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Imbolc 2002, Vol 1-2
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Review: Candlemas: Feast of Flames

As a newbie Witch, I found that some Pagan holidays resonated for me more than others. Since I had always loved Halloween, I was excited about exploring the religious significance of Hallows. Having grown up celebrating Chanukah -- the Jewish festival of lights -- every December, I easily grasped the mysticism of the return of the Sun and the light at Solstice. As for the other Sabbats, I assumed that with each turn of the wheel they would become more meaningful to me. Now, a decade later, I better understand the historical and herstorical significance of each Sabbat. I have also worked with each of the holidays, reflecting and pondering how they fit into my cosmology and my personal understanding of the Wheel of the Year. Yet, I still find that there is much about the Sabbats that I don't know or haven't fully considered.

Candlemas: Feast of Flames, by Amber K and Azrael Arynn K, is a crucial book for anyone who wants to deepen her understanding of the Sabbat of Candlemas, a.k.a. Imbolc, Brigid, or Oimelc. Candlemas begins with an exploration of various February festivals, both modern and ancient, from around the world -- including the Roman Lupercalia, the Norse Honor of Vara, and the Chinese Spring Festival of Li Chum. The authors conclude that:

These are the common themes that run through the complex of midwinter holy days. First, there is the theme of returning light, the first signs of spring, and the promise of renewed life and fertility. This is usually associated with the sun, and sometimes with fire generally. Second, we find the themes of practices of outer and inner cleansing-everything from house-cleaning to washing one's body to spiritual purification. And third, there is the theme of initiation; echoing the new beginnings associated with the spring, the idea that individual human beings can "die" to their old lives and be spiritually "reborn" into a higher spiritual state.

Candlemas then delves into Brigid, as both Goddess and Saint. The authors surpass common characterizations of Brigid as a Triple Goddess of smithcraft, healing, and poetry -- although these associations are covered -- and discuss Brigid as a warrior Goddess, a Goddess of fire, water, fertility and birth, a Faery Goddess, and a Goddess within Arthurian legend. Similarly, while the authors point out the typical associations between Brigid and other hearth-fire Goddesses, such as Vesta and Hestia, they also consider Brigid's relationship to seemingly unrelated Goddesses, such as Hecate:

Brigit also has some traits in common with the ancient Greek goddess Hecate, including her status as a goddess of liminality, one who stands at the boundary of different worlds. Any crossroads where three paths met was sacred to Hecate; but for Brigit, the place was sacred where three streams came together, and sacrifices of milk and flowers were left for her there.

In discussing Brigid the Saint, the authors mention that some scholars "believe that Saint Brigid is really a composite of several women from Ireland and Wales….So fabulous are her stories, and so sparse the evidence of her existence, that some say Saint Brigid was never an historical personage at all." With this disclaimer, Candlemas then covers the life and times of Saint Brigid, including her childhood, her vocation in the Church, her death and relics, her connections to Mary and Jesus, and fifteen of her "wonder tales", which often emphasized Brigid's ability to feed people and her love for animals.

The remainder of Candlemas is devoted to celebrating the Sabbat. A chapter on customs, symbols, and traditions provides a general overview of some historical and modern Candlemas practices, including making corn dollies and Brigid's Crosses, while other chapters provide in-depth information on divination, purification, and ritual design. The divination chapter, in keeping with the aspects of Brigid, focuses on forms of divination that utilize fire and water -- including pyromancy (fire scrying), lampadomancy (lighted lamp scrying), lychnomancy (scrying with three lighted candles set in a close triangle), alomancy (throwing salt on a fire and interpreting its pops and lights), daphomancy (throwing bay leaves on a fire -- the louder the leaves crackle, the better the omen), tephromancy (interpreting the ashes of a fire), libanomancy (interpreting smoke rising from incense), pegomancy (divining by the color and movement of water in spring or fountains), and ceromancy (pouring melted wax into water and interpreting the shapes it forms). The divination chapter also includes a Brigid Tarot spread, based on Brigid in her aspects as smith, poet, and healer, and sections on stone casting and dream interpretation. The chapter on cleansing and purification is just as detailed, covering bodily cleansing (including fasting, ritual baths, and self-blessings), housing cleaning, altar and tool purification, and workplace clearing. The chapter on celebrations and rituals includes ideas and frameworks for solitary, family, large group, and community rituals.

Candlemas concludes with chapters on candle-making and preparing a Candlemas feast. Both chapters include easy-to-follow instructions and recipes interspersed with interesting historical tidbits. The candle-making chapter contains a useful correspondence table of spell intentions, herbs/oils, metals/stones, symbols, and days.

I highly recommend Candlemas. The authors go far beyond a recitation of typical Candlemas attributes, to offer a detailed collection of lore, ritual, and recipes. While Candlemas may not be explicitly Dianic, its focus on Candlemas as a Goddess holiday makes it a very readable and accessible book for Dianics.

Graphic Credits
book cover, Candlemas, Feast of Flames by Amber K and Azrael Arynn K