I keep trying to put into words the reason that snakes have taken over my Candlemas celebration, but it's such a convoluted tale with no distinct beginning and certainly no end (um, unintentional ouroboros analogy much? even writing this I cannot escape the pull of the serpent.). I can't seem to put it into order.
My garden. Serpents. Mother Maple and her notorious friability. Brush piles. Serpents. The Cailleach needs firewood. Serpents. Hera, Patron with a big "P". Serpents. Brighid as bride; Hera as bride. Serpents. Zeus Meilikhios as serpent. Ohio. Serpents. Imbolc, day of the Bride. Serpents. Weather prognostication. Serpents.
Okay, got that? The why of it may be labyrinthine, but the practice is relatively simple. Candlemas here is usually too cold for the snakes to make an appearance, although we did witness some very active slithering two (or was it three? I'll have to look back) years ago during an unseasonably warm winter. For the record, this was followed by a horrendous ice and snow storm that left the land frozen longer than usual. You can gather the meaning.
Nevertheless, we try to encourage the emergence of our reptilian brethren without actually disturbing them. Shallow dishes of blessed milk are set out as offerings in front of each of the brush piles (some of which are bundled for the Cailleach's kindling) while gentle prayers and pleading are said. Sometimes the children will have a contest to see who can make the best frog sounds to further entice the serpents, amphibians being the main course for many of Ohio's snakes. (Incidentally, the Lenape knew February's full moon as The Moon When Frogs First Sing.)
Sarah, the Witch of Forest Grove, has a wonderful post up about the serpent cult which details some lovely suggestions for incorporating the serpent into your Imbolc (or Candlemas) ritual. I think this year we shall add some pounding on the ground, perhaps with my serpent-twined staff, to our celebration. The snow will most likely preclude any attempt at a spiral dance (we usually hold one indoors anyway for the childrens' festival), but that would be lovely too!