February's Traditions of Saucha
February, Lupercalia, and Saucha
Time for the first Spring cleaning
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My mother always had an annual Spring cleaning, but it was normally as soon as the weather was a bit warm enough to open the windows and air out the house. In New Jersey, that can mean anywhere from an unseasonably warm February day to one closer to the Spring Equinox. Big cleaning projects go way back through history and through all religious practices. This is typically a western world tradition whereas in the Far East, particularly Japan, there's a big cleaning done before the beginning of a new year.
We already had two unseasonably warm days in the high 50s in January. You can bet I was outside and the windows were open in two of our rooms. The cats loved it. Now that it's dropped back down below freezing, Gus doesn't understand why we aren't outside for hours a day. There's something about 50ºF that makes cleaning the house feel so much more effective. Dusting, vacuuming, changing sheets, mopping floors - all the usual chores - but they feel different.
At the tail end of January, the planetary activity created fervor throughout the world, especially in the northern hemisphere. The rare Super Blue Blood Moon occurred on January 31st at 5:30ish in the morning eastern time. It was the type of astrological event that brings people who love astrology and those who mock it incessantly together to share in a singular fantastical miracle.
Two days before the Super Blue Blood Moon, I started working on a plan to do a massive cleaning of my sewing room. It was time to purge things like pieces of fabric or trim too small to be useful for any project. On January 31st, I felt this extra powerful need to tear apart that room and do the hard work. If I hadn't used it in over a year, it got sorted: keep, giveaway, garbage. I did the same for my old costumes that weren't in good enough condition to sell, but something a person might don for Halloween if they don't give a crap about cosplay acceptance; so a few treasured pieces were donated (my original Wonder Woman outfit and Firestar among them).
That's a simple process I learned from watching enough episodes of Hoarders. You can be a "neat" hoarder, a person who keeps too much stuff, but it's orderly; or a "chaotic" hoarder, a person who has garbage, filth, piles, and no system to their collections of baggage. I'm not judging. It was crystal clear from watching Hoarders that once a person fell into the hoarding situation (of things or animals), they couldn't get out of the trap on their own and needed help. I consider myself fortunate that when things start to clutter, I physically and emotionally feel too uncomfortable to let it be that way. I might not leap into action like I did with this sewing room, but I normally have a wardrobe purging 2-3 times per year.
Two of the origins of big cleaning days are part of the ancient Roman traditions of Februalia (Jan 30 - Feb 2) and Lupercalia (February 15) to do a thorough cleaning of all things including the body, mainly because bathing wasn't accessible to people on a daily basis. In neo-paganism and witchcraft, the month is still seen as a time for purification of the body and spaces. If you're looking for a format, the Covenant of Hekate has a ritual posted as a free resource.
"Has your home become filled with clutter that you never use but might need someday? Clutter slows you down, and blocks the achievement of your desires. You especially do not need useless clutter at the beginning of a fresh new year, when all your splendid goals, dreams, and aspirations are beckoning!" Amber, K., and Arynn K. Azrael. “Chapter 5: Cleansing and Purification.” Candlemas: Feast of Flames, Llewellyn, 2002, p. 113.
When it comes to cleaning products, there seems to be no end to what manufacturers can market to American consumers. You could also keep things relatively simple and make your own cleansers from holistic recipes online. It's also important to know your allergies (or any person or pet in the house). I absolutely love the Young Living Thieves collection. Their Thieves blend is pretty simple, but that's their proprietary name and other companies offer something comparable.
"Thieves® essential oil is a powerful combination of Clove, Lemon, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus Radiata, and Rosemary essential oils for an aromatic blend that fills any space with a rich, spicy aroma." YoungLiving.com
The word purification can be rather loaded; same with cleansing. I say this because it's been used by people to commit ethnic genocide. Please know that's not the connotation used when speaking about Lupercalia, Candlemas, Imbolc, or Saucha. Also, if you're going to do something that claims to purify "toxins" from the body (scams use vague wording like this), especially internally, make sure you are consulting professionals. Not all cleanses are created equally nor are they universally applied to all bodies.
Fasting is one way to go. That can be water-only or perhaps liquid-only utilizing smoothies of greens and fruits. There's also the Christian practice of giving up something for Lent - meat, chocolate, caffeine, etc.- which can be a basic guide if that's your choice.
Ritual purification of spaces can involve going beyond the cleaning of dirt and grime or reorganization of what's left. There are many traditions that utilize burning herbs to cleanse space. Normally sage is recommended. In the Candlemas: Feast of Flames book, they also mention others, but I would recommend doing some research. Rosemary, for instance, is a great antiseptic and can be interpreted as a space-cleansing herb, but it also is used for remembrance. Therefore, if you have energies lingering and that's what you're trying to get rid of, rosemary wouldn't be optimal.
