Ronald ‘Chalky’ White

a celebration

Candlemas

Preamble

With the coming of February the strengthening sun and longer hours of daylight initiate ‘The Quickening of the Year’. To townspeople Spring does not begin until the middle of March or Easter, but to the pagan and some country folk Spring begins today. Admittedly Winter can be a long time a-going, but nevertheless there are signs of life, indomitable and assured, even in the late blizzard’s fury, for this is the time when lambs begin to be born, and when snowdrops, the first of flowers, delight the winter-weary eye. Everywhere trees ready their buds, birds start to try over their songs, and even if a bit tentatively, the dawn chorus makes a practice start; and despite fierce weather there come calm days and pale blue skies bright with the strengthening sun.

Candlemas, as its name suggests, is a festival of light and hope. Its great mystery is in the transformation of the Goddess from being the Mother of the Star Child to the Spring Maiden. She is the Lady of Light whose radiance illumines the path of the year ahead. She is the light of intuition and creative inspiration. She is the muse of artists and the female principle in man. Her colour is white and Her flowers at this festival are snowdrops.

This ceremony is one of the Mysteries of Women, men being set apart from the room where the rite of transformation takes place. They are then brought in to see its results and to marvel at them. Therefore I can write little of the core of the rite except to describe the scene after the women have finished their mystery.

For all of us Candlemas is a chance to make our vows to the Lady of Light and to make our dedication plain; to declare our love for the Goddess and our worship of Her; to ponder on Her mysteries and the great power She has in our lives. The overall theme is ‘Initiation’. It is a new beginning and we must purify ourselves for the coming year’s journey. So it is a ceremony of a highly personal nature, requiring us to make our own prayers and dedications, spontaneously prompted by our intuitions as the mystery unfolds.

Candlemas is one of the four ancient fire festivals. Sometimes the remnants of the Yule log are rekindled, and the custom of ‘saining’ which we have met before can be carried out. Certainly incense should be used, and water sprinkled in the corners of the rooms. It is the only ceremony which should be carried out indoors.

In Ireland and Scotland the Goddess was called Brigit at this festival, a name which has been Christianised as St. Brigit as has the whole festival, which is termed ‘The Purification of The Blessed Virgin Mary’. This is evidence of the obstinate popularity of the Goddess and Her abiding powers.

The Ritual

The ritual takes place indoors.

The room of the rite is initially lit by one red candle, and the altar and statuette of the Goddess is draped in red, the colour of the Mother. At this ceremony the altar originally is placed to the North of the room. Later, after the women’s ceremony, it will be found to have been moved to a central position so that the celebrants may process and dance around it.

The significance of the ceremony is explained by the senior female present, somewhat in the terms of the preamble, and for a short period the group is enjoined to a silent and still meditation centred on the image of the Mother.

The men are then conducted to a place apart, generally another room. They are given a candle for light and told to keep silent. The candle can be placed between a pair of stag’s horns or before some other male symbol. The men are charged by the senior female to look into their hearts and consider in solemn meditation their relationship with the Goddess and all that they know She stands for. They are then left alone while the ritual of purification goes forward in the main room. [See the note below]

At the appropriate time the men are called one by one into the presence of the Goddess. They are conducted by the youngest of the ladies who, if possible, should be wearing white and have white flowers in her hair.

At the entrance to the room of the rite each is handed an unlit white candle and some white flowers, which if possible should be snowdrops. He is told to kneel in the entrance and water is sprinkled liberally over his head in a ritual lustration. The young lady should enjoin each man to consider the purification of his soul before entering humbly into the Presence. After a short pause the man is led forward to the altar.

The altar is now brilliant with the light of many candles and radiant with the presence of the Goddess Herself, whose statuette is now draped with white as is the altar. Everywhere around Her are white candles, and white flowers and snowdrops are strewn in front of Her. Each man kneels in front of the altar, lights his own candle to add to the display, and humbly presents his own flowers to the Goddess. He is then handed a bowl of white wine with which to pour his libation. He should now offer a short prayer, silent or spoken, of dedication to the Goddess and Her representatives, the women, who now stand ranged behind the altar with their hands upraised.

When all the men have been called, the meaning of the ceremony is again told over by the youngest of the ladies. The Goddess, through the mystery is declared Maid, and asked to shed Her gentle radiance on all our lives.

The celebrants then process around the altar nine times in an anti¬clockwise direction. They should go alternately man, woman. As each perambulation passes the statuette the men should bow to the Goddess so represented, and at the conclusion, to each of the ladies.

Following the solemn perambulation round the altar, each celebrant can, if wished, take and light a new candle and process round the room in a further ritual of purification. If, as mentioned in the preamble, fir branches are available, they can be used for this as a further ‘saining’ ceremony.

Having themselves cleansed the room the men are offered cake to eat, and in their turn offer the wine bowls to the ladies.

The central altar now invites round dances, and these can vary from the gentle to the vigorous. It will be found that steps for these dances occur naturally and therefore add to the spontaneity and delight of the rite. One observance that can have great beauty and significance is the dance of the Ladies, taken sunwise, where they dance in a circle of men, who upon the conclusion of the Ladies dance, themselves dance vigorously in the opposite direction.

The ceremony continues with spontaneous observances until the candles begin to burn low, when the senior Lady calls the company to kneel around the maiden altar. The group should as far as possible kneel alternately man, woman, and hold hands. The Lady gives a short address somewhat in the terms of the sermon, and then declares that they have been initiated into the year’s round and have dedicated themselves to the service of the Goddess.

All present then kiss their partners and one by one rise, bow to the altar, and the men then make obeisance to the ladies. As they turn to retire from the ceremony the youngest lady presents each attender with flowers from the altar.

Although I have only been able to describe part of the ritual of Candlemas, it is nevertheless one of the most beautiful and touching of all our ceremonies, and, as I have seen, there is little to compare with the sight of an hundred candles, masses of white flowers, and regally attired women in white wearing chaplets of flowers and standing in ritual posture behind the altar and statuette of the Goddess.

The Ritual: a Further Note

The following note on the Candlemas ritual was written in 2002 by two women who took part in the Regency ceremonies for many years.

The men leave the room.

While the men are absent, the actual preparation of the room falls to the women. The steps taken are simple and straightforward. Red, the colour of the harvest, is changed to white, the colour of renewal and springtime. This is done by changing the altar-cloth and the candles. White has now become the dominant colour and the ritual area is now illuminated by a mass of white candles and the altar decked with white flowers – snowdrops if possible, but in a hard winter whatever is in bloom will do equally well. The atmosphere is informal and relaxed, not solemn or restrained: the women may chat or remain quiet, according to their personal preferences. A bowl of cold water is made available and placed on the altar. This completes the preparation.

As with all the ceremonies in this book, the symbol is more important than the substance. At the end of the preparations, each woman should in her own way make contact with the significance of the rite, identifying with the transformation from Mother to Maiden that the ritual embodies. Each participant responds individually to this mystery of renewal and rebirth repeated in the natural cycle of the year – always the same and yet never the same. The gifts of birth, nurture and death are all encompassed in the female deity and in all women.

When the participants are ready, the senior woman summons each man in turn to witness the presence of the goddess in all her joy and freshness and to share in the mystery of her transformation.

The Candlemas ceremony is the only one that is entirely conducted by the women.

Sermon

Prayers should be heartfelt. They should not be gabbled by rote and dulled in impact by repetitive usage. Whatever form of prayer we use should always be examined word by word, phrase by phrase, concept by concept. It may never be truly what we mean, the great flights of poetry are not for all and language often comes but clumsily to our tongues refusing to speak our feelings as we would wish.

In the prayerful meditation of Candlemas, the theme is Initiation and quickening into new life and a new year. We tune ourselves to the awesome mystery of the Goddess and Her love. And this means that we must consider three responsibilities. There is the responsibility we bear towards Her; the responsibility we bear to others; and the responsibility we bear towards ourselves. It is through this mystery that we understand the place of women in true pagan worship, and the great regard that all men should pay to them. At this ceremony we recognise the powers of the Goddess in women and also the power of the Goddess resident in man, as indeed the power of the Gods is also in some measure resident in women.

Candlemas is also a festival of the intuition, which some see as that female part of us all. It is a creative celebration and as such it represents the power of the muse in man to inspire Art, innovation, and creation.

To be initiated is a growth rite. It is a putting away of an earlier person, a transformation, a metamorphosis. We cannot always succeed in this, but it is a goal, for none of us is so clear in soul, so pristine in thought, so detached in action that the ends we desire and the ways we approach those ends need no further inquisition of our motives. Look into yourselves closely. Disreputable practices, lying and cheating, wantonly destroying our environment for short term and illusory gains, selfishness and meanness, stunt the soul and shrivel the spirit. Candlemas is the time of waking in nature and we should waken to ourselves learning to give due respect to all other beings and places on this planet. As at Yule we looked out to others now we should search within. It is very difficult to strip away the excuses we make for our own follies and misconducts. The “Well, what about you?” attempts to evade the shortcomings of ourselves by pointing out the lapses of others really will not do. The Gods despise such evasions. There really is no escape from self-scrutiny in the end, and it is a difficult and continuous task. Not one of us can afford to be smug at small successes, for few, if any, can claim surety that our actions in the affairs of the world have not many times been triggered by craven expediences, tainted by greed and casual cruelties and darkened by wilful ignorance and laziness.

Yet Candlemas also means being initiated and quickened into the love of this world, being made alive anew and fresh to its beauty. As the worshippers of the Maiden we also find love and joy at this new beginning, where Her Mystery begins to unfold again. It is this love and joy that must inform our own adventure of the soul. Here is matter for feasting and thankful prayer at the bright altar of the Maiden of Flowers.

Next section: A Note on Minor Festivals & Valentine’s Day

© The Estate of Ronald M. White

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