Today is Groundhog's Day—also my cousin Nelda's birthday, a fact which amused me no end as a kid, and which I never fail to bring up whenever I get the chance.
For the long ago Irish, today was Imbolc, which marked the commencement of lambing time and ushered in spring. The day was represented by the mythological goddess Brigid, symbolized as a fair-haired maiden who brings new life and light to the season. A festival was held each Imbolc. During this celebration, one of Brigid's duties was to foretell the shape and mood of the new spring, including weather.
Prophet animals have been casting the future since ancient times. Brigid depended on emerging snakes. Other cultures employed everything from bears to otters to badgers, wolves to hedgehogs. They theorized that if you watched one of these winter-sleeping critters—usually a hibernator—awaken on Candlemas Day*, whether they subsequently chose to remain awake or go back to sleep would determine winter’s duration.
(*Today is also Candlemas, commemorating Mary’s presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. According to Mosaic law, this symbolic redemption of the child and the mother’s simultaneous purification, was to occur forty days after a son’s birth. At the Temple gates, an old man, Simeon, recognized the child as Israel’s Messiah, and “a light to lighten the Gentiles.”)
Our woodchuck of Groundhog Day fame is simply North America’s version. If the awakened groundhog sees his shadow, there’ll be six more weeks of winter; if not, spring is right around the corner.
It has been bright and sunny here all day. Plenty easy for even a squint-eyed rodent to spot their shadow—and a good day for the prognosticating critter to be giving himself a good airing out. Granted, it's not so warm as yesterday or the day before—both of which hit the 60˚F mark; an unseasonable miracle! But we've already made a still not-too-shabby 47˚F, and with any luck at all ought to top 50˚F before the day's rise has ended.
Six more weeks of winter? Maybe. One should never count their chickens before they've hatched—or proclaim winter over until it's run its course. But I believe the worst winter will do is bluster a bit for the next few weeks.
Who ya gonna believe…me or a drowsy whistlepig?