If burning something isn't allowed or what you want to do, you can make an herbal infusion (tea) and put the solution in a spray bottle. Go around the space spritzing the herbal water.
You can also mix herbs into candle wax and burn the candles. That way you have the pleasure of experiencing Brighid's flame (Brigit or St. Brigid) and having the herbs, but also avoiding smoke.
Outdoor and neighborhood spaces shouldn't be left out either. For the Winter Solstice in December, I started to show gratitude to our elderly neighbors who allow us to hike on their land by picking up trash that I found. This is the old couple I mentioned above where the wife just died this week at age 99. Some of the litter clean up was easy: plastic bottles from when a bear dragged a whole bag of recycling into the woods. Some of it was quite hard for me and my strength limitations.
There were tarps all over this one trail which I was able to write into some Adventures with Gus tales, but clearly these tarps weren't doing anything useful. A now deceased neighbor had a pool cover over a stack of firewood; he died so long ago that the stack and pool cover were buried under a felled tree and shrubbery. The wood underneath wasn't good anymore. I was able to pull out half the pool cover by myself, but I couldn't lift the tree alone and pull the cover. There were other tarps including one neatly folded up just lying there in the woods.
One day, I thought of this plan that I would clean up the trail and get rid of the tarps and litter I found there. It took a long time to implement. Winter Solstice was the right time as it turns out because there were a) no bugs to drive me insane; and b) no foliage so I could easily see where things were under the jungle tangles. I pulled the tarps by myself along the trail and left them in a pile at the private road. I then talked to the groundskeeper and said he could pick them up in his truck and do whatever he does with the old couple's garbage. He never hauled them away. I waited until it wasn't so bitter that I'd want to avoid being outside or rainy before tackling it myself.
As it happened, February 1st rolled around and the weather was barely hitting 20ºF, but it wasn't windy, bitter, or raining. I took Gus (rather he took me) for a one-hour hike up the hardest part of the mountain. My knees hated me by the time I got him back home. But I couldn't let my knees win. I had promised the earth that I would get rid of the plastic so I brought Gus inside, gave him lunch, and went back out. The cleaning of the sewing room is what actually made this part possible because I found the construction size garbage bags in one of my tool crates!
I briefly discussed yoga's principle of saucha last fall during National Novel Writing Month. It felt like an appropriate time to think about work place cleanliness and organization. For me, the practice of saucha at its core is about the issues mentioned above: clean and organized spaces and attempts to keep the body in decent condition (I'm not a hardcore person who will go without coffee or the occasional cocktail).
How Saucha Challenges Us
One of the reasons I tackled my massive sewing room overhaul was to see if there was enough room to relocate my yoga space. Currently, I do all my yoga, writing, and religious observances in my bedroom which happens to be spacious. Part of wanting any physical or emotional breakthroughs to happen means that I should challenge myself and leave my comfort zones (at least once in a while).
Think about how you feel when you go to the same supermarket every week. You know the parking lot. You know the aisles. You know where to find your favorite things. You might even have casual relationships with the cashiers - enough to ask how they're doing or how their kids are. Then you walk in one day and find it under construction so that the store can expand and add something new like a coffee bar or a small cafe and seating area. Tarps are up. Aisles are jammed together. You can't find anything you're looking for. You realize the lights for construction make everything look sickly and unflattering. You can't wait to get the hell out of there.
That can be so uncomfortable for a lot of people! I've had enough panic attacks in supermarkets and their parking lots to be triggered just by the thought of having to go food shopping. I hate it because of what it does to me. But if Gus needs food, I have no problem packing him up and heading over to a small boutique size chain store and getting what he needs. I usually spend extra time taking pictures of the kittens up for adoption. And those trips are still under twenty minutes unlike a supermarket where I can be roaming for an hour.
Yoga should not require a special space. I should be able to do it anywhere whether that's the physical asanas in movement or meditation. So this big step in my saucha practice to try and shift around the house to practice would be a breakthrough. I've been able to sometimes enjoy yoga on the balcony depending on the bug situation. But the sewing room has been specifically for crafting and another place for Gus and Oliver to hang out.
In the movement part of a yoga practice, there are asanas (poses) and breathing exercises (pranayama) that can be done which also bring saucha from an internal to external experience. You do it all the time without thinking about it: respiration. Oxygen comes in. Carbon dioxide goes out. There's also eating and elimination. Sustenance goes in. Waste goes out. Yoga asanas can be found that specifically target the digestive tract (twists).
A trend that I've barely tapped, bullet journaling, doesn't usually get tied to yoga principles, yet it can be. It's to help people organize their thoughts and plans in ways that allow a structured yet creative approach. My journals are pretty embarrassing. The entire month of January was labeled with December dates in my yoga journal. That being said, there are people to explain bullet journaling to you, but it's something fun to consider incorporating into your Februalia ritual.