Youngblood Blog

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Light on the Horizon When All Seems Dark

CANDLEMAS NEW MOON BRINGS LIGHT INTO DARK CORNERS
Monthly Insecure Writers’ Corner in the Year of the Rooster

Pre-Celtic Candlemas, a cross-quarter day, celebrated return of sunlight to N. hemisphere

Pre-Celtic Candlemas—cross-quarter day—celebrated return of sunlight to N. hemisphere

Green Comet 45P rounds the Sun and is heading our way

Green Comet 45P rounds the Sun and is heading our way

‘When beggars die, there are no comets seen
The Heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes’
Calpurnia to Julius Caesar on eve of Ides of March

If we were all visionaries, we might prophesy from our current corner of the world all manner of wild suggestions on what will happen in the corridors of power in the coming months.


Condor Babies Migrate to Ancestral Redwood Forest

Amid a tumult of projects ‘supporting’ Americana, one might lose sight—in this New Year of the Cockerel [Chinese Rooster/ancestral Eagle]—of a happy ending to the return of the condor to the wild.

More than one hundred years after they became extinct in the region, the native American eagle/buzzard Condor will soar again over its ancestral Redwood forest in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

The condor plays a major part in Yurok ceremonies and culture since time immemorial, according to chairman of the Yurok Tribe, Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. “It is through collaborative projects like this that we will bring balance back to our natural world.”

He speaks of a plan devised alongside local agencies and the National Park Foundation, to reintroduce fledgling birds in the fall of this year into Redwood National Park at Bald Springs, Orick, CA. Pacific Gas & Electric [PG&E], will provide funding and support for this project. More importantly, the energy company will ensure that condor flight paths will not be obstructed by power lines, allowing the birds to prosper in their natural habitat.

Condors in Orick—a dream come true for Tribal chiefs and conservationists alike

Condors in Orick—a dream come true for Tribal chiefs and conservationists alike

The Yurok—largest of the California native American tribes— have been leading an effort to bring back the endangered birds, which lived alongside them for centuries in redwood forest lining the Klamath River.

“When the Condor of the South flies together with the Eagle of the North, the spirit of Mother Earth—Pacha Mama—will awaken.
Then She will wake millions of her children.
This will be the Resurrection of the Dead.”
Quechua Inca Prophecy

Condor Feather Regalia Returns Home
White deerskins, condor feathers and headdresses made of bright red woodpecker scalps were among more than 200 sacred ‘living’ artifacts returned to the Klamath tribe of the North Coast two years ago.

Since their sacred dance regalia returned home, after a century on museum shelves in Maryland, the tribe’s 5,500-strong membership are exultant that their homeland—55,000 acres along the Klamath River—can now celebrate the return of its most sacred bird.

Tribal leaders affirm the sacred feathers and headdresses date back hundreds—possibly thousands—of years. They will continue to be used in ceremonies intended to heal the world.

Sacred regalia of Condor feathers, decorated woodpecker skulls used in Yurok tribal Dance of Gratitude

Sacred regalia of Condor feathers, decorated woodpecker skulls used in Yurok tribal Dance of Gratitude

Yurok Tribespeople celebrated their return in 2014—among the largest restoration of American Indian sacred objects ever—from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, MD. The sacred objects, purchased by the Smithsonian from a collector in the 1920s, were given a welcome home after nearly a century, like ‘prisoners of war’, according to Tribal Chief O’Rourke.

This week fifteen organizations have agreed to cooperate on a reintroduction project in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Meeting in Eureka, they included National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Yurok.

This autumn, after an ‘adjustment period’ with human condor-glove-Mama, above, the captive bred babies will be released into Redwood National Park at Orick, CA—neighborhood forest to the Yurok—and in a State Park in Del Norte county.

The Humboldt forest location is one of few remaining untouched old growth Redwood—sequoia sempervirens—oases in Northern California.

Even if bird fancying is not your thing, IWSGers can, I am sure, find solace in this Year of the Rooster that we can achieve what was once thought impossible. We can do magic. We can bring back from the Dead.

But, we Insecure Writers knew that all along, didn’t we Alex?
It’s why we continue to write.
©2017 Marian Youngblood

February 1, 2017 Posted by | ancient rites, authors, blogging, calendar customs, culture, energy, environment, history, nature, publishing, seasonal, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fire Festivals & Persistence of Pasche

Carnival in Rio before Lent

‘First come Candlemas
Syne the New Meen
The niest Tiseday efter that
Is Festern’s E’en.
That Meen oot
An’ anither at its hicht
The niest Sunday efter that
Is aye Pasche richt.’
Ancient Scots Easter calculation. Anon.

