Last night, I celebrated my very first Martinmas. I got the idea for this awhile back after reading The Bear: History of a Fallen King by Michel Pastoureau, which showed that this saint’s holiday was originally a feast marking the start of bears’ hibernation (as Candlemas marks the end, Groundhog Day style). It is also a festival honoring the dead, marking the transition from autumn to winter, a time for slaughtering animals, and often celebrated with gluttonous feasts by lantern-light.

As I have come to be closer and closer to bears and spirits/gods associated with bears (it’s a long story, and private), it seemed appropriate to mark this in some way. After careful thought and examination of the many energies at work for this holiday, I decided it was appropriate to expand this beyond bears and to all (dead) animals that I live and work with. What I ended up with, at least for this first year, is basically a more elaborate and special version of my usual full moon ritual, which consists of smudging (and thereby “feeding”) all the animal spirits who live in my home in the form of skulls, pelts and bones. Some of these are close personal companions with names and a good bit of power, some are only the random bones used in jewelry and whatnot, but I still feel it’s important to honor them while they’re in my possession.

But first, I used the opportunity of this holy day to get the bear tattoo I’d been wanting ever since seeing the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog, which shows the paintings in Chauvet Cave in France, some of the earliest known art from the Paleolithic. A thread of my practice has begun to trace itself back to extremely primitive energies, and this seemed a good way to mark that and the connection to bears, which is part of it. This image is about 30,000 years old, and now I have it on my body. (No photos for now, as it is extremely bruised, being in a very sensitive place, but the original painting is shown below.)

After coming home and resting a bit from the tattoo (it was unexpectedly quite a physical ordeal), I got to work gathering all the offerings and ritual elements.


Here you see the turnip lanterns, a black stone mortar I use to burn smudge mixtures on charcoal, five old Indian-head pennies from around the turn of the century (because they are almost fully copper, and copper is called “bear’s gold”), the fantastic Hibernation Ale that Sannion found the day before, a mug full of birch wood chips, amanita muscaria caps and uva ursi (bearberry) to burn, a tall mug for the ale offering featuring a hunt scene and fox handle, a bear-headed shot glass for my own small portion to share, a wooden bowl filled with local chestnuts, hazelnuts and dried blueberries (bear food), and a Russian wood toy I brought out for the occasion because it was just too appropriate – it has little carved bears sitting under a mushroom, and when you swing the ball around it causes them to eat from their bowls with spoons.

The ritual was simple enough – I went through my home slowly, burning the smudge and offering it to each and every animal spirit in my home, naming those who have names, thinking about each one in turn, giving of my energy, and singing my usual song for them (just sound, not words, but it’s a way to give of breath, and therefore life). I spent some time with Bear after that, and made my offerings, but no deep trance work – this was just a devotional ritual. (And, honestly, I was pretty wiped out from the tattoo.)

I think I will be adding this to my permanent festival calendar, as it feels like such a nice extension of Hallows – similar concepts, but still its own special thing. I like how my festivals tend to repeat themes and flow from one to the next over the year. I will also be looking to add some bear elements to my February 1 celebrations next year, to complete that cycle.

~ by Dver on November 12, 2012.

10 Responses to “Martinmas”

  1. A beautiful devotional ritual. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I have recently become borderline-obsessed with Paleolithic art ever since we watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams. What a great image for a tattoo!

    And as always, thanks for sharing ritual details like this. Your beautiful, diverse approaches to celebrating festivals (no doubt aided by your amazing aesthetic sensibilities) are always something others can learn from and be inspired by.

    • That was an incredible film, wasn’t it? One thing I like about the animal art is that it’s straightforward. We may not know exactly WHY it was painted, but we know what the animals are (as well as the skulls found in the cave). Unlike, say, all the supposed “shamanic” rock art, which is often misinterpreted and even mis-copied (the sorcerer of Trois Freres, for instance, does not appear to have actually had antlers in the original art).

  3. Bravo! Wonderful post! I toast to you from the far-off boonies! Blessed Martinmas to you!

  4. Eventually I’ll be able to get my own copy of ‘The Bear: History of a Fallen King,’ I hope… Thanks for letting me know about the documentary!

  5. Aha! Someone else uses turnip lanterns!
    Thank you for sharing and hope you heal well from your tattoo :)

  6. Thank you for this post, and the link you provided for the book. I remember the bit about Groundhog’s Day being a bear instead in parts of Europe, but the Martinmas bit is new to me. After seeing “Brave” just now I’m greatly interested in the bear cult and that book sounds like a good start.

  7. […] Catholic faithful (as well as certain people of a more heterodox persuasion) will be observing Martinmas […]

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