The Wheel of the Year has turned, and again it is Candlemas.  The Germans call it Lichtmess — “Lightmas.”  And in Nature, we see that the light has indeed increased.  We are halfway between the longest night — the Winter Solstice — and the Spring Equinox, when day and night will be of equal length.   It is a joy to see the lengthening days at Candlemas — the receding of the night, and the growing of the light.

It also brings the first signs of the annual awakening of Nature.  In some places it is blooming snowdrops, or crocuses.  Beside my dwelling there are little banks of blooming wild violets trembling on their stems.  That is why in the hokku calendar, Candlemas — also sometimes called Imbolc — is the beginning of spring.

It is good to celebrate these holidays of the solar year.  Some people like to light candles on Candlemas to honor the coming of spring, and have a little feast.  And some like to think of the old Greek myth of Persephone.

Here is a repeat of something I posted for Candlemas a couple of years ago:


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.

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.



Yes, today is Candlemas — Imbolc — the beginning of spring in the old calendar.  It hardly seems like it, waking to a freezing wind and the likelihood of snow, but nonetheless the Wheel of the Year has turned, and warmer weather is not far off.

The traditional flower of Candlemas is the white and green snowdrop, but the winter has been so unusually cold here that there is not a snowdrop blossom in sight.

There is much to be appalled by in the world as spring begins.  One has only to turn to the news.  But this morning came the particularly disturbing report that protestors at the University of California at Berkeley managed, through violent action, to prevent a presentation by a right-wing speaker with whom they disagreed.

According to the news, the protests began peacefully with people carrying signs reading “Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.”  Well, they are wrong.  Aside from the issue of whether the intended speaker at the University was promulgating “hate speech” or not, there is still the fact that whether a speech contains supposed “hate” or not makes no difference.  Free speech is free speech, and when one limits what can be said, it is no longer free.  But violence is not free speech.  Violence is intimidation and the death of free speech.

Free speech follows the dictum of Evelyn Beatrice Hall (wrongfully attributed to Voltaire), “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Refusing people the right to say that of which we do not approve also denies free speech, no matter how hateful we may find their words to be.

I particularly dislike the modern term “hate speech.”  It can be used to stigmatize and silence the views of most anyone who disagrees with one’s own opinions.  There is, of course, real hate in speech that has as its intent the physical or mental harm of a person or a group of people, and there are justifiably laws to prevent the incitement of such violence.  But to merely express one’s views about a political system or a religious system, or any kind of system or body of people, even if those views are strongly negative and found quite offensive by some, is not necessarily “hate speech,”  and the term is all too frequently loosely and inaccurately used.  Accusing someone of “hate speech” can be a very effective form of intimidation and an attempt to deny someone the right of free speech.  The best antidote to genuine “hate speech” is not denial of the right of the speaker to express opinions, but rather obvious and public non-violent disapproval based on factual evidence countering the position of the one doing the supposed “hating.”  In my view, using the term “hate speech” has become a convenient and irrational way of stereotyping views with which we do not agree, without offering a rational challenge.  We may detest those views, but in countering them, one should use reason and facts, not simply a dismissive catchphrase.

We must always remember that with free speech, one does not have the right not to be offended.  But one does have the right to speak in active opposition to views one finds through reason and evidence to be wrong or harmful — and in many cases, not only the right, but also the responsibility.

We unfortunately find ourselves living in interesting times.




We have now reached Candlemas, the old Celtic festival of Imbolc. Through Candlemas spring makes its quiet and unobtrusive beginning as sprouts first begin to shoot out of the earth.

The association with candles goes back to the Romans, who commemorated Ceres (Demeter) searching for her abducted daughter Persephone, and they did it by going through the dark streets with lights. Later it was given a Christian cast when that church came to power. You will recall that in Greek and Roman mythology, it was the annual stay of Persephone in the Underworld that brought the winter, and her return to the upper world, our world, that brought the spring.

To the Irish it was the time of the Goddess Brigid, whose symbol was fire, the fire and light that chases away the cold winter and allows spring to begin.

Fitzgerald’s Omar Khayyam too had fire associated with spring:

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter — and the Bird is on the Wing.

Though it has a rather hedonistic implication, it is also a reminder that time and life and youth are fleeting. Life is short; the Bird of Time has but a little way to flutter, and it is already in flight. So what do we do with the time allotted to each of us? What new beginnings, what changes do we make as spring enters nearly unnoticed at Candlemas? That is up to each one of us.



Tomorrow is Candlemas — Imbolc — the old beginning of spring. Yesterday was the lunar New Year, celebrated in Asia, which is also the traditional beginning of spring. So we can see, as I have said before, that if one follows the old European seasonal calendar, with its quarter and cross-quarter days, one is, with only slight variation, following the same calendar as the old hokku writers of Japan.

Here is a hokku for the beginning of spring, written by Gyôdai:

A crow cawing
In the cloudy hills.

The Wheel of the Year has turned, and whether or not there are signs of spring where you are, the Yin forces of Nature have begun to diminish, and the Yang forces are growing. Where I live, snowdrops have already sprouted their short green leaves above the earth and have put forth their drooping, snow-white blossoms. The days are growing longer, the nights ever shorter.

In today’s hokku, we see the increase of Yang and decrease of Yin in the melting of the snow. And by a happy chance, in the repetition of the same initial consonant in “crow,” “cawing,” and “cloudy” we also hear the cawing of the crow.




Morning light;
Melting frost
Drips from the trees.


