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Still more winter ahead forecasts Punxsutawney Phil as our country observes this quirky holiday, each February 2nd.

Yet, it’s not as quirky as you might think, rooted as it was in the Roman feast of Lupercalia, celebrated in early February; then, a rural people, they sought their god’s protection from wolves ravishing their herds. Purification of their farms and lands also abounded. From these humble beginnings emerged a priesthood and sanctuary on Palatine Hill, its ritual practices enlivening participants for centuries. Without them, Emperors feared for Rome’s safety.

The Celts also revered this February festival that marked the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

And with the spread of Christianity in the late fourth century CE came its replacement on February 2nd : the feast of Light or Candlemas celebrating the presentation of Jesus, bearer of Light, at the Jerusalem Temple and the ritual purification of Mary, forty days after the solemnity of Christmas. Worshipers brought candles from their homes to have them blessed. 

Further tweaking of Candlemas occurred among emigrants from German-speaking countries, settling in America in the 1700s. Its morphing into the realm of superstition is curious: first, the badger; then, the fox; then, the wolf—all sought the light in February’s dark; then came the groundhog.

Its earliest mention is found in the diary entry of James L. Morris on February 2, 1840. And in 1887, a Punxsutawney newspaper first printed the observance of the holiday, Groundhog Day, at Gobbler’s Knob—And Punxsutawney Phil still gets our nod every February 2nd.

An overview of these centuries of mid-winter celebrations speaks of our dependence upon light and new beginnings and hope, in whatever story form.

There it was, within January’s mid-morning brilliance, immobile save for yellow-encircled bead eyes in its brown head rotating in all directions. It was the American robin, solitary, its claws grasping one of the bare branches of my lilac bush, their hard tips swelling with promise of color.

As I watched, ancient legends of robins came to mind.

The robin’s russet breast recalled that of another: Moved by the blood-soaked prisoner carrying a cross-beam that morning at Calvary, that robin noted His crown of thorns mashed into His head, plucked out one, and flew off, its breast ever stained with His blood.

Another legend credits the robin for shielding the Christ Child during the family’s harrowing trip to Egypt. A nearby fire spewed sparks threatening the Infant, but were absorbed by the robin.

Such legends also attributed to many kinds of birds—doves, peacocks, eagles, gold finches, larks, owls, pelicans, blackbirds, etc.—found their way into the work of Renaissance artists and suggests their rich imaginal interplay. Indeed, a certain playfulness, in the deepest sense, suggests a faith-dynamic absent in many Christians: Their fire has gone out.

It was so still as I continued watching my robin. Variegated browns and blacks filled out her wing and tail feathers that ruffled in docile breezes.

Then, the robin flew away. Again, I’d been visited, my world enlarged with hope.

At 7:15 A.M., I woke with this restoration dream:

I am alone, following a wooded trail, patterned by shadows of overhanging leaves. Up ahead, through the trees, appears to be an abandoned structure. As I get closer, I note its sides missing, some of its timbered posts, charred. I step inside. Pine needles and other tree debris litter the earthen floor. I look up. Tiles of mud-colored turtles, some of them cracked, adorn the ceiling. It feels like there has been a fire in the past.

This glimpse into my psyche suggests destruction, neglect, the process of rot already eating at the heart of what was once a structure, built and used by others, perhaps for rituals to honor the Sacred. Mud-colored turtles, the ceiling’s adornment, must have played a part in their rituals. Being a water creature, the turtle suggests creation and the after-life; it symbolizes longevity, order, and protection, there being much evidence of such found among Native American tribes.

My present study of the Ioway tribe in nineteenth-century Missouri may have influenced my Dreamer to incorporate turtles in this dream, as well as my wonder of the after-life and how we will experience the peoples of the world, in their otherness.

It’s comforting to know such a structure exits in my psyche where I can go anytime and restore it, with help.

With the psalmist, I pray, Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor, in vain. (27:1)

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