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Almanac Holidays

A year is punctuated by annual holidays, holy days,


festivals, and celebrations. Every year, beginning
with our 94/95 issue, The Witches’ Almanac has
featured a list of annual holidays, which may be
found among its front pages as well as within each
issue’s moon calendar pages. These dates were
compiled by Elizabeth Pepper, the founder of The
Witches’ Almanac.
Many of these dates, such as the Solstices and
Sabbats are widely familiar but others like the Night
of the Watchers, White Lotus Day, and the Feast of
Janus remain mysterious and elusive and so, every
year, The Witches’ Almanac receives mail from
readers seeking information about these holidays. In
response to these many requests, long-time Witches’
Almanac staff writer, Barbara Stacy compiled the
following introductions and explanations:
Holidays
The wheel of the year
goes ‘round and ‘round

March 20, Vernal Equinox Children share the fun of painting eggs.
Ostara, Gwyl Canol Gwenwynol City dwellers echo ancient farm ritu-
The first of the four great solar als by planting pots of seeds or bulbs,
festivals. Spring ushers in the New Year blessing them, visualizing their growth
when the moon enters Aries, the first and the wisdom we want to grow in our
sign of the zodiac. At the equinox, night own lives.
and day are of equal twelve-hour length.
Ancients aware of the phenomenon April 1, All Fools’ Day
marked the astrological occasions with April Fool, ha ha ha. The lighthearted
a cluster of megalithic cairns world- holiday has been amusing people since
wide. The Saxon dawn goddess Eostre, antiquity – the giddiness of spring fever
from whom we derive the term Easter, seems timeless. One basic game, of
is the divinity of the new day. Ancient course, is sending some trusting soul,
gods and goddesses, from Astarte to “a fish,” on a “fool’s errand.”  In France
Attis, from Isis to Demeter, symbolize the dupe is known as poisson d’avril; in
the Eternal Return of the seasons. It is Italy, pesce d’aprile. The Scots observe
a time to renew aspirations and renew the date as “Gowk Day” and send
relationships, as well as an auspicious the “gowk,” or fool, off with a sealed
time to begin new projects. At the letter. The message reads,
Vernal Equinox, celebrants light can- “Dinna laugh, dinna
dles and delight in dancing, singing smile, send the gowk
and feasting. A sacramental bonfire is another mile.” And they
lit and Witches leap over the embers do, they do. The Jews
to encourage human and crop fertil- enjoy traditional spring
ity. Eggs and seeds – symbols of new playfulness at Purim. But
animal life and new plant life – hold the oldest laughter tradi-
traditional places in the tion may be Sizdah Bedar,
festival, and hares dwindle celebrated by Persians as
into bunnies in baskets. far back as 536 B.C.E.
water represents the astral world, and
the glorious floating blossom opening
to the sky represents spiritual beings.
 
May 9, 11, 13, Lemuria
A sunken Pacific continent some-
times designated as Mu. Dates for the
Lemurian timeline vary, but some put it
at millions of years ago, prior to Atlan-
April 30, Beltane Eve
tis. Others speculate that Lemuria and
Shining Fire, Nos Calan Mai
Atlantis co-existed for thousands of
Classic May Day consecrates love
years.   Legends also vary. The prime
and fertility with the ancient rites
belief advances a culture that mani-
of spring. On the eve of Beltane the
fested out of nowhere, and its down-
Druids built fires on hilltops across
fall resulted from a natural disaster
Britain as acts of magic, coaxing the
aroused by human imbalance. In The
sun back to summer splendor. To jump
Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky writes about
between two Beltane bonfires brought
powerful “dragon men” on Lemuria
good fortune in the form of prosperity
whose rampant black magic doomed
and health to livestock. Girls jumped
the culture and sank the continent.
over the embers to secure husbands and
Explorer James Churchward popu-
safe pregnancies, ashes to be flung on
larized the Lost Continent of Mu in a
crops. Maypoles were erected, survivors
notable five-book series.
of the oldest religious rites in the West.
