Yes, it’s only the end of February. Yes, we just had record cold temperatures in the double-digit below-zero ranges across the nation. However, we can see the finish line… spring is coming!
Here in Southwest Michigan, it’s subtle. There is still frost on the grass at night, or snow on the ground, but the days might warm up to as high as 40o Fahrenheit. Migratory birds are returning. Sap is running. Hibernating animals are awakening. And it SMELLS like spring!
Here are some signs of Spring:
Snowmelt circles around the trees: Because the days are a bit longer, and warmer, the dark tree trunks absorb sunlight, and melt snow in a ring around the tree roots. Dry brown grass with a hint of green is showing. Some plants are peeking above the earth. Snowdrops are blooming in some sunny locations. Crocuses and daffodil leaves are sneaking up from underground. Springtime herbs like chives are beginning to emerge. We’re reminded of the legends of Persephone / Kore / Rhiannon, who escape from the Underworld to return to the surface, bringing spring weather.
Hibernating Mammals: Of course, the first to show their head in legend is the groundhog, seeking after his shadow on Feb. 2nd, in order to predict six more weeks of winter (or not). As mentioned in a previous blog entry, in the UK, it’s a folkloric badger that foretells the weather. The little brown bats who dwell under my porch roof have awakened, and are talking at night, squeaking, cheeping, and scrabbling around on the wooden surfaces. “Where are all the insects?” “I dunno, do you think we can eat shield-shaped stinkbugs?” “If we can, we’re gonna get so fat we can’t fly!” Raccoons have emerged from their hollow trees and are leaving handprint-shaped tracks in the snow, checking the bird feeders for suet and corn. Up North, there are tales of bears coming out of hibernation, grumpy and hungry, so lock your cars and garage doors.
Migrating Birds: Here in SW Michigan, the bluebirds return around Candlemas. I’ve been hearing their musical calls, along with redwinged blackbirds, song sparrows, and a few robins. Some of the latter overwinter, and local news sources have been publishing photos of robin flocks for a couple of weeks now. Starlings have again invaded our yard, searching for gaps in the house soffits and holes in tree trunks to build their nests. They’re pretty, but the invasive species sometimes crowds out other birds for housing and space at the feeder. Wild turkeys, which stay all winter, are chattering to find the perfect mate. “Hey Gladys, wanna go out with me?” “Oh, Tom, you surely have the most gorgeous tailfeathers!” Blue herons seek open waters to hunt fish. Just this morning, I saw a couple of Canada geese, scouts for the main flock, soaring over my house, squawking their heads off.
Alban Eilir / Oestara / Easter candy and baskets in the stores: We bought some. Will it last until the Equinox? Hopefully Dave hid it well enough…
You know you're from SW MI if ...
You know what "shelf ice" is.
You've worn a winter coat and boots, and shorts and flip-flops, all in the same day.
You call it Pop.
You've been to a concert at Wings Stadium, the Mendell Center, or Miller Auditorium.
Your car has beach sand in the floor mats, the trunk, the glovebox...
You know an elder who worked for Checker Motors, Gibson Guitar, or Upjohn Company.
You know what "Lake effect" is.
You've ever had deer in your backyard, wild turkeys on your deck, Canada geese on your front walk, and/or a pileated woodpecker drumming on the side of your house.
You go camping at least once a year.
When tornado sirens go off, you go outdoors to watch.
You know who FIPs are.
When you say you're going to "the Big Lake" for the afternoon.
You've ever skipped school or work for the opening day of firearm deer season.
You say "Meijer's" when you mean the grocery store.
Your town's major industries include a craft brewery and a medical marijuana growing center or dispensary.
You or an elder can recall the big snowstorms of 1969, 1978, and 2014. Bonus points if you were snowed in for a week.
Your neighborhood has experienced a meth lab explosion.
You don't pronounce the T in mitten, or you pronounce ING as "in", for instance: "I'm goin' sleddin' ".
You have ice skated, tobogganed, jet-skied, charter fished, and / or gone for a ride on a sailboat.
You have been to a Native American tribal-owned casino. Bonus if you won on the slots.
Your town has at least one marina, VFW / American Legion post that serves dinner, commercial greenhouse, Underground Railroad stop, and tavern.
You can remember the May 13, 1980 tornado and what it did to Bronson Park.
Your town has at least six churches, even though the population is only 2,000.
There is a guy selling barbeque cooked in an old fuel oil drum, in the Hardings' parking lot.
Your neighbor or Grandpa has a pontoon boat sitting in his driveway.
You've ever gotten in a traffic jam on South Westnedge.
You can still drive in 2 feet of unplowed snow. Bonus points if you know what a "Michigan Stop" is.
Your granny, auntie, or neighbor has ever won more than $500 on a scratch-off ticket.C
The USA is currently undergoing a profound cold snap. Places that usually do not get cold, like NOLA and Texas, are experiencing snow, ice, howling winds, and rolling blackouts or power outages. People are chilled. We here in the Upper Midwest are having single-digit or below-zero temperatures, with wind chills in the double-digit negatives. We’re kinda used to it, but our southern pals are not, which is why we’re going to talk about some ways to keep warm, and some “snow magick” rites and rituals.
