Celtic Calendar

This feast took place on Samhain Eve. In many ways it is very similar to the Mexican “Day of the Dead.

This is one of two times in the year when the veil between this world and Otherworld, the Shield of Skathach, is at it s thinnest. For this reason it was a time of divination. This day was considered to be a day that did not exist. Because of this the Spirits of the Dead and those yet to be born of the clan walked freely amongst the living. Food and entertainment were provided in their honour. In this way the clan remained in unity with its past, present and future. The common modern practice of carving pumpkins in the States, and turnips in the old countries stem from the days when our ancestors were active head hunters. They believed that the spirit resided in the head. They also believed that if they controlled the head of a foe they had killed in battle, and displayed the head at Samhain, then that foe could do them no further ill during this time when they could again walk in this realm. This practice was modified in the times after the rise of Christianity. It was however remolded into the practice of carving vegetables with the same intent. That being to keep away harm intending spirits.

Samhain was a time of fairs and festivities. As with all the fire festivals, fires were lit on the hilltops at Samhain. This festival was one of the two when all hearth fires were extinguished and re-lit from the communal bonfires. The cattle were driven back from the mountains where they had been sent for the summer. At this time of their return they were driven between two bonfires to purify and protect them. People and cattle both had now returned from the hills and glens to their winter quarters and were engaged in actively re-tying the social bonds. Just prior to this, the stores that had been put up had been assessed. Part of this assessment was how many could be fed during the cold months ahead. Rather than have whole herds starve to death in the winter, the herds were culled and the weakest harvested and the meat was preserved. The taking of life was done in a sacred way, and the utilitarian killing of the excess livestock had a sacrificial nature. Another area were the religious philosophy is addressed was in the bonds of kinship which were renewed in the clan spirit that was invoked at this time of year. Traditionally Samhain begins the time of storytelling by the fires of the hearth, as there isn t much to do outside during this time of the little sun.

Alban Arthuan or Winter Solstice 21December

Imbolic or Oimelc 1 February

The next festival on the Celtic calendar took place on Feb. 1st or 2nd and was called Imbolc. It centered around the fertility goddess Brigit and was concerned with the fertility of livestock and other pastoral matters. Brighid is invited into the house on the eve of this holiday. Candles were blessed. Auguries were often taken at this time. This was the season when lambs were born. From from Samhain to Imbolc was considered the winter. As there were few daylight hours during the season of cold work outdoors, the family spent their time round the fire which was the source of their light, heat and warming food. It was also the gathering point for the seannachaidh (story teller) who, with the fire of inspiration, would tell the stories of the people. The sacred fire is strongly associated with Bride. Her name translates as ‘fiery arrow‘. One of her aspects is the Goddess of poetry and it is She who is the ‘flame of inspiration‘. Another term given to Bride is ‘the flame in the heart of all women‘. This relates to the absolute authority of the woman in the house. Imbolc was a fire festival only for the household. During Imbolc, particular attention was paid to the hearth fire. Throughout the day it was kept specially fueled with specific woods, to welcome Her arrival. In the evening a rowan rod was placed in the heart of the fire. The following morning, before it was opened up, the fire was checked for the signs of a blessing from Her. The mark in question was a shape that looked like the foot print of a goose or swan. If a mark was found there was an extremely fortunate time ahead for the family. The associations between Bride and the goose or swan is also found in some of the incantations in the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael. The Language of the Goddess by Dr. Maria Gimbutas goes a long way toward helping understand the meaning of the Bird Foot Goddess.

Alban Eiler or Vernal Equinox 21 March

Beltane or May Day 1 May

This holiday was called Beltaine, probably because of the name Belenus, the god of light. At this time, all household fires were extinguished and great bonfires were kindled on hilltops. From these sacred fires all household fires were relit, thus gaining the blessings of the gods. People and cattle jumped across the bonfires in a symbolic ritual of purification and protection from evil; getting the cattle to jump over the fires must have been a difficult matter, even though cows are capable of clearing five- or six-foot fences. Might this ancient practice have been the origin of the nursery rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon? It is ironic but true that many so-called “children s” nursery rhymes were based on some very “Grimm” realities. The following is a poem translated out of the Gaelic by the Dal Riadh Celtic Trust and said to be written by Finn himself:

May, clad in cloth of gold,
Cometh this way;
The fluting of the blackbirds
Heralds the day.
The dust coloured cuckoo
Cries welcome O Queen!
For winter has vanished,
The thickets are green.
Soon the trampling of cattle
where river runs low!
The long hair of the heather,
The canna like snow.
Wild waters are sleeping,
Foam of blossom is here;
Peace, save the panic
In the heart of the deer.
The wild bee is busy,
The ant honey spills,
The wandering kine
Are abroad on the hills.
The harp of the forest
Sounds low, sounds sweet;
Soft bloom on the heights;
On the loch, haze of heat.
The waterfall dreams;
Snipe, corncakes, drum
By the pool where the talk
Of the rushes is come.
The swallow is swooping;
Song swings from each brae;
Rich harvest of mast falls;
The swamp shimmers gay.
Happy the heart of man,
Eager each maid;
Lovely the forest,
The wild plane, the green glade.
Truly winter is gone,
Come the time of delight,
The summer truce joyous,
May, blossom-white.
In the heart of the meadows
The lapwings are quiet;
A winding stream
Makes drowsy riot.
Race horses, sail, run,
Rejoice and be bold!
See, the shaft of the sun
Makes the water-flag gold.
Loud, clear, the blackcap;
The lark trills his voice
Hail May of delicate colours
tis May-Day – rejoice!

Amonst the folk lore of this holiday is that which survives to this day, young women will wash their face in the dew of Beltaine morning to preserve their youth.

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