 
Dancing and singing around maypoles,
May 29, Oak Apple Day
phallic symbols meant to impregnate
In 1660 following the Battle of
the earth, were enjoyed, followed by
Worcester, King Charles II was fleeing
nightlong feasting and lovemaking. A
for his life. Evading Cromwell’s sol-
Queen of May and King of May reigned
diers, he took refuge at Boscobel Castle
over the erotic festivities.
in a lofty oak, perfect for camouflage.
His hosts cut his fashionably long hair,
May 8, White Lotus Day
dressed him in rough clothes and pro-
Theosophists marked the passing
pelled him upward. There
of Madam Helena Blavatsky on May
he stayed for the day,
8 according to her will – by a reading
fortified by bread,
from the Bhagavad Gita. On that date
cheese and beer.
one year later, devotees observed that
The ruse saved
lotuses grew in unusual profusion. The
the king’s life,
Society venerates its founder annually
and to this day
on the memorial date with rites center-
a descendant
ing around the symbolic flower. The
of that tree is
root of the lotus sunk in mud represents
honored as the
material life, the stalk passing through
Royal Oak, the familiar name of many teachers –  incense, flowers, candles.
an English pub. King Charles escaped Some countries mark the occasion for
and Parliament declared May 29 Oak two days, during which time celebrants
Apple Day. The “apple” refers eat only vegetarian food. In Sri Lanka all
to a reddish gall resembling slaughterhouses and liquor shops close.
the fruit, formed by larvae Birds and animals are ritually released
of hornets. from captivity by the thousands in an
  “act of liberation,” symbolic of giving
June 5, Night of the Watchers freedom to people suffering in captivity.
The Book of Enoch recounts Often devout Buddhists wear white
that after Adam and Eve were and spend the whole day in temples,
expelled from Eden, they and renewing their resolve to abide by
their descendants fell into corrup- the Ten Precepts. Some sanctuar-
tion. Their evil even spread to some ies provide an altar with a basin of
of the angels that had been assigned water and flowers holding an icon
to watch silently over mankind. of the baby Buddha. Celebrants
Being enticed by the beauty of pour water over the statue, evoca-
mortal women, two hundred of the tive of devas and spirits making
angelic Watchers came down from offerings at the birth fraught with
the heavens – the Descent of the heavenly significance.
Watchers. To win human wives,  
the fallen angels taught secret- June 20, Midsummer’s Eve
magic arts and construction of Gwyl Canol Haf
forbidden lethal weapons. From the Magic magnified. All that is
marriages a race of ferocious giants mystical has particular potency
evolved that began to devour mortals. during these hours, as for the other
To remedy this, God sent four archan- two “spirit nights” – May Eve and
gels to bind the fallen Watchers and Samhain. In A Midsummer Night’s
slay their offspring. Of all these, only Dream, Shakespeare evokes familiar
Enoch was spared. pagan enchantments – a plant arousing
  love, fairies, transformations, magi-
June *, Vesak Day cal flight. Puck can “put a girdle round
Buddha Celebration, Triple Gem the world in forty minutes.” Above
Falling on the full moon of the 5th or all, impish spirits cause disorder, for
6th lunar month, Vesak Day lauds “bright dreams come to confusion.”
the birth, enlightenment and passing Throughout Europe, Britain and espe-
away of Buddha. Followers world- cially Scandinavia, drunkenness was
wide assemble at dawn in temples for not discouraged nor was lovemaking,
rituals, singing hymns in praise of the March bringing little farm work and a
Triple Gem – the Buddha, his dharma good time for birthing babies. Bonfires
(teaching) and his sangha (disciples). flickered on hills – neglect to light one
Devotees bring traditional gifts to at your peril, for your house might be

* Date changes with lunar month.