How to stay toasty in freezing temps:
First, you need to worry about keeping your family warm. Wear layers of clothing. Make sure your body sweat does not pool up in cotton or wool fibers, which will only make you colder. Wrap yourself in fleeces, blankets, and comforters. Don’t forget warm socks, and use gloves indoors if you must. Your fingers and toes are most vulnerable to frostbite. Limit times outdoors, especially if its windy. Cover your face with a scarf and wear a hat. Your mask to prevent Covid is not enough to keep warm. Bring your livestock indoors, even if it’s a garage. Bring pets inside the home. Straw works better in animal enclosures than blankets, which can freeze.
Clear ice and snow away from exhaust vents of furnaces or heaters, as well as your clothes dryer. Otherwise, deadly carbon monoxide fumes can back up into your home.
There are electric heating devices for stock tanks and pet water dishes. You may have to break the ice on watering tanks in order to give your livestock a drink. There are also “can’t freeze” external faucets for the home.
For your car, start it and leave the engine running for at least 15 minutes every day. Those jump starters and chargers you buy at the store can work to bring life back to a dead battery. Add gasline anti-freeze and radiator anti-freeze as needed, to keep your gaslines and hoses from freezing and bursting. If you’re sheltering in your car, running the engine, ensure that the muffler is not sticking into the snow. Clear it so the exhaust fumes can escape.
I suggest you invest in a wood-burner or a kerosene heater for your home. Both will work without electricity. If you’re using either, keep a window cracked open. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but you don’t want to suffocate. Using any burner within the home can create deadly carbon monoxide gas and poison you. If you lose power, and use a generator, make sure that the exhaust is outdoors. Running a generator inside, even in a garage, is very dangerous. Jump starters for cars can also be used for needed medical devices, like a C-PaP or insulin pump. Charge it up on the car battery, then plug in the device. It will run anywhere from ½ an hour to several hours. In a pinch, the old trick of burning a few votive candles / tea lights on a brick, underneath a terra-cotta flowerpot propped up on bricks above the candles, can really work to heat a small space.
Keep everyone together in one room. Push sofas and chairs together, or shelter under blankets in a large bed. Make it a game for the kids, like a blanket fort. Read aloud from books with a flashlight. Eat snacks, and cuddle together for warmth. Play board games or cards. Warm small children and babies with your own body heat. Be sure to dress them in layers, too. This is not the time to take a bath or shower. For cleanliness, I recommend using wet wipes, and those only on faces, hands, and bottoms. You can bathe when it’s warmer.
Do NOT put space heaters, candles, or other combustibles underneath a blanket. FR, we had a friend who died in a house fire from having their electric space heater too close to bedding. If you’re using your gas oven or range to heat your home, be very cautious. Crack open a window to release fumes.
Frozen pipes are really a thing. If your home’s plumbing pipes freeze, the expanding ice can make copper, galvanized steel, or even plastic /PVC pipes crack or burst, causing leaks. Keep the water faucets dripping if possible. If pipes do freeze, you can use a hair dryer to thaw them. Use a heat lamp, such as the ones for warming baby poultry, to keep pipes from freezing and to keep the water pump warm enough to work. For drains, pour warm (not hot!) water down the drain. Electric heat tape can keep pipes warm and prevent freezing as well. If you are without power, this can be a problem. For water, you can melt snow on a wood burner or over a kerosene heater in an iron or steel pot. Snow reduces to about ¼ or 1/8 the amount of water. If you’re going to ingest it, strain out any impurities through a coffee filter or muslin cloth. This is not necessary for pets or washing water. Don’t ingest cold snow or ice; it just reduces your body temperature.
Outside, if locks freeze, warm them with a hair dryer or heat lamp, or even a lighter. Spray vinegar onto locks to prevent freezing. Use de-icer products on locks or on frozen windshields. Rock salt and halide can melt snow and ice on your sidewalks.
Eat lots of carbs and fats, if only temporarily. You need to keep your body temperature up. And oh, try not to drive anywhere, if possible. Getting stranded by the roadside, with your car running out of gas, is no fun.
Now for some winter magick:
Like moon water or spring water, snow can be used for purification and cleansing. Wash floors with snow water to banish disquieting energies. Snow water can also be used in teas, decoctions, and for cleaning ritual implements. For bathing, mix a little snow water into your regular washing water in your sink. Bathing your face in snow water is invigorating (if it’s cold in your house, don’t do this unless the snow water is warmed.) Let the snow melt naturally in a pot. As mentioned above, if you’re going to ingest snow water, strain out any impurities.
Icicles can be used in the same manner as an athame or ritual sword, for ceremonies held outdoors. Name something you want to banish, give it to a snowball, and throw it far away. Write names of undesirable situations on paper, and bury it in the snow. This “freezes out” unwanted conditions. As the snow melts, the situation is banished.
