The first two days of February have since ancient times been celebrated as a midwinter sacred festival in honour of the upcoming return of the Sun. This is the decisive time of midwifery, when the divine mother enters into the final gestation for spring. It is also Candlemas.
The term Candlemas comes from the tradition of the Roman Missal where the celebrant of the Mass on 2 February blesses the beeswax candles for use during the year. According to ordinary history candles have been used for more than 5000 years and were first developed by the Egyptians, although the Romans are credited with introducing wicks. The name candle comes from the Latin candere, which means “to shine”.
Candlemas is an ideal time for reawakening our capacity to shine who we truly are in the separated darkness of this world. “Wake up sleeper. Rise from the dead. Let the Christ enlighten you.” teaches the Gnostic Paul, summing up the core message of Christianity, which implies releasing our dormant identities based on separation and resurrecting our united luminous nature. Blessing candles on this day can be an empowering ceremony to exemplify this process and to remind it throughout the year, whenever those candles are used.
Candlemas commemorates the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth. It is the Christianised version of the Pagan celebration of Imbolc. Imbolc means, literally, “in the belly” (of the Mother), “in milk” or “milk wolf”.
This festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, and was celebrated with lights so as to accelerate the coming of spring. Although darkness was still prevalent in the sky, light gradually unveiled and needed encouragement to finally triumph.
In the Pagan tradition Cernunnos, the Horned God, was the virile male deity ruling darkness. Imbolc represented the impregnation of the feminine deity by the masculine. The God of Darkness lit up his abode with candles to welcome the Goddess of Light and impregnate her. Light and Darkness are two inseparable polarities, who play their loving dance through the cycle of the year. Candles are sacred instruments for awareness and soul retrieval. Their light requires darkness in order to be seen, just as awareness and visibility are sustained by a background of unconscious and unseen reality.
Blessing and using candles is a way to celebrate the light and to honour the dark roots of the path towards illumination. In the lunation cycle Candlemas is associated with the Crescent Moon, corresponding to 3 am in the daily cycle.
The festival is also called Brigit’s Day, with reference to the Irish triple Goddess Brigit (pronounced “breed”), known in Scotland as Bride, transformed by the Catholic Church into St. Brigit of Kildare, the patron of Ireland. Brigit is a Goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. Similarly to the Roman Vesta, Brigit was associated with the perpetual and sacred flame, which is still maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare. She was the goddess of whatever was regarded as non-ordinary at a high level, and a triple goddess
In the United States and Canada, Candlemas evolved into Groundhog Day celebrated on the same date. Candlemas is often a reference for predicting the weather for the coming year. An old British rhyme tells that “if Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year”. Another custom is weaving “Brigit’s crosses” from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rituals of cleansing and purification, placing a lighted candle in each window of the house for a whole day, and obviously making candles.