I would feel incredibly uncomfortable as a Pagan and a Wicca in celebrating Candlemas. The very name, to me, sounds Christian and I am emphatically not Christian. I celebrate Imbolc, whic has much the same meanings as Candlemas in that it is about strengthening the sun and welcoming back the light into the world (ok, so not really the same because Christian Candlemas concentrates on the purification of Mary after the birth of Jesus and his presentation at the temple). I’ll amend that to be much the same ‘themes’.
However, not so Gerald Gardner, when he and Ross Nichols were putting together the Wheel of the Year the festival that most Wiccans today know as Imbolc was called Candlemas. It’s a question that I’ve seen a lot of older Pagans (usually bolshy Heathens or Wiccans who declare that they are *not* Pagan) ask – why are the modern/younger pagans and wiccans celebrating ‘Imbolc’?
‘Imbolc’ was the word that the Feri Tradition (or at least Aidan Kelly) used and popularised in the 70s and 80s. It’s a gaelic word and people like to debate exactly what it means. It’s been used as the name for the Wiccan festival on the 2nd February pretty much exclusively in literature since the late eighties/early nineties. So why don’t we use Candlemas?
I’ve seen younger Wiccans, particularly Americans claim that we don’t use Candlemas because Gardner isn’t really that influential a figure…I think that there is a point to be made there, particularly transatlantically where Raymond Buckland and Starhawk certainly have had a more direct influence, but there does remain the fact that were it not for Gerald Gardner there would be no Wicca. Certainly I’m not saying there would be no Paganism because there were too many people involved in the rise of the pagan movement from the early twentieth century onwards but without Uncle Gerald there’s no Doreen Valiente and Buckland and Starhawk would not have used Wicca as their start points.
The early twentieth century was a Christian place in southern England. Gerald Gardner returned from largely non-Christian Asia to his cultural home, which was Christian and Wicca started out in a country that had been Christian for centuries. If there genuinely were folkish traditions that Gardner, Nichols et al bound together into the working religion of Wicca they had been heavily Christianised/hidden within the trappings of Christianity for centuries. If there weren’t Gardner was making it up from whole-cloth from the start-point of a man raised Christian in a Christian culture.
What then is the issue with calling it Candlemas? It’s about light returning and candles are good at that, they still form some of the structure of my homey Imbolc ritual. You can see where he started from.
Why then do I not feel comfortable calling it Candlemas? Well, we’re no longer in the early part of the twentieth century, I have been an initiated Wiccan for longer than I was a baptised Christian. I can choose to drop the overtly-Christian influences from my religion and feel more than happy doing so. But I think we need to remember where we came from and that, though originally a Pagan festival we reclaimed it via Christianity.