Important Dates and Celebrations

Alban Elfed

September 21
Autumn Equinox / Mabon / Alban Elfed. The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on it's apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal duration. This is before before the descent to the dark times. It is a time of balance, but light gives way to increased darkness. This balance in nature presented a powerful time for magic.To the ancients, this was a sacred time. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country

Since most European peasants were not accomplished at calculating he exact date of the equinox, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, September 25th.

The Irish saw this time of year as the Waning of the Goddess. From the Summer to the Winter Solstice, they would hold festivals for the God ­ who was seen as a dark, threatening being. To the Goidelic Celts, the spring was the time of joy in the rebirth of the Goddess. To Brythonic Celts, however, this was the time of the death of the God (the Sun or the Grain God).

It is the second harvest, and the Goddess mourns her fallen consort, but the emphasis is on the message of rebirth that can be found in the harvest seeds, It is a good time to walk the forests, gathering dried plants for use as altar decorations or herbal magick. Cornbread and cider are good additions to festivities and fall leaves make good altar decorations."The Light of the Water," the first day of Autumn, was also called Harvesthome. The Autumnal Equinox was the day when the sun again began to wane, as the dark half of the year drew near.

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 Mythically, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. And as I have recently shown in my seasonal reconstruction of the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the Autumnal Equinox is the only day of the whole year when Llew (light) is vulnerable and it is possible to defeat him. Llew now stands on the balance (Libra/autumnalequinox), with one foot on the cauldron (Cancer/summer solstice) and his other foot on the goat (Capricorn/winter solstice). Thus he is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).

 Two things are now likely to occur mythically, in rapid succession. Having defeated Llew, Goronwy (darkness) now takes over Llew's functions, both as
lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess, and as King of our own world. Although Goronwy, the Horned King, now sits on Llew's throne and begins his rule
immediately, his formal coronation will not be for another six weeks, occurring at Samhain (Halloween) or the beginning of Winter, when he becomes the Winter Lord, the Dark King, Lord of Misrule.

Goronwy's other function has more immediate results, however. He mates with  the virgin goddess, and Blodeuwedd conceives, and will give birth -- nine
  months later (at the Summer Solstice) -- to Goronwy's son, who is reallyanother incarnation of himself, the Dark Child.

   Llew's sacrificial death at Harvest Home also identifies him with John Barleycorn, spirit of the fields. Thus, Llew represents not only the sun's power, but also the sun's life trapped and crystallized in the corn. Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf   or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the   field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing.

 So one may see Blodeuwedd and Goronwy in a new guise, not as conspirators who murder their king, but as kindly farmers who harvest the crop which
 they had planted and so lovingly cared for. And yet, anyone who knows the old ballad of John Barleycorn knows that we have not heard the last of him.

   Incidentally, this annual mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure  (representing the vegetation spirit) may have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. This charge was first made  by Julius Caesar (who may not have had the most unbiased of motives), and   has been re-stated many times since. However, as has often been pointed  out, the only historians besides Caesar who make this accusation are those    who have read Caesar. And in fact, upon reading Caesar's 'Gallic Wars'  closely, one discovers that Caesar never claims to have actually witnessed  such a sacrifice. Nor does he claim to have talked to anyone else who did.   In fact, there is not one single eyewitness account of a human sacrifice performed by Druids in all of history!

   Nor is there any archeological evidence to support the charge. If, for  example, human sacrifices had been performed at the same ritual sites year  after year, there would be physical traces. Yet there is not a scrap. Nor     is there any native tradition or history which lends support. In fact,   insular tradition seems to point in the opposite direction. The Druid's    reverence for life was so strict that they refused to lift a sword to   defend themselves when massacred by Roman soldiers on the Isle of Mona.    Irish brehon laws forbade a Druid to touch a weapon, and any soul rash   enough to unsheathe a sword in the presence of a Druid would be executed    for such an outrage! Jesse Weston, in her brilliant study of the Four  Hallows of British myth, 'From Ritual to Romance', points out that British   folk tradition is, however, full of MOCK sacrifices. In the case of the     wicker-man, such figures were referred to in very personified terms,    dressed in clothes, addressed by name, etc. In such a religious ritual drama, everybody played along.

   In the medieval miracle-play tradition of the 'Rise Up, Jock' variety (performed by troupes of mummers at all the village fairs), a young harlequin-like king always underwent a mock sacrificial death.

  But invariably, the traditional cast of characters included a mysterious  'Doctor' who had learned many secrets while 'traveling in foreign lands'.   The Doctor reaches into his bag of tricks, plies some magical cure, and  presto! the young king rises up hale and whole again, to the cheers of the   crowd. As Weston so sensibly points out, if the young king were ACTUALLY   killed, he couldn't very well rise up again, which is the whole point of  the ritual drama! It is an enactment of the death and resurrection of the   vegetation spirit. And what better time to perform it than at the end of the harvest season?

  In the rhythm of the year, Harvest Home marks a time of rest after hard  work. The crops are gathered in, and winter is still a month and a half  away! Although the nights are getting cooler, the days are still warm, and     there is something magical in the sunlight, for it seems silvery and  indirect. As we pursue our gentle hobbies of making corn dollies (those tiny vegetation spirits) and wheat weaving, our attention is suddenly arrested by the sound of baying from the skies (the 'Hounds of Annwn'  passing?), as lines of geese cut silhouettes across a harvest moon. And we move closer to the hearth, the longer evening hours giving us time to catch up on our reading, munching on popcorn balls and caramel apples and sipping   home-brewed mead or ale. What a wonderful time Harvest Home is! And how  lucky we are to live in a part of the country where the season's changes are so dramatic and majestic!

Alban Eiler

Around March 21
Ostara or Vernal (spring) Equinox is the point of equilibrium - the balance is suspended just before spring bursts forth from winter. The God and Goddess are young children at play and holiday festivals use brightly colored eggs to represent the child within. Ostara is a time for collecting wildflowers, walking in nature's beauty and cultivating herb gardens. This is the time to free yourself from anything in the past that is holding you back.

At Vernal Equinox, and the season of Spring reaches it's apex, halfway through its journey from Candlemas to Beltane. Once again, night and day stand in perfect balance, with the powers of light on the ascendancy.The god of light now wins a victory over his twin, the god of darkness.

We think that the customs surrounding the celebration of the spring equinox were imported from Mediterranean lands, although there can be no doubt that   the first inhabitants of the British Isles observed it, as evidence from megalithic sites shows. But it was certainly more popular to the south, where people celebrated the holiday as New Year's Day, and claimed it as the first day of the first sign of the Zodiac, Aries. However you look at  it, it is certainly a time of new beginnings, as a simple glance at Nature will prove.

In the Roman Catholic Church, there are two holidays which get mixed up with the Vernal Equinox. The first, occurring on the fixed calendar day of March 25th in the old liturgical calendar, is called the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or B.V.M., as she was typically abbreviated in Catholic Missals). 'Annunciation' means an announcement.  This is the day that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was 'in the family way'. Naturally, this had to be announced since Mary, being still a virgin, would have no other means of knowing it. Why did the Church pick the Vernal Equinox for the commemoration of this event? Because it was necessary to have Mary conceive  the child Jesus a full nine months before his birth at the Winter Solstice   (i.e., Christmas, celebrated on the fixed calendar date of December 25). Mary's pregnancy would take the natural nine months to complete, even if the conception was a bit unorthodox.
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  As mentioned before, the older Pagan equivalent of this scene focuses on the joyous process of natural conception, when the young virgin Goddess (in this case, 'virgin' in the original sense of meaning 'unmarried') mates  with the young solar God, who has just displaced his rival. This is probably not their first mating, however. In the mythical sense, the couple  may have been lovers since Candlemas, when the young God reached puberty. But the young Goddess was recently a mother (at the Winter Solstice) and is   probably still nursing her new child. Therefore, conception is naturally  delayed for six weeks or so and, despite earlier matings with the God, She   does not conceive until (surprise!) the Vernal Equinox. This may also be    their Hand-fasting, a sacred marriage between God and Goddess called a Hierogamy, the ultimate Great Rite.