Lumine matinal;
Gelo disgelante
Ab le arbores gutta.

How quickly time passes!  Already more than half of January is gone, and in less than two weeks we shall be at Candlemas — Imbolc — again.  In the Old Calendar that is the traditional beginning of spring, in spite of cold, of frost or snow.

This morning everything was white with frost — bare trees, grass, roads.  And then came the light of morning, revealing the transience that lies behind everything in our lives.





Creder lo o non, le primavera ha comenciate.  Hodie es Candlemas, anque nominate Imbolc.  Le celo es azure e le sol brilla.

Fire-bearers circle figures of The Green Man f...

Onitsura scribeva:

Le alba;
Al puncto del folio de hordeo —
Gelo primaveral. 

Iste es un hokku del comenciamento de primavera.  Le frigido hibernal non ha evanescite in toto, ma remane in le matino.  Ma ora le energia yin se reduce, e le energia yang cresce.  Nos vide le energia yang in le alba e in le folio verde de hordeo, e nos vide le energia diminuende de yin in le gelo al puncto del folio, que tosto va disparer quando le sol ascende.

Iste hokku de Onitsura monstra ben como hokku exprime le natura de un saison del anno — aqui le primavera.

Nos vide tamben que le hokku es dividate in due partes:  un parte longe e un parte curte.  E le hokku tene un scena — le alba, un subjecto — le gelo, e un action — le remaner del gelo al puncto del folio de hordeo.

In le photo on vide le Homo Verde (le primavera — le energia yang del saison) qui lucta con Jack Frost (le gelo del hiberno — le energia yin).  Iste es un celebration anglese de Imbolc — del comenciamento del primavera.


Believe it or not, spring has begun.  Today is Candlemas, also called Imbolc.  The sky is blue, and the sun is shining.

Onitsura wrote:

On the tip of the barley leaf —
Spring frost. 

This is a hokku of the beginning of spring.  The cold of winter has not vanished completely, but remains in the morning.  But now the yin energy diminishes and the yang energy increases.  We see the yang energy in the dawn, and in the green leaf of the barley, and we see the decreasing energy of yin in the frost on the tip of the leaf, which soon shall disappear when the sun rises.

This hokku of Onitsura shows well how hokku expresses the nature of a season of the year — here, the spring.

We see also that the hokku is divided into two partes:  a long part and a short part.  And the hokku has a setting — the dawn, a subject — the frost — and an action — the remaining of the frost on the tip of the barly.

In the photo one can see the Green Man (the spring — the yang energy of the season) fighting with Jack Frost (the frost of winter — the yin energy).  This is an English celebration of Imbolc — of the beginning of spring.



This year Imbolc came appropriately where I am, with a day of cold air but brilliant sunlight.  Imbolc in the old calendar is the beginning of spring, and so it is associated with the growing Yang energies, expressed symbolically in fire and candlelight.  Another name for it is Candlemas.

What does all of this have to do with us today?  Well, perhaps many of you who have read old hokku will have noticed that they are first of all, seasonal.  Each is set in a particular time of year.  And second, you may have noticed that they often seem a bit “off” by the modern Western calendar.  But they are not off by the old Western calendar, which was essentially the same as that used not only by the hokku writers of Japan, but also by the writers of Chinese poetry.

What this means today is that a return to the old calendar in our practice of writing puts us back in touch with the very old traditions of writing both hokku and “Chinese-style” verse.  And so knowing a bit about the old calendar is very useful.

What is particularly pleasant is that to put ourselves back in touch with the old tradition, we need not turn to Asia, but rather simply to the old calendar system used in the British Isles from ancient times, the venerable “Wheel of the Year.”

Those who have read my previous articles here on the “Hokku Calendar” will recall that in writing hokku, spring begins with Imbolc, with Candlemas:

Our calendar begins with  Candlemas on February 1/2; speaking more generally, spring begins the 1st week of February.
In the Japan of old hokku writers, spring similarly begins on February 4th, and these are its divisions:

Risshun, (立春): February 4 — Spring begins;
Usui (雨水): February 19—Rain water;
Keichitsu(啓蟄): March 5—Insects awake;

The spring Midpoint in our traditional calendar is the Spring Equinox:  March 21 /22.  In the Japanese hokku calendar it was similarly:
Shunbun (春分): March 20— the Spring Equinox, the middle of spring;
Seimei (清明): April 5—Clear and bright;
Kokuu (穀雨): April 20—Grain rain;

Our traditional spring Ends on the evening before May 1st; then comes May 1st, which is May Day (Bealtaine) and the first day of our summer.

I give the Japanese divisions here only to show how closely they approximate the ancient Western Calendar, which is of great help to anyone who wishes to follow the old seasonal traditions of the hokku.

Our ancestors, who used the old calendar, were of course very concerned with times and seasons because they were farmers and herdsmen, and it was of vital importance to mark and know the changes in Nature.  So Imbolc was the beginning of the “farming year,” and that is worth knowing today, when so many have forgotten that our very life comes from the earth and its produce.

We would do well to return to these old traditions that make us more in tune with Nature, more in harmony with the movements of sun and moon, as in the poem Prelude by J. M. Synge:

Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities and the sights of men,
lived with the sunshine and the moon’s delight.

I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The gray and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors and fens.

It may not seem that Spring has begun to those who live in very cold regions, but here in the Northwestern United States, which has a climate much like that both of the British Isles and of Japan, it seems to have begun right on schedule with the brilliant sun of Imbolc.