There are various names for the holiday celebrated on or around February 2nd: Imbolc, Charming of the Plow, Disablot, and even the more common Groundhog’s Day. Despite the names, they all celebrate one thing – the coming of spring! This is the time we Heathens like to rouse the land from its winter slumber and start making ready to plant our fields and gardens. In the time of our ancestors (even those of the past century in some places), food stores would be dwindling by now and folks had to try to stretch their supplies until their first spring veggies could be harvested. Of course, if they were lucky their hunters would have been able to bring in some wild game, but otherwise it could still be a few months before they had any fresh food.
Depending on who you ask, the ceremony that takes place to wake the land and appease the gods and wights could be different. I personally prefer calling the holiday Disablot, since I work most closely with my Disir, land wights, and the Norse goddesses. While some of the rituals I’ve read describe the sacrifice of a bread cow in honor of Gefjion, I like to use three bread boars. Boars are the natural roto-tillers of the forest, rooting around in their hunt for roots, mushrooms, acorns, and other subterranean nummies. And since I’m from the south, when I make bread for sacrifices I typically make biscuits or cornbread.
I take my boars out with me, call on the goddesses and wights asking them to wake and pay heed to my sacrifice. Then I dig three furrows (since I’ve been building raised beds I put one in each bed) and symbolically slit the throat of each boar before placing him in the furrow. I also offered the first of my husband’s home brewed beer (that was the best Yule gift I think I ever gave anybody!).
Hopefully the sacrifice will bring prosperity to my garden this year. The raised beds have been filled with leaves, manure, kitchen compost, worm castings, and topsoil. With the blessings of the goddesses and the wights, I plan on working hard to produce most of our veggies this year. I typically buy my veggies at the farmer’s market, but my goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Remnants of this ancient ritual can still be found in Europe. Many years ago when I was stationed in Germany, a friend was moving off base into an apartment. We had driven to her new place so she could show it off. We noticed that the towns people were building a giant cross from wood and straw. After we went back to base I looked out over the hills and noticed a cross burning where my friend would soon be living. Being American and knowing what burning crosses mean here, we were a bit freaked out. Since we were curious about what the villagers were doing (and my friend didn’t want to be living in a town full of overtly uber-racists), we drove back to the village. The cross was burned and the crowd was disbursing when we got there. We asked one of the locals what they had been doing. He told us that this was a holiday ritual they did every year during Fasching (German Mardi Gras or Carnival) to bring the farmers good luck for the year. While this almost seemed like a cross between the Wicker Man and the KKK, it was actually the christian assimilation of an ancient pre-christian ritual to wake the land and bring prosperity to the people.
On a related topic, a couple of months ago we helped with the dressing out and processing of a boar we purchased from a local farmer. The meat is exquisite! You can tell this critter was out eating acorns and rooting around in the forest. When we were dressing out the pig, I asked for its tail. I’m sure our farm acquaintances might think me daft, but I had an idea that I wanted to try out. The farmers had told me how to pack the ham in salt, sugar and molasses to preserve it. I used a similar recipe to preserve my bacon. I took the tail and packed it in at least a half pound of salt, wrapped it in some plastic wrap and a ziplock and let it sit drying out in my refrigerator for two months. I finally pulled it out the other day. I plan on using it in place of a blessing twig in ceremonies.