Monday, February 2, 2009

The Feast of the Presentation: Groundhog Day

The Presentation in The Temple (1342) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

I was intending to write a cool post about how Groundhog Day was once the Feast of the Presentation in the Roman Catholic Church. Then I realized I would have to be fair and explain this was once known as Candlemas, which was unabashedly grabbed from Imbolc, only to discover that people aren't 100% sure about the social evolution of just how these holidays all morphed together.

And I realized that we all appropriate... the secular culture now has no clue about the Feast of the Presentation, just as most Catholics don't know from Imbolc. Just as most of us don't know that fireworks were first used by the Chinese for their own holiday festivals... we consider them all-American and now use them for every occasion.

Still, as a ritual-junkie, I like to know where my rituals came from.

Every culture in the known world, but particularly frozen Europe, has historically marked this day, which is the exact middle point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox... I get ancient images of women lighting candles to make the sun return, in bitterly-cold stone temples throughout the wintry places of my ancestors. They lit those candles for the future, for us. Just as the Feast of the Presentation was a way to celebrate the bris of Our Lord, his official entry into His tribe and people.

If anything sums up our modern irreligious times, it is how we don't seem to feel connected to the future or the past; the whole of humanity. We do things for ourselves, right now. Who cares what the people of the past imagined for us? Who cares what future generations might think of us?

We have cut ourselves off from destiny and then we wonder why we get so depressed.


I was recently studying Chaco, a place I am trying to talk Mr Daisy into going, and how they have literally had to OUTLAW religious ceremonies. As far as I know, the first worldwide attention to Chaco came after Carl Sagan's influential TV show COSMOS (1980), in which he demonstrated the incredible astronomical knowledge of the Anasazi people, who designed these structures.

At left, the "Chaco Sun Dagger"--in New Mexico. (approx time period 1000 AD)


Shown is the "Sun Dagger" by which the Chacoans (Anasazi) were able to read the harvesting and planting seasons and recorded time's passage. At the Winter Solstice, rays of sunlight fell between the 2 huge stone slabs, neatly bracketing the spiral petroglyph on 443-foot Fajada Butte at the south entrance to Chaco Canyon. At the Summer Solstice, a single band of light bisects the center of the spiral. The spring and fall equinoxes were heralded by an additional light that fell on the smaller petroglyph, visible to the left of the larger one. This discovery was made by Anna Sofaer in 1977.
Now, I ask you, is that awesome or what?

At various times of the year, the moon settles into some of the "windows" of these structures (see last link for example). I am made dizzy by how many generations dedicated themselves to understanding these celestial patterns; I bow in awe of their heavenly awareness.

I feel strongly that I must go's a bit reminiscent of Richard Dreyfuss playing in his mashed potatoes in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS; I am drawn to this location for reasons I can't readily comprehend. And then I read ((embarrassed)) that lots of people feel that way and have created something of a new-age ruckus out there in the desert, waiting for the moon and the sun dagger and everything. They ring bells and play instruments and such. I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to restrain myself, if I saw such a thing in person, I would likely shed tears and sing, or something. But that isn't respectful of the people who believe this is part of their tradition. Although the Anasazi are long gone; the Pueblo and Hopi are their relatives, but they are no more THE SAME as the Anasazi, as I am THE SAME as the folks who originally designed Stonehenge. I don't see that they or anyone else should have the spiritual copyright. And then again, I also believe it would be somewhat disrespectful to whoop it up out there during the Solstice. So, color me confused.

And so, a ritual we cannot imagine and have lost... has this one thing left from it: the calendar they used. And as we see time pass, we also see Imbolc morph into Candlemas, into the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, and finally, it becomes the harmless commercial hoopla known as Groundhog Day, featuring Punxsutawney Phil. And it would appear that as the story has morphed into a fun secular tale, people have lost all sense of time, except for the "6 more weeks of winter" prediction that goes along with it.

Pennsylvania had many German settlers, which accounts for why Phil ended up there, of all places. The introduction of an animal into the story was their unique innovation. Some believe it was due to the candles of Candlemas, that the animal saw its shadow (or not) in the flickering candlelight. Other sources believe it was due to the (human) carnivorous habit of searching for the whereabouts of hibernating mammals, who might peek out to see if the weather was pleasant, then dart back inside. (And it was originally a badger or hedgehog, which also changed when Germans came en masse to the Western Hemisphere.)

And now, we have Groundhog Day... also the subject of a great movie which starred my favorite comedian of all time. The movie, fittingly, has a deeply spiritual message, for those who can appreciate it: You can keep on repeating yourself forever, or you can evolve. Just as the holiday itself, has evolved.

Keep on evolving, and happy Groundhog Day!


John Powers said...

Woodchucks hibernate and then mate early in March, or even a bit before. The mating pair stay in the den for about a month during the gestation season then the males leave. We've got lots of wood chucks where I live;-) So seeing activity around the holes, paw prints in the snow and such, is a true harbinger of Spring here in Pennsylvania.

Dave Dubya said...


Yes, you would LOVE Chaco Canyon! We went there in the first week of May 1994 and the weather was perfect. We practically had the place to ourselves.

Walking in the footsteps of the Anasazi (an unfair appellation, meaning "ancient enemies" to the Navajo) triggers a reverential and meditative state.

This amazing civilization offers a lesson to us. Even as attuned to nature as the Pueblo ancestors were, they were at the mercy of climate change.

I hope the old spirits didn't mind if I played a little melody from a clay ocarina in one of the kivas.

yellowdog granny said...

i'm with you..groundhog day is one of my favorite movies and absolutely love bill murry..and I have been to Chaco Canyon and it's'd love it...

JoJo said...

Why don't you plan a solo trip to Chaco?

sheila said...

Interesting, I would have never known of the rodent connection until I read your post.

I had a similar 'being pulled' feeling as soon as we were on the outskirts of Sedona, AZ. And I didn't want to leave. Now we plan on retiring there, that's how strong that pull is.

I've studied the Anasazi a bit, as well as the Hopi. And Mayans, etc etc. Have you ever read Graham Hancocks: Fingerprints of the Gods.
?? Good book. I bet you'd like it.

Anonymous said...

Daisy, I followed the link to the 1908 Catholic text--it wasn't Jesus' bris (AKA brit milah), which would have been 8 days after his birth. It was the pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the first-born son) ceremony. This is still practiced by some Jews, mostly orthodox, though no longer with an animal sacrifice. :-D