Thursday, February 2, 2017

HGB Ep. 180 - Imbolc

Moment in Oddity - Hypogeum of Hal Salflieni

A Hypogeum is an underground temple or tomb and can sometimes reference a building built partially below ground that is carved from solid rock. Located in Paola, Malta is the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni. It was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns broke through the roof. Excavations revealed that it was three stories deep and dated back to 4,000 B.C. There was a central chamber that had several small rounded cubicles carved into the walls. While they appeared to be something to bury bodies in, it is thought that living people would crawl into these spaces in the fetal position as part of a ritual. This chamber is thought to be a speaking chamber and inside these small cubicles, echoes from the 'speaking' chamber reverberate into a rhythm that is similar to the human heartbeat. The skeletons of 7,000 people were found. These skeletons have disappeared with only six skulls surviving to our modern time. The skulls are peculiar. They appear elongated and one of them is missing the joint that runs along the top of the skull. Photographs of the other skulls that were taken by researchers reveal other peculiarities. These included inexistent cranial knitting lines, abnormally developed temporal partitions, drilled and swollen occiputs as following recovered traumas. The Hypogeum also contained a sacred well dedicated to the Mother Goddess and there was a small statue featuring a sleeping goddess. There were inscriptions, one of which featured a cranium showing a very pronounced dolichocephalous, which is a lengthened posterior part of the skullcap. It also was missing the median knitting, something considered impossible by doctors and researchers. While we have heard stories of bandaging or cradle boarding to cause a skull to elongate, it is believed that the skulls found in the Hypogeum were from a group of people who had a natural genetic tendency for elongated skulls and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - 15th Amendment Ratified

In the month of February, on the 3rd, in 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified. This Amendment ensured the right to vote to all males who were citizens of the United States. This opened the door to African American males being able to vote and run for office. Female suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked alongside black suffragists like Frederick Douglass to get the vote for all citizens, so this was a partial victory. It would take 50 more years for women to get the vote in America, although the territory of Utah did sign a law allowing women over the age of 21 to vote, 9 days after the ratification of the 15th Amendment. The Republican Party made the 15th Amendment a part of their Reconstruction efforts and black voters helped the Republican Party come to power in the South. Hiram Rhoades Revels became the first African American to be elected as a U.S.Senator for the Republican Party, representing Mississippi. A dozen other black men served in Congress during Reconstruction and more than 600 served in state legislatures.

Imbolc (Suggested and researched by Roxy Roxstar)

There are a variety of Pagan holidays, many of which, other religions have borrowed from to establish their own holidays. Christmas and Easter being good examples of this meshing of customs. One Pagan holiday that is not as well known in Imbolc. This is a holiday with a variety of names, depending on culture and location. The customs associated with it, date back centuries. It falls on February 2nd, timing it between the deep darkness of the Winter Solstice and the coming of rebirth with the Spring Equinox.  Our listener and Executive Producer Roxy Roxstar joins us to share the history and legends behind the holiday of Imbolc.

The Irish Gaelice called it Oimelc, which translates to “ewe’s milk” to represent the ewes nursing their newly born lambs. This time of year for the Romans was the season of the Lupercalia. This entailed a purification ritual held on February 15. A goat would be sacrificed and a scourge made of its hide. Then men would run through the city and hit people with the bits of goat hide. If you were one of the people hit with the goat hide, you would consider it to be good luck. This is one of the few Roman celebrations that does not have a temple or deity associated with the custom. This one focuses on the founding of the city of Rome. Lupercale was the cave where the she-wolf suckled the founders of Rome, twins Romulus and Remus.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated this time of year as the Feast of Nut, whose birthday falls on February 2 (Gregorian calendar). According to the Book of the Dead, Nut was seen as a mother-figure to the sun god Ra, who at sunrise was known as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle.
Christian Conversion of a Pagan Celebration. When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the goddess Brighid as a saint -- thus the creation of St. Brigid's Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name.

Roxy told us a bit about herself: I have always been a big fan of discussing the sort of topics that don’t have an absolute answer, like religion, spirituality, and paranormal experiences! I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and while I guess I was “indoctrinated” at an early age, an upbringing with a lot of theological education also taught me to question WHY I believe what I believe. I’m not sure if that’s what was intended, but that’s how it turned out.
I have been studying neopaganism for the past 4 and half years, and I have been a practicing eclectic witch for three and a half years. I believe that we all walk our own path to find God, Goddess, enlightenment, nirvana, whatever you wish to call it. I don’t believe that any one religion is correct, and I LOVE learning about various religions in the world!

Well, to explain it most accurately, we’ll need to go back several thousand years. We need to imagine life without electricity, plumbing, irrigation, and all of the luxuries that have become so common in our world today. At this time of year that we are experiencing in the present, life in wintertime was absolutely brutal. There was a very real risk with each passing year that one might not make it through this season. Cold temperatures, inclement weather, and dead or dormant crops made life very difficult. Your survival could very well depend on how much food you were able to stockpile, how much firewood you had, and whether or not you had livestock to provide extra warmth (yes, they were typically brought into the home) and the hope that you would have more sustenance going forward. Staying warm and keeping a full belly could be a major challenge. Lucky for them, “The ancients were very clever and intelligent folk who took advantage of snow and cold waters for refrigeration, and they made use of the sun, fire, salt, and fermentation to preserve food for long winters.”