The Caeleach is a wintertime Goddess of the British Isles. Wiccans sometimes view her as a Crone entity. She can be appealed to for banishing / removing undesirable situations, things that require calm and tranquility, conditions that require meditation and reflection, restful sleep, hibernation and relaxation, natural aging, wisdom, and during times of decay /dissolution, in hopes of changes for the better. She also appreciates symbolic gifts of firewood, blankets for the homeless, or ice cream or frozen yogurt.
The verb for “to snow” in the Cymraeg (Welsh) language is bwri, pronounce boo-ree. This means the same as to cast, and also to drop or give birth. Magick done for the purpose of birthing something, like bringing a project into manifestation, is especially effective when it’s snowing. Ask for abundance and plentitude when snow is falling – as many snowflakes as I see, let that be the amount of my wealth.
Make angels or fairies in the snow by lying down, flapping your arms and scissoring your legs. Try to stand up without ruining your creation. (Note – don’t do this if it is really cold, and wear adequate winter gear when you do it.) Play “Fox and Geese”, where the fox must pursue those designated as geese, sticking to trails stamped out in the snow. Build snowmen, snow effigies, snow sculptures. Feed the birds. Go sledding or tobogganing. You don’t need a fancy sled; a cardboard box or a wide shovel can work. You might have to slide downhill a few times to pack the snow. See if your region has a skating rink, and learn to ice skate. Look for frost fairies’ art on glass windowpanes. Drink hot cocoa or coffee with a bit of peppermint or chocolate added. Enjoy the winter, and know that springtime will be here soon enough.
As promised, a Fart Joke:
This one is fairly old, and I’ve heard it from a multitude of cultures… the joke, and the farts themselves, LOL!
There once was a young man who was courting a lovely maiden. He really wanted to impress her, as well as her parents. So one evening he had dinner with the family, a repast which consisted of several Celtic delicacies: boiled cabbage, brussels sprouts, navy beans, onions, and garlic. So much garlic! He was not of Celtic descent, so all of this gassy food had a bad affect on him. The dinner was churning around in his stomach. He desperately needed to let a fart, but he did not want to embarrass himself in front of his lady fair, nor her Mam & Da’. The young man knew that he’d be judged harshly for passing gas in front of the womenfolk.
After supper, the young gentleman came into their parlor, where his intended was playing the piano. Mam and Da’ sat down to enjoy some after-dinner coffee, but the young man was squirming in his chair, thinking to himself, “I really must cut a fart. If I can’t relieve myself of this awful gas pretty darn soon, I might explode!”
Just then, the family’s elderly dog waddled into the room. It was a Plott Hound, a breed known for hunting bears, loyalty, and well, also for having really stinky farts. This doggy was ancient, and fat, with grey around his muzzle. The old hound meandered over to the young guy, and flopped down underneath his chair. “Aha!” thought the man. “I could let go a fart, and blame it on the dog! The family will never know that it was me.”
The young lady was still playing the piano, the mother was sipping her coffee, the father was talking about sports. The young gentleman leaned slightly to one side, and let a small, yet noisy fart. It was pretty smelly, as well. Da’ looked up, and said, “Rover, get on out’a here!”
“Ha,” thought the guy, “it’s working. I successfully blamed my fart on the old dog! They’ll never know that it was me.” So he let fly with another one. This fart was even louder, and smelled like rotting garbage on a hot day. The father looks over at the elderly hound laying beneath the suitor’s chair, and yells, “Go on, Rover, get out’a here, right now!”
Nonplussed, the young lady continued playing the piano. Her mother delicately took a sip of her coffee. The father continued talking about the local sports team. And the suitor felt a churning in his guts. All of that cabbage, the beans, and the garlic was making its presence known. The young gentlemen leaned over to one side, and released the noisiest, most rancid, rumbling noxious fart ever in the history of all mankind. The varnish began to peel off the chair. A picture fell off the wall. Flies were circling. The young man was relieved, for not only had he released the pressure within his bowels, he’d successfully made the old dog the scapegoat for it. Or so he thought.
Then the father hollered, “Rover! Get the hell out of here, before this guy craps all over you!”
Technology just is not my thing. Heck, I still cook on a woodstove. Anyone who knows me has a funny story about exploding computers, electronic disasters, cinematic frustrations, and questions like, “Which icon-thingy do I use again?” “The one that looks like a horse penis!” Not to mention screaming, tears, and breaking things every time I have to upgrade.
It does not help that I am legally blind. And everything is written in very small tiny miniscule print. And that I have the patience of a hungry sparrow.
So, I accepted this wonderful offer to bring my folklore class online, to a wide international audience at WitchCon, courtesy of the HEX Education Network. The trouble is, I’ve had to learn to use the technology to do so – all within the past month. That includes figuring out how to do this website. My high-decibel foul language made the cats run and hide. I’ve learned how to make a shaky badly-produced video on my phone, which likely gave everyone who watched it severe vertigo. Next was a podcast. That’s where someone talks online – but you knew that. The very nice people at Widdershins Radio – Marta and Michael Correll – asked me to do an interview about my class. Oh, no! More technology!
