Back in the old days, winter was terrifying.
It was a rough time (like really). Storms, cold days, and even colder nights. Hungry wolves came down from the woods to the human settlements, ready to attack livestock and people. During wintertime, people felt most vulnerable.
That is why they developed a series of customs and rituals, in order to affect the arrival of spring and make sure that the Sun comes back to the land.
Gromnica, the so-called “thunder candle” is part of the Polish winter holidays, but mainly the Candlemas Day.
Keep reading this article to find out what was the purpose and meaning of this sacred candle in the ancient Slavic rituals and what was the significance of celebrating the spring equinox.
Gromnica: The Thunder Candle
On Candlemas Day (February 2nd) people celebrate the end of winter. On this day, they remove any remaining Christmas decorations and sing their last Christmas carol.
Polish thunder candles are the main part of every Candlemas Day. Their original name Gromnica derives from the Polish word for thunderbolt. These sacred candles (Gromnice in plural) are usually very beautiful, made of natural beeswax, and are carefully decorated.
Usually, Gromnica will have a decorative blue ribbon holding a fir twig or some other wintergreen herb. The most beautiful Gromnica will have some kind of carved symbol (usually a rose).
On the day of the celebration, the members of the household would take Gromnica to the church for the priest to bless it. After that, they would bring it back home, doing their best to keep the flame burning. It is a very bad omen for the family if the flame goes out.
Once at home, they would start the fire with Gromnica.
In the end, they would put a drop of the holy wax onto every threshold, including those of the barns and stables. According to ancient belief, this was a way to protect people and animals from disease and misfortune.
Also Read: Andrzejki: Polish Fortune-Telling Ritual
Gromnica After Candlemas Day
After Candlemas Day, people kept the candle and lit it on special occasions. These could either be some of the most important events in a person’s life (like christenings, weddings, or vigils before funerals) .
Whatever happened to an individual, there was always the light of Gromnica to show them the way.
A thunderstorm was another event where Gromnica was invoked. Fear of thunder was deeply embedded in the consciousness of rural people which is why they called on Gromnica to protect them from the rage of the gods.
To explain the meaning of Gromnica I need to start with a special plant. It was Verbascum or Dziewanna (Devana) in Polish. This plant was used as a sacred plant in old Slavic traditions, and it has always been part of many major celebrations.
In folklore, Verbascum symbolizes the victory of the spirit over the body, and the triumph of life over death.
There are other meanings of Verbascum in Polish folklore. Namely, the native word Dziewanna indicates the ancient goddess of the same name.
This powerful pagan deity had power over wolves, who made a lot of trouble for people during the winter. She was also the goddess of youth, hunt, wilderness, and the moon.
Dziewanna is the contemporary interpretation of Gromnica as a ritual symbol of the Divine Mother or, as they also name her, Maiden protecting people from the Wolves. That is why people believed that this candle protected the carrier from wolf attacks .
The Magic of Candlemas Day
Gromnica was a highly ritual candle, believed to be the symbolic embodiment of a female deity. This deity was fond of people and wanted to help them survive in the wilderness.
The story about Gromnica is a story about old Slavic mythology, the contemporary culture of Poland, and the universal human fear from the whims of nature. Gromnica was able to protect the people from thunderstorms and wolves.
There aren’t many things people dreaded more than wild animals and weather, because they were beyond their control.
Gromnica was a magical tool that comforted inhabitants of distant villages when they found themselves in the middle of freezing winters. Gromnica gave them light, warmth, and hope that Spring is coming.