From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, January 20, 2012

February 2: Babies and bellies and bears, oh my!

Meeting of the Lord  (Russian Icon)
Although in Western culture, February 2nd often seems like just another hurdle on the way to Valentine’s Day – in many other cultures it is supremely important.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition of ritual purification after childbirth that goes back to these instructions from Leviticus 12:  “A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremoniously unclean for seven days…  Then the woman must wait [another] thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding…  She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over…”

Judaism 101 explains that, in the days of the Temple, ritual purity was deemed to be especially important.  The Holman Bible Dictionary defines “ritual purity” as being “free of some flaw or uncleanness which would bar one from contact with holy objects or places, especially from contact with the holy presence of God in worship.”  One theory regarding ritual purification after childbirth is that blood “is related to the mysterious power of life,” and therefore “any loss of blood called for purification.” tells us that Mary, in keeping with these Leviticus laws, “submitted to the childbirth purification ritual… for the same reason that Jesus submitted to circumcision…”  It is said that neither of these sinless ones actually needed to submit to these laws - but both were humbly obedient, nevertheless.  Mary’s “Purification of the Virgin” took place 40 (7 plus 33) days from the birth of Jesus.  When Jesus’ birthday is celebrated on December 25th, Mary’s purification is then celebrated on February 2nd.   This purification celebration is commonly referred to in Christianity as Candlemas.  Because Mary brought Jesus to the Temple with her that day (in accordance with the “redemption of the firstborn” Torah laws) – the celebration is also known as the “Presentation of the Lord,” or as the “Meeting of the Lord.”

Interestingly (but not necessarily coincidentally), the (likely) pre-Christian Gaelic celebration of Imbolc (from the Old Irish i mbolg – meaning “in the belly”) also occurred in early February.  This was the time of year that the ewes were “with lambs” (so to speak) – thus the reference to “in the belly.”  The ewes therefore
began lactating, and Spring was in the air.  The blackthorns were blooming, and agrarian festivals were in full swing.  Celebrations included bonfires, candles, divinations, and weather prognostications.

That’s where the serpents, the badgers, the groundhogs, and even the bears joined in.  It is said that if a
hibernating bear awakes long enough to see its shadow – look out!  Six more weeks of winter will follow.  (And if a winter-starved bear sees you instead, it might be best to look out anyway…)


Copyright January 20, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


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