Probably the nicest study of this theme occurs in M. Esther Harding's book, 'Woman's Mysteries'. Probably the nicest description of it occurs in M. Z.
  Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon', in the scene where Morgan and Arthur assume  the sacred roles. (Bradley follows the British custom of transferring the
     episode to Beltane, when the climate is more suited to its outdoor celebration.)

 The other Christian holiday which gets mixed up in this is Easter. Easter, too, celebrates the victory of a god of light (Jesus) over darkness (death), so it makes sense to place it at this season. Ironically, the name 'Easter' was taken from the name of a Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre (from
       whence we also get the name of the female hormone, estrogen).

    Her chief symbols were the bunny (both for fertility and because her worshipers saw a hare in the full moon) and the egg (symbolic of the cosmic egg of creation), images which Christians have been hard pressed to explain. Her holiday, the Eostara, was held on the Vernal Equinox Full Moon. Of course, the Church doesn't celebrate full moons, even if they do calculate by them, so they planted their Easter on the following Sunday. Thus, Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first Full Moon, after the Vernal Equinox. If you've ever wondered why Easter moved all around the calendar, now you know. (By the way, the Catholic Church was so adamant  about NOT incorporating lunar Goddess symbolism that they added a further calculation: if Easter Sunday were to fall on the Full Moon itself, then Easter was postponed to the following Sunday instead.)

  Incidentally, this raises another point: recently, some Pagan traditions began referring to the Vernal Equinox as Eostara. Historically, this is incorrect. Eostara is a lunar holiday, honoring a lunar Goddess, at the Vernal Full Moon. Hence, the name 'Eostara' is best reserved to the nearest Esbat, rather than the Sabbat itself. How this happened is difficult to say. However, it is notable that some of the same groups misappropriated the term 'Lady Day' for Beltane, which left no good folk name for the Equinox. Thus, Eostara was misappropriated for it, completing a chain-reaction of displacement. Needless to say, the old and accepted folk ame for the Vernal Equinox is 'Lady Day'. Christians sometimes insist that the title is in honor of Mary and her Annunciation, but Pagans will smile knowingly.

 Another mythological motif which must surely arrest our attention at this time of year is that of the descent of the God or Goddess into the Underworld. Perhaps we see this most clearly in the Christian tradition. Beginning with his death on the cross on Good Friday, it is said that Jesus  descended into hell' for the three days that his body lay entombed. But on the third day (that is, Easter Sunday), his body and soul rejoined, he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

   By a strange 'coincidence', most ancient Pagan religions speak of the Goddess descending into the Underworld, also for a period of three days. Why three days? If we remember that we are here dealing with the lunar aspect of the Goddess, the reason should be obvious. As the text of one Book of Shadows gives it, '...as the moon waxes and wanes, and walks three nights in darkness, so the Goddess once spent three nights in the Kingdom  of Death.' In our modern world, alienated as it is from nature, we tend to mark the time of the New Moon (when no moon is visible) as a single date on a calendar. We tend to forget that the moon is also hidden from our view on the day before and the day after our calendar date. But this did not go unnoticed by our ancestors, who always speak of the Goddess's sojourn into the land of Death as lasting for three days. Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the next Full Moon (the Eostara) as the return of the Goddess from chthonic regions?

 Naturally, this is the season to celebrate the victory of life over death, as any nature-lover will affirm. And the Christian religion was not misguided by celebrating Christ's victory over death at this same season. Nor is Christ the only solar hero to journey into the underworld. King Arthur, for example, does the same thing when he sets sail in his magical  ship, Prydwen, to bring back precious gifts (i.e. the gifts of life) from the Land of the Dead, as we are told in the 'Mabinogi'. Welsh triads allude  to Gwydion and Amaethon doing much the same thing. In fact, this theme is so universal that mythologists refer to it by a common phrase, 'the harrowing of hell'.

  However, one might conjecture that the descent into hell, or the land of the dead, was originally accomplished, not by a solar male deity, but by a  lunar female deity. It is Nature Herself who, in Spring, returns from the Underworld with her gift of abundant life. Solar heroes may have laid claim to this theme much later. The very fact that we are dealing with a three-day period of absence should tell us we are dealing with a lunar, not  solar, theme. (Although one must make exception for those occasional MALE lunar deities, such as the Assyrian god, Sin.) At any rate, one of the  nicest modern renditions of the harrowing of hell appears in many Books of Shadows as 'The Descent of the Goddess'.

 Lady Day may be especially appropriate for the celebration of this theme, whether by storytelling, reading, or dramatic re-enactment.

For modern Witches, Lady Day is one of the Lesser Sabbats or Low Holidays of the year, one of the four quarter-days. And what date will Witches  choose to celebrate? They may choose the traditional folk 'fixed' date of March 25th, starting on its Eve. Or they may choose the actual equinox point, when the Sun crosses the Equator and enters the astrological sign of Aries. This year (1988), that will occur at 3:39 am CST on March 20th.

Alban Eiler
The first day of spring, or the spring (Vernal) equinox was celebrated March 21. Alban Eiler, which means, "Light of the Earth," was the day that night and day stood equal. Crops were typically sown at this time. The equinoxes and solstices were seen, to the Celts, as a time of transition. This rare balance in nature made these days a powerful time for magic to the ancient Druids.

Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel "reborn"
after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday. It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth.Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter's daughter Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in whose footprintsflowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or absence of life.

May Day - May 1st

May Day occurs on May 1 and refers to any of several public holidays. In many countries, May Day is synonymous with International Workers' Day, or Labour Day, which celebrates the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. As a day of celebration the holiday has ancient origins, and it can relate to many customs that have survived into modern times. Many of these customs are due to May Day being a cross-quarter day, meaning that it falls approximately halfway between an equinox and a solstice.

Origins
The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian Europe, as in the Celtic celebration of Beltane, and the Walpurgis Night of the Germanic countries. Many pre-Christian indigenous celebrations were eventually banned or Christianized during the process of Christianization in Europe. As a result, a more secular version of the holiday continued to be observed in the schools and churches of Europe well into the 20th century. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May. Today various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed (to varying degrees) versions of these customs on 1 May.

The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of Spring, May 1 was the first day of summer; hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer. In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary's head will often be adorned with flowers. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbors' doorsteps.[2]

Traditional May Day celebrations
May Day marks the end of the uncomfortable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations, regardless of the locally prevalent political or religious establishment.

As Europe became Christianized the pagan holidays lost their religious character, They either morphed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint's Day. In the start of the twenty-first century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival again.

United Kingdom
Roodmas was an explicitly Christian Mass celebrated in England at midnight on May 1, presumably to diminish the popularity of traditional Walpurgis Night celebrations.

England

Morris dancing on May Day in Oxford, England 2004.Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a Maypole. Much of this tradition derive from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ"[13] (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings).

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.

The May Day Bank Holiday was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar, although new arrangements in some areas to even out the length of school terms mean that the Good Friday and Easter Monday Bank Holidays, which vary from year to year, may also fall during term time.

Also, 1 May 1707 was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In Oxford, it is traditional for revellers to gather below Magdalen College tower to listen to the college's choir for what is called May Morning. It is then thought to be traditional for some students to jump off Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell. However this has actually only been fashionable since the 1970s. In recent years the bridge has been closed on 1 May to prevent people from jumping, as the water under the bridge is only 2 feet (61 cm) deep and jumping from the bridge has resulted in serious injury in the past yet there are still students who insist on climb the barriers and leaping into the water, causing injury. [14]

Maydayrun
Maydayrun is an annual event held in England among countries that celebrate their bank holidays on the first Monday in May. It is also referred to as "MayDay Run" or "May Day Run" as well. The event involves thousands of motorbikes taking a 55-mile (89 km) trip from the south of London (Locksbottom, Farnborough, Kent) to Hastings Seafront (Hastings, East Sussex). The event has been taking place for over 40 years now and has grown in interest from around the country, both commercially and publicly. The event is not officially organised; the police only manage the traffic, while volunteers manage the parking.

Hastings fills up with tourists and bikes by about 11 AM, and the A21 from Kent to East Sussex is the road the bikers travel. However, this road should be avoided if traveling in a car.