The Calendar according to the Moon was regular as clockwork. It was reliable, you could see it in the sky and you could set your life rhythms by it. The old Scots rhyme above spoken slowly will make sense even to the least son of the soil of Ultima Thule. But non-Scots may need a little help in translation.

Festern’s E’en – as Hallowe’en – was an ancient calendar fire festival celebrated, like all pre-Christian revelry, at night. And, like Hallowe’en, it still is. Only we call it by another name: Carnival.

Translated simply, it is the evening before the ‘Feast/Festival’. With a capital F, this celebration was one of the greatest fire festivals in the Celtic Year. When it became absorbed into the Christian calendar, its importance and significance to the populace was so great, that it was deemed necessary to give it a place of prominence second only to Christmas. As such it has remained. The festival that precedes Easter is throughout the world celebrated with fire and puppetry,processional and masqued balls, dance and music and food and drink.

If you ask a South American about Carnival, ‘Carnaval’ in Portuguese, he will tell you they prepare for it all year round. In some cultures it has become almost more important than Christmas – a reversion to type, backtracking to pre-Christian times.


In Brazil, it makes complete sense to hold Carnaval precisely on its February moon date in the ancient calendar because in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires it is full-blown summer. By contrast, German Fasching, held similarly in February, is pretty chilly dancing in the noctural streets of northern Hamburg!

Terence Young's 'Thunderball' James Bond in 1965


Carnival used to be held in the Bahamas in February too, when spring is at its height and the casuarinas blow carefree along Nassau Beach. But in the summer of 1965, Chubby Broccoli and Sean Connery made a James Bond film set on Paradise Island and commissioned the Carnival Committee to stage an ‘extra’ Carnival, so they could weave festive fiery scenes into ‘Thunderball’; since then Bahamian Carnival has been a summertime festival.

London's Notting Hill Carnival

Similarly, the London Carnival of Notting Hill, begun in 1964, is held on the last weekend in August. No connection to Lent or Easter any more.

But originally, before the Gregorian calendar took over calculation and reckoning by the moon in 1582, Carnival was high festive season in that ancient stream of festivities used by Man to celebrate the return of the Light to a dark winter world.

Candlemas, as I’ve mentioned before, is the first glimpse of light waxing and adding grace to the darkest days of winter. On February 2nd – or Bride’s Day, before solar months took over as calendrical norm – the measure of light from the heavens increases to such a degree that birds begin to mate, petals on spring flowers open and the Earth softens its frozen grip.

In lunar terms, the first New Moon of the second month (Gregorian) was celebrated in every northern hemisphere culture planet-wide from prehistoric times. From Buddhist to Inuit culture the return of light to nurture the earth’s crucial growing plants was a calendar custom worth celebrating.

When Christian calendar calculators were devising Roman Church high and holy days, they took care to incorporate these ancient fire rites as an integral part of Christian culture and ‘lore’. it did not do to lose a single ‘soul’ in the transition from a pre-Christian to a Christian world.

And, as it was a long-standing tradition for local people to mark ancient quarter days – the solstices and the equinoxes – with festivals of fire, it seemed right that they should transit unaltered into the Christian calendar: marked instead with candlelight inside church buildings.

Christmas was chosen at the time of (northern) winter solstice when the ‘ignorant’ (pagan) desperately needed to celebrate the return of ‘light to the world’. Christ was called the ‘Light of the World’. The Son of the Sun.

Midsummer was fully taken up with a light celebration of its own – in northern latitudes the longest days of the year brought bountiful harvest and genuine thanksgiving by a rural population for the gifts of the earth continuously provided from midsummer through to Lammas, an August ‘cross-quarter’ day. No Church overlay was necessary; nevertheless Roman Catholicism superimposed the feast of John the Baptist on midsummer’s day and frowned heavily on pagan corn dollies and such Celtic fripperies perpetuated by an agricultural society.

The Equinoxes, however, required more serious contemplation.

Most rural (so-called ignorant) converts were aware of the movement of both sun and moon. While that may appear to us today to be rather sophisticated intellectual knowledge, it was commonplace then to note changing seasons, hours of light and dark and the phases of the moon. When equinox arrived it was – in the human mind at least – a miracle that every place on earth had exactly the same number of hours of light and dark for one earth period of 24 hours. The sun rose at 6 and set at 6 on every man, woman, child and beast on earth. The phenomenon was in itself worth celebrating. In astronomical terms, the event occurs precisely at the moment the Sun (traveling along the ecliptic) appears to cross the celestial equator, and while ancient Man may not have known that added sophistication, his life was changed by its occurrence twice in every year. In addition, he celebrated the spring (cross-quarter) festivals of Wesak, Beltane, May Day, along with any events providing an excuse for Morris and maypole dancing, The Church allowed these to continue, so long as the requisite saints were also remembered and offerings given.

