As a kid growing up in Arizona, I never really got the whole groundhog predicting the weather thing because we didn’t have groundhogs and by the beginning of February we were well into spring, long past the need for a coat. Stats show that this is a poor way to predict weather and the groundhog is right about half the time. So what’s up with this rodent-weather-prognostication apart from a way to bring tourists to a small Pennsylvania town in the dead of winter?
The tradition of forecasting the length of winter through a hibernating mammal catching a glimpse of its shadow may have come from a German tradition where a bear plays the starring role. Turns out it’s really about the date (February 2nd) and darkness or light; the mammal is local tradition. It is no coincidence that the shadow is a central part of the ritual. In the natural world, only the sun and moon make light and cast a shadow. The first few days of February mark the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
This is an important date for humans. No matter how dark and cold the weather, from here on out the light will get stronger. This is a time to celebrate the promise of Persephone’s return and the triumph of light over darkness once again. It makes sense that many cultures celebrate their New Year around this time. There are a number of pagan festivals that happen in the first few days of February that celebrate light, agriculture and rebirth.
The groundhog or woodchuck is a most fitting symbol for this resurrection day and much easier to handle than a bear. The marmot is our West Coast relative and shares similar habits and habitats as it’s eastern cousin. It is the largest of the squirrel family. It is the size of a large house cat (about 15 pounds) and spends most of it’s life underground in carefully constructed and brilliantly designed borrows. During the seven to eight months of hibernation, a marmot doesn’t sleep but rather lowers its metabolism so that it is just living. It breaths once every minute or so, its heartbeat slows and its body temperature holds at 40 degrees F, in a near-death state. For this reason, the marmot is associated with shamanic trance states and the mystery of death without dying. It is a cute, furry symbol for rebirth and resurrection.
Sometimes the endless, dark grey days of winter can feel like a near-death state. This year, consider Groundhog Day as the herald of spring, the start of a new year and your own rebirth. Celebrate the fading darkness and the triumph of the light. Shine on!