A good example of more traditional May Day festivities is still witnessed in Whitstable, Kent where the Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday. A separate revival occurred in Hastings in 1983 and has become a major event in the town calendar. Padstow also holds its annual 'Obby 'Oss festival. A traditional Sweeps Festival is performed over the May bank holiday in Rochester, Kent where the Jack In the Green is woken at dawn on the 1st of May by Morris dancers.

Cornwall
Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual 'Obby-Oss' day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK; revellers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even through the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional 'May Day' song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Prior to the 19th century distinctive May day celebrations were widespread throughout West Cornwall and have recently been revived in St. Ives and in 2008 will be revived in Penzance.

Kingsand, Cawsand and Millbrook in Cornwall celebrate Black Prince Day on the May Day bank holiday. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is taken in procession from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand where it is cast adrift. The houses in the villages are decorated with flowers and people traditionally wear red and white clothes. There are further celebrations in Cawsand Square with Morris dancing and May pole dancing.

May Day 

Please note: We have mainly written about England, as that is the country within the UK where our students live. We would be very happy for schools and visitors to send us information we can add to our website on Wales and Scotland.

The first day of the month of May is known as May Day. It is the time of year when warmer weather begins and flowers and trees start to blossom. It is said to be a time of love and romance. It is when people celebrate the coming of summer with lots of different customs that are expressions of joy and hope after a long winter. copyright of protectbritain.com

Maypole Dancing - a traditional dance at this time of year

Roman festival of Flora
Although summer does not officially begin until June, May Day really marks its beginning. May Day celebrations have their origins in the Roman festival of Flora, goddess of fruit and flowers, which marked the beginning of summer. It was held annually from April 28th to May 3rd.

Interesting Fact 
Although May Day is now the first day of the month of May, before 1752, when the calendar was changed, it was 11 days earlier.

Maypole Dancing

A traditional May day dance is known as Maypole Dancing. On May day, people used to cut down young trees and stick them in the ground in the village to mark the arrival of summer. People danced around them in celebration of the end of winter and the start of the fine weather that would allow planting to begin. copyright of protectbritain.com

Maypoles were once common all over England and were kept from one year to the next. Schools would practice skipping round the pole for weeks before the final show on the village greens. The end results would be either a beautiful plaited pattern of ribbons round the pole or a tangled cat's cradle, depending on how much rehearsing had been done. copyright of protectbritain.com

More pictures of Maypole dancing

Many English villages still have a maypole, and on May 1st, the villagers dance around it.

Interesting Fact 
The tallest maypole is said to have been erected in London on the Strand in 1661; it stood over 143 feet high. It was felled in 1717, when it was used by Isaac Newton to support Huygen's new reflecting telescope.

Another traditional dance you will often see from May is Morris Dancing.

May Day Bank Holiday

The month of May has many traditions and celebrations. For the convenience of the general public, many May Day activities have now been moved to the new May Day holiday on the first Monday of the month. This Monday is a bank holiday, a day off school and work.

Many of the May Day celebrations take place at the weekend as well as on the 'May Day' Monday. The weekend is know as bank holiday weekend because it comes with the extra day holiday on the Monday. copyright of protectbritain.com

How was May Day Celebrated in the past?

It was custom for every one to go a-Maying early on May Day. Herrick, a 17th century English poet wrote:

There's not a budding boy, or girl, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.

Decorating Houses

May Day began early in the morning. People would go out before sunrise in order to gather flowers and greenery to decorate their houses and villages with in the belief that the vegetation spirits would bring good fortune.

Washing in the early morning dew

Girls would make a special point of washing their faces in the dew of the early morning. They believed this made them very beautiful for the following year. copyright of protectbritain.com

May Queen

The rest of the day was given over to various festivities. There was dancing on the village green, archery contest and exhibitions of strength. The highlight of the day was the crowning of the May Queen, the human replica of Flora. By tradition she took no part in the games or dancing, but sat like a queen in a flower-decked chair to watch her 'subjects'.

May Day Garlands

Young girls would make May Garlands. They covered two hoops, one at right angles inside the other, with leaves and flowers, and sometimes they put a doll inside to represent the goddess of Spring.

In some parts of Britain, May 1st is called Garland Day.

The first of May is Garland Day
So please remember the garland.
We don't come here but once a year,
So please remember the garland.

May Day Lifting

There was once a tradition in England of 'lifting' where a gang of young men would lift a pretty girl in a flower bedecked chair on May day. Then the girl would choose a boy on May 2nd.

May Day Tricks

In the North of England, the first of May was a kind of late 'April Fooling' when all sorts of pranks would take place and 'May Gosling' was the shout if you managed to trick someone. The response would be:

'May Goslings past and gone. You're the fool for making me one!'

May Day Celebrations today

In some places, May Day celebrations still begin at sunset on 30 April. They include lots of floral decorations and processions through towns and villages.

Charlton-on-Otmoor, a village near Oxford

A May-Day festival is held involving all the children from the Primary School. It starts with a special May-day song followed by a procession to the church. Everyone wears white and carries garlands of flowers. The girls wear straw bands and posies and ribbons in their hair.

In the church, the posies are laid in a great spread below the Rood Screen, which is specially decorated with a Rood-Cross completely wrapped in Yew leaves and branches.

After a very full special service, all the children process back to their school with all their families and friends. They dance a number of May-day dances and Maypole ones too before tucking into a great MAY Day feast.

Rochester Sweeps Festival

Rochester's annual Sweep Festival celebrates the traditional holiday that chimney sweeps used to enjoy on 1 May. It was the one time of the year when the sweeps could put away their tools and have some fun.

The Sweeps Festival is a colourful mix of music, dancing and entertainment. An opportunity to see some of the traditional dances and hear the songs which have been past down from generation to generation.

Find out more and see the photographs.

Padstow 'Obby 'Oss

The oldest May Day celebration still taking place to day, is the Padstow 'Obby 'Oss celebration in Cornwall. Its roots date back to the 14th century. Every May Day thousands of people come to see the two famous Hobby Horses, the Old Oss and the Blue Ribbon Oss.

Celebrations in Padstow officially start the night before at midnight, when a groups of 'mayers' meet outside the Golden Lion Inn to serenade the owner with their Night Song:

Rise up, Mr. Rickard, and joy to you betide,
For summer is a-come in today; 
And bright is your bride, that lays down by your side 
In the merry morning of May.

The whole town is ablaze with bluebells, forget-me-nots, cowslips, and sycamore twigs. Dancing and other celebrations take place all day.
Find out more

Morris Dancing

Another traditional dance seen throughout the month of May is Morris Dancing. The dancing is very lively and accompanied by an accordion player, a melodian or fiddle player (Cotswolds) or a noisy band with a drum (Border Morris or North West sides)

Morris dancers wear different clothes depending on the part of the country in which they dance. They are often dressed in white with coloured baldrics (coloured belts) across their chests.

There are usually six or eight dancers arranged in two lines or in a circle facing each other. The dancers may carry white handkerchiefs that they shake, or short sticks that they bang against each other as they dance.

There are also single dancers who wear special costumes.
See more photographs of the different types of Morris Dancers

Well Dressing

The custom of well-dressing is popular all over Derbyshire.
Find out more ....

May Day in Scotland

"It is not just England who celebrate Mayday, I come from a town in Scotland called Turriff. We celebrate Mayday on the 1st Monday of May every year. The roads are closed off to traffic from 10am - 4pm, we have a funfair at the local park, we have lots off stalls in the town & different activities & going on throughout the day, the Local pipeband (Turriff & Disrtrict Pipeband) march round the town playing. Its a fantastic day out for all & attracts crowds of people to Turriff. " 
Veronica

Scotland

Students gather on Castle Sands, St Andrews for the may dip in 2007St Andrews has a similar student tradition — some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on the 1st, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow organize Mayday festivals and rallies. In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival is held on the evening of May eve and into the early hours of May Day


The international working class holiday; Mayday, originated in pagan Europe. It was a festive holy day celebrating the first spring planting. The ancient Celts and Saxons celebrated May 1st as Beltane or the day of fire. Bel was the Celtic god of the sun.

