The Returning Sun

Welcome back dear Lady. Image (C) Garcia Foto (Erik Garcia)

This time of year (late January, early February) is usually the peak of Winter in my location. Those two months is when we tend to get the bulk of snowfall and the coldest temperatures. Of course, climate change has disrupted that pattern lately, but there is still some snowing and cold temperatures for now, thankfully (both are necessary for proper water levels and plant growth later in the year; an improper winter means a bad harvest).

This is also time time of year when the days noticeably get a bit longer, especially at sunset. While it may be common to celebrate the Sun’s return at the Winter Solstice for some, this felt strange to me. We know now through technology what the days’ lengths are right down to the seconds and so can calculate exactly which day starts the Sun’s waxing period. But you don’t “see” it, or feel it. A couple of seconds of extra daylight doesn’t seem to make a difference to humans, environmentally speaking, so I generally fail to see the point of celebrating that on the Winter Solstice. I have always preferred to read signals from the land rather than using astronomical patterns, and the return of the Sun is no exception.

In keeping with both my heritage and the land, my preferred day for this celebration is February 2nd. Called by many names in various religions, this day has a common association with light (candles, fire, lightening), hope (that the groundhog/badger/bear do not foretell a long winter), and renewal (purification of Mary, creating new fires, taking down Christmas decorations, the coming burst of life from the snow). It is also interesting to note that in both the Old High German calendar and the Ho-Chunk moon calender, the month that roughly corresponds to today’s February has associations with bears. According to one source (that’s sadly without citations, but I’m going to look into it further) Feb. 2nd is the “Day of the Bear” in places such as the Alps. Given that I recently became interested in the Eurasian bear cults, I find the timing of all this to be intriguing.

There is also the association with the Deer cult in various Eurasian sources. Not of this particular day, but of the Sun’s movement across the sky. It has been noted in Scytho-Siberian sources that the Deer cults and the Deer goddess (occasionally god) carried the Sun in her antlers, which is also attested in a Hungarian song (link is cached version because sadly the original site is unavailable). Due to the Doe’s importance in my own life, I personally find it appropriate to honor her on this day as well.

For now I keep the name Candlemas due to its familiarity. I’m slowly developing a holiday system as I go this year, allowing it to evolve organically with both research and real-time environmental changes, so my celebration of Candlemas will be simple this year. Candles and pancakes in honor of the Sun, with some deep cleaning of the apartment to promote a sense of renewal. I have already taken down my Christmas tree and other holiday decorations in preparation for that. It’s said in places like Poland that keeping such decorations up past Feb. 2nd is bad luck, and I certainly don’t want to put that thought to the test. Plus, as much as I like my tree, it was starting to get in the way.

Black-capped Chickadee, an animal that displays much energy and endurance through these cold winters. Photo (C) levahnbros.wordpress.com

This time of year is also associated with efforts to get “rid” of winter, understandable from an agricultural perspective. Food stores would be getting lean and game animals may be scarce, desiring a return of Spring as quickly as possible to start sowing seeds. While processions have occurred as early as November in Central Europe, many of them start gaining traction in February when Carnival season is at its peak. One of my earliest blog posts here references those processions. As a day of longing for the coming Spring, I find Candlemas to be appropriate for starting the “settling down” of winter activities and the start of preparing for the Summer. The “end” of that preparation period would be in late April, with Totaustragen repelling off the last of Winter, death, and disease, and the planting of seeds outdoors in early May.

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References*

School of the Seasons: February. http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/febdays1.html#grdhog (a nice collection of cross-cultural holiday traditions for February)

*the other references are linked in post as underlined content

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5 Comments

Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays

5 responses to “The Returning Sun

  1. ” Given that I recently became interested in the Eurasian bear cults”

    Have you read “The Bear: History of a Fallen King” by Michel Pastoureau? That’s where I first came across the idea that Candlemas is related to the bears emerging from hibernation, and I’ve since seen this corroborated in other sources. Also, it’s just a really excellent book overall.

    • I haven’t read much yet, except for textbooks. I do have that book on my wishlist though, so someday! (or read it over break if I find a library with it). I’m glad to see that a more reputable source has also mentioned the bear-Candlemas connection.

  2. Where I grew up the bears only came out around the vernal equinox. I know that the most effective way to successfully hunt a bear, and at a time when the fats are, considered by some, most potent, is before spring in its den. Which is safer for the hunters – not so much for the bear. It is also celebrated as fresh meat when times are lean, and bear fat is greatly prized for its medicine. Found dead at this time of year is what us Wildlife Technicians call winter kill – a time when most die offs happen because it is when the food and fat reserves are so low. So fresh bear would indeed be highly valued and celebrated. So that is why I think it was celebrated during this time of year in Eurasian Bear Cults.

    • Makes perfect sense, I’ve heard of that occurring in connection to bear cults in Finland and in parts of Asia (among Siberian tribes and the Ainu in particular). It’s logical to see the same line of thought in Europe and North America too.

      Why I found the timing to be intriguing was due to seeing more bear images and bear-related posts this past month than ever before. So for UPG reasons I found it eerie that this would happen during the “return of the bear” so to speak.

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