This is a story about a magical, shapeshifting Goddess currently embodying an overgrown squirrel, and how you can harness her celestial powers for your dreamlife.
Today, February 2, is Groundhog Day. I live in Pennsylvania, and Groundhog Day is big deal here. This morning, all eyes were on the little town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where an accommodating groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil was extracted from his cozy home at the moment of sunrise.
This time, Phil didn’t see his shadow. So, as the legend goes, we can hope for an early spring. If he had: that would have meant 6 more weeks of winter. Of course, in the 126 years of this tradition, Phil — and his ancestors— have only been right 36% of the time.
It’s an odd tradition but Punxsutawney Phil is more than he seems. Groundhog day isn’t just a random day; it actually falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. So early February is marked in several ancient and modern traditions because it is a cross-quarter day, tracking our earthly progress around the sun.
This is a liminal time of alignment.
The Groundhog Day tradition of predicting winter in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania comes from early German settlers, known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. They brought this holiday tradition with them when they emigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries. In their homelands, they looked not to groundhogs but to… badgers. But there’s really not a lot of badgers in Pennsylvania, so when the Germans settled here, the badger magically transferred its power to our humble friend the groundhog.
This odd tradition comes from the Christian observance of Candlemas, a day when when Catholic priests in Europe bless and distribute candles needed for winter. It is in this way, a day of service. In certain parts of Europe, historically, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow. The Roman army, during the conquest of the northern country, brought some of this tradition to the Germanic tribes.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Candlemas was influenced by even older traditions. In Rome, there was Februa, a time of cleansing. And in the Northern European countries, the Celtic holiday known as Imbolc. Both of these earth-honoring traditions were — and are — celebrated as a time of renewal and hope.
In Scotland and Ireland, Imbolc is a feast day. On this day, the Cailleach (pronounced “Call – yahhch”) gives her power over to the spring goddess Brìghde (or Brigid), so this feast is also known as St Brigid’s Day.
But let’s not be too hasty! Winter is still here my friends, although it is getting weirder. As the winter goddess, the Cailleach is a powerful being. Her name comes from the Old Gaelic word Caillech, a term meaning “veiled one.” As the winter goddess, she often is depicted as an old woman who lives in a small hut in the forest. Sometimes she is depicted in terrifying form: with blue skin, red teeth and one eye, her clothes adorned with skulls.
In Ireland, legend has it that the Cailleach would hope that the 1st of February would be bright and sunny. This would wake her up early and allow her to gather enough firewood to keep warm during the long winter which was still to come. But if the day was dark and gloomy, Cailleach would sleep through the day and be unable to gather more firewood– meaning the spring was on its way. Sound familiar?
So let’s review. On February 1st or 2nd throughout history, we have a legend about shadows telling the future. We see a Winter Goddess transforming into a Christian priest, then in a quite unexpected move, shapeshifting into a Gaulish badger, and finally an American Groundhog.
What do all these legends have in common?
They point toward mid-winter as a time to observe and assess. To leave our cozy home and sniff the air. To read the room. In other words, it is a time for taking stock and fine tuning our intentions — and just as importantly a time for changing course if we need to. And if necessary, just like the winter goddess, take a long nap on gloomy days.
Emerge, observe, and assess.
The association of sleeping in — of course — is a reminder that this holy day is an opportunity to honor our dreams, and even call a dream. You can incubate a dream this week and ask — am I in alignment with my family, my community, and my own nature? Is it sustainable how I am of service to others — how I am spending my limited energy and attention?
Notice for a week what dreams come, and how they address the questions you have asked. For a wonderful example of this process in action, including how to honor the dreams that come, check out this article on Cailleach dreams by Dreamworker Suzanne Van Doorn.
This is the blessing of the Groundhog.
If you missed Phil’s emergence this morning, and overslept, I recommend the movie Groundhog Day to anchor your celebration. As Bill Murray reminds us, “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.”