At some point I began  celebrating  festivals during the year, to try to take the edge off Christmas. I read about Wicca and discovered there’s a festival every six weeks. I love the wheel of the year and these ancient markers of each six-week period that passes. This is how years are meant to be, chilling out, reflecting, celebrating every six weeks. This is good for us.


I’m starting with a repost about Candlemas Eve…

First of February – a Celebration of Potential


At the weekend I went to a shaman’s house to celebrate Imbolc. She lives in West London in a council flat on an estate;  it’s an oasis of pre-loved social housing in a desert of delivered gardens, heritage colours and the tank-like cars of the rich.

Imbolc is the name for a festival of light that happens today and the shaman gathered together a collection of artists, healers and teachers to do a simple ritual, talk about ourselves, share some art and celebrate the quickening of life that happens as nature begins to wake up. We celebrated Brigid, or Bride, a Queen of Ireland who became St. Bridget. You’re supposed to pummel the hearth to wake her and then see if there are footprints in the ash the next day.

Candlemas is another name for this festival, which could refer to the  churching (purifying) of the Virgin Mary. As someone said,  – as  if it’s not enough to give birth to the son of God while a virgin, you still have to be purified in the Church. Purification, though, is a common theme in the ancient festivals that were held at this time of year: a spiritual spring clean, perhaps. Lupercalia was a Roman festival to honour the wolf who took care of Romulus and Remus when their mother abandoned  them in the wild. The Lupercalian initiates – boys – would dress in goatskins and make small whips  – called Februa – and run through the streets striking people who came near. Women and girls were eager to be struck by the whips…according to history… believing that the touch of the Februa would make them fertile. I wonder – it’s all a bit suspicious this fertility and purity together.

I once attended this self-same Lupercalian ritual in a physicists home in Slovakia where it’s still practiced, but later in the year, at Easter. The skins and whips have gone. Men hit you gently with a paper tassle and spray you with perfume. In return you give them chocolate eggs. Of course I gave eggs. When in Rome…or Bratislava.

We’ll soon have wall to wall red hearts for St.Valentine, who Wikipedia says is of uncertain origin. It’s surprising how many church fathers were also abandoned children. They were brought up by monks rather than wolves as early Christianity took hold.  It seems to be Chaucer who began the idea that St Valentine was for lovers, albeit the courtly kind who, as far as I can make out, never actually touch each other.

Nature works more like real human beings do. Under the earth this time of year the activity is close and febrile, building up energy which a plant needs to burst through the earth towards the sun. I believe that’s what we’re celebrating…that energy of potential. That underground inspiration, the shifting of energy, the bit before action. How lovely to have words for it, have a festival and celebrate. The sheer foreplay of it.

The light changes – there’s an hour more in the evening than there was in December –  and we think about Spring even though it’s not quite here. The herbs for spring cleansing might not be far away. I will have cleavers, dandelion and baby nettles soon in my balcony pots and go to the  Handmade Apothecary  for a recipe. But  not quite yet… not quite. We’re still in an anticipation. Quickening. Still celebrating potential.


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