Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
February Mud Month
February, the shortest month of the year and the muddiest.
There is a weariness to February. Inside of us a wish that just won’t go away, that Winter was over and the small warmth of Spring was here. But then there is February to contend with. It delivers the cold from the East like the crack of a whip. We have been lulled by the grey relentlessness of January. Days filled with the colour and warmth of tepid tea and just as we think of lengthening days, the door is slammed shut.
February arrives, bitingly cold, a sharp and painful wind torn from the Siberian tundra. Snowdrops do their best to remind us to keep the faith but it’s hard as long forgotten woollen clothes are piled on in layers.
“Though it was the end of February, the day was a lazy sort of cold. The sun slipped through the cloud in bursts, reminding the landscape that it was still there, prodding snow piles to relax into puddles and stirring sleeping seeds under the ground.”
February is a new month. That is new since about 700 BC when the old Roman calendar was extended by the King of Rome Numa Pompilious January and February were added to the end of the year based on how long it took for the Earth to go around the Sun. However the name February took a while to be adopted in England. With great British imagination our ancestors decided to call this month ‘Solmonath’ which means ‘Mud Month’.
There can be no one who would dispute this description for this time of year. For those that live in the countryside, mud is something we learn to live with. From solid locked in frozen ground to solifluction as the soil gloops down the hill. The soil is so saturated in the fields that where the animals have been, liquefaction has occurred. February mud is a unique beast.
The cleansing month.
The name February comes from the Roman festival of purification, ‘Februatio’. During this period people were ritually washed and cleansed in both body and mind.
Our Pagan ancestors used February as a time to clean through their buildings to ensure that nothing remained of the Winter Solstice celebrations, burning whatever greenery remained. This is the origin of the ‘Spring clean’ that we still practice today. There is a veil between the end of Winter and the coming of Spring and it was important not to let things slip through. This can be understood if we think about it in the context of growing crops. Late frosts slipping through the veil can kill new shoots and ruin early flowering fruit trees and bushes. Ritual cleaning helped preserve the integrity of the veil.
Christians celebrate Candlemas day in this period, another purification ceremony dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Snowdrop or Candlemas flower is associated with this day. In some parts of the country a Snowdrop is carried through the house to cleanse it.
Ancient Celtic Imbolc.
Imbolc is a Celtic festival to mark the passage between Winter and Spring. Just when we think we cannot stand the Winter dark and cold anymore, the Maiden Goddess arrives. She reminds us and gives us the opportunity to look at life afresh. To clear out the old and bring in the new to our lives. Another ritual cleaning but more about a spiritual inner cleansing of old stale relationships, thoughts etc. It is a good time to declutter and move forward. The challenge is to get through February and look forward to the Spring.