November 25 is St Catherine’s Day. St Catherine was supposed to be a Christian virgin who refused to marry a Pagan emperor. He ordered her broken on a wheel, making her the patron saint of all who use wheels – spinners, carters, wheelwrights and so on. Fire came down from heaven and the wheel broke, so she was beheaded, which led to her becoming the protector of unmarried women and the accidental inventor of the spinning Catherine Wheel firework. She was deleted from its official list of saints in 1969 as there was no evidence of her ever having really existed. It is probable that she was a Christianised version of an earlier goddess, represented as she is with a wheel, as were so many deities of the Sun, fate, time and the seasons. As such, I honour her on November 25.
In folk custom, her festival was celebrated mainly by unmarried girlsmaking merry together, which they called ‘Cathar’ning’, usually a simple procession with a girl representing Catherine, dressed in white and collecting money, apples and beer. A favourite game involved jumping over a two foot tall ‘Cattern Candle’ without putting out the flame, which meant bad luck:
“Kit be nimble, Kit be quick,
Kit jump over the candlestick.”
In England it was a day for eating sweet Cattern Cakes flavoured with caraway, and in Somerset farmers had special Cattern Pie shaped like a wheel and filled with mince, honey and spices, and washed down with ‘hot pot’ made from warm beer, rum and eggs.
Cattern Day Ritual
I take this as an opportunity to celebrate the Goddess of the Wheel, keeping the light burning in the darkness. Place a symbol of a wheel on the altar (you can draw one if you don’t have anything suitable). Have ready a large, white candle – I use a 50 hour one, and light it each night from now till Yule, and some Cattern cakes.
Light the candle on your altar or hearth, and offer one of the cakes beside it with the words:
Goddess of the Wheel
Keep this light burning in the darkness
As a symbol of our hope
For we know the wheel will turn
And all things shall pass
And be remade anew
½ cup (4 oz. / 125 g) butter
½ cup (4 oz. /125 g) superfine (castor) sugar
1 ½ cups (8 oz./250 g) self-raising flour
1 large egg
½ level tsp ground mixed spice
4 level tbsp. ground almonds
1/3 cup (2 oz./60 g) sultanas
Cream the butter and sugar together. Gradually beat in the egg with a spoonful of the flour to prevent curdling. Sift in the rest of the flour and spice, add the almonds and currants. Mix well until the dough binds together. Knead lightly and roll out on a floured board to ¼ inch [1/2 cm] thick by 8 inches [20 cm] wide. Cut into ½ inch [1 cm] strips and twist round to make about thirty flattened spiral shapes – or Catherine Wheels.
© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021