve left for him to “clean up”.

For the Omen this time I got Tiwaz, Nauthiz, and Uruz. There’s Nauthiz again. I hope that Uruz is there to give me strength to deal with whatever that Hagalaz business is. For the Working, I took a page from The Asatru Playbook (note: not an actual book) and saved some of my wine from the Blessing to bless my tools too. I used a sprig of rosemary from my garden to sprinkle wine all over them. I was going to just ask the gods to bless my work in the garden, but ended up saying things to Mother Earth, the land spirits, and the ancestors too. After all, I need the Earth and Nature’s blessing for garden success, and I only use heirloom seeds, which also honors the ancestors. My garden is very important to my spirituality, so I like having a holiday that’s all about that.

I’d say that ritual turned out great. Next up is Ostara, a much more important holiday in the Germanic tradition, with lots more information to be found about it. It’s also pretty much the last holiday where it’s nice outside here in Texas. By May 1, things will have already started getting uncomfortably hot. Ostara will also be the same week as my first wedding anniversary, which is not a coincidence!

Looking into Imbolc

One thing I’d like to do this year is become more consistent with observing each of the holidays of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, and exploring what each one means for me personally. I realize the Wheel of the Year is a modern invention, and back in pre-Christian times each village celebrated different holidays at different times of year, but modern people aren’t so isolated anymore. I think that the ritual calendar becoming “standardized” like this is fine, a natural consequence of this greater degree of connection. I also just like having eight seasonal holidays spaced evenly over the year. It’s a good way to force myself to pay attention to the cycles of nature.

In Wicca, as I understand it, each holiday is supposed to be equal in importance, but in practice that’s usually not the case. In my practice, based on Germanic culture, I have a hierarchy of holidays, with the solstices, Yule and Midsummer, being the most important, followed by the equinoxes, and then the “cross-quarter days”. Since Beltane and Samhain are the most important holidays to Wiccans and people who follow more of a Celtic tradition, those end up being more important to me than the other two cross-quarters, since most of my friends are of that tradition, so there are lots of things to do around that time of year. That leaves Imbolc and Lammas last, which get somewhat neglected by me most years.

My neglect may be due to the fact that Imbolc is strongly associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid. She seems to be the most popular deity among most of my friends. I even have a friend who’s made pilgrimage to Ireland to visit Kildare. Back when I was a beginner pagan, I participated in Imbolc rituals, making Brigid’s Crosses and putting little corn dollies in little beds and so on. It was fun to participate, but it never resulted in a connection with the goddess like I have with Odin, or any of the other Germanic deities I worship. I do have a Brigid’s Cross on my mantle now, given to me by one of my Brigid-worshipping friends as a housewarming gift, but that’s about it. How does this time of year between Yule and Easter fit into my own personal practice? Can I have Imbolc without Brigid?

I think I should have some sort of observance between Yule and Easter. Here in Central Texas, Yule really is the beginning of winter. Our coldest time of the year comes afterward, in January and early February. By late February things are already starting to feel like spring, and our average last frost date is in early March. By April, if you don’t have your tomatoes planted yet, you’re late, and by May, it’s already starting to get hot.

Therefore, it makes sense to have some sort of seasonal observance when winter is not quite over, but it’s not quite spring yet. How then should I celebrate this time of year? I have a few Asatru 101 type books in my collection that go over the heathen holy days. Let’s see what they have to say on the subject.

In Exploring the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova gives eight holidays that correspond to the standard Neopagan Wheel of the Year. She says February corresponds to the Anglo-Saxon month of Solmonath, which she translates to “sun month.” She says it’s the month for “Charming of the Plough”, where “the land was blessed and offerings made (usually bread and pastry) to ready it for planting in the months to come. Ploughs and field implements would also be blessed, a ritual that survived into the Christian era.” She adds that since today most heathens no longer live off the land, this holiday is a time to bless whatever you use in your work, “including laptops, cars, and business ledgers… a time to honor our ability not only to support ourselves by right means, but also the means by which we leave a mark on the world. It’s a time to celebrate the renewal of the creative spark – in the land and in our minds and hearts.”

In A Book of Troth, Edred Thorsson calls the February holiday “The Great Blessing of Disting” and says it’s held around February 14 rather than February 2. However, despite the name he gives the holiday, he only briefly mentions the Dises (female ancestors), and then goes on to say that, “this tide is really most holy to the goddess Freya and the god Vali. Freya is very pronounced in her erotic aspect at this time, and blessings designed to bring out this quality are right to do during this tide. Also, it is the right time to do the Blessing of Vali, the god of vengeance, and thus of rebirth.”

He then gives a liturgy for the Blessing of Vali, with no more mention of the Dises or Freya. Vali is the son of Odin and Rind, who avenged the death of Baldur by killing Hodur. Personally, I think it’s a bit silly for him to have anything to do with Valentine’s Day, based solely on a slight similarity in the name.

If one really wants a pagan alternative to Valentine’s Day, the Roman holiday of Lupercalia, which happens at around the same time, seems a much better candidate. The Roman god Cupid still appears on modern Valentine’s Day cards and decorations (though in a much more cutesy form). Even if that turns out to have no real historical connection, I still see more justification for Neopagans of a Mediterranean tradition to attempt to paganize Valentine’s Day. If heathens do want to celebrate Valentine’s Day, then surely Freya is a better choice of deity to honor than Vali.

While Thorsson and Krasskova both put their own personal spin on the holidays in their books, in Essential Asatru, Diana Paxson goes for completeness, listing every single holiday she can find that’s celebrated by some heathen group or another. For the time between Yule and Easter, she lists Thorrablot (in late January), Charming of the Plow (Feb. 2), Disting (Feb. 2 or 14), and the Feast of Vali (Feb. 14). Thorrablot is a holiday celebrated in Iceland in honor of “Old Man Winter”, but American groups that celebrate it do it in honor of Thor, probably just because of the similarity in the name. For Charming of the Plow she says, “Offerings are made to Mother Earth and the first furrow is cut. Feast of Barri, celebrating the marriage of Freyr and Gerd. Plant seeds indoors for later transplanting.” Disting is a time to honor the female ancestors if they aren’t honored at some other time in the year, and she agrees with me that the Feast of Vali just has to do with a similarity of his name to Valentine.

None of these books have much historical background information. That’s not their purpose. These are books about how heathen groups celebrate holidays today. However, in my book collection, I do have a copy of The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton. I got Stations of the Sun because I wanted some solid historical background on the Wheel of the Year. I’m not a strict Reconstructionist by any means, but I am curious to know where people come up with some of this stuff.

In the chapter titled “Speeding the Plow”, Hutton says the plowing season started right after the Christmas season and lasted into March. The first Monday after Twelfth Night became known as “Plough Monday” to mark the beginning of the plow season. Churches would light “plough lights”, and plows would be brought to church to bless them. This was accompanied by partying, feasting, mischief, even a trick-or-treat type custom where Plough Boys would beg for money and threaten to plow up your yard if you refuse to give it to them! There would be plays and dramas, fancy costumes, and in general something that sounds like a fun time! In typical Hutton fashion, he reminds readers that there is no evidence that plow blessings are a pre-Christian custom.

The next chapter, “Brigid’s Night”, goes into detail about Imbolc and veneration of St. Brigid. Hutton is fairly certain that this holiday is indeed pre-Christian, and St. Brigid really is based on a pagan goddess. However, he also states that celebration of Imbolc has always been an Irish thing, found only in Ireland and places with lots of Irish immigrants, and not even found among other Celtic-speaking peoples. Instead, on February 2 everyone else celebrated Candlemas, The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is the subject of the next chapter. This was a time when candles were brought to churches to be blessed and purified, until Protestants decided the custom was too magical.

Again, he says evidence is thin that this is a pre-Christian holiday. He says that Bede claimed February was called Sol-monath by the Anglo-Saxons, which he translates as “cake month” (not “Sun Month” like Galina Krasskova) and they offered cakes to their deities. He also mentions that the pagan Romans considered February a month of purification in preparation for the New Year.

Finally, in his chapter on Valentine’s Day, Hutton says that Chaucer wrote that birds choose their mates on the feast of St. Valentine. Hutton says this make seasonal sense in Britain, where Valentine’s Day falls around the time when birds are starting to build their nests and sing. He then goes on to describe a lot of other interesting customs associated with Valentine’s Day, again with no real pagan connection, but the thing about the birds stood out to me.

This reminds me of one more early February custom that none of my books have mentioned, but it’s the one I grew up with. What about Groundhog Day? I did some internet searching and found out that Groundhog Day comes from an old Pennsylvania Dutch custom, which means it’s likely to be a survival of an older German custom. Observing wild animals, whether it’s birds starting to make their nests, or hibernating mammals emerging from their burrows, makes sense if you’re looking for signs of spring. This sounds like a custom that has a lot of promise for adapting to a modern pagan’s own climate. I just wish I had more information on it, but Hutton concentrates on Britain only, and most Asatru groups concentrate on Iceland or on the Anglo-Saxons, not Continental Germans.

 

So what can I put together from all this? It looks like I have several elements for a good holiday celebration.

Blessing the Plow and Getting Back to Work:
A strict Reconstructionist, after reading Hutton, would probably decide that a plow blessing is an “inauthentic” practice for pagans and heathens today, but I’m not so strict. I don’t think we should be so quick to rule out a custom just because it might not be pre-Christian. I’m more interested in whether it’s in a “pagan spirit”. What does blessing a plow specifically have to do with Jesus? Not anything I can tell. It’s a holiday all about the natural cycles of the land. January and February was time to start plowing the fields in England, so the churches, in their roles as community centers, would hold plow blessings. That makes sense no matter what deity you’re worshipping.

Therefore something related to the garden needs to be incorporated. I don’t have a plow, but I do have a garden and garden tools. Where I live, in Central Texas, one can actually have something growing in their vegetable garden all year long (except for possibly in August!), so the idea of breaking ground when the soil has finally thawed doesn’t quite resonate as well here. However, February is still a transition period, but it’s a transition from growing things like kale and lettuce to planting tomatoes and squash. It still might be a good time to bless the garden tools (and maybe give them a good cleaning and sharpening while I’m at it), blessing the garden, and doing some sort of ritual for a bountiful spring/summer growing season, making offerings of cakes to the deities and land spirits.

Krasskova mentioned that since most Heathens don’t live off the land anymore, it’s a time to bless the tools of your work. Personally, I think it’s a darn shame that heathens, pagans, and just people in general are so removed from the cycles of the land. I think that everyone, even if you don’t have a farm or garden, should make some acknowledgement of the agricultural cycles. After all, that’s still where you get all your food, whether you appreciate it or not.

However, it also might be a good time to bless the tools of your work, whatever it might be, even if you are doing a computer blessing. Most people have the Christmas season off, so now it’s time to get back to work. Since I’m a professor, I have a long winter break, and the spring semester is just starting. This would be a good time to ask for blessings for the coming semester.

Candles and Light:
Like most Neopagans, I use a lot of candles. In fact, I’m low on candles right now and need to order some more. I prefer to use beeswax candles, rather than ones made from petroleum products, even though they’re more expensive. According to Hutton, candles figured prominently in both Plough Monday celebrations and Candlemas. I don’t think most modern people realize how important candles were to people who lived in the days before electric lights. Candles used to be very expensive, made of either tallow or beeswax. Tallow was saved from the drippings from cooking meat, so made a cheaper but nasty candle that smelled like burning meat. Beeswax candles burn cleanly and sweetly, but were so expensive that usually only the church could afford them. But it was either that, or sit around in the dark, so candles were a big deal. It makes a lot of sense to have a holiday that’s all about them. A good modern Candlemas ritual might incorporate something like turning off all your electronics and using only candles to light your house for one evening. That would be a good reminder of how privileged we are having easily accessible light.

Purification and Milk:
The theme of purification is also found in Candlemas and Imbolc. Hutton says that the Old Irish words for milk and milking were related to an Into-European root for “purification”, and the word for the holiday of Imbolc also has something to do with milk. I think that milk, in addition to cakes, would make a good offering in the ritual, and some sort of purification ritual should be done as well.

Observation of Wild Animals:
Groundhog Day is based on customs where hibernating animals were observed waking up, which signaled that it’s almost spring. This looks like a great opportunity to adapt this holiday to one’s local climate. What signs do the wild animals where you live give you that spring is on the way? Most people pay absolutely no attention to wild animals. They probably can’t even name five birds that live in their area or recognize them or their songs. This should change, especially for people who follow a nature-based religion.
We don’t have a lot of hibernating animals here in Texas, at least not ones that are very noticeable. Some Texas towns have tried to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a native animal, like a prairie dog or an armadillo. The problem is that neither of those animals hibernates, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to celebrate them coming out of their burrows in spring.

My solution is to look to the birds, and celebrate Mockingbird Day. While our state bird lives here year-round and does a little bit of singing year-round, in early February they really get serious about it. When I was in graduate school I remember walking across campus on a warm day, hearing bird after bird singing his heart out, interrupted by occasional dive-bombs after passing students or other birds who got too close to their new nests. Another option would be to incorporate some sort of native plant that blooms around that time of year. I’ve chosen Texas Mountain Laurel, a small native tree which blooms in early spring with great big clusters of sweet-smelling purple flowers.

I hope this idea encourages pagans in other ecosystems to pay more attention to their local wildlife and plant life. Maybe where you live there’s some animal emerging from hibernation, or a bird migrating back from their winter homes, or some plant leafing out or blooming, that you can use as your cue that spring is on the way.

 

I think these themes can be incorporated into a good holiday. While Yule is a liminal time between the old year and the new, Imbolc is firmly in the New Year, when winter is starting to release its hold and spring is coming. This leads nicely into Easter, where spring is bursting out in full bloom. Certainly seems like a good time to celebrate!