There’s room for beliefs between folklore, superstition

By Clyde Davis

Local columnist

Clyde Davis

Clyde Davis

I grew up there — well, not very far from there. I was never really sure where Punxsutawney was, as a small child, any more than I was sure how to spell it.

To the myopic mind of a young boy, it seemed to be very far away, this in the days of my life when a 20-minute car ride could spawn the string of questions:

“Are we there yet? How much longer? When will we get there?”

To the myopic mind of a young boy, there was also only one groundhog who could predict the continuance or demise of winter — the invincible Punxsutawney Phil. Little did I know that this particular rodent was one of many animals invested with the power to discern the weather patterns of the future.

According to Wikipedia, which was once highly questionable but is getting better, the groundhog in question has predicted the weather since 1887, which means he has lived about 20 times as long as the average groundhog:

“The tradition itself, relying on an animal to predict the weather, is rooted in the ancient Pagan Celtic holiday of Imbolc, with a tradition that a hibernating animal is given the power to predict whether or not winter will continue, on the date of Feb. 2. Imbolc is a time of celebration and ritual, often honoring Brighid, the goddess of the hearth. This is also a time of new beginnings and of purification.” (

Needless to say, the fun about the groundhog does not constitute a reality that one is a Pagan.

Groundhogs themselves are not to be confused with prairie dogs, being larger and not prone to populous colonies. The groundhog, aka woodchuck or whistlepig, is a large member of the marmot family. He is related, as rodents go, to the ground squirrel. As is necessary for the performance of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog is an animal which hibernates, or goes into a slower metabolism state, during the winter.

With weather becoming a more precise science than it once may have been, and with folklore and intuitive methods of weather prediction becoming oftener and oftener viewed as oddities, there seems to be a real and sad danger that customs like Punxsutawney Phil will become a thing of the past.
Even with the folklore unit, which I taught with my AP students last fall, there was, among some of the students, a depressing lack of awareness of folklore customs, and perhaps even a lack of awareness of what folklore itself is.

Do you know of any beliefs associated with ravens? How about owls? What does a black dog represent to you? Is the wolf, the fox, the bobcat an animal imbued with special qualities, in your view of life? Do flocks of birds help predict the weather?

Somewhere between the horizon of whole hearted belief and the condemnation of folklore as silly superstition, there lies a medium ground where one should be comfortable to dwell.

Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis High School. He can be contacted at: