"The moon was created for the counting of days." - Hebrew midrash
February is a month of transformation. The world is just beginning to tell us that it's about to pass into Spring. Animals peek up from Winter dens. Birds sing. The growing sun tells us unmistakably that the Winter Solstice is in our rear view. Cultures around the world have noticed these signs, and marked them in rites and rituals.
The February full moon is one of the traditional times to celebrate Imbolc, the Celtic fire festival and Neo-Pagan Sabbat. Imbolc means “in the belly”, and that pretty well sums up the sense of expectancy that comes with this time. The world is pregnant with new life - the first lambs are birthed, the first fruits and flowers appear. All around us we can feel the first stirrings of of new life - and that is reflected in the name and nature of this moon . . . the Quickening Moon.
Read on . . .
"Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men." - Chinese ProverbThis is also the first moon of the Chinese year, known there as the Budding Moon – a name that similarly reflects the early signs of new life. It has long been marked with a Lantern Festival, when every village and town is lit up, not unlike the candles and bonfires of Imbolc and the later Candlemas. The Japanese Setsubun festival marks the start of Spring, while the Shinto celebrate Toshigoi-no-Matsuri, beseeching the Kami for a good rice harvest.
Greeks and Romans marked with month with their own celebrations of the passing of Winter, including feasts of the Roman god Helernus, god of vegetables, and the Greek god Apollo, associated with the sun. In Judaism, this is Tu B'shevat, the New Year of Trees and a celebration of some of the traditional fruits and nuts that are coming into season.
“From the withered tree, a flower blooms” – Zen proverbThe Aztec festival of Izcalli, “Rebirth”, came right around this time. The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony actually fell around now, as well – five days after the new Quickening Moon – in which the people stirred last year’s ashes and played the Peach Stone Game as symbols of the renewal of the world. The Yoruba (and later Santeria) feast of Oya, Orisha of Death and Rebirth came in this month, and this month marked the second of three Navajo Sings preparing for the coming agricultural season and honoring Changing Woman.
For Egyptians, this month brought the feasts of Nut, the sky-goddess that birthed the sun each morning, and Horus, son of Isis and Osiris and symbol of resurrection. Hindus celebrate the fifth month of the waxing Quickening Moon as the Vasant Panchamia festival of the goddess Saraswati and Spring, while during the waning moon the Maha Shivaratri commemorated Shiva’s dance of creation, destruction and recreation.
"Why don't we get drunk and screw?" - Jimmy BuffetOf course, one of the more powerful stirrings of Spring is in the loins. Life begets life, and the rising tide of it brings its own special kind of Quickening, seen, felt and marked in tradition around the world.
Greeks celebrated this time with the Anthesteria, a celebration of Dionysis that involved frequent and excessive drinking of wine - and all the natural aftermath of that. Lupercalia - a festival of my own god, Faunus, which ostensibly honored the she-wolf of Rome - involved drinking, debauchery and ritual participants running through the city, flailing at people with goatskin thongs. Women struck by these thongs were presumed to be especially blessed with fertility. And another Roman festival around this time - that of the goddess Juno Februa - is almost invariably described as "orgiastic", which pretty much speaks for itself.
The Lantern Festival has romantic elements as well, and the Vasant Panchami also honored Kamadeva, god of love. In Christendom, this is the time for Carnivale, a licentious celebration preceding Lent. Western tradition, of course, has preserved a more innocent - or at least, more romantic - observance in Valentine's Day.
"Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” - Psalm 19:12, King James BibleThe rebirth of Spring is the world starting over - and a fresh start always means dispensing with old baggage. When you open up your home after being shut up all winter, when you pull out the tools of trade and farm that have been packed away, you start off with a good cleaning. Consequently, the month of February (from the Latin Februum, "expiations") is a time of purification.
The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony led off with a Bear Dance, to cure the people of their ills and worries of the preceding year. The Greek Anthesteria included the driving out of evil spirites (Keres), as did the Japanese Setsubun. The Maha Shivaratri includes rites of purification, as do Candlemas and the earlier Imbolc. And Carnivale, of course, leads to the cleansing austerity of Lent.
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it." - Martha GrahamThe importance of the Quickening Moon comes partly from that purification, but only as a first step. This is a time of preparation - there is work coming. For our ancestors, there were fields and flocks soon to be tended. For us, there are the varied goals and projects of a new year. But in both cases, the key is making ourselves ready - first by cleaning out and purifying, then by organizing and checking off our personal "to-do" lists.
We all go through the Winter doldrums. We all hunker down when the world is small and dark and cold. But now, February raises the first alarms - Spring is coming; get off your ass.