Is there a connection between the two folk holidays Imbolc and Groundhog’s Day, and if so, what is it?
The simple answer is, well, yes.
Like so many other holidays, this one also finds its roots in Paganism. The tradition of waiting for Punxsutawney Phil, the infamous groundhog at Gobbler’s Knob near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to poke his head out of a hole and perhaps see a shadow was brought to America by German settlers who originally would have looked for a badger (no shade to groundhogs, y’all are lovely.) “If the badger is in the sun at Candlemas, he will have to go back into his hole for another four weeks.”
An interesting side note here, Moritasgus is the name of a great Healing Badger Celtic God who dwelt near wells, which of course are sacred to Cailleach and Brigid. The badger is also an animal sacred to Rhiannon, who has a feast day March 1st.
It hasn’t always been a groundhog – or a badger – often it’s any creature that makes it’s home underground – serpents, rabbits, even insects could be used here. And so, that shows us this is about a “representative” of the Underworld, poking their head out and testing how much time is left for the Underworld to “hold sway” in the Overworld.
And here is the real connection. The folk tales say, if the weather is cold, gray, overcast, cloudy, snowy, etc, it means Cailleach has decided to stay in bed or stay in her house. This means, in turn, she has not gone out to fetch more firewood, which means her stores will run out sooner, and Winter will end quicker.
However, sunny and clear weather on February 2nd means Cailleach is up and out of bed, getting her chores done. She’s out chopping wood today, perhaps harvesting some berries and herbs in the frost, and will have plenty of stores and supplies to ride out Winter until the last possible second.
A traditional round teaches us:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
Unfortunately (for folks who don’t like Winter), it’s quite bright and cheery out in Seattle today. So while you’re enjoying this brief respite from the cold, perhaps watch for a rustling in the hedgerows as you go. Cailleach may be there, gathering supplies for the next six weeks.
Learn all about Imbolc traditions past and present in my Six Week Guide to Candlemass!