Celebrating the Sheep
While most pagans were celebrating Imbolc this past weekend, in my household we were doing something a little different. Neither my partner nor I has any connection with Brigid, and while we might be okay honoring a less-than-familiar goddess as guests in a larger group setting, as hard polytheists in our own small rituals at home we tend to stick with deities we have a personal history and relationship with. Since we are also (more or less) Heathen, in our own two-person tradition the beginning of February is time for Ewemeolc. This is an Anglo-Saxon holiday whose name means exactly what it sounds like. That’s right: it celebrates the annual lactation of the ewes.
In Anglo-Saxon England, the agricultural year began on or around the beginning of February (a tradition that lingered into medieval times and became Plough Monday, the official resumption of farming work after Christmas). The 7th century English scholar Bede referred to February as “Solmonath,” or “the month of cakes, which in that month the English offered to their gods.” This most likely referred to the AEcerbot (“Field Remedy”) Charm (which we know in a Christianized form from the 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript Lacnunga), a ritual to bless the fields for the planting season ahead. It may also help explain why pancakes seem to be a traditional meal for this holiday.
Then as now, however, English agriculture was hugely dependent on sheep, dairy production, and wool, and for the Anglo-Saxons it’s likely that the primary significance of this holiday was that it marked the beginning of lambing season. As a handspinner who honors Frigga, this of course suits me just fine and meshes very nicely with both my spiritual and artistic priorities. We first began celebrating Ewemeolc as essentially a celebration of the lambs and their gifts a few years back, and it clicked so well that we even added a second sheep-and-Frigga focused holiday later in the year (in June, to coincide with our local sheep and wool festival).
Since we are car-free (both by choice and necessity), we have a hard time finding sheep’s milk, which would be our preferred offering for a Ewemeolc faining (drink offering). Instead, we adorned our hearth shrine with a card depicting a pair of North Ronaldsay sheep walking by the shore in the Orkney Islands, a ram’s horn that I will be cleaning and polishing to make into a drinking horn, tea lights, a little lamb plushie, some fresh pink daisies, and a bit of Merino lamb’s fleece, hand dyed by me in a vibrant shade of spring green, and we filled our household drinking horn up with milk from locally raised goats. I blessed the horn with the rune Berkano and we toasted Frigga, the mother ewes, and the new lambs being born, thanking them for their marvelous gifts of wool and milk. Then I also thanked the tree spirits who provide wood for the making of spinning wheels and other fiber tools, and the earth for allowing us to mine the ore that becomes steel for wool combs and drum carder teeth. After going out to the garden to libate the milk, we sat down to a dinner of crusty bread, a good sour sheep’s cheese, and sheep’s milk yogurt. (The pancakes would come the following day, for the second part of our holiday celebration, Candlemas—but more about that in a moment.)
Besides our holiday feast, the second component to my customary Ewemeolc celebration is a blessing of my spinning tools. I first got the idea of devotionals for tools from my friend Silence Maestas (whose writings on the topic I was unable to find online in order to provide a link). An an animist, I don’t just believe that my spinning wheels, my drum carder, and the other tools important to the practice of my craft have a life and spirit of their own; I know that they do, a spirit independent of the metal and wood that makes up their working parts. And so, it only makes sense to honor that spirit, and all of the hard work they do for me throughout the year, with a special ritual, which I have been practicing on Ewemeolc for three years now. First, I sweep out the bedroom (which is where I spin), clean all of the extra bits of fiber out of the drumcarder (as much as possible), and make sure all three spinning wheel are dust-free, prior to polishing the wooden wheels with jojoba oil until they shine. Then I oil the moving parts of the wooden wheels and drum carder (my metal Columbine wheel has sealed ball bearings and does not use oil), light a beeswax candle, and bless all of my gathered wheels and fiber tools in Frigga’s name. For this purpose, I adapted a loom blessing that I found in the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of charms, hymns, and blessings collected by the amateur 19th century folklorist Alexander Carmichael in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland. (I first learned of the existence of the Carmina Gadelica, and got the idea for adapting charms from it, from The Witch of Forest Grove, Sarah Lawless, on her blog a couple of years back.)
Bless, O Frigga, Lady of the Distaff,
My spinning wheels and all my fiber tools.
Bless me in every action, make Thou me safe while I live,
From every brownie and fairy woman,
From every evil wish and sorrow, help me, gracious goddess,
As long as I shall be in the land of the living.
In the name of Odin, Lord of Asgard,
In the name of Thor, the champion of earth,
Consecrate the frames of my spinning wheels
Til I sit down to begin my work.
Their treadles, their footmen, their legs and their wheels,
Their flyers, their drive bands, and their break bands,
Their maidens and their mothers-of-all, bobbins and hooks and orifices.
Bless also the frame of my drum carder, his drums and his crankshafts and all of his working parts.
Every fleece, black, white and fair, Moorit, gray, cream and red,
Give Thy blessing everywhere,
On every thread passing through the orifices.
Thus will my spinning wheels be unharmed
Til I sit down to begin my work.
Gracious Frigga will give me of Her blessings,
And there shall be no obstruction I shall not overcome.
If you are a spinner, you are more than welcome to use or further adapt my blessing if you like, but please credit me appropriately if you do, and link back to this post.
I mentioned earlier that there was a second half to our holiday festivities; it took place the following morning (on Sunday) and honored the emergence of the bear from hibernation, which was celebrated in pagan Northern Europe on the festival date that later became Candlemas. (Now, who would have guessed that the original groundhog was actually a bear?) More about that, though, in my next post!
(Cross-posted to my PaganSquare blog, Threads)