The Saxons began their May day celebrations on the eve of May, April 30. It was an evening of games and feasting celebrating the end of winter and the return of the sun and fertility of the soil. Torch bearing peasants and villager would wind their way up paths to the top of tall hills or mountain crags and then ignite wooden wheels which they would roll down into the fields

The May eve celebrations were eventually outlawed by the Catholic church, but were still celebrated by peasants until the late 1700's. While good church going folk would shy away from joining in the celebrations, those less afraid of papal authority would don animal masks and various costumes, not unlike our modern Halloween. The revelers, lead by the Goddess of the Hunt; Diana (sometimes played by a pagan-priest in women's clothing) and the Horned God; Herne, would travel up the hill shouting, chanting and singing, while blowing hunting horns. This night became known in Europe as Walpurgisnacht, or night of the witches

The Celtic tradition of Mayday in the British isles continued to be celebrated through-out the middle ages by rural and village folk. Here the traditions were similar with a goddess and god of the hunt.

As European peasants moved away from hunting gathering societies their gods and goddesses changed to reflect a more agrarian society. Thus Diana and Herne came to be seen by medieval villagers as fertility deities of the crops and fields. Diana became the Queen of the May and Herne became Robin Goodfellow (a predecessor of Robin Hood) or the Green Man.

The Queen of the May reflected the life of the fields and Robin reflected the hunting traditions of the woods. The rites of mayday were part and parcel of pagan celebrations of the seasons. Many of these pagan rites were later absorbed by the Christian church in order to win over converts from the 'Old Religion'.

Mayday celebrations in Europe varied according to locality, however they were immensely popular with artisans and villagers until the 19th Century. The Christian church could not eliminate many of the traditional feast and holy days of the Old Religion so they were transformed into Saint days.

During the middle ages the various trade guilds celebrated feast days for the patron saints of their craft. The shoemakers guild honored St. Crispin, the tailors guild celebrated Adam and Eve. As late as the 18th century various trade societies and early craft-unions would enter floats in local parades still depicting Adam and Eve being clothed by the Tailors and St. Crispin blessing the shoemaker.

The two most popular feast days for Medieval craft guilds were the Feast of St. John, or the Summer Solstice and Mayday. Mayday was a raucous and fun time, electing a queen of the May from the eligible young women of the village, to rule the crops until harbest. Our tradition of beauty pagents may have evolved , albeit in a very bastardized form, from the May Queen.

Besides the selection of the May Queen was the raising of the phallic Maypole, around which the young single men and women of the village would dance holding on to the ribbons until they became entwined, with their ( hoped for) new love.

And of course there was Robin Goodfellow, or the Green Man who was the Lord of Misrule for this day. Mayday was a celebration of the common people, and Robin would be the King/Priest/Fool for a day. Priests and Lords were the butt of many jokes, and the Green Man and his supporters; mummers would make jokes and poke fun of the local authorities. This tradition of satire is still conducted today in Newfoundland, with the Christmas Mummery.

The church and state did not take kindly to these celebrations, especially during times of popular rebellion. Mayday and the Maypole were outlawed in the 1600's. Yet the tradition still carried on in many rural areas of England. The trade societies still celebrated Mayday until the 18th Century.

As trade societies evolved from guilds, to friendly societies and eventually into unions, the craft traditions remained strong into the early 19th century. In North America Dominion Day celebrations in Canada and July 4th celebrations in the United States would be celebrated by tradesmen still decorating floats depicting their ancient saints such as St. Crispin.

Our modern celebration of Mayday as a working class holiday evolved from the struggle for the eight hour day in 1886. May 1, 1886 saw national strikes in the United States and Canada for an eight hour day called by the Knights of Labour. In Chicago police attacked striking workers killing six. 
The next day at a demonstration in Haymarket Square to protest the police brutality a bomb exploded in the middle of a crowd of police killing eight of them. The police arrested eight anarchist trade unionists claiming they threw the bombs. To this day the subject is still one of controversy. The question remains whether the bomb was thrown by the workers at the police or whether one of the police's own agent provocateurs dropped it in their haste to retreat from charging workers.

In what was to become one of the most infamous show trials in America in the 19th century, but certainly not to be the last of such trials against radical workers, the State of Illinois tried the anarchist workingmen for fighting for their rights as much as being the actual bomb throwers. Whether the anarchist workers were guilty or innocent was irrelevant. They were agitators, fomenting revolution and stirring up the working class, and they had to be taught a lesson.

Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engle and Adolph Fischer were found guilty and executed by the State of Illinois.

In Paris in 1889 the International Working Men's Association (the First International) declared May 1st an international working class holiday in commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs. The red flag became the symbol of the blood of working class martyrs in their battle for workers rights.

Mayday, which had been banned for being a holiday of the common people, had been reclaimed once again for the common people.

Alban Arthuan

December 21
("The Light of Arthur") The winter solstice was the shortest day of the year and coincides closely with the Christian Christmas celebration. The name 'Arthuan' is interesting in relation to Arthurian legend, as King Arthur was believed to have been born on the Winter Solstice in Castle Tintagel in Cornwall. This also was referred to as Yule, Mabon, Jul, Saturnalia, or Christmas.

Alban Arthuan was a festival of peace and a celebration of waxing solar light. Here the Goddess gives birth to the Sun Child and hope for new light is reborn. Many honored the forthcoming Sun child by burning an oaken Yule log, and honored the Goddess in her many Mother aspects. The Father God was also honored in various forms: as Santa Claus, the Old Sky God, Father Time, and the Holly King.

Yule was adopted by Christians as Christmas (December 25th), Yule is a time of awakening to new goals and leaving old regrets behind. The Christian tradition of a Christmas tree has it's origins in the Pagan Yule celebration. Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could  tell when a spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, symbol of the five elements, was placed atop the tree. The colors of the season, red and green, also are of pagan origin, as is the custom of exchanging gifts. A Solar festival, Yule is celebrated by fire and the use of a Yule log. A peice of the log is saved and kept throughout the year to protect the home. That piece is used to light the next year's log.

The holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with it's associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath). There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

On this  darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, 'the dark night of our souls', there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
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Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except
that of cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a SINGLE day, but rather a period of TWELVE days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than Christianity itself, which means that 'Christmas' wasn't celebrated in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year's log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced,wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while carolling,
 fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon 'Yula', meaning 'wheel' of the year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21st. It
is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one. This year (1988) it occurs on December 21st at 9:28 am CST. Pagan customs are still  enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash.

Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on it. In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St.Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by          burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically -- not medicinally! It's highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food. And drink! The most popular of which was the 'wassail cup' deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term 'waes hael' (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy Night arrives, that bees hum the '100th psalm' on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas will bring good luck, that a person born on
   Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck is sure to follow, that 'if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see', that 'hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May', that one can use the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming year, and so on.

A 12-day celebration that lasts from Winter Solstice to New Year.


One of the earlier rites celebrated at this time was the Norse Yule sun-worship festival. Yule logs and Yule candles became a traditional part of Christmas, symbolising fire and light; so to did the Northern European custom of a candlelit Christmas tree, which was believed to shelter the spirit of the woodland spirits when other trees lost their leaves. Another Norse yule tradition was a feast  with a boars head as the main dish.  Decemder the 25th was itself a holy day long before the 4th century, when Pope Julius I gave the churches sanction to the dubious belief that the date marked the birth of Christ. From times immemorial the winter solstice had been a time when bonfires were lit all over the Northern world to welcome back the sun. Even today fire and light remain basic ingredients in a happy christmas, though few people now recognise how the prayers of their forefathers are recalled in the brandy fed flames on a Christmas pudding.

December 21 -- Winter
Solstice -- Yule 
The sun is at its nadir, the year's longest night. We internalize and synthesize the outward-directed activities of the previous summer months. Some covens  hold a Festival of Light to commemorate the Goddess as Mother giving birth to the Sun God. Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of
                                         Light over the Lord of
                                         Darkness as the turning
                                         point from which the days
                                         will lengthen. The name
                                         "Yule" derives from the
                                         Norse word for "wheel", and
                                         many of our customs (like
                                         those of the Christian
                                         holiday) derive from Norse
                                         and Celtic Pagan practices
                                         (the Yule log, the tree, the
                                         custom of Wassailing, et
                                         al).

