This feast took place
on Samhain Eve. In many ways it is very similar to the Mexican "Day of
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
Alban Arthuan or Winter
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.
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
Beltane or 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,
The fluting of the blackbirds
Heralds the day.
Cries welcome O Queen!
For winter has
The thickets are green.
Soon the trampling of
where river runs low!
The long hair of the heather,
canna like snow.
Wild waters are sleeping,
Foam of blossom is
Peace, save the panic
In the heart of the deer.
bee is busy,
The ant honey spills,
The wandering kine
on the hills.
The harp of the forest
Sounds low, sounds
Soft bloom on the heights;
On the loch, haze of heat.
Snipe, corncakes, drum
By the pool where the
Of the rushes is come.
The swallow is swooping;
from each brae;
Rich harvest of mast falls;
The swamp shimmers
Happy the heart of man,
Eager each maid;
The wild plane, the green glade.
Truly winter is
Come the time of delight,
The summer truce joyous,
In the heart of the meadows
The lapwings are
A winding stream
Makes drowsy riot.
Race horses, sail,
Rejoice and be bold!
See, the shaft of the sun
Loud, clear, the blackcap;
The lark trills his
Hail May of delicate colours
tis May-Day -
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.