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.