Lugnasad

August 1 (July 31 August Eve)
(loo-na-sa)  Lugnasad was the beginning of the harvest and was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, it is decline of Summer into Winter. Many grains, seeds, herbs and fruits were harvested and dried at this time. This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh, Lugus to the Gauls). The second aspect is ‘hlaf-maesse’ (loaf-mass), now known to us as ‘Lammas’, the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in riutal loaves.These aspects are not too dissimilar, as the shamanic death and transformation of Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong "John  Barleycorn". This time is also sacred to the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, Artemis.

The most common interpretation of Lugh's connection was that these were the funeral games for His foster-mother Tailtiu who died clearing land so that Her people could grow food . By honoring Her sacrifice the people may have been hoping to keep Lugh from neglecting or even destroying the crop. This would be in Ulster, in other locals the festival has ties to the burial places of other Goddesses or Otherworldly women, such as Carman in Lienster ---their names at least appear to be old even if the stories are newer (that is Medieval).  In Ireland, races and Games of athletic prowess were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games for lugh).

One common feature of the Games were the 'Tailltean marriages', a rather informal marriage that lasted for only 'a year and a day' or until next Lammas. At that time, the couple could decide to continue the arrangement if it pleased them, or to stand back to back and walk away from one another, thus bringing the Tailltean marriage to a formal close. Such trial marriages (obviously related to the Wiccan 'Handfasting') were quite common even into the 1500's, although it was something one 'didn't bother the parish priest about'. Indeed, such ceremonies were usually solemnized by a  poet, bard, or shanachie (or, it may be guessed, by a priest or priestess of the Old Religion).

Rituals typically centered around the assurance of a bountiful harvest season and the celebration of the harvest cycle. A bountiful harvest ensured the safe passage of the tribe through the upcoming winter months. The gathering of bilberries was an ancient practice that symbolized the success of the Lughnasadh rituals. If the bilberries were bountiful, it was believed that there would also be a plentiful harvest. Also Rural people believed that the harvest spirit dwelt in the fields, and as the reapers cut the corn the spirit was forced back into the ever dwindling  remainder. No man wanted to be the one who destroyed her refuge, so the reapers took turns to throw their sickles at the last stand of corn. It was then plaited into a womens form - known as the Corn-dolly or Kern-baby - which represented the harvest spirit. This was set in a place of honour at the harvest feast.

A ceremonial highlight of such festivals was the 'Catherine wheel'.  Although the Roman Church moved St. Catherine's feast day all around the calendar with bewildering frequency, it's most popular date was Lammas. (They also kept trying to expel this much-loved saint from the ranks of the  blessed because she was mythical rather than historical, and because her worship gave rise to the heretical sect known as the Cathari.) At any rate,   a large wagon wheel was taken to the top of a near-by hill, covered with  tar, set aflame, and ceremoniously rolled down the hill. Some mythologists see in this ritual the remnants of a Pagan rite symbolizing the end of summer, the flaming disk representing the sun-god in his decline. And just  as the sun king has now reached the autumn of his years, his rival or dark  self has just reached puberty.

Now is the time to teach what you have learned, to share the fruits of your achievements with the world. Wheat weaving, such as the making of corn dollies, is traditional. Bread is baked and the altar is decorated with fruits and vegetables of the harvest.

The Sun King, now the Dark Lord, gives his energy to the crops to ensure life while the Mother prepares to give way to her aspect as the Crone.

To Christians it was Festival of the First Fruits, the time when the first corn was ground and made into loaves which were dedicated to God. The day was called by the Saxons

Lugnasad (August 1) was the beginning of the harvest. To Christians it was Festival of the First Fruits, the time when the first corn was ground and made into loaves which were dedicated to God. The day was called by the Saxons ‘hlaf-maesse’ (loaf-mass), now known to us as ‘Lammas’.

Alban Hefin - June 21

Around June 21
Alban Heruin, or "The Light of the Shore," is also referred to as Litha, Midsummer's Day or The Summer Solstice. The longest day and the shortest night of the year, is a time of triumph for the light. It is the time when the Sun reached its zenith and cast three rays to light the world. Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the procession  to the equinox, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer. Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the June 24th festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our June 23rd).

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at reading an ephemeris or did not live close enough to Salisbury Plain to trot over to Stonehenge and sight down its main avenue, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, June 24th. The slight forward displacement of the traditional date is the result of multitudinous calendrical changes down through the ages. It is analogous to the winter solstice celebration, which is astronomically on or about December 21st, but is celebrated on the traditional date of December 25th.

This holiday represents the Sun King in all his glory. In many Wiccan celebrations, this is when the Oak King, who represents the waxing year, is triumphed over by the Holly King, who represents the waning year. The two are one; the Oak King is the growing youth while the Holly King is the mature man. Healings and love magick are especially suitable at this time. Midsummer Night's Eve is supposed to be a good time to commune with field and forest sprites and faeries.
                                  
RITUALS
It was traditionally celebrated out in the forest with picnics and games. n England, it was the ancient custom on St. John's Eve to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off evil spirits. This was known as 'setting the watch'. People often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and people carried cressets (pivoted lanterns atop poles) as they wandered from one bonfire to another. These wandering, garland-bedecked bands were called a 'marching watch'. Often they were attended by morris dancers, and traditional players dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and six hobby-horse  riders. Just as May Day was a time to renew the boundary on one's own property, so Midsummer's Eve was a time to ward the boundary of the city.

Customs surrounding St. John's Eve are many and varied. At the very least, most young folk plan to stay up throughout the whole of this shortest night. Certain courageous souls might spend the night keeping watch in the center of a circle of standing stones. To do so would certainly result in either death, madness, or (hopefully) the power of inspiration to become a great poet or bard. (This is, by the way, identical to certain incidents in the first branch of the 'Mabinogion'.) This was also the night when the serpents of the island would roll themselves into a hissing, writhing ball in order to engender the 'glain', also called the 'serpent's egg', 'snake stone', or 'Druid's egg'. Anyone in possession of this hard glass bubble would wield incredible magical powers. Even Merlyn himself (accompanied by his black dog) went in search of it, according to one ancient Welsh story.

 Other customs included decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. John's wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John's wort, vervain and trefoil. Indeed, Midsummer's Eve in Spain is called the 'Night of the Verbena (Vervain)'. St. John's wort was especially honored by young maidens who picked it in  the hopes of divining a future lover. The young maid stole through the cottage door, And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow'r;
'Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light, I must gather the mystic St. John's wort tonight, The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide If the coming year shall make me a bride.'

CHRISITANITY
The Pagan mid-summer celebration was adopted by Christians as the feast of John the Baptist (June 24th). Occurring 180 degrees apart on the wheel of the year, the mid-winter celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus, while the mid-summer celebration commemorates the birth of John, the prophet who was born six months before  Jesus in order to announce his arrival.

St. John himself was often seen as a rather Pagan figure. He was, after all, called 'the Oak King'. His connection to the wilderness (from whence 'the voice cried out') was often emphasized by the rustic nature of his shrines. Many statues show him as a horned figure (as is also the case with Moses). Christian iconographers mumble embarrassed explanations about 'horns of light', while modern Pagans giggle and happily refer to such statues as 'Pan the Baptist'. And to clench matters, many depiction's of John actually show him with the lower torso of a satyr, cloven hooves and all! Obviously, this kind of John the Baptist is more properly a Jack in the Green! Also obvious is that behind the medieval conception of St. John lies a distant, shadowy Pagan deity, perhaps the archetypal Wild Man of the Wood, whose face stares down at us through the foliate masks that adorn so much church architecture.