While Archangel Michael was given dominion over autumnal equinox, Easter was chosen as a fitting ‘high’ celebration to take over the vernal equinoctial light-and-dark balance.

What put a spanner in the works was that – late in the seventh century – when two contemporary Christian systems were running alongside in mutual cooperation, the internal systems within the Celtic and Roman Churches came to a clash; an impasse.

Venerable Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People'

Hugely influential, powerful and wealthy King Oswiu of Northumbria had been happy to run his Christian nation along the lines of Columba’s Celtic (thirteen-month lunar) calendar issued and maintained from Iona. This Celtic doctrine conveniently recognized the King as head of religious affairs. His Anglian Queen Eanfled, a devout Roman Christian recognized not the King but the Pope as head of the Church. They might have reconciled their differences, had it not been for a calendrical anomaly which in some years had the King ordering huge feasts for Easter at exactly the moment when his Queen was still fasting in Lent. Because another such year was due to happen in AD665, with the assistance of Wilfrid, new abbot at Rippon, and recently returned from Gaul and Rome, the King called the Synod of Whitby in AD664 and led a thorough investigation into the rites and rituals of both systems. The event is described in detail by Jarrow churchman Bede (673-735) who completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.

While the Synod changed lives, split families and royal houses, even intra-kingdom alliances, thereafter church festivities centred on Easter were standardized throughout the land and celebrated in accordance with Roman custom.

Easter remained the highest festival of the Christian church until the Scots Reformation when (after 1660) presbyterian austerity superimposed simplicity, reduced dogma and a return to ‘speaking to God’ directly.

For the rest of the British Isles, however, and for descendants and dependents the world over, Easter remains one of the great festivals of the Christian calendar.

Curiously, for a celebration washed, ironed and folded so neatly by successive synthesized systems – prehistoric, early-historic, pre-Christian, Celtic and Roman Christian – Easter emerges as a supreme highlight in the Church year.

Its one concession to its pagan past is that is remains to this day a date fixed according to the Moon.

And, in order not to offend other faiths which, like Anglian Eanfled, might take offence at the bulldozing approach (e.g. Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials), there is a built-in mechanism of calculation which ensures that Easter and Passover never collide and that the Christian High Festival should never occur BEFORE equinox.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, bead capital of the world

So the little rhyme above, translated, simple enough and sympathetic to Scots ears, sums up global lead-time to Pasque, Pasche, Oster/Easter, the pagan event of maiden-goddess Eostre/Ostara, the Highest Festival in the Christian Calendar: when in the High Days before the Fast of Lent, the Roman Catholic world celebrates. From Italian Carnivale to German Fasching (Fastnacht, the eve before the Fast), prelude to French Pasque, in Portuguese Carnaval and on ‘Fat Tuesday’ of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, bead-festooned feasters and revellers make merry because tomorrow their stomachs will die.

The modern gesture to Pancake or Shrove or Fat Tuesday (Festern’s E’en) is not lost on marketers for supermarket chains who do a roaring trade in maple syrup and readymix batter. It’s the ‘stock up while the going’s good’ mentality, because the body must endure the subsequent fast of Lent for a regulation 40 days. Once more the Roman Church succeeded in condensing multiple events in Christ’s life into one festival: this fast represents the period of time He spent without food while meditating in the desert.

Nowadays, nobody questions that its immediate successor in the calendar is representational of His death and resurrection, when historically the two events happened years apart. Once again, ancient symbolism is used to gloss over detail.

‘First arrives Candlemas (Feast of Bride); Then the New Moon
The following Tuesday will be ‘Fastnacht’/Fasching or Shrove Tuesday
Allow that ‘moon’ to wax and wane
And watch till the next moon is full
The Sunday thereafter will be Easter Day.’
translation by Scots descendant, non-Anon

It worked for King Oswiu in 664. I can assure you, the calculation works still!

