So. What’s Up With All These Groundhogs?

February 2, 2023


In the murky mists of myth and legend, threads of stories are handed down through time and generations. Sometimes those threads get tangled up a bit.

February 2nd. For some it’s Groundhog Day, for others it’s Candlemass. Yesterday was Brigid’s Day, a festival of light and candles. Of course when the Catholics arrived in Ireland they couldn’t let that stand and so created Candlemass. As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, this overlaying of Catholic doctrine on ancient ceremonies and sites, especially holy wells, was ubiquitous. On Candlemass, clergy would bless and distribute all the candles needed for winter — and over time the focus of the day became increasingly about predicting how long winter would last because they included this song:

 If Candlemas be fair and bright
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain
Go Winter, and come not again.

Enter the groundhog shadow search, although the groundhog tradition seems to have its origins in Eastern Europe. But back to Ireland. I understand there is another thread tangled in all this. It’s a legend about the Cailleach who needed to gather her stones in fair weather and so if the weather permitted her stone gathering continued and, because she is the goddess of winter, so did winter. The only association I can think of between the groundhogs and the Cailleach is the she was also the guardian of animals. It’s all pretty murky. 

And…speaking of murky. I will add one more thing. Many think yesterday was also Imbolc. However, as Anthony Murphy writes: Imbolc and Brigid’s Day are not the same thing and, in fact, Imbolc as an astronomical cross-quarter date can NEVER fall on 1st February. This year, Imbolc falls on 3rd/4th February depending on where you are in the world. In Ireland, it occurs early on Saturday 4th February.

I suppose the consolation in all this confusion is that all these celebrations are about light, the Light. And however we celebrate the Light is a good thing.