FAIRIES
According to British faery lore, this night was second only to Halloween for its importance to the wee folk, who especially enjoyed a riddling on such a fine summer's night. In order to see them, you had only to gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto your eyelids. But be sure to carry a little bit of rue in your pocket, or you might well be 'pixie-led'. Or, failing the rue, you might simply turn your jacket inside-out, which should keep you from harm's way. But if even this fails, you must seek out one of the 'ley lines', the old straight tracks, and stay upon it to your destination. This will keep you safe from any malevolent power, as will crossing a stream of 'living' (running) water.

Imbolc

February 1
"Imbolc" is from Old Irish, and may mean "in the belly", and Oimelc, "ewe's milk", as this is the lambing time. This is considered the first of spring. In Ireland the first stirrings of spring are said to be witnessed by the first lambing of the ewes . Ewes are unable to produce milk until after they bear their young, which occurs at this time. Since milk was very important to the basic survival of the tribes, this was a time of great joy. It meant that the end of a long winter was in sight, and green pastures were only a few months away. The ground may be ready to plow for the first time soon after this day in parts of Ireland (but all we can hope for is a bit of a temporary thaw). Fisher-men would begin preparing their gear to go out, farmers would make sure their plows and other tools were in good working order; warriors, likewise, their weapons. This was a  time of prepara-tion for one's summer activities, what ever they may be. It was also a time to check one's food stores, to see if they would last the rest of the season for there was still little fresh food for some time.

There was little traveling done and there were no great festivals held to celebrate it. This holiday was celebrated within the local village, which may also  mean that its rituals were even more diverse than any others throughout the island. Travel was hazardous during this time, not so much for the cold but for the darkness. Like the Winter Solstice celebration of the continental Indo-Europeans, it was an important celebration in that the hope of spring must be celebrated or depression will overtake the people.

The holiday is also called 'Brigit's Day', in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, poetry/inspiration, and healing. Brigit's holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since  she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration.  Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday.

Februum is a Latin word meaning purification, naming the month of cleansing. The thaw releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) -- all that was hindered is let flow at this season. At Imbolc, Brighid was pregnant with the seed of the Sun. She was ripe with the promise of new life, as the seeds of the earth deep within its soil begin to awaken at this time, ripe with the promise of Spring, new life for the planet. Thus Inbolc was a time of awakening, promise and hope for the coming spring.

Feasts would be held, perhaps including fresh lamb; this might be the first fresh meat since early Winter, unless boredom had forced some out in the
cold and darkness to hunt. Bonfires are not connected with this day as with the others, although the household hearthfires may have been dedicated to
the Goddess Brighid and some rituals may have involved a blessing or relight-ing of the hearthfires. Ceremonies would mark the arrival of spring, focusing on the hope of the new season. It was customary to pour milk (or cream) onto the earth. This was done in thanksgiving, as an offering of nurturing, and to
assist in the return of fertility and generosity of the earth to its people (the return of Spring). Imbolc was celebrated in honor of Brighid or Brid (pronounced
breed), also known as Brigid, Brigit, or Bride, in her maiden aspect. Brighid is the daughter of Dagda.

The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism of fire as well, using  'Candlemas' as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year. (Catholics will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise's Day, is remembered for using the newly-blessed candles to bless the throats of parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.). 'Candlemas' is the Christianized name for the holiday (February 2), The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts.) The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of 'churching women'. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth.  And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn't be purified until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess. For centuries the church observed this day in veneration of child bearing. It has been a celebraion since the 5th century when it was the Roman celebration of Februa - when candles were carried through the streets and purifacation rites were observed by women.

The feast was taken over by St. Brighid, although it has clear links to her Pagan predecessor. Young people would go from door to door at least in Christian times, usually masking as the Saint (often called "Biddies"), and there is reason to suspect that this had Pagan origins. This recalls the Samhain trick-or-treating and included a blessing on the households, but most likely only those that properly offered hospitality perhaps the most important tenant of Celtic culture, Christian or Pagan.

February 14, St.Valentines Day, this was the eve of the Roman Lupercalia - a festival of youth - when young people chose their sweethearts by lottery.

The Lenten Fast, this name was derived from the Saxon lenct word meaning spring, and in earlier times this period may have been a time of enforced fasting as the winter stores ran low

Rebirth at Easter, the English name for this festival is derived from Eostre, a northern goddess of spring. The rebirth of growing things in spring after the long winter was a time of rejoicing in the Pagan world.Symbolically the egg was a sign of rebirth to the Pagans.

April 1, April Fools Day,There are possible links with Lud, the Celtic god of humour whos festival was during spring although the exact origins are unknown.

Walpurgis Night

Walpurgis Night is a traditional Pagan holiday, Roman Catholic Saint's day, and Satanic [1] holiday celebrated on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe

The current festival is in most countries celebrating it named after Saint Walpurga, born in Devonshire about 710. Due to her holy day falling on the same day, her name became associated with the celebrations. Walpurga was honored in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration. Early Christianity had a policy of 'Christianising' pagan festivals so it is perhaps no accident that St. Walpurga's day was set to May 1st

[edit] Origins
Historically Walpurgisnacht is derived from various Pagan spring customs. In the Norse tradition, Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen".[3] It commemorates the time when Odin died to retrieve the knowledge of the runes, and the night is said to be a time of weakness in the boundary between the living and the dead. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then.[4] This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day.

Saint Walpurga herself was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, a daughter of the Saxon prince St. Richard. Together with her brothers she travelled to Franconia, Germany, where she became a nun and lived in the convent of Heidenheim, which was founded by her brother Willibald. Walpurga died of an illness shortly after moving the mortal remains of her brother [5], Saint Winibald on 25 February 779. She is therefore listed in the Roman Martyrology under 25 February. Her relics were transferred on 1 May such that she might be buried beside Willibald, and that day carries her name in, for example, the Finnish and Swedish calendars.[6] [7].

[edit] Germany
In Germany, Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning Witches' Night), the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring.

Walpurgis Night (in German folklore) the night of April 30 (May Day's eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods..." 
Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches' revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis night. 
The Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken. 
—Taken from Oxford Phrase & Fable. 
A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht", and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht".

In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive, to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires".

In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks on Walpurgisnacht, e.g. tampering with neighbors' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property. These pranks occasionally result in serious damage to property or bodily injury.

Adolf Hitler, with several members of his staff (including Joseph Goebbels), committed suicide on Walpurgisnacht, April 30/May 1, 1945. Hitler was closely associated with the occult and mystical Thule Society. In the History Channel's documentary, Hitler and the Occult, author Dusty Sklar stated that "It's believed by some people that he chose April 30th deliberately because it coincided with Walpurgis Night, which is believed to be the most important date (along with Halloween) in Satanism [8]. So according to one commentator he was giving himself up to the powers of darkness."[9]. It was either that or giving himself up to the Soviet Army, which was approaching his location.

[edit] Sweden

A large crowd, mostly students in typical Swedish white student caps, participating in the traditional Walpurgis Night celebration with song outside the Castle in Uppsala. The silhouette of the cathedral towers may be seen in the background. To the right are banners and standards of the student nations. Image from c. 1920.Walpurgis (sw: Valborgsmässoafton or Valborg) is one of the main holidays during the year in Sweden, alongside Christmas and Midsummer holiday. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which began in Uppland during the 18th century. An older tradition from Southern Sweden was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight, which were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task is to be paid in eggs.

The tradition which is most widespread throughout the country is probably singing songs of spring. Most of the songs are from the 19th century and were spread by students' spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, like Uppsala and Lund where both current and graduated students gather at events that take up most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30, or "sista April" ("The last day of April") as it is called in Lund and elsewhere throughout the country. There are also newer student traditions like the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers in Gothenburg.

[edit] Finland

A team of students performing the traditional "capping of Havis Amanda" during Helsinki's Vappu.Today in Finland, Walpurgis Night (Vapunaatto, Valborgsmässoafton) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festivity that takes place in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. The student traditions are also one of the main characteristics of "Vappu". From the end of the 19th century, "Fin de Siècle", and onwards, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap. Many people who have graduated from lukio wear the cap. One tradition is drinking sima, whose alcohol content varies. Fixtures include the capping of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages such as sardine-cans and milk cartons. The festivities also include a picnic on May 1st, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner.

