The Virgin Mother. (Imbolc to Beltane) Her role here is to provide the energy to promote both the growth within the land and the human activity that will culminate in successful harvest. Fire imagery dominates becayse the energy is waxing. She is the source of all energy, not only in human society, but in the Land and the Sun. Most commonly known as Brighid.
The Flower Maiden. (Beltane to Lughnasadh) Her role is to marry the Divine Child at the height of his powers and ensure the fertility of the crops.
The Harvest Queen. (Lughnasadh to Samhain) Her role is to take the Little God's side in his meditation and give sovereignty over the hearvest to the human tribe. Water energy dominates because the energy is waning. In Ireland, she is known as eithne, Lugh's mother, or Tailtu, Lugh's foster mother.
Queen of the Underworld. (Samhain to Imbolc) She is sometimes in the shape of a young woman or hag; sometimes in animal form. Because physical youthfulness is a boon to warriors, she sometimes appears as a young warrior-woman or the Washer at the Ford.
The modern celebration of Halloween is a descendant from the ancient Celtic festival of samhain, meaning "summers end". Originally a Druidic festival, Samhain is celebrated on the eve of November 1 (October 31 - either date is appropriate since the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset) and marks the beginning of the New Year.
In ancient times all of the fires of Ireland were extinguished and one great fire kindled by the King's chief Druid. From this sacred bonfire, family members would light torches to carr back and rekindle their own hearth fires which kept burning the rest of the year. The putting away of the old fires was probably connected with various rites for the expulsion of evil. Also at this time, the assemblies of the five Irish provinces at Tara Hill, the seat of the Irish king, took place. These gatherings were celebrated with horse faces, fairs, markets, assembly rites, political discussions and mourning for the passage of summer.
Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherwold is very thin and spirits of the dead can move freely between one world and the next. Divination and forecasting for the coming year also took place. In Scotland, a child born at Samhain was said to be gifted with an da shealladh, "The Two Sights" commonly known as second sight or clairvoyance.
As in other major Celtic festivals, Samhain was a gateway, a celebration of the transition from one season to another. In mythology, at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is between two worlds but itself is in neither and both at the same time. Thus, Samhain belongs to both Summer and Winter, and to neither. It is the gateway of winter and a magickal time of passage between the two seasons.
As in many pastoral societies, winter was regarded with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain is the last gasp of summer - a time of uninhibited feasting, dancing, and celebration. It is the time of release; a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, fears and attitudes, just as the trees let go of their leaves.
The month of February belongs to the Celtic goddess Brigid, who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. The name Imbolg, which literally means "milk", marked the lactation period of ewes and cows, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life giving forces of spring. This was a time of great joy since it meant that the end of a long winter was in sight and green pastures were just a few months away.
During ritual, it is customary to pour milk (or cream) onto the earth. This was done in thanksgiving as an offernig of nurturing and to assist in the return of the fertility and generosity of the earth to its people. Imbolg is celbrated in honor of Brighid or Brid (Breed), daughter of the Dagdda, who is pregnant with the seed of the sun. She is ripe with the promise of newlife as the seeds of the earth deep within its soil begin to awaken.
Significance is placed upon the Light of fire during Imbolg and in Britain, Candlemas, as it is know, is celebrated with a festival of lights. In the dark days of Februaru, medieval churches twinkled brightly as each member carried a lighted candle in procession around the church and then afterwards home to be used to keep away storms, demons and other evils. Even long after this, the symbol of lighted candles was a strong hold and traces of the festical still linger such as in Wales where lighted candles could still be seen at windows or on the table that night. Sometimes special carols were sung as people proceeded from house to house. Modern traces include the custom of Groundhog Day on February 2. There is an old couplet that directly relates to the groundhog seeing his shadow:
"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear
There'll be two winters in the year"
Beltane, a festival of life and fertility, is celebrated no or around April 30. Beltane and its counterpart, Samhain, divided the year into its primary seasons, winter and summer. Also known as May Eve, this festival joyfully heralds the arrival of Summer and the pastoral growing season.
The word "Beltaine" literally means "bright" or "brilliant fire" and one of the chief ritual acts was the kindling of bonfires, often on hills and created from the nine sacred woods, in order to bring the sun's light down to earth and honor summer. The fires also celebrated the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth. To jump between two Beltane fires was sure to bring good fortune, health to your livestock and prosperity - young people jumped over for luck in finding a spouse, travelers jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and the pregnant jumped over to assure an easy delivery. Sometimes the fire was lit beneath a sacred tree, or a pole covered with greenery was surrounded by the fuel, or a tree was burned in the fire. These trees survive in the Maypole of later custom and they represented the vegetation spirit.
Beltane is the time of sensuality revitalized; the reawakening of the earth and all of her children. Thisis a customary time for Handfastings for a year and a day. Celebration included frolicking through the countryside, dancing the Maypole, leaping over fires and "going a maying". It was also usual for young lovers to spend the night in the forest.
On May Eve people would tear branches from a Hawthorn tree and decorate the outside of their homes. The Hawthorn, or Whitethorn, is the three of hope, pleasure and protection.
Celebrated on August 1, marking the beginning of the harvest season and the decline of Summer into Winter, Lughnasadh or Lammas takes its name from the Irish god Lugh.
Lugh, one of the chief gods of the Tuatha De Danaan, dedicated the festical to honor his foster mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died while preparing the fields for planting. Other traditions say Lammas is celebrated to honor Lugh himself.
Festivites and rituals typically centered around the assurance of a bountiful harvest season and the celebration of the harvest cycle. This was also an occaion for handfasting. For a year and a day couples would live together in trial marriage to see if it worked out. If not the couple returned the next year to officially separate.
|Old Irish||Modern Irish |
|Scottish Gaelic |
|Beginning of November||Samain; Samhain||Oíche Shamhna||Samhuinn; Samhainn; Samhain||Samonios; *Trinouxtion Samonii||Calan Gaeaf|
|Beginning of February||Imbolc; Imbolg; Oimelc||Lá Fhéile Bríde; Imbolc||Là Fhèill Brìghde; Imbolc||*Ouiamelgtis||Gwyl Ffraed|
|Beginning of May||Beltain||Lá Bealtaine||Bealltuinn; Bealltainn||*Belotenia||Calan Mai|
|Beginning of August||Lughnasa; Lughnasad; Lughnassadh||Lá Lúnasa||Lùnasdal; Lùnastal||*Lugunassatis||Calan Awst|