set afire by mischievous spirits. Herbs celebrants pause in a sunny place to
gathered during this time are especially absorb the rays and establish a connec-
effective for medicinal pur- tion with solar energy. The rites convey
poses. Other plants are a time for purifying, for cutting through
treasured for their use in barriers, for drawing upon one’s spiri-
charms and divination, tual powers. On this day ancient rituals
including elderberries, by Druid priests resonate at Stonehenge
yarrow and vervain. St. and other megaliths scattered around
John’s wort hangs above the world. Contemporary pagans gather
doors to avert entrance of evil. During particularly at the Salisbury Plain to
the night hazel branches, cut between watch the sun rise over the heelstone
midnight and one o’clock, were used and connect with their archaic ancestors.
to find water, gold or gems. Fern seeds The Celts believed that the Oak King,
were also considered invaluable on a god of light, is at the height of his
Midsummer Eve for help in eluding powers and reigns over the longest day.
fairies “ill met by moonlight.” And then From the solstice he gives way to his
“Night’s swift dragons cut the night twin brother, the Holly King, a divinity
full fast/ And yonder shines Aurora’s of darkness – “longer-nights darkness”
harbinger/ At whose approach ghosts, rather than evil. Traditional decorations
wandering here and there/ Troop home for Midsummer Day include fir boughs,
to churchyards.” birch branches, fennel, and lilies. And
  of course the most cheerful denizens of
June 21, Summer Solstice the garden, sunflowers.
Midsummer Day, Litha,
Gwyl Canol Haf
A fertility festival to lift hearts! On
the longest day of the year bonfires are
lit on hillsides and celebrants leap over
them for luck. Parents carry their chil-  
dren over the coals, the little ones blessed July 23, Ancient Egyptian New Year
and cleansed by the smoke. Cattle are Opet
driven over the ashes to ensure their Egyptian culture flows in harmony
health and the ashes are scattered over with the Nile, reflected in the pageantry
crops for a rich harvest. Farmers light of the most important ancient holiday.
torches from the fires and carry them Early astrologers adapted a series of
around the fields, reflecting the pagan calendars, but always the New Year
belief that fire symbolizes the sun’s coincided with achet, the flooding of
rays. In some areas of Britain “sun the Nile Delta. The annual date links to
wheels” made of hay were rolled bright Sirius, arising just before sunrise
down hillsides to imitate the at this season. Until waters receded,
sun. The solstice is ritually farmers had respite from work and
marked at high noon, when time to celebrate. The festival chiefly
honored Amon, god of gods, country would never be without song.
holiness incarnate. His icon Lughnassad evolved into a huge rowdy
journeyed by boat from the fair, tribal assembly, music and sport-
temple at Karnak to Luxor, ing event in County Meath dominated
followed by the pharaonic by the High King. “Handfasting” was
barge and the royal fam- a feature, a system of random trial
ily. Amon continued at marriages to last a year and a day. Cel-
Luxor for twenty-four days ebrants danced giddy jigs and reels to
and then ceremonially fiddles and flutes. Sometimes a female
returned to his main effigy was placed on a throne strewn
temple. Isis was also with garlands. Riotous dancers whirled
lauded, for the ancients believed that her around the figure, honoring the goddess
tears for the murdered Osiris caused the and pulling off flowers or ribbons for
enriching flood. And since Sirius was good luck.
a shining manifestation of Mother  
Goddesses, Hathor and others were August 1, Lammas
similarly honored. The light of this Loaf Mass Day, Feast of First Fruits,
day from feminine Sirius united with Nos Gwyl Awst
the masculine Sun, and statues were The Anglo-Saxon festi-
removed from temples to bathe out- val celebrating the first wheat
doors in the total sacred forces of light. crop of the year. Tenants in
  medieval England brought
July 31, Lughnassad Eve their lords an agreed share as
Celtic First Harvest, August Feast rental “first fruits.” On this day villagers
The Mother Goddess gives birth to brought to church their own loaves of
grains as the Sun God’s strength wanes bread to be blessed as the “new fruits.”
and days become shorter. Bread is Lammas offers the opportunity for
baked, crumbled and thrown into sac- some harmonious sacraments at home.
rificial fire. The Celtic festival derives As you make wheat bread, remember
its name from the Irish god Lugh. The that the flour derives from something
celebration was dedicated to his foster live. If you have a garden add some-
mother, Queen Tailtiu, who died from thing of your own – onion, herb, seeds.
