I prepare myself for this years celebration of Imbolc and my thoughts drift to how I used to celebrate it according to my countries tradition. Catholic religion refers to Candlemass as the ‘resentation of Jesus at the Temple’ but in Poland the name has much more pagan flavour. It derives from large candles called Gromnica which loosely translates as ‘thunder candle’. People believe that burning such a candle will protect them from storms, thunder strikes, fire and other disasters. During Candle mass people bring their gromnica to the church and a priest lights up one so that people pass the flame from one to another until all candles are burning. After the mass the candle should be carried back home without the flame going out. This would grant the household protection and blessing of Our Lady of the Thunder Candle.
This festival usually took place during my winter holidays and I used to spend them in the highlands. I remember going to a church located a couple of hours walk from the house I was staying in. All the hills were covered in deep snow, the sky was clear and lit up with stars and the moon was shining bright. I was carrying the candle in one hand and protecting the flame with the other. I felt its warmth and its glow was making me feel safe. Our Lady of Thunder Candle is said to walk carrying gromnica around human habitats and chase away wolf packs. She also helps the lost find their way at night.I definitely felt comforted by the thought of it.
One story describes Our Lady of Thunder Candle association to wolves…
Villagers went to chase after a wolf that had attacked their stock and as they traversed the hills they met Our Lady of the Thunder Candle walking in the snow. They asked her ‘id you see a wolf running around here by any chance? It killed our sheep and we want to hunt it down.’ The Lady responded to them ‘If you want to find a wolf instead of searching through the woods you should look into your hearts. There you will find it’. The villagers reflected on her words and turned back to their homes. Once they were gone the Lady let the wolf out from underneath her skirts where she had hid her. She scolded her for killing the sheep but seeing the wolf was hungry and poor she took pity on her and allowed her to run free.
The magic of this story brings us to the Slavic lore from which such legends originate. Our Lady of the Thunder Candle resembles a lot Dziewanna, a female deity who shares her Polish name with mullein plant (Verbascum), the stems of which have been used as candle wicks. Some know this plant under its English common name ‘Virgin Mary’s Candle’. The plant has many medicinal uses and has been used in many smoking mixtures because of its anti-inflammatory influence on respiratory tracts. It does very well as a fire lighter and flowering plants can burst out in flames on a hot day. This reinforces the connection of the goddess to fire not unlike the Celtic Brigid.
Dziewanna is associated with light, fire, woodlands and wild animals. She bears many characteristics of Slavic forest spirits but seem more prominent. Her stellar correspondences include Sirius and Venus. Other plants sacred to her include pine and spruce (gromnica candles often have been decorated with twigs from those trees) mugwort Artemisia vulgaris whose name comes from Greek Artemis, also a virgin hunters goddess) and lastly St. Johns Wort (often thrown into midsummer bonfires together with mugwort and mullein amongst other herbs).
Dziewanna and her dark aspect Marzanna has been connected to the Baba Jaga a wild, wise woman of the woods. In Slavic folklore inaccessible woods were associated with the underworld. Apple trees, golden apples and serpents were all sacred to Marzanna. I find this interesting when considering the tradition of Wassailing the apple orchards around the time of Imbolc to grant good harvest in the summer.
I will include the rich symbolism and folklore associated with Dziewanna and her dark aspect Marzanna in my magick and celebration of Imbolc.