©2010 Marian Youngblood

March 8, 2010 Posted by | ancient rites, astrology, astronomy, calendar customs, consciousness, culture, festivals, history, pre-Christian, Prehistory, ritual, seasonal | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Candlemas: Forward or Back

Easter Aquhorthies Candlemas sunset

“If Candlemas be dull and cool
Half the winter was bye at Yule
If Candlemas be fine and fair
Half the winter’s to come – and mair”
Scots wisdom – Anonymous

Today is Candlemas: February 2nd in the ancient Celtic calendar signified the half – way point, a cross-quarter day, between midwinter and spring. It’s pretty amazing we’ve lasted thus far: three storms and more threatening; it’s already six weeks since solstice and in another six we’ll have reached the vernal equinox. Looking at Scotland’s current snowy landscape (or, more immediate, trudging through it), that calendar fact seems hard to believe.

Old countrymen before the agricultural revolution – farmers and field hands – kept an inner calendar, depending on the direction of the wind, hours of daylight and signs from birds and wild animals for their information.

We seem to have lost the knack.

One might blame it on global warming, but that’s merely an excuse. We spend less time outdoors now as a culture than we ever did. Despite ‘power runs’, jogging, (with natural sounds deadened by earphones strapped to head) and weekend walks (complete with cellphone), we are constantly reminded by the technology of our own devising that we are no longer creatures of the corn.

We have evolved to become slaves to the newspaper, the television set, radio, telephone and computer media and have stepped out of our former selves, the ones who tuned into birdsong, the opening of a snowdrop, the smell of first growth in the forest, lengthening days of sunlight.

Some would say we can’t be blamed for the way society drifts: isn’t it important to keep up with the news? to judge if politicians are doing their job? Don’t our livelihoods depend on our connection to what’s happening in the ‘real’ world?

To my mind it’s a matter of choice. Some of the thirty-somethings these days are so concerned with their career in the City, commissions on deals that make them millions, the need to unwind on a skiing holiday mid-season, the latest SUV, that they don’t notice that their youth is slipping away. When grandparents used to advocate a ‘back-to-basics’ approach, a ‘breath of fresh air’, or a break from concentrating on the ‘almighty dollar’; they had no idea our culture would so soon become divorced from those concepts so radically; would be so far down the road to technological dependence that we no longer recognize the sound made by a robin in spring.

What has all this to do with Candlemas? you may ask.

Sunhoney recumbent group views winter sunset point on Hill of Fare

Sunhoney recumbent stone circle, Aberdeenshire

Before there were man-made calendars, there was a cosmic one: the language of light spoken by the sun on its annual journey. Our neolithic ancestors recognized the solar (and lunar) rhythms and built ‘calendars’ in stone, dragging massive megaliths to create stone circles whose shadows cast a moving ‘hand’ across the face of the earth like a sundial or the hands of a clock. In the Northeast of Scotland that particular variation of stone circle usually takes the form of a window in stone – a recumbent giant flanked by the two tallest monoliths in the southwest quadrant of the circle. This window invariably faces the point on the horizon where the midwinter sun sets and, conversely, where the midsummer full moon also sets.

There were other points marked on the calendar of stones. Assuming the recumbent and flankers stand at ‘seven o’clock’ in a recumbent stone circle where heights always diminish towards the northern arc, the circumference stone at ‘twelve o’clock’ marks the midsummer sunset point on the horizon viewed from within the ‘platform’ – a rectangular space next to the recumbent group. This is beautifully portrayed in settings such as Midmar (map ref. NJ 699 065), Sunhoney (NJ716 057), above right, or even the ruined Kirkton of Bourtie circle (NJ 801 249), where this unremarkable stone acts as the dial point for the sun to come to rest on the longest day of the year. Not content with marking the four quarters, stone circle stones also point to cross-quarter days, too. At Easter Aquorthies (NJ733 208) near Inverurie in central Aberdeenshire, illus. top left, in addition to a solid block of red jasper which marks the equinoctial sunrise on the east of the circle, its two neighbouring perimeter stones draw the distinctive shadows of recumbent and flankers (the ‘window’) into their own minor magical precinct, until it disappears to a point of nothingness at sunset on Candlemas.

These amazing stone calendars served generations of early farmers through bronze age, iron age and early-historic times, until the arrival of the Celtic Colginy Calendar and its Roman counterpart, the Julian calendar, both originally, like all early societies, based on a lunar month. The sixteenth century Gregorian calendar altered our thinking to calculating almost exclusively in solar time. The oriental calendar, however, like the Ethiopian, Vedic, Muslim and some African calculations, remains lunar.

Candlemas, before Gregorian calendar takeover, was held as a celebration of light on the first new moon in February. It is significant that Losar, Tibetan New Year, still takes appearance of the New Moon in February each year as its calendar starting date: this year Losar falls on February 15th.