exhaustion after clearing a huge forest Traditionally the bread is formed into
for farmland. According to her death- male or female figures to be presented
bed promise, if the men of Ireland to opposite genders. Or you may make
held annual games in her honor the cornbread, gingerbread or popcorn. All
that matters in entering a sacred zone is August –September *, Ganesh Festival
intention and awareness. Sharing bread Chaturthi
at a holiday feast, traditionally guests Known as the remover of obstacles,
feed each other chunks as they say, the beloved elephant-headed god, son of
“May you always be nourished.” And Shiva and Parvati, is the supreme deity
there are many ways to be nourished. of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
His bulging belly is said to contain the
August 13, Diana’s Day essence of the cosmos. Ganesh is hon-
All Rome turned out to ored at Chaturthi for ten days featuring
honor the beloved goddess feasts, dancing, singing, poetry and dra-
Diana. The most democratic mas, finishing with a huge public fes-
of deities, her temple tival on the eleventh day. Rites center
stood in the working-class around icons of all kinds, from 3/4-inch
section of the city. In the countryside clay images to those over 25 feet tall for
any grove – pine, cedar, laurel, willow procession floats. Red is the prevailing
– served as a place of worship for this color and in temples priests clad in red
rustic goddess. Counterpart of the silk invoke blessings
Greek deity Artemis, Diana lingered in from the garlanded
any dappled place. The duo are divini- idol, followed by
ties of the moon and the hunt, celestial the  “sixteen ways of
and sublime, patronesses of women in paying tribute.” At the
childbirth, guardians of youth, comfort- mega-event Ganesh
ers of the oppressed, healers, protectors is carried through
of wildlife. On Diana’s Day pampered the streets to river
patricians served themselves, for ser- or sea. The immersion
vants and slaves were allowed a carefree of the god symbolizes
celebration. To reflect the ancient occa- the washing away of
sion, decorate your home with greenery misfortunes. A variety of community
and hang a tree with symbols of the benefits also are traditionally offered
goddess – crescent moons, bows and – free medical checkups, blood dona-
arrows, silver masks, tiny animal fig- tions, charity. To honor the occasion at
ures. Traditional feasting fare includes home, set up a puja table with a Ganesh
meat roasted on spits, apples still hang- image of any kind. Decorate it with red
ing from boughs and bowls of cider. flowers, sandalwood paste, camphor,
coconut sweets or what you will. Medi-
tate on the deity and invoke his aid for
spiritual strength in your undertakings.
You may conclude with the traditional
appeal, “O Father Ganesh, come again
early next year.”
 

* Date changes with lunar month.


September 22, Autumnal Equinox of the new yearly cycle as well as the
Mabon, Harvest Home, Wine Harvest, last day of the sabbat cycle. The holiday
Gwyl Canol Hydref ushers in the dark winter half of the year
Once again day and and its third and final harvest. Bonfires
night are the same length. flickered throughout the pagan world at
The name derives from a Samhain, the time to prepare grain and
myth about Mabon, son meat for winter survival. Farmers cast
of Modron, a pagan Earth the remains of slaughtered cattle on the
Mother. The second and most important “bonefire” and ritually lit their hearths
of the harvest festivals and the end of the with torches from the flames, bonding
year’s farm labor, the “Witches’ Thanks- families into a virtual village. Celts
giving.” The corn spirit hovers over the celebrated in costumes, often of saints,
celebration. The last stalks were ritually angels and devils. It is the remote precur-
cut, tied into human forms, sometimes sor of Halloween and the ultimate time
dressed and variously called corn dol- to honor loved ones who have passed on
lies, corn maidens, corn mothers, kern – ancestors, mentors, friends, pets. It is
babies. Celebrants sometimes honored easiest to reach across the veil during
ripeness by considering the images this interlude of Dark Mysteries. For
crones, Old Hags and Old Wives. The Witches it provides a potent interval for
veggie icons proceeded in procession communicating with the dead and pur-
back to farmhouses, where they hung suing magic – divination of any kind,
above hearths to induce prosperity. A transformation spells, visions waiting
few months later, at first plowing, the to be evoked. Food specialties of the
corn dolly was buried in the first furrow departed turn up at feasts and may be
to encourage a rich summer harvest. accompanied by favorite songs, dances
Ancient Celts sometimes manifested and poetry of the deceased. Celebrants
the reigning spirit as male, Corn King place a candle in a western window or
or Harvest Lord. In this guise they con- leave it open to encourage visitations
ducted a fiery mock sacrifice of a large from the “wander-
wickerwork figure, inspiration for two ing dead.”