The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Socialist May Day parade. Expanding from the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has adopted Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include center and right-wing parties, but also other insititutions like the church have followed suit, marching and making speeches. In Sweden it is only the left-wing parties which use May 1 for political activities, while others observe the traditional festivities. Left-wing activists who were active in the 1970s still party on May Day. They arrange carnivals and the radio plays old leftist songs from the 1970s.

The First of May is also a day for everything fun and crazy: children and families gather in market places to celebrate the first day of the spring and the coming summer. There are balloons and joy, people drink their first beers outside, there are clowns and masks and a lot of fun. The first of May includes colourful streamers, funny and silly things and sun. The first of May means the beginning of the spring for many people in Finland. There is also an erotic frisson involved with Vappu's ribald side. The only semi-humorous adage is that one who doesn't have a romantic partner on Vappu will have to make do without one also on midsummer night.

Traditionally May 1st is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuisto or Kaisaniemi in the case of Helsinki). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and lavish food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, and some hardcore party goers continue the celebrations of the previous evening without sleeping in between. Some Student organisations have traditional areas where they camp every year and they usually send someone to reserve the spot early on. As with other Vappu traditions, the picnic includes student caps, sima, streamers and balloons.

[edit] Estonia
In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated on the night from April 30 to May 1, with the following day (May 1) being a public holiday of lesser importance called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). Yet Volbriöö itself has considerable importance as one of the main reasons to party across the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Nowadays some people still dress up as witches and wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

Yet for most Estonians, Volbriöö has become a reason to celebrate the arrival of Spring with huge outdoor drinking and partying throughout the night. This is especially strongly honoured in Tartu, the university town in Southern Estonia. For Estonian students in student corporations (fraternities and sororities), the night starts with a traditional march on the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting of each others' corporation houses all night, drinking lots of beer as they stay with the hosts and move along the streets from one place to another. The following day (May 1) is known as Kaatripäev (Hangover Day, derived from the German word 'Kater' meaning 'Hangover').

[edit] Satanic observences
As a night when magical powers are supposedly heightened, various occultists have celebrated Walpurgis Night in the various ways described above. Witches' covens have traditionally held the night sacred. It is thus one of the three holidays recognized by Anton LaVey's Church of Satan. In addition to the occult significance the date carries, it also marks the formation of the Church of Satan in the year 1966, or I Anno Satanas. This date is commonly celebrated by Satanists with private or group rituals, and private parties or family celebrations to commemorate the foundation of the Church.

Coligny Calendar

In 1897, the Gaulish Coligny Calendar was discovered in Coligny, France along with the head of a bronze statue of a youthful male figure. It is believed to date from around 50 BC, and appears to be the remains of a Romanized Gaulish model of a Celtic lunar and solar calendar (lunisolar) . It displays a cycle of approximately five years on 62 tables. Unlike our present-day calendar which dates back to Julius Caesar, this system used the accurate period of the moon's orbit around the Earth (the lunar month) to measure the passage of time. Each lunar month corresponds to 29.53 days. In this  Gaulish model, the month was divided into two 15-day periods.

It was engraved on a bronze tablet, preserved in 73 fragments, that originally was 1.48 m wide and 0.9 m high or approximately 5 feet (1.5 m) wide by 3½ feet in height. Based on the style of lettering and the accompanying objects, it probably dates to the end of the 2nd century . It is written in Latin inscriptional capitals, and is in the Gaulish language (Duval & Pinault). The restored tablet contains sixteen vertical columns, with 62 months distributed over five years. 

The French archaeologist J. Monard speculated that it was recorded by druids wishing to preserve their tradition of timekeeping in a time when the Julian calendar was imposed throughout the Roman Empire. However, the general form of the calendar suggests the public peg calendars (or parapegmata) found throughout the Greek and Roman world. 

A solar year, the time taken by the Earth to circle the sun, or one revolution of the sun about the Vernal Equinox, is nominally 365 days. Twelve revolutions of the moon, however, equals only 354 days. It was therefore necessary with the Coligny calendar to make two adjustments: first, using alternate months consisting of 29 and 30 days; second, adding a month every 2 1/2 or 3 years to link up the shorter lunar year of 354 days to the solar year of 365 days.

In Celtic legend the new year started on the moonrise of the first last-quarter moon after the autumnal equinox. In the Celtic regions of Britain and Ireland, the tradition was held that the new year started at Samhain (November 1) so that it would always occur on the same day of the solar cycle. A different calendar system from the one found in Gaul, one that reconciled the lunar and solar yearly cycles, was then in use . The year consisted of 13 months, 12 of them roughly equivalent to our modern calendar, with the inclusion of a  short, three-day month at the end of October leading up to the new year. It is in this arrangement of months that Celtic cosmology and Druid philosophy are linked through the Ogham alphabet with its 13 calendar trees.


The Continental Celtic calendar as reconstructed from the calendars of Coligny and Villards d'Heria had the following properties:

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    it was a lunisolar calendar, attempting to synchronize the solar year and the lunar month.
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    the months were lunar. Scholars disagree as to whether the start of the month was the new moon or the full moon, or per Pliny and Tacitus perhaps even the First Quarter.
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    the common lunar year contained 354 or 355 days.
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    the calendar year began with Samonios, which is usually assumed to correspond to Old Irish Samhain, giving an autumn start to the year. However, as Samon is Gaulish for summer , this assumed start is disputed. Le Contel and Verdier (1997) argue for a summer solstice start of the year. Monard (1999) argues for an autumn equinox start. Bonsing (2007) argues for a May beginning consistent with Irish Beltaine, and Fennian literature, notably Joyce (2000). 
    the entry TRINVX[tion] SAMO[nii] SINDIV "three-nights of Samonios today") on the 17th of Samonios suggests that a festival of Samhain was considered to last for three nights. 
    the solar year was approximated by the insertion of a 13th intercalary month every two and a half years (unlike the Islamic calendar, where the calendar year keeps shifting in relation to the solar year). The additional months were intercalated before Samonios in the first year, and between Cutios and Giamonios in the third year. The name of the first intercalary month is not known with certainty, the text being fragmentary; the second intercalary month is Ciallos bis Sonnocingos (Lambert p.116) 
    the months were divided into two halves, the beginning of the second half marked with the term Atenoux. The basic unit of the Celtic calendar was thus the fortnight or half-month, as is also suggested in traces in Celtic folklore. The first half was always 15 days, the second half either 14 or 15 days on alternate months (similar to Hindu calendars). 
    months of 30 days were marked Mat(os), lucky. Months of 29 days were marked Anm(atos), unlucky. 
    a simple five year cycle would be insufficiently accurate; the sequence of intercalary months is completed every thirty years, after five cycles of 62 lunations with two intercalary months each, and one cycle of 61 lunations, with a single intercalary month, or after a total of 11 intercalary months. This assumes that there are exactly 371 lunations in 30 years, which is accurate to a one day every 20 or 21 years on average (this is less accurate than the Julian calendar, which shifts a day in about 130 years, but which ignores lunar months). It may be assumed that the "30 years cycle" was not prescriptive, and that an extra month would have been omitted as the need arose (i.e. some 300 years after the calendar's inception). 
    The interpretation of atenoux as "returning night" is improbable (Delamarre p.58) and "renewing" would seem more probable; thus the month would start at new moon and atenoux would indicate the renewal, ie the full moon.


[edit] Pliny the Elder
The Natural History of Pliny the Elder states, in a discussion of Druidic gathering of mistletoe (Pliny NH 16.95):

The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the sixth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing.

This comment supports the grouping of five-year Coligny calendar periods into thirty-year ages, with the loss of one intercalary month per age to more accurately align the solar and lunar cycles.


[edit] Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar in The Gallic Wars states (Caesar, DBG 6.18) that days, months, and years start with a dark half followed by a light half.

All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.

This is consistent with a month starting at the dark of the moon, or at the sixth day of the moon as with Pliny; it is inconsistent with a month starting at full moon, as mentioned in many Neopagan discussions of the Coligny calendar.


