Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Candlemas - Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney (puhnk-suh-TAW'-nee) Phil, a groundhog of Punxsutawney Pa. saw his shadow today and there will be six weeks more of winter. It is a quaint custom brought to Pennsylvania by the Germans from their European back woods. It blends in with centuries of paganism and this date February 2, which is one of eight important days on a solar Celtic calendar. In Pagan myth, the animal coming above ground to seek a shadow and searching for Spring is either a badger or a snake.

The snake of course gets the raw deal in the Adam and Eve myth. Adam, a man, blames Eve, a woman, who blames the snake, a snake. In any case the Romans, who hated all pagan beliefs except their own, stamped out this paganism or these nature based religions, well passed the reality of a Roman Empire and continuing with its official offshoot of the Roman Church. The RC church made this date Candle Mass day, a day to bless all the candles to be used in the church in the coming year.

The blessing thing springs from a passage in Luke 2:22-40 where Jesus’ parents take him up to the Temple and pay for animal sacrifice for the newborn forty day old child. It was also a day of purification for the mother because birth somehow was thought to be some nasty unclean thing and you had to purify yourself, more cash and more animal sacrifices, to make things right with the Temple. The Roman church did not celebrate this holy day as vigorously as the eastern orthodox Christians. It is all a matter of choice and preference and regional clinging to ancient pagan customs.

I remember as an altar boy there was a tradition that a woman would meet the priest in the sacristy, pass him a few bucks and ask to be “Churched”. It was nothing more than meeting her at the altar rail with an altar boy holding the holy water container as he blessed this woman who had recently given birth. I don’t know if that is or was an official ritual or something traditional and lingering on from the temple days of Mary and Joseph and Jesus.

What strikes me is how the Roman church plays down the Jewish rituals in favor of blessing candles to both forget the Jews and cover up the pagan animal shadow thing in the back woods of Europe. If you can divorce yourself from your Jewish source you can also reinforce your Roman Empire traditions against nature too.

Another bizarre ritual took place on February 3, Saint Blaise day. Patron saint of wool and throats. We school children would enter the church and be lined up alone the altar rail and the priest would take two candle joined with a red ribbon in the form of an “X”, put the candles right on your neck and mumble a quick prayer. I did not like this blessing of your throat with the newly blessed candles from February 2nd as the priests usually were in a rush and usually ended up not being gentle with the quick movement of a cold wax candle against your throat.

Rituals, superstitions, so called holy masking the so called secular and pagan – does not matter anymore. As the world rushes to the future everybody is forming their own personal belief systems independent of any institutional church.

Ran into this article about how the Air Force academy in a priority to meet the religious needs of its cadets was making room on top of a hill for the Druids and Wiccans – yes Druids and Wiccans at the Air Force Academy.

Earth religions get worship area at AF Academy
The Air Force Academy has set aside an outdoor worship area for Pagans, Wiccans, Druids and other Earth-centered believers, school officials said Monday.

A double circle of stones atop a hill on the campus near Colorado Springs has been designated for the group, which previously met indoors…

"It's about our commitment as airmen to protect freedom and defend freedom. To me this is a freedom thing," he said.

The school also has worship facilities for Protestant and Catholic Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists.
There is something for everyone these days. The world has changed and then again it has not. Ask Punxsutawney Phil.