chilling films. Mabon is the occasion  
for feasting; for drinking wine, ale, or November 1,
cider; for rejoicing in the fruits of the Hallowmas
earth; for sharing with the homeless. All Saint’s Day
For giving thanks to the divine forces When the Romans
that nourish life on earth. engulfed the Celts in
  the first century, the con-
October 31, Samhain Eve querors added two
Hallows, Ancestor’s Night, Halloween, festivals to Samhain
Nos Calan Gaeaf – honor to Pomona,
For some witches, Samhain (pro- goddess of fruit and
nounced SOW-en) marks the beginning trees, and Feralia,
a day to honor the dead. If Shooting.” She strides underground to
you have ever bobbed for guide Persephone in Hades. But in the
apples at Halloween, you neoclassical era the deity emerges as
have been paying tribute to our familiar Queen of Ghosts, revered
Pomona. But when Chris- patroness of witchcraft. She savors of
tianity had overtaken the magic, with power to conjure up dreams,
old pagan territories, the fantasies and prophecies. Hecate is asso-
Church issued its own ciated with certain plants, poisons and
autumnal calendar. In hallucinogens, including belladonna,
earlier days faithful mandrake, aconite and hemlock. Some-
Christians were obligated by the clergy times Hecate is depicted as a single
to celebrate individual saintly anniver- figure in a black robe. But more often
saries. But during Roman persecutions she turns up as Trivia, the triple
the roster of martyrs grew to such length goddess guarding crossroads
that it was impossible to assign a cel- literal and allegorical. Facing
ebration for each. In the eighth century in three directions she sees the
the Church established All Saints’ Day, past, present and future. In
ensuring that each saint and martyr, some portrayals she has three
known and unknown, received venera- beautiful faces, in others
tion in general ritual. The following day three fierce animal heads – snake, bear,
was decreed All Souls’ Day, the time horse. Always the Queen of Ghosts is
to honor the dead. It was celebrated associated with hounds, and howling
similarly to Samhain with bonfires, is the first sign of her approach. She
costumes, food set out for the dead and commonly travels with ghosts and
graveside ceremonials. mortals who live on the edge. Some
  adherents avoid such a shadowy entou-
November 16, Hecate Night rage by placing food on doorsteps to
In ancient Greece Hecate is the placate spirits and perhaps feed the
daughter of a Titan outcasts. Triple masks and other offer-
and endowed with ings are hung at the crossroads in Y-
dominion over sky, intersections where three roads con-
sea and land “She verge, offered by seekers who wish
who works her guidance for “the right direction.”