“All you have to do is download the ap.” “What’s an ap?” “It’s EASY!” Every time I hear that, I panic. It’s like the phrase, “We’re from the government, we’re here to help.” For the record, it was NOT easy. My poor, long-suffering husband had to walk me through the steps, like a kindergartener learning to do algebra. “First, you multiply the 18 by 7.” “Um, what does a 7 look like, again?”
Living in the woods, our InterNet is crawling slow. It comes to the satellite dish, when it’s not covered in three feet of snow, at < three MBPS (whatever that means) when I’m told we need 6. Think of turtles mating. My phone is old, and so it pixelates, and it sounds like I am talking underwater.
However, it’s worth it to bring British Isles Folkloric Tradition to a wider audience. WitchCon is gonna be mega-awesome, with around 100 presenters, from dozens of different countries, and a wide variety of magickal paths and traditions. There will be amazing topics. I can’t wait.
Please listen to my podcast / interview / discussion on Widdershins Radio on Monday, 15 Feb. at 6PM Central time. You need a specific ap for that, but it will tell you how to do it – and YOU will understand what they’re talking about!
The Widdershins Radio Show:
WitchCon Online Magical Conference:
During the winter months, the full moon seems chilly, bone-white and distant, although she can sometimes look as if she is surrounded by a halo of color, glittering in the frosty night sky. The inhabitants of the British Isles and the Algonquian tribes of what is now the northeastern United States gave different names to the full moons, associated with each season. European American settlers continued that tradition. (Yes, this is true, although some claim that the Farmer’s Almanac made it up. There are native folx whose last names coincide with the moons, such as author William Least Heat Moon. There are European celebrations based on the Harvest and Hunt moons.) These names sometimes varied in different regions. Winter moon names included cold moon, snow moon, hunger moon, least heat moon, and wolf moon, all of which show a concern with keeping warm and eating regularly.
This year, the full moon in February will be on Saturday the 27th. January’s late full moon was called the wolf moon, since this was the time that wolves often howled outside Native American villages or in forests near old European towns. It was also called the old moon, cold moon, the moon after Yule and sometimes the snow moon. The Romans associated it with Lupercalia, the festival of wolves, especially the mother canine who suckled Romulus and Remus. February’s full moon is called the hunger moon, as weather conditions could impede hunting and definitely cancelled gathering. Often, stored food would rot and country dwellers would pray that their stores would last. Some Native people called this the least heat moon. Others called it the snow moon because of heavy snowfall.
During the full moon ceremony, it’s suggested that folk magick practitioners take down the last of the Yule greenery and discard or burn it, while mentally casting aside worries, cares or fears. (This might have been done on Imbolc, Plow Monday, or previously, depending on your tradition.) Toast the Ancestors with mead or white wine. Dance in the snow. Set out bread, seeds and peanut-butter for the birds. If you live in a place where making noise won’t get you into trouble, howl like wolves at the full moon.
Suggestions for this liminal time include writing negative thoughts onto paper and burying them in the snow, while mindfully working to remove those conditions from your life; ice skating beneath the full moon, and making a small snow sculpture and adorning it with outgrown mittens and unraveling winter hats. Take stock of things in your home, as our ancestors used to do, and decide what is really helpful and sustaining, and what is useless clutter or no longer necessary. Recycle or give away items that you’ve determined no longer fit your lifestyle.
While Winter Solstice marks the time that Earth’s northern hemisphere tilts closer to the sun, and the days become longer, the ancient Celts still called the time between Samhaine / Nos Galan and Imbolc / Calan Fair “The Long Nights”. Yule was actually the longest night of the year, but the winter months seem as though there are few hours of daylight, and the nights often feel interminable. This is a remarkable time for evaluation and self-discovery. During the Long Nights, old projects were completed and current ventures continued, but it was considered unlucky to begin new projects. It was also considered ill-advised to get married during this time. A period of contemplation was suggested.
The Long Nights are a good occasion to consider what difficult events in life we have had to endure, the hardships we have had to face, the painful situations that we have overcome. If you find it helpful, list these events in your book of shadows. During this season, people of the British Isles visited with friends and family, huddled indoors around a fire, telling stories, reciting poems, playing music and games, and creating various crafts. In keeping with this tradition, invite friends over for dinner, turn off the TV, internet and other media, and take turns singing songs or play a game of cards. (Upper Michigan residents especially enjoy rousing hand of Euchre). Light a fire or candles. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate with peppermint or marshmallows.
This is also a time to show gratitude to the Gods. Donate items to a charity tag sale. Set out offerings of cheese, bread and beer. Help out at a public school, nursing home or soup kitchen. The Long Nights won’t seem so long, and before we know it, spring will be here.
