Happy Marmot Appreciation Day; I Mean Imbolc, I Mean Saint Brigid's Day

Ah, syncreticism, without which we might as well all be Protestants. Julius Caesar conflated the triple goddess of the Celts as related to Minerva, which was dandy for religious tolerance but a pain in the butt for for historians because, following the custom of interpretatio romana, he described the Celtic pantheon to the folks back home using their Roman names. The original names are lost to the vagaries of oral tradition. Roman Catholics followed his cue and turned the Irish goddess Bride into the "Mary of the Celts" Saint Bride or Brigit or Bridget, midwife to Mary the Mother of Jesus.
The ewes start lactating, almost ready for the lambs, not that I'm one to be so up close and personal with sheep. Bridget features a cow, "our second mother" in her iconography, and some traditions hold that Brigid herself was wet nurse to the infant god. There's a lot of milk and fecundity and swollen bellies running around this holiday-- the name Ibolc itself means "In the Belly". Psychologically I suppose this is the part of the winter when we're waiting for something to happen, pregnant with change maybe, and waiting for the weather to break.

This plump little figure is from one of Saint Bridget's wells in Ireland. And the plump little fellow peeking out of his burrow represents my favorite part of the holiday, because what other day do we honor my favorite Mammalian order, the Rodentia?

The Celts had a rhyme they recited about a serpent coming out of his hole this day as a predictor of the coming Spring. That custom must have been brought over to America on the same boat as the carved turnip Jack O'Lantern, and mixed in with the animal the Algonquins called weeauchok. There's a paradox involved in the Chuck's prediction that I've never understood-- if the sun shines, and he sees his shadow today, that means more winter, not less?-- but it is the nature of the mystic quest and the way of the groundhog shaman to learn to live with paradox.

The prize for guttsiest groundhogs I know goes to a band of chucks who moved into a Michigan peace officer's back yard. Being a bear of very little brain, he decided to get rid of the woodchucks by setting charges of dynamite in and around their holes, inserting blasting caps and standing back to blast the critters out like Yosemite Sam.

Sad to say, it was an amateur installation-- by the trooper's brother-in-law-- and the dynamite failed to go off when they turned the crank. Didn't go off when they shot at it with pistols, either. Now instead of one groundhog family, there's a colony of woodchucks living in an overgrown mound more than 10 feet across, lined with explosive. The cop is afraid to go anywhere near the dynamite, which only becomes more volatile as its components separate, and he carefully mows around it. The chucks now live in a bramble and grass covered fortress, protected by the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction.


R.J. Baker said...


Nice to meet you at the Water Street today. Good luck with the writing. I'll check back and see how it's going.


Mpeterson said...

Speaking as a syncretist... oh, well.. you know.