will” can bestow  
blessings or evil December 17, Saturnalia
as she chooses. In Farmers have finished autumn plant-
other times and places ing and it is time to eat, drink and be
Hecate morphed into merry, if not hysterical. Little won-
an attendant at child- der that the Saturnalia is the favorite
birth and deathbeds, a Roman holiday, later celebrated for one
moon goddess and a whole week. Libanius, a fourth-century
huntress, “the Far writer, gives a glimpse of the urbane
celebration: “There is food everywhere, a time for magic, for plead-
heavy, rich food. And laughter. A posi- ing with the Mother
tive urge to spend seizes everyone. Goddess to restore
The streets are full of people stagger- the deity needed to
ing under the load of gifts.” Sound warm the Earth. The
familiar? Traditional gifts ranged from same cherished
cheap-and-cheerful to luxurious: small rituals have
earthenware cult figures, dice, combs, been observed down the
perfume, axes, parrots, sausages, ages, many derived from
masks. Saturn, the honoree, had a dual the cold climates of north-
nature. He was identified with the Titan ern Europe. Mistletoe was honored
Cronos. His reign was considered a because it grew mysteriously on the
Golden Age, and the Saturnalia was sacred oak. Other than mistletoe, too
meant to re-create the felicity. Battles associated with pagans, the Church
were forbidden, businesses closed, the adapted many earlier elements into the
executioner hung up his axe. Slaves celebration of Christmas. The decorated
could gamble, feast with their mas- trees, Yule logs, holly, wreaths, ham on
ters and wear their clothes. But long the festive table, wassail – all resonate
after the time Cronos had evolved into significantly from a dim past. Tradi-
Saturn, the deity had lapsed into the tionally the time favors divination and
sardonic character of astrology. A prophecy. At the festive table ancient
joyous holiday! A fearsome god! Romans created Bowls of Fate with
History is rich in irony. family names on slips of paper. Names
  were drawn in pairs and the two become
December 21, Winter Solstice special friends. Scandinavians may
Yule, Yuletide, Midwinter’s Day, place all their shoes together to ensure
Gwyl Canol Gaeaf a year of family harmony. In Russia
As early darkness closed in, early a young woman sits with candles and
pagans feared they would never again mirrors placed to reflect the image
see the golden face of the sun. The Sun of her future husband. Whatever
God, they believed, had vanished into your observance, usher in the Winter
the Underworld to learn the secrets of Solstice as a marvelous interval for
life and death. The Winter Solstice was introspection and planning the future.
January 9, Feast of Janus weaving, as well as poetry. Since
The first month of the poetry resonates with the magic of
modern calendar receives seers, Brighid inspired divination and
the protection of Janus, prophecy, a source for oracles. The
god of beginnings, devel- lovely goddess carried a white wand
oped from his supervision of and breathed new life into the deadness
entrances. On this date the high priest’s of winter, awakening the smiles that
residence in the Forum was the site of shine on warmer days. Brighid’s snake
the annual state sacrifice to Janus – an emerged from the womb of the Earth
offering of ram. Romans believed the Mother to test the weather, forerunner
deity’s spirit hovered in all doorways, of modern Groundhog Day. Candles
gates and passageways. Since entrances and sometimes bonfires greeted the fes-
also serve as exits, and since good tival, as well as besoms, acorn-tipped
beginnings imply good endings, Janis is wands, corn dollies, irises, violets and
depicted bifrons – with two faces, hand- all white flowers. Traditional gems for
some and bearded, for viewing forward bracelets and other adornments include
and backward simultaneously. Janus turquoises, amethysts, garnets. As for
worship first existed as an agrarian cult, the food, it seems appropriate to set up
later introduced to Rome by the legend- a fresh, simple farm meal. Dairy drinks
ary Romulus. The populace invoked and dishes are traditional, as are spring-
Janus before any other god at any new garden vegetables and offerings with
undertaking. Romans especially sought seeds – poppyseed rolls, whole-grain
his patronage for peace after war, puri- breads, pumpkin seeds and sunflower
fication of youths on the threshold of seeds for munchies. Follow with spiced
manhood, and good luck in sowing the wine, herbal tea.
new crop.  
