Pagan Origin and Astronomical Background of St. Mary's Feast Days

Ancient relationship of St. Mary's feast days with myth, Celtic Calendar, and Moon's and Venus' periods.

CANDLEMAS DAY -- February 2

Candlemas Day, exactly 40 days after Holy Eve, is a nice example of how ancient pagan tradition influenced the Christian calendar. An old rural calendar saying in the dialect of Austrian Alps about the growing longer days reads:

Zu Stephanie a Muckngahn,
Zu Neujahr a Hahnentritt,
Zu Heilig Drei König a Hirschensprung,
Und zu Maria Lichtmess a ganze Stund.

In English this means:
At St. Stephan's Day - a leg of a mosquito,
At New Year's Day - a step of a cock,
At Holy Three Kings - a jump of a stag,
And at Mary's Lightmeasuring Day - a full hour.

This rhyme describes pictorially the lengthening of a day, starting after the winter solstice. It begins to lengthen by minutes--with the leg of a mosquito--then increases to a full hour by Candlemas Day (Feb. 2), which once was the start of the Celtic Imbolc celebration and the feast of the Northern light goddess Brigit. On Candlemas Day, the groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pa., comes out of his hole on Gobbler's Knob. He is an ancient symbol of the growing strength of the sun in its annual run. German emigrants to the USA brought the old custom, which was described in the film "Groundhog Day." It also reminds us of the period of 40 days after Christmas, where Candlemas Day is located.

Candlemas Day (in German: Lichtmess, literally light measuring) is also that day, by which the pentagraph of the St. Mary's feast Days (each separated by the distance of almost 73 days) are linked to the sun year cycle and suggests the Moon and Venus cycles.


Remarkably, February 2 is exactly opposite in the year from the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15, which is also a great feast day for women. On this day in former times there was a traditional procession to Lucifer's Rock, where, during a mass, the Laurentius-litany with its homage to the morning star (in Latin Lucifer) was sung.

Beginning on Candlemas Day, the year is divided, due to the Moon's run, into five equal parts of 73 days. Two and one-half Moon's runs, i.e. the number of days from the new moon to the third full moon following is equal to 73 days. In the fairy tale " The Hare and the Hedgehog " the number of 73 days occurs, because on the 74th run the blood pours from the Hare's neck and he dies. The dividing into five parts of the year by the moon is paralleled by the ancient Greek Octaeteris, a period of eight years after which Venus, Sun, and Moon take the same position and phase with only two days difference.

Venus, in its appearance as morning star, occurs every 584 days, first, always in a different constellation, and returns after the fifth morning star period at almost the same ecliptic location and yearly position. (5 x 584 = 8 x 365 = 2920). The moon also keeps to this rhythm and completes 99 earth orbits in eight years. (29.5 x 99 = 2920.5). Thus Sun, Moon, and Venus meet every 8 years at almost same time and same location. The fairy tale Little Thornrose (Dornroeschen or Sleeping Beauty) tells of it, using 100 years to mean 100 moon orbits.

The term CandleMAS supplies a clue to the old Indo-European word 'mes' for the moon. The holy Mass, the Latin word for month, and 'mens' from which we derive "menstruation" are also derived from this.

The string of Catholic rosary beads used for praying in honor of the Holy Virgin has exactly 59 beads, according to the number of days in two lunar months. The symbolic linkage between St. Mary Moon and morning star can be seen in many depiction:

St. Mary of Guadalupe or many other usual pictures (Pls click to enlarge!).

The 40 days mentioned at the beginning give an old rhythm that plays a role in Bible as the purification period after a birth. It is a well-known ancient custom from Asia to Europe. The period is known as a period of severe winter coldness, the duration of almost a deadlock of the Sun at the horizon at solstice, and also as the phase of Sun's fastest motion at the rising from the horizon from one day to the next at the equinoxes. It lasts approximately 40 days until a fixed star of the zodiac appears again for the first time in the eastern morning sky (Pls. see the quotation of Hesiodos in Turn of age 1), having disappeared from the western evening sky due to the annual run of the Sun. This star previously was behind the Sun, hidden by its light.

The time of fasting from Ash Wednesday after carnival's end to Easter Sunday lasts 40 days. But because six Sundays in between are excluded from fasting, the period lasts 46 days. The beginning of carnival on Nov. 11 until winter solstice on Dec. 21 takes exactly 40 days.

Sepp Rothwangl -- 246202
(with many thanks for English corrections to Joan Griffith)