It is coincidentally the first day of the oriental Year of the Tiger.

Gregorian time did not totally demolish earlier lunar times. They were seen in Rome, and in Roman catholicism generally as ‘pagan’ (from Latin, paganus, a countryman) and therefore ‘ignorant’ of Christian belief.

Celtic lunar calendar of thirteen 'tree' months

Candlemas had been held by country people as a major light festival from pre-Christian times: Celtic Imbolc (Oimelc), in northern latitudes celebrated the first day when light from the sun feels warm on the face; when larks start into song, when the wren, a magical Celtic bird, the ‘Queen of Heaven’, begins to build her nest. Lambs traditionally started life in February and ewes began lactation. The earth came alive. The farming year looked forward rather than back. So it served the Roman papal calendar well to continue the festival. It, too, was celebrated with light, but held as a mass for Mary, Queen of Heaven (not the bird) and Bride, under the light of a thousand cathedral candles, which gave it its name.

'The Coming of Bride' John Duncan (1917)

Its pagan earth and sun connections were buried deep. Like most adopted Christian celebrations which had featured as a moon date on the Celtic calendar of months named after trees (earth spirits), instead it became dedicated to an early Christian saint: the Feast of Bridget, Bride. The fact that pre-Christian Goddess Bhrìghde, Brigantia, Bride was the Earth Mother, the triple goddess of earth, fire and home, her day seen as the embodiment of the Earth coming awake at this time, was not lost on the papal calendar-makers. They chose deliberately to enhance the festival and make it one of their own; gradually subsuming previous belief.

One pre-Celtic remnant of paganism remains in the, mostly ridiculed, American Groundhog Day. On this day the groundhog, a ridiculous figure, poor creature, comes out of his winter hole. If he sees his shadow he returns to his hole for another six weeks’ sleep. If he does not see it, he resolves to leave hibernation and get on with spring. It has resonance with the Scots version in our opening lines. Another is:

Bride put her finger in the river
On the Feast Day of Bride
And away went the hatching mother of the cold. — Carmina Gadelica

Gregorian calendar festivals became more rigid after the Reformation and by 1660 many previous celebrations which smacked of paganism were banned. One of these is worth resurrecting. In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, before it was abolished, a ritual was held on Bride’s Feast Day the calendrical opposite of that held by all farming communities until the first European War of creating the harvest corn dolly which was carried round the fields to bless the harvest.

In the Islands, it was believed that on the eve of Là Fhéill Bhrìghde (Feast of Bride), the Old Woman of Winter, the Cailleach, journeys to the magical isle in whose woods lie the miraculous Well of Youth. At the first glimmer of dawn, she drinks the water that bubbles in a crevice of a rock, and is transformed into Bride, the fair maid whose white wand turns the bare earth green again.

On Bride’s Eve in the Islands young girls made a female figure from a sheaf of corn, kept in reverence from the previous year’s harvest. They decorated it with colored shells and sparkling crystals, together with snowdrops and primroses and other early spring flowers and greenery. An especially bright shell, symbol of emerging life, or a crystal was placed over its heart, and called ‘Bride’s guiding star’. They dressed themselves in their own finery and carried their effigy through the village on Bride’s Feast Day to invoke the light.

Harvest warm (Summer) Mother turned ancient cold (Winter) Crone reborn as fresh (Spring) youthful Virgin. And the cycle continues.

There is much to glean from these lovely old tales, fast becoming trivialized and forgotten.

One might suggest that our culture is in its last days, its death throes, too driven to see into either past or future.

Like the prelude to Roman decline and fall when successive emperors and the Senate prescribed bread and circuses as an opiate for the masses, our opiates – television, supermarkets, football games and expensive toys – provoke a ‘dumbing down’ fueled by corporations with political power and access to billions. We are not encouraged to draw lovingly from our past in order to find a gentler path in our future. We are not encouraged to question where we are going; where we as a global community might genuinely contribute to the care of our planetary mother, to save her from destruction; where we her children might become reborn, rise from our own ashes. As Carl Sagan says, the Universe is within us. We are capable of so much more than we allow.

If Candlemas has a message, it is neither to look forward or backward, but to carry with us the best of our past, and yet to anticipate the most miraculous for our future. And to hold in our consciousness the reality, the fragility of the Earth, the planet which is our home, our only home. Therein lies all creativity.

February 2, 2010 Posted by | culture, environment, history, nature, popular, seasonal, weather, winter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments