February is probably my favorite month. It has little to do with the season and a lot to do with it being the month I was born. For such a short month, I always feel like there is so much going on in it.
Imbolc, Candlemas, Brigid
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If you pause in darkness what does your body have to tell you? What do your dreams have to tell you? What does the frozen ground have to tell you? What do the spirits of place have to tell you?
What song can only be sung by you?
What emberheart can only be ignited by your breath?
What path have your feet found?
What messages are carved in stone and etched on leaf for your eyes and in your name?
What promise are you keeping?
Time for your light to shine
from within the sheltering dark.
I. A Satyr Remembers
Imbolc was coming up, and I remember we were all thinking: Oh gods. The ritualists here in town were in a pretty major rut, and had been for years: it was All Brigid, All the Time, and not only that but pretty-pretty, nicey-nicey too, all gauze and Laura Ashley. Boring. “We need something with some juice in it, some testosterone,” we kept saying. So we put together the Dance of the Satyrs. The initial inspiration came from the old Roman Lupercalia, but the goat-men danced (and still do dance) all over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, so it felt like something we could do here in Minnesota, too.
The satyrs agreed beforehand that we would all refrain from ejaculating for a week before the ritual. I made it, but just barely. I swear, that must be the longest I've gone without since I was a kid and first figured out what my body could do. I swear, by the end of the week, it was coming out my ears. I could practically taste it. I'd get aroused taking the garbage out.
So just before the ritual, we're all in back getting ready. We stripped down and Paul [B. Rucker] painted us up. We looked like something from off a Greek vase, or maybe a cave wall. And you could practically smell the spooge. It was raunchy, like a goat barn or something.
It's late January, and my almond tree is blooming.
What makes that so surprising is that I live in Minnesota.
I've long joked that I'm a Mediterranean trapped in the body of a Northern European. (The quip would actually read more accurately as “...having a perfectly fine time in the body of....”) Civilized people drink tea and wine and cook with olive oil. Barbarians drink coffee and beer and cook with (ugh) butter. Not that there's anything wrong with barbarism, understand. Some of my best friends.... And since I've certainly put away my share of brews down the years, I suppose that by my own definition that would make me semi-barbarous. Fine. See if I care.
Why in the world am I living in Minnesota, one might wonder? Short answer: love. But that's a story for another night. Right now it's late January and my almond tree is blooming. I just can't look at it enough.
The sacred dances of Winter's magical midpoint—now a mere fortnight away—have long been the stomp-dances that rouse the seeds and animals that sleep within the frozen Earth.
We generally begin our February Eve doings with just such a dance, turning to the farthings and calling in turn upon their respective animal powers, the hibernating and migrating beings whose stirring marks the turning towards Spring. In the traditional Appalachian song which accompanies this dance we call to Groundhog, Redbird, Rattlesnake, and Muskrat. Those who associate Four Elements with the quarters will not have far to seek.
Groundhog, the holiday's eponymous patron, is also known in American English as Woodchuck, a variant (by folk etymology) of Cree ochek, a name which inspired the playful tongue-twisting folk query:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck [= toss]
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
As the sun set on February 1st, Pagans everywhere began their preparations to celebrate Imbolc. This is an Irish word meaning “in the belly”, because lambs would be developing “in the belly” of the ewes (female sheep) at this time, waiting to be born in the spring. It is a fire feast because now we can truly see that the sun is growing stronger in the winter skies, and the days are getting longer.
But February 1st through 2nd (note: Irish pagans see the day as starting at dust the prior evening) is also sacred to the Celtic goddess known as Brigid or Bride. (The Celts were the tribes of people who eventually became the Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Scots, Irish, and people of Brittany). Her name means “Exalted (mighty) One”, as well as “Bright Arrow”. She is often seen as 3 goddesses in one, known as a “triple goddess”, because she had mastery over three things: fire and smith-craft, hearth and home, and poetry – which was thought of as magical, and born from the “fire” of inspiration. She is a goddess of fire, but also of water....