Moon Dates courtesy of NASA
Date Name U.S. Eastern Time UTC
Jan 28 Wolf Moon 2:16 p.m. 19:16
Feb 27 Snow Moon 3:17 a.m. 8:17
Mar 28 Worm Moon 2:48 p.m. 18:48
Apr 26 Pink Moon 11:31 p.m. 3:31 (Apr. 27)
May 26 Flower Moon 7:14 a.m. 11:14
Jun 24 Strawberry Moon 2:40 p.m. 18:40
Jul 23 Buck Moon 10:37 a.m. 2:37 (Jul 24)
Aug 22 Sturgeon Moon 8:02 a.m. 12:02
Sep 20 Corn Moon 7:55 a.m .23:55
Oct 20 Harvest Moon 10:57 a.m. 14:57
Nov 19 Beaver Moon 3:58 a.m. 8:58
Dec 18 Cold Moon 11:36 p.m. 4:36 (Dec 19)
During the long Michigan winter, the land is notable for its silence. The insects are sleeping, many birds have migrated, and several animal species are in hibernation. Summer’s riotous noise of buzzing cicadas, chirping katydids and the concert of cheerful birdsong has been quieted. Colors are muted, and the meadows, forests, and even the skies are blanched a pristine white. This is a season of calm and introspection, a fine time to meditate, rest and recuperate, and to formulate plans for the future.
One type of soothing, healing meditation can include a walk in a park or local woodland. Listen to the soft crunching of your footfalls in the snow. Breathe in the crisp, icy air. Observe the bare tree limbs, and see if you can discover any Runes or Ogham in the shapes of the branches. Pick up a stick and inscribe magickal sigils in the fallen snow. And take some time to just stand quietly, enjoying the silence of Nature. What birds do you see? Many feathered kinfolk are clothed in their drab winter plumage: browns, grays and tans to merge with the landscape. Occasionally, a bright cardinal or blue jay will add some color to the white blankness. What animals are still active? Even a city park has darting squirrels and flocks of pigeons searching for sustenance. This is a fine time to connect with a winter totem, an animal or bird that symbolizes the season, or frequently appears at this time of year. Here are a few:
Badger: Although the groundhog (woodchuck) is famous for predicting “six more weeks of winter” if it sees its shadow on February 2nd, this legend was originally attributed to a European badger. Semi-hibernators, badgers may emerge from their dens in late winter, seeking food. They represent tenacity, aggressive pursuit of goals, and knowledge of the hidden realms. To “badger” someone means to pester them until they grant your desires. Some British Isles and Asian stories featured badgers who led people to treasures in the underworld. In Native American legend, a female badger assisted healers by finding roots with medicinal powers. The Druid priesthood were often called Badgers by the Roman soldiers, because the Druids dwelled in the forests and hid “underground”. Another word for badger is Brock, which translates from Welsh, Scottish and old English as “gray”, carrying the implication of ambiguous situations which are neither white or black. Call upon the badger totem when you desire strength, assertiveness, force, and to discover hidden treasures or deeper knowledge.
Goose: While many types of geese flee to the South in autumn, others overwinter on ponds and in marshes throughout Michigan. Canada geese actually migrate to the area – this is their idea of a warm climate! The goose is a symbol of wandering and journeys. In Norse and Celtic folklore, a flock of geese flying overhead at dusk or dawn was equated with the Wild Hunt. Native American legend tells us that the goose represents perseverance and ambition. Geese are good parents, and will drive away predators. They are also used in farmyards worldwide as an “early warning system”, honking furiously when strangers approach, and even biting. The term “silly goose” is usually unwarranted. It may have been a way of disparaging older knowledge and folk wisdom. “Mother Goose”, that famed keeper of folk tales and fairy stories, usually appeared as an elderly woman wearing the stereotypical black conical witches’ hat (which is actually part of the Welsh national costume) and riding on a goose. The Norse Goddess Hulda was also said to ride a female goose on her journeys across the sky. Meditate on the goose totem when you wish for safe travel, determination, protection, finding direction, vigilance, and good parenting skills.
Mouse: The little common wild rodent represents sustenance, tidiness, organization, shyness, quiet and stealth. Field mice can store large quantities of seeds and nuts right in your home, often without you noticing them. If a mouse invades your home, you may wish to discover the issues and concerns that you’ve overlooked. The term “quiet as a mouse” comes from the mainland of Europe. Most schoolchildren are familiar with the Jataka tale of the lion and the mouse, when the tiny rodent removes a thorn from the fierce lion’s paw. Aesop’s fable of the country mouse and city mouse extols keeping to situations of familiarity and comfort. The mouse can represent courage and kindness. Visualize the mouse when you require silence, industriousness, bravery and to remain unseen. I caution against “summoning” mice to a ceremony, because real mice could soon over-run your home!
Woodpecker: In some Native American legends, the woodpecker had been transformed from a scolding wife. The cartoon Woody Woodpecker may be based on another woodland Native American story of a trickster. The term “peckerwood” often refers to a rural person, now used in a derogatory manner. The forests’ drummer, the woodpecker may also represent music, persistence, and attention-seeking. Woodpecker signifies the removal of small nuisances that can, if ignored, build up into a significant problem. The bird can also represent frugality. Visualize woodpecker drilling into a problem and removing tiny irritants a little at a time.
