To our ancestors, the forces of Nature and the urges within humans were personified as gods and goddesses both major and minor. So changes in Nature and the changes in humans were represented as events relating to the deities.
In spring and summer, all of Nature grows and is fruitful, but in autumn things wither, and seem to vanish in the barrenness and cold of winter.
To the ancient Greeks, the abundance of the earth in the seasons of growth and harvest was represented in the joy of the goddess Demeter. And when plants began to wither and leaves to fall, they saw this season of dying and death as the mourning of Demeter.
She was said to mourn for her daughter Persephone, who one day,while out picking flowers, was abducted by Hades, the god of the realm of death.
Demeter had no idea what had happened, and searched the earth for her missing daughter, and as she searched, the earth lost its fruitfulness and crops no longer grew. The ruler of the gods, Zeus, knew this intolerable situation could not continue, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone to the upper world and to her mother.
Unfortunately, however, Persephone had eaten several pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld. And as we all know from old myths and legends — including the stories of abduction by the Sidhe — the fairies — one should eat nothing while in the Other Realm.
So Persephone was brought back to Demeter, but because she had eaten food from the Land of the Dead, she had to spend part of each year there, and while she was gone the world withered and the fields became barren.
This of course signifies that Demeter is in a sense “Mother Nature,” and her daughter Persephone is the plant life that sprouts out of the earth — out of the “Underworld” each spring, and flourishes through summer and harvest, after which it once more returns to the earth.
All of this is a rather lengthy introduction to reminding you that the beginning of February marks the ancient beginning of spring. It happens at February 1 – 2nd. This corresponds with the holiday called Candlemas, celebrated on the 2nd of February.
Though Candlemas in Christian times came to be a commemoration of Mary’s purification in the Temple, it was in reality a Christian substitution intended to take over a pre-Christian rite, as celebrated in Rome. The Roman Catholic Pope Innocent XII said:
“Why do we carry candles in this feast? Because the Gentiles [meaning non-Christians here] dedicated the month of February to the infernal gods; and as at the beginning of it Pluto [Hades] stole Proserpine [Persephone], and her mother Ceres [Demeter] searched for her in the night with lighted candles, so they, at the beginning of this month, walked about the city with lighted candles. Because the holy fathers could not wipe out this custom, they ordered that Christians should carry around candles in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and thus what was done before to the honor of Ceres [Demeter] is now done to the honor of the Virgin.”
So that was the old Candlemas — a pre-Christian festival centered on the myth explaining why vegetation dies in autumn and returns again in spring. By searching for Proserpine/Persephone with candles or torches, one symbolically enacted the desire of humanity for spring to return to the earth. And so Candlemas is the beginning of Spring in the Wheel of the Year. The candles are now a reminder that the light and warmth of spring are slowly returning, though of course how soon it becomes obvious depends on where one lives.
Candlemas — a more ancient name is Imbolc — marks the beginning of spring in the West, and in the East (where hokku originated), this time of Candlemas — give or take a few days depending on the lunar calendar — marks the New Year. In 2016 the Lunar New Year begins on February 8th.
So as I always say, the old Western “natural” calendar and the Hokku Calendar are very close to one another, which makes it very convenient for those of us who like to maintain the old “nature” traditions such as the celebration of the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes (the “Quarter Days”) and the “Cross-Quarter Days” of the year such as Candlemas, May Day, Lammas and Halloween (Imbolc, Beltane, Lugnasadh, and Samhain).
For more on the Hokku Calendar, you may want to revisit this posting: