by His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the January 2005, A.S. XXXIX issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.
Groundhog Day is the most famous bit of weather lore here in the United States. Not only does the euphonious woodchuck have to suffer the indignity of being abruptly taken from its warm barrow, being misnamed, a fraud, but also a usurper. The weather lore of February 2 was old before the advent of groundhogs. This essay will look at this and other bits of lore.
During the period, February 2 was known as Candlemas. The name comes from the candlelit procession which symbolizes Christ’s entry into the Temple, and marks the end of the Christmas season. And like other major holidays, a number of customs became attached to it. The one of interest here is the piece of lore that was current at least by 1523: “if Candlemas Day be sunny and bright, winter will have another flight; if Candlemas Day be cloudy with rain, winter is gone, and won’t come again”. Other pieces of lore states that: “when the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day, there it will stick to the Second of May” and “as much ground as is covered with snow on Candlemas Day will be covered with snow before Lady Day”. (Lady Day is March 25. It is short for ‘Day of our blessed Lady’, the lady being the Virgin Mary, and the date marks the Feast of Annunciation.) A similar is set on February 22: “if it’s cold on St. Peter’s Day, then the cold is here for a lengthy stay”.
There are other days that are equally prophetic. One such is January 25, or St. Paul’s Day. A 1340 proverb has it that:
If Saint Paul’s Day be faire and cleare,
It doth betide a happy yeare;
But if by chance it then should raine,
It will make deare all kindes of graine.
And if ye clouds make dark ye skye,
Then meate and fowles this year shall die;
If blustering winds do blow aloft,
Then wars shall trouble ye realme full oft.
Another day is July 15, or St. Swithin’s Day. Ben Jonson in his 1599 play “Every Man Out of His Humour” has the character Sord say: “Saint Swithin’s Day, in thou dost rain, for forty day it will remain; Saint Swithin’s Day, if you be fair, for forty days ‘twill rain no more”. The story behind this saying is that St. Swithin was a bishop of Winchester who died in 862, and at his request was buried in a simple outdoor grave. In 871 an effort was made to move his remains to a more prestigious location. An effort thwarted by forty days of rain. A related tradition is that rain on St. Swithin’s Day is the saint’s way of christening apples. Another connected saying has: “all the tears that Saint Swithin can cry, Saint Bartemy’s mantle wipes them dry”. August 24, being forty days after July 15, is St. Bartholomew’s Day. Also said about St. Bartholomew’s Day is: “As at St. Bartholomew’s Day so will all the autumn stay”. June 15, St. Vitus’ Day is also similarly wet prognosticator, though for only thirty days.
A more ominous prediction is: “so many dayes old the moon is on Michaelmas-day, so many floods after”. On the other hand: “if it does rain on St. Michael and Gallus, the following spring will be dry and propitious”. September 29 is Michaelmas and Gallus falls on October 16. Another potential disaster is: “if it rains on Corpus Christi Day there will be little rye to put away”. (The Feast of Corpus Christi is connected to Easter, occurring roughly fifty days later, and thus has no fixed date.)
A more cheerful observation can occur on January 22, which is:
Remember on St. Vincent’s Day
if that the sun his beams display;
be sure to mark his transient beam
which through the casement sheds a gleam,
for ‘tis a token bright and clear
of prosperous weather all the year
Also propitious is: “if at Christmas ice hangs on the willow, clover may be cut at Easter". And one final hopeful expectation is that on July 20: “clear on St. Jacob plenty of fruit”.
While the above examples have been drawn from English sources, the continent had similar sayings. And, of course, the behavior of plants and animals were also used for weather prediction. Given that a large portion of the population made its living on agriculture, which is highly dependent on the weather, it is not surprising that a large number of “rules of thumb” arose to predict the weather. The following poem by Erasmus Darwin, though out of period, compasses the nature of weather lore.
Signs of Foul Weather
The hollow winds begin to blow;
The clouds look black, the glass is low;
The soot falls down, the spaniels sleep;
And spiders from their cobwebs peep.
Last night the sun went pale to bed;
The moon is halos hid her head.
The boding shepherd heaves a sigh,
For, see a rainbow spans the sky.
The walls are damp, the ditches smell,
Clos’d is the pink-ey’d pimpernel.
Hark! How the chairs and tables crack,
Old Betty’s joints are on the rack:
Her corns with shooting pains torment her,
And to her bed untimely send her.
Loud quack the ducks, the sea fowl cry,
The distant hills are looking nigh.
How restless are the snorting swine!
The busy flies disturb the kine,
Low o’er the grass the swallow wings
The Cricket too, how sharp he sings!
Puss on the hearth, with velvet paws,
Sits wiping o’er her whisker’d jaws.
The smoke form chimneys right ascends
Then spreading, back to earth it bends.
The wind unsteady veers around,
Or settling in the South is found.
Through the clear stream the fishes rise,
And nimbly catch the incautious flies.
The glow-worms num’rous, clear and bright,
Illusn’d the dewy hill last night.
At dusk the squalid toad was seen,
Like quadruped, stalk o’er the green.
The whirling wind the dust obeys,
And in the rapid eddy plays.
The frog has chang’d his yellow vest,
And in a russet coat is drest.
The sky is green, the air is still,
The mellow blackbird’s voice is shrill.
The dog, so alter’d is his taste,
Quits mutton-bones, on grass to feast.
Behold the rooks, how odd their flight
They imitate the gliding kite,
And seem precipitate to fall,
As if they felt the piercing ball.
The tender colts on back do lie,
Nor heed the traveller passing by,
In fiery red the sun doth rise,
Then wades through clouds to mount the skies.
‘Twill surely rain, we see’t with sorrow,
No working in the fields to-morrow.
Flavell, Linda and Roger. Dictionary of Proverbs and their Origins. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993.
Hone, William The Every-Day Book or Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements. William Hone, 1827. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1967.
Pickering, David. Dictionary of Proverbs. London: Cassell, 1997.
Copyright © 1997 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.