Squirrel: As we meditate on the totem of Squirrel, we give thanks for shared bounty and stored abundance. Small and quick, squirrel can also represent energy, fast action and playful irrelevance. Squirrels may also represent trust, as does their cousin the chipmunk, as these semi-tame rodents can sometimes be trained to eat from humans’ hands. The stories of squirrels preparing for winter while other animals loaf – and subsequently starve – can be found in Native American, European and Asian legends. Call upon squirrel when you need a burst of energy or speed, to help discover hidden opportunity, and to find lost objects.
Sparrow: America has hundreds of species of sparrow, living in every possible environment, from wetland to desert. We are likely most familiar with the common European sparrow, called the English or House sparrow, which does not migrate. Their nests of straw, sticks and trash can be found in cities and countryside alike. Thus, sparrow can symbolize adaptation to varied environments, determination and resolve, and even recycling unwanted materials into something useful. One sparrow entering a house can signify misfortune, even death, in English legend. Conversely, a flock of sparrows can foretell good luck. In the middle ages, sparrows represented the peasant class. During the 1800s, sailors often received a sparrow tattoo for longtime service onboard a ship. Christian legend says that God knows when each sparrow falls, signifying that he is concerned with every creature. The Greek Goddess Aphrodite had a sparrow as her companion. Sparrows also symbolize freedom, endurance, air travel, socialization, and home.
Rabbit / Hare: We often think of the rabbit as a symbol of springtime, because of her fertility and relationship with the Norse Goddess Oestara. Yet rabbit is also a winter totem. Although not a Michigan native, the snowshoe hare can represent the transformation from winter to spring with its changing fur coat, camouflaged white, then spotted, and finally the ticked brown color known as “agouti”. African, Native American and Mexican legends extol the rabbit as a trickster and funloving character, perhaps the model for Bugs Bunny. The African American Br’er Rabbit usually got the best of his foes. In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is one of the celestial representations of the lunar months, and is closely associated with the moon. Likewise, Native American, Korean, and Japanese lore all feature a rabbit who lives on the face of the moon. The “lucky rabbit’s foot” came from African American “hoodoo” folk magick. Rabbit may be seen as a nurturer and protector of children during winter, perhaps because its skin in used for “baby bunting”. Call upon rabbit for sustenance, speed, outsmarting an opponent, change, cleverness, and renewal.
Deer: Besides the sacred image of the God Herne or Cernunnos, or our own Bucca, the deer appears often in fall and winter legends and symbolism worldwide. The stag with seven tines represents wisdom. All across the British Isles, there are Mummer’s Plays and Morris dancing that include a representational Stag Hunt, most notably the Abbots Bromley horn dance. Other folkplays and ritual dances contain a stag-headed figure. Japanese and Nepalese folktales have a stag prince who was transformed into a man. Cave paintings worldwide depict several half-deer, half-man figures. Shamans may have taken on the aspect of a deer in order to attract herds to the hunters. In Finland and Norse territories, the reindeer is a valuable herd animal, used for transportation and milk as well as meat. This may have given rise to Santa’s ubiquitous reindeer, first made popular in the poem “Night Before Christmas”. Deer were also considered messengers to the fairy realms in Celtic lore. Native Americans looked to deer to find patches of healing herbs, and for sustenance during the winter. Deer represents the wild spirit, foraging, evading danger, and also fertility and plentitude. Call upon a male deer (buck) to help in defense of family and for protection. Female deer symbolize peace, grace, beauty and kindness. Meditate on the deer when you wish swiftness, generosity, and plentitude.
Bluebird: We usually don’t think of the cheery bluebird as being a winter totem, yet in older European legends, the bluebird was called the harbringer of spring. She is often the first migratory bird to return, long before the snow begins to thaw. A few years ago on Imbolc, I glanced up from my keyboard to see a male bluebird perched on my windowsill. This was a symbol of good luck, prosperity and happiness. Navajo people associate the mountain bluebird with the dawn. During their winter ceremony, a sacred song honoring the bluebird is performed just before sunrise to greet the new day and new season. Russian folklore uses the bluebird as a symbol of hope. Bluebirds enjoy the suet at feeders, and will live in man-made nest boxes facing a meadow or field. Cultures worldwide equate the bluebird with luck, joy, abundance, birth, and home. Visualize a bluebird when seeking confidence.
Note: The word "totem" comes from the Objibwe (Anishnaabec, Native American) language. I am using it here in a generic manner o represent any animal or bird that has magickal significance or meaning. In the Cymraeg language it would be Anifal ysbret.
Brighid has the distinction of being both worshipped as a Goddess and honored as the Catholic Saint Brigit. In reality, she may have been a Druidess. Her birthplace is said to be in Kildare, Ireland, which was originally spelled Cill Dara, which means “Church of the Oak” and may have a Druidic reference. The name Brighid has been translated as “shining one” or “the exalted”, and can be spelled Brigid, Bride or Brid, and pronounced Brid-get, Breed, or Bree-id. In Welsh she appears as Vrain or St. Ffraid, although we really didn’t have a Brighid’s Day holiday. On the European continent she is called Bergit or Brigette, sometimes pronounced “Bear-zheet”. She is linked to the Welsh Brenda and Branwen, and British Brece, Britannia and Brigantia. Brighid is still greatly beloved in Ireland, as well as by Pagans and Catholics worldwide.