  February 2, Candlemas
February 1, Oimelc Eve Nos Gwyl Fair
Imbolc, The Feast of Brighid Today’s ritual has remote
Deep Gaelic roots marked the fes- ancestry in Lupercales, a rowdy
tival improbably honoring ewe’s milk. Roman celebration of an ancient
But it was the time of year when herd pastoral deity, in which crowds
animals bear their first offspring and ran wild through the streets
life flows in lactation. Ancient cer- waving flaming torches. In 472
emonies honored growth and renewal; Pope Gelasius I Christianized
seeds and farm tools were blessed. The and tamed the old pagan festi-
goddess Brighid, Exalted One, Light val, retaining the metaphor of
Bringer, presided Light. He termed it the Presentation
over the holiday. of the Child Jesus in the Temple, com-
She taught early memorating the Virgin Mary’s pre-
mortals the mastery sentation of her newborn Son to God,
of brewing, dying and formerly known as the Purification of
the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since Pope Luperci run twice
Gelasius was notable in Rome for pro- around the walls
viding pancakes to weary pilgrims, pan- of Rome, creating
cakes turn up at Candlemas festivals. a magic circle to
The delicious golden disks also remind deflect wolves and purify the city. The
us of the sun and ideally these should runners are joined by a rowdy band of
be made with wheat from the previous young celebrants from noble families,
year’s harvest. Family and friends can many naked. Girls dance around the
eat their fill without fear of famine, for priests inviting a lashing from the goat
soon the fields will turn golden with the hide, said to inspire pregnancy and ease
new crop. A gold coin will help Nature the pain of childbirth. The Romans
along. According to tradition, hold a adored the Lupercalia. Pope Gelasius,
gold coin in your left hand and appalled by the annual event, struggled
flip the first pancake in the skil- mightily to get the messiness abolished
let with your right. If the pancake and the populace properly clothed on
lands nicely on its return trip to February 15th.
the pan, you will enjoy happi-  
ness and money during March 1, Matronalia
the year to come. In the Marriage and childbirth were on
American tradition, early the minds of celebrants. All honors
Pennsylvania German settlers consider go to glorious Juno, wife of Jupiter
the date Groundhog Day, using the and Roman queen of the gods. At the
sleepy little animal to forecast weather. Matronalia men swore their undying
  love for spouses and sweethearts. Cou-
February 15, Lupercalia ples celebrated at Juno’s great temple
Lupercus is the god of shepherds, in Rome with offerings of fruit and
later associated with the riotous Pan. A flowery wreaths, praying for happiness
priestly sect called the Luperci, “wolf in their unions. Lambs and cattle lost
averters,” conduct the rites of this their lives at sacrificial altars. Feasting
ancient festival. The ceremony has its
roots in protecting shepherds and their
flocks from hungry wolves, although
the rituals seem oddly removed from
this purpose. The Lupercalia begins
with the sacrifice of a goat, the symbol
of fertility, and thongs are cut from the
hide. A communal feast of the sacrificial
flesh follows. As the last meat is picked
from bone, two Luperci at the altar
“ritually laugh hilariously.” The cer-
emonial hilarity remains maddeningly
obscure. Flourishing the thongs the
and rejoicing followed, and on this day represented wisdom. In specific form
mistresses served their female slaves. she guided artisans, particularly weav-
At the Matronalia the deity was notable ers – shuttles, dyes and textiles were
in her role as Juno Lucina, goddess of among her attributes. She was the
light. The “light” referred to childbirth, patron goddess of trade, science, heal-
when a baby is first “brought to light.” ing and the arts. Minerva was credited
On this holiday Roman wives, usually with the invention of numbers, musical
the height of elegance, dressed down instruments, engraving and sculpture. In
for the occasion. They undid their belts, her guise as goddess of war, akin to the
loosened any knots in their robes, and Greek Athena, she wears a helmet and
unbraided their usually intricate hair chain mail, carries a spear. On the first
styles. The calculated carelessness day of the Quinquatria sacrifices were
encouraged Juno Lucina to loosen their offered, although no blood was spilled.
wombs and help babies emerge from Plenty flowed during the next three
the darkness. days entertaining the violence-loving
  Romans, with gladiators doing what
March 19, Minerva’s Day they do best. But away from the roars
Quinquatria of wild beasts the populace enjoyed
The deity’s talents are dizzying, and music, plays, orations, poetry and seri-
the poet Ovid called ous feasting. The holiday marked
her “the goddess of the official opening of the Army
a thousand works.” campaign season, and the weapons,
The holiday was par- trumpets and horses were purified
ticularly sacred to for the next march. Women had
artisans and students. their own Quinquatria tasks –
Begun as a one-day consulting oracles for divina-
celebration, the popu- tion and prophecy. On the
lace so revered the final day the fizz subsided
holiday that they kept as a solemn procession
it going until March wended its way through
23. Children and teach- city streets. Quinquatria
ers particularly rejoiced, exits for another year.  
free from school for the – Barbara Stacy
interval. Overall Minerva