 

The festivals of Beltane (Giammonios full moon) and Lughnasadh (Elembivios full moon) have been claimed to be indicated by small sigils [1]. A correspondence to Imbolc (Anagantios full moon) is not indicated.

Months

The sequence of month names of the following table assumes the calendar starts with the autumn equinox and is derived from the analysis of Monard (1999) and others.

#Month namesJulian monthsRemark
1 SAMON[IOS] (Oct/Nov) see Samhain for etymology
2 DVMANN[OSIOS] (Nov/Dec) "dark"?
3 RIVROS (Dec/Jan) cf. Irish reo "frost"
4 ANAGANTIO[S] (Jan/Feb)
5 OGRONIOS (Feb/Mar)
6 CVTIOS (Mar/Apr) cf. Irish cith/cioth "shower of rain"
(SONNOCINGOS) "beginning of spring"?
7 GIAMONIOS (Apr/May) see the etymology section of Samhain cf. Irish geimhreadh "winter"
8 SIMIVISONNA[COS] (May/Jun) "mid-spring"?
9 EQVOS (Jun/Jul) "horse" (Irish each) or "livestock"
10 ELEMBIV[IOS] (Jul/Aug)
11 EDRINI[OS] (Aug/Sep)
12 CANTLOS (Sep/Oct)

Samhain

November 1
Samhain is pronounced as 'sow-in' (in Ireland), or 'sow-een' (in Wales), or 'sav-en' (in Scotland), or (inevitably) 'sam-hane' (in the U.S. where we don't speak Gaelic) meaning Summer's End.  This was the old Irish New Year, and the celtic calender was based on the agricultural and pastoral year. Samhain was the first day of winter, and the end of one pastoral year. Our ancestors celebrated with the great festival of Samain on the eve of November 1actually October 31st  (either date is appropriate as the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset.) . For modern Pagans it is a bit harder to really understand the importance of the seasonal changes to our ancestors, for we are so insulated from the realities of cold and darkness by central heating and electric lights.

 It was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark winter half. Also called Samhiunn or Hallowe'en, this festival is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia or "Three Nights of the End of Summer." It is balanced by Beltane (or Bealtaine, Beltaine) which signals the start of summer, 6 months later.

This is the time when cattle and sheep where brought in from summer pasture, surplus live stock was slaughtered for winter food ( to make fewer mouths to feed.), and sheep were mated to provide for the following years stock.The last fruit was picked, except that which would be left for the Sidhe, and the grain was already gathered and had been processed for fodder, flour, and beer. Fishermen put up their boats and stored their gear. Debts would be paid up. Young people who hired out as farm or herder help would return home, as would the warriors of the not-totally-mythological Fianna and any Bards or poets traveling about would find a household to attach themselves to. The people would begin  preparing for the long, dark winter of living almost constantly indoors in often crowded conditions. It is the beginning of the dark time, and a "twilight" period between both the years and the seasons. The name likely means "summer's end," although there is some debated about this among the more linguistically inclined; it does indeed mark the transition from summer to winter.

The festival itself would be celebrated with great fires which were lit to ensure the renewel of life in the earth after its long winter sleep , feasts, and animal sacrifices (which would be the killing of the livestock for the feasts and to be cured for later) at large gatherings as well as smaller local ones.  In ancient Ireland all of the fires were  extinguished and relighted from the one great fire kindled by the King's chief Druid, on the hill of Tachtga. Members of each family would light torches to carry back and rekindle their own hearth-fires, which were then kept burning the rest of the year. The assemblies of the five Irish provinces at Tara Hill, the seat of the Irish king, took place at Samhain. These gatherings were celebrated with horse races,
fairs, markets, assembly rites, political discussions, and ritual mourning for the passage of summer.

Story telling started at this time and in many chieftains' halls it was mandatory that a story be told every night during the dark half of the year, from Samhain to Beltaine. After all, except for an occasional hunting expedition and the fixing of weapons and tools, there wasn't a lot to do at  his time; while temperatures in the British Isles are kept relatively mild by the Gulf Stream it is dark most of the day during the winter months. Undoubtedly, not being driven by "Christian work ethic," the need for capitalistic gain, or artificial lighting people slept a lot through the winter.

ALL HALOWS EVE
Samhain is really the time in between two years and is therefore a time of Chaos, a time when the Otherworld rules. Afterwards a new order would be created for the New Year. It is said to be the time when the veil between worlds is very thin, when souls that are leaving this phisical plane can pass out and souls that are reincarnating can pass in. It was believed to be the time when natural laws were suspended, and ghosts and demons roamed abroad. It is a time when the Sidhe, the Gods and the Ancestors might come visiting and should be offered proper hospitality; food, drink, a place to rest.  Many Pagans prepare a Feast for the Dead on Samhain night, where they leave offerings of food and drink for the spirits. Jack-o-lanterns, gourds, cider, fall foliage can be used as altar decorations. In some Celtic traditions, most notably the Scottish Highlands, young men would run the boundaries of their farms after sunset with blazing torches to protect the family from the Faeries and malevolent forces that were free to walk the land at night, causing mischief.

Darkness increases and the Goddess reigns as the Crone, part of the three-in-one that also includes the Maiden and Mother. The God, the Dark Lord, passes into the underworld to become the seed of his own rebirth (which will occur again at Yule).

The custom of dressing in costume and 'trick-or-treating' is of Celtic origin with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the 'treat' which was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go 'trick-or-drinking'. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house to house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as 'caroling', now connected exclusively with mid-winter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to 'try on' the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year.

DIVINATION
Samhain was seen as a time when the future could most easily be predicted, and was a favored time among Druids forritual fortune-telling. Divination would be important, for not only was this a major turning point in the year but such things would be easier with the nearness of Otherworldly help. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year's Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year's festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year's Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to re-establishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and hence it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tea-leaf reading so likely to succeed.

 There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazel nutsalong the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, 'If you love me, pop  and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.' Several methods used the apple,  that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, 'I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart's name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o'er my head, / My sweetheart's letter on the ground to read.' Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

CHRISTIANITY
This all important day could not be ignored by the early church, who re-dedicated it to the Saints in Heaven. It was instituted in AD 835 and called All Saints Day. The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the 'historical' Christ and his act of redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where 'seeing the future' is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval Church from co-opting Samhain's other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the Church, however,  it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God - thus, All Hallow's, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls. The Christmas Festival actually absorbed many Pagan festivals which welcomed the sun back after its winter sleep.Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the Church as the holiday of Martinmas.

DATES
October 31, Halloween (All Saints Eve,  All Hallows,  All Hallow's Eve, Hallow E'en) . Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the ancient festival called Samhain. Traces of Samhain still linger in its traditional associations with ghosts and witches. Modern Halloween is strongly connected with fear, it was a truly scary time for our Iron Age and early Christian ancestors. There was some real fear of the supernatural beings, especially if one was foolish enough to not offer food or to wander about near Sidhe where one might end up in the Otherworld unable to return to family and friends.

November 5, Guy Fawkes day, although the fires of this time are to do with the Gunpowder plot in 1605 they also perpetuate to the fires lit in Samhain to ensure the suns safe return after winter. November was associated with the cult of the dead. In Shetland there is the festival of Up-Helly-Aa is held in order that fires strengthen the winter sun.

November 23, St.Clements day, St.Clement was the patron of iron workers and on this day great feasts were held but in view of the importance of smiths in primitive society and the numerous legends concerning the Saxon smith and wizard, Wayland, who forged mail for the gods, a pre-Chrstian festival of smiths may once have existed.

November 30, St Andrews Day,  There are indications tha Samhain’s slaughtering of stock was moved to this date, particularly in Scotland, where cool summers meant late harvests. The number of beasts to be kept through the winter  depended on the harvest fodder available. This could not be assesed until all the crops had been cut, dried and threshed.

Decemder the 25th, Yule . The Christmas Festival actually absorbed many Pagan festivals which welcomed the sun back after its winter sleep. See Alban

January 25, St. Pauls Day, this day figured in the rural prophecy - if fine there would be good harvests, if rain or snow there would be scarcity and famine. Clouds and mist signifoed pestilence, and high winds war.

