The Wheel of the Year & Druid Festivals
The importance of recognizing these particular times of the year is something that I feel a lot of people both pagan and not over-look or take for granted. I have a friend whose personal practice doesn’t employ any usage of recognizing these times and it made me think very hard upon the subject over the last couple of weeks.
Before we had our current system of measuring time, the Gregorian calender, ancient Celts used the Coligny calender. It was discovered in France near Lyon in 1897, made of bronze and inscribed in Latin and Gaulish, it is said to have been created by the druids. During this period the Druids were converting to Christianity, but it is imagined that in this case, they wished to record a piece of their belief system and history that was of exceptional importance: Time.
Now the ancient Celts were certainly not the only ones to have such a lunisolar calender, however it is our focus here. The term lunisolar, reflects the due equality of import that the people using such a system would have given to both night and day, winter and summer, and everything in between. The system was one that attempted balance.
According to the current Arch Druid of the OBOD, Phillip Carr-Gomm (2002) , author of Druid Mysteries, “…Druidry recognizes eight particular times during the yearly cycle which are significant and which are marked by eight special festivals. Of these eight times, four are solar and four are lunar – creating thereby a balanced scheme of interlocking masculine and feminine observances…These four festivals are astronomical observances, and we can be sure our ancestors marked them with ritual because many of the stone circles are oriented to their points of sunrise or sunset. By the time the circles were built, our ancestors had become a pastoral people, and times of sowing and reaping were vital to them.”
The observance of these particular times of the year when broken down into their respective corners all earmark specific times of plenty, wanting, change, burgeoning, and all of the other remarkable experiences we undertake throughout our lives as humans.
The Celtic year begins at what westerners heed as the end of the year, winter. Similarly the same is practiced in the acknowledgement of the day. For the ancient Celts the beginning of the day was at sundown and went forward from there. It was Julius Cesar who noted in his Gallic Wars (Book VI Pg.343), that, “The Gauls affirm that they are all descended from a common Father, Dis, and say that this is the tradition of the Druids. For that reason they determine all periods of time by the number, not of days, but of nights, and in their observance of birthdays and the beginnings of months and years day follows night.”
The next important marker in the year is Samhuinn. Modernly celebrated as All Hallows Eve, it was believed by the Celts that all began in darkness, and so the Celtic New Year became the first point on the wheel, Samhuinn. This was a time of great spiritual importance for many different peoples. To the Druids it was the place where the ouroboros bit its tail, and the veil that lay between the world of the living and the dead became sheer. For a good example of a modern Samhuinn rite, Sarah Anne Lawless is a well respected author and artist, and the story here, is a vibrant pagan experience eloquently formed.