In the wake of the struggle to survive, the ancient Celtic people found reason to celebrate in Imbolc. “The word ‘Imbolc’ derives directly from Imbolg or Oimelc, words meaning ‘of milk’ or ‘in the belly.’” It is usually celebrated on February 1st or 2nd, and if I had to generalize the meaning of Imbolc, I would call it “A New Beginning”. While it is not the new year for pagans and neopagans (that would be Samhain, on or around Halloween), it represents a chance to come out from the dark, cold winter and back into the light of the promised Spring.

In the start of February, the ewes (sheep) would give birth, and therefore at around that time, they would also begin producing milk. Women who had conceived during the festival of Beltane in May would also be giving birth at around this time. All of the new life perfectly describes the vibe of this holiday.

Many neopagans use the Wheel of the Year to dictate their celebrations or holidays. This wheel was never used by the Celts or any other ancient pagan culture, to my knowledge, but they might have followed something similar. The Wheel as we know it now came into being when the Wicca movement came about, started by Gerald Gardener in the 1940s. The year starts with…

Samhain - October 31st. Honoring of ancestors and lost loved ones. Divination, communication with the dead.
Yule/Winter Solstice - December 21st. Usually a subdued gathering, keeping warm and sharing what little light exists at the longest night of the year.
Ostara/Spring Equinox - March 20th or 21st. Spring is in full swing!
Beltane - May 1st or 2nd. Often recognized as May Day, this is the time for...feelin’ the love, so to speak. Celebrates the union of the God and Goddess.
Litha/Midsummer/Summer Solstice - June 21st. Longest day of the year
Lammas/Lughnasadh/Autumnal Equinox - August 1st. 1st harvest festival
Mabon - September 21st. Second Harvest Festival

It should be noted that the Wheel of the Year is not based off of our modern Gregorian calendar, but rather it flowed with the Celtic agricultural seasons.

Yes, that would be Brigid. She is a central figure in the Celtic pantheon, but she is especially recognized during Imbolc.
Brigid is a “triple goddess”; she is seen as a maiden, mother, and crone goddess. This makes her dually, or tripally, special! Often known as “The Exalted One”, she is a pivotal figure in Celtic culture.
Brigid is a woman/goddess of many guises. She is known as a goddess of many areas of reign:
Warrior Queen
Lady of the Sacred Well (healing)
Oak Queen (goddess of sacrifice)
Brigid the Bard (arts and craftsmanship)
Brigid the midwife (caregiver, protectress of the home)
Goddess of the Eternal Flame (Lady of the Forge)

Maiden = youth, abundant opportunity
Mother = nurturing, fertility
Crone = wise advisor, counselor

Brigid was integrated into Christianity, too; perhaps as a campaign to convert the Celts, she became St. Brigid. In this form, she is known as a patron saint of Ireland, dairymaids, cattle midwives, Irish nuns, and newborn babies (according to Catholic Online). In some traditional tales, she was the midwife to Jesus Christ. Her feast day is February 1st. What a coincidence! Regardless of her form, Brigid was very well worshipped in the pagan and Christian faith of Ireland.

There are a variety of ways that people paid homage to Brigid for Imbolc. Some people make Brigid crosses (4 equal arms that form a sun spiral with a square in the center) or corn dollies out of corn husks, palm leaves, wheat stalks, etc., and hang them above their doors as a request for her protection. Others would lay a bed of ashes on the hearth for a night before Imbolc, and if the ashes had been disturbed the next morning, it was perceived as a good omen; you would have Brigid’s blessing. There is also a practice of hanging a ribbon on the threshold or window sill on Imbolc night. Tradition states that if the ribbon is longer in the morning, Brigid has visited and blessed you and your house. If the length has not changed, you do not have Brigid’s favor.

There are a few stories associated with St. Brigid, about a magical cloak. I would like to read a couple for you, as written in my favorite book on Brigid: “Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess”, by Courtney Weber.

“One day Brigid went to the Bishop to ask for a plot of land on which to build her abbey at which she would feed the poor, give shelter, and educate the young. The Bishop refused, but still she asked again and again. Finally, the Bishop agreed to grant her the land, but only so much as her cloak would cover, sneering in spite of his own cleverness, but his grin was not for long. Brigid called to her two sisters and the three of them began to unfold her green cloak. Fold after fold, the cloak stretched and stretched until it covered so much land that the Bishop could not see to the end of it. He pleaded for her to stop lest she cover all of Ireland, and granted her the space to build the abbey. —TRADITIONAL TALE”

“Two lepers came to visit Brigid at her sacred well in Kildare and asked for healing. She agreed, instructing them to bathe one another in the well until their skin healed. However, after one was healed, he refused to bathe the other as the sight of his former ailment disgusted him. He refused to touch his friend to bestow the healing he had just received. Witnessing the unkind act, Brigid was so angry that her fury caused his ailment to return. She wrapped her green mantle around the other and healed him completely. —INSPIRED BY TRADITIONAL TALE”

There are many wells throughout Ireland that are associated with Brigid and her healing energies, but THE location for fans and worshippers of Brigid would be Kildare. This is where her sacred flame burned from the 5th century B.C.E. to the 16th century C.E., (when it was judged to be of pagan origin and thus unworthy of existence.) 19 women who followed Brigid would tend to the flame, day and night, for 19 days, and on the 20th night, it was said the Brigid would take her watch, and the sisters of her order would leave the flame to her care. In 1993, the flame was relit by sisters of the Brigidine Order, and they continue to maintain the legacy of St. Brigid in Kildare.

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