Legends of Brighid the Goddess say that she was either the daughter of the God Dagda or fathered by a Druid named Dubhthach. She was born at sunrise with fire shooting from her forehead, perhaps a metaphor for red hair. Brighid is the goddess of flame, blacksmiths and other forms of craftsmanship. Because of her aspect as a skilled tradeswoman, the Romans associated her with Minerva, their goddess of weaponcraft and war. This might also reflect that Brighid was revered for her wisdom and learning. In Kildare, a sacred fire dedicated to Brighid was attended first by nineteen priestesses of the Goddess, or perhaps female Druids, and then by Catholic nuns. No man was allowed to help stoke the fire. Brighid’s flame was extinguished twice, once in 1220 when the Archbishop of Dublin tried to remove any Pagan connotations from the shrine, and again during the Protestant Reformation under the reign of Henry VIII. Brighid’s Flame was re-kindled in the 1920s and has been burning steadily ever since.
Brighid is also aligned with water, agriculture, midwifery, and healing. There are many sacred wells and springs dedicated to her in the British Isles and Ireland, including the famous font at Kildare. The water is believed to have curing properties. Some of the wells have trees growing nearby where people tie ribbons or rags and leave coins as offerings. Worshippers light candles or toss coins into the well water itself in veneration of Brighid and as a way to have prayers answered. These rituals are still being performed today. Sites where three rivers come together are considered sacred to Brighid, perhaps reflecting her threefold aspect. People wove reeds or barley stalks into four-armed “Brighid’s Crosses” as a symbol of the sun, the crops, and later as a representation of the Christian cross.
There are many legends associated with Brighid in both Pagan and Christian traditions. She is the matron of poetry and inspiration, responsible for thoughts which other Gods or mortals bring into manifestation. Poetry contests were held in her honor. It was said that she had the power to turn her bathwater into beer. As a goddess of agriculture, cattle are Brighid’s sacred animals. One legend tells how she gave away an entire pail of milk or crock of butter, making her father angry enough to sell her into slavery. To appease him, she charmed either the pail or the churn, making it perpetually filled. There are numerous stories about Brighid’s healing capabilities, including her ability to cure leprosy and her status as either midwife or nurse for the baby Jesus. A set of five small standing stones outside the holy well at Kildare symbolize the five Virtues of Brigid, including respecting the earth, peacemaking, caring for the poor, helping strangers, and meditation. Related legends say that Brighid tried to give away her father’s sword, and that she asked the king for land to graze the village cattle (or convent animals). She was told that she could have as much land as her cape would cover. When Brighid placed her cloak on the ground, it spread to cover hundreds of acres.
In some of the different Irish legends, Brighid appears as a maiden, mother and crone. She was believed to have a husband, although his name is not certain. Manuscripts have linked Brighid with Lugh, Bres of the Formorians, the Brigantes’ God Vinotonus, and the Roman Sylvanus. Brighid is also associated with fertility. She was purportedly the mother of Angus or Ruadan, and when he was killed, she cried aloud, which may be where the custom of keening (crying) at funerals comes from. The Goddess was also said to have three sons by Bres of the Tuatha de Danann, who were called Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair. These sons later were combined into one man, Brian, possibly the Brian Boru of legend. In her crone aspect, Brighid is sometimes linked with the Cailleigh, although there are also tales and rituals where one Goddess supplants the other according to the season. One legend says that sitting in “Saint Brigit’s chair”, a stone monument, can help with conception or bring on an easy childbirth.
Many Pagan traditions honor Brighid, personified as spring and fertility, at Imbolc, celebrated on February first or second. In old Ireland, her festival day was actually February seventh, which may be because the “new” Gregorian calendar changed the date.
There is no concrete documentation that Brigit the saint really existed. She was believed to have been born around 450 C.E., and died in 523 C.E. Brigit was supposedly converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. Her first convent, in Kildare, was believed to have been founded around 470. When asking a favor of God, Brigit was told that she would become ugly in return for gaining her wish. Brigit was so good and generous that after a period of time, God restored her beauty. This might hearken back to an older legend of the fertility Goddess growing old, then being restored to youth. Although Roman Catholic women are not allowed to become leaders in the Church, Brigit was said to have gained the status of Bishop, able to appoint other clerics. February 1 was her sacred day on the Catholic calendar of Saints, which is now celebrated as Candlemas. Many miracles are attributed to her, most having to do with healing. After her death, holy relics (body parts) were taken to shrines in Portugal and Germany. Artifacts believed to have been hers are in museums in France and Germany, but there is no solid proof linking these items to Brigit. She was de-canonized in the 1960s, but continues to be venerated today.
Worship of Brighid as a Pagan Goddess continues in Ireland and elsewhere to the present day. Constructing Brighid’s Beds with corn dollies, walking around sunwise at sacred wells, creating “Bridey Dolls” and making wishes or offerings to the Goddess, praying to her at the standing stone monuments, burning hawthorn logs in Brighid’s Flame, and creating Brighid’s crosses were documented by Mr. James Bonwick in his book Irish Druids and Old Irish Religion, first published in 1894; by Sir James Frazier in The Golden Bough; by Kathy Jones in her “Goddesses of Glastonbury” website, and by cultural anthropologists in current times.
http://www.webcoves.com/circles/brighid.html A Pagan article about Brighid, with a couple of links.
http://sxws.com/charis/brigit.htm Information about Brigit, from an anti-Catholic, anti-Pagan perspective. Tries to link Catholocism with Paganism in a very pejorative way. Nonetheless, they did their homework. If you can stand the tone, read it for information about the Pagan and Catholic legends of Brighid, which I believe are quite accurate.
http://www.traditionalwitchcraft.org/celtic/brigit.html A scholarly Pagan site, focusing on traditional Celtic lore, including info about God/desses. Splendid article on Brighid. Extensive bibliography.
http://altreligion.about.com/od/druidholidays/ Information about the Irish and Druidic holidays. You can jump around this site for other information, including Goddesses.
http://irishdruids.org information on Druidry as practiced in modern Ireland, including lore and history of Imbolc.
www.druidry.org The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids website, including information on holidays. This is a very good scholarly resource site
www.echoedvoices.org Celtic and other mythology in an online magazine format, sponsored by a non-profit organization.
www.neopagan.net Scholar Isaac Bonewits’s site with loads of information on Druidry, various forms of ancient and neo-Pagan practices, and other cool stuff. As a note, Bonewits was the first person to get a PhD in Magical Studies, and was the ArchDruid for Ar nDraocht Fein / A Druid Fellowship for years. Links to his & other Druid sites.
www.celticleague.org The website for the Celtic League American Branch, including information about the holidays. Great essay about the co-existence of Paganism and Christianity into modern times, origins, mythology, the religious & cultural practices of the Druidic class vs. the working class.
www.wikipedia.org An online encyclopedia. Lots of information on Celtic religion, modern Paganism and many other subjects.
www.sacred-texts.com Religious information from all faiths, including neo-Pagan and old-line Pagan. Includes works by Gardner, Murray, Leland, Thompson and others who contributed to modern Wicca.
www.beliefnet.com Religious information from all faiths, including neo-Pagan and old-line Pagan
www.witchvox.com Information, forums and listings for the neo-Pagan and Wiccan communities worldwide. Includes some information on holidays and current traditions.
www.megalithomania.com This is a wonderful site, with photographs, a map, directions, and historic information about the stone monuments, dolmens including Brighid’s chair, and holy wells including a few Brighid’s wells.
Elinor Gadon, “The Once and Future Goddess”. Art history and archeology with speculations about the works from a feminist, goddess perspective. Read the text, then go back and look at the art once again, and draw your own conclusions.
Charles Squire, “Celtic Myth and Legend”. Although this was published in 1985, the author draws on much older sources. He does a lot of comparison with the Greek / Roman “classical” Gods and legends, and he does have a bit of a snotty-scholar tone, but the information is valid.
Merlin Stone, “When God was a Woman”, about ancient Goddess worship, written from a scholarly, feminist perspective.
Jean Markale, “The Celts, Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture”. Translated from French. Quite a scholarly book, however this author quotes Morganwg a lot, so exercise reasonable caution.
Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, “Celtic Heritage”, An oldie but goody.
James Bonwick, “Irish Druids and Old Irish Religion”, first published in 1894. This scholar compared the old customs to rituals performed in his time. Very precious British anthropologist-speak, “look at the quaint natives practicing their primitive superstitions!”, but if you can stomach it, there is a wealth of information on folk magic and lore, and good speculations on Druidry, with comparisons to other magical traditions.
Sir James Frazier, “The Golden Bough”. An assignment: Required reading for every Pagan boy and girl.
Janet and Stewart Ferrar, “Eight Sabbats for Witches”. The original writers of Alexandrian Wicca, an offshoot of the Gardnerian tradition. Extensive information about the holidays, references, speculations, history, witchcraft, and the Wiccan rituals, including Imbolc and some info about Brighid.
Robert Graves, “The White Goddess”. The scholarship is shaky, but the poetry / prose is lovely, and he has some nice ideas. Fine if you take it with a grain of salt.
Caitlin & John Matthews, “Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom”. Mostly Irish, includes folktales, lore, legend, literature, Gods, etc. Well-researched. Some specualtion about Druidry and the origin of modern Celtic Pagan traditions.
Carl McColman “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Celtic Wisdom”. Okay, I bought this as a joke, not knowing how good it is! Lots of information, simply explained, including pictures and photos. Information about the Druids, Celtic lore and legend, Christian religion, Paganism, etc., including a comparison of modern Wicca to the older Celtic religious practices. The author tells you plainly when it’s a speculation, and when it’s verified, and gives sources. Simple, concise, and well-written. Pictures of Brighid’s well and other sites. All of the “Complete Idiots” and “For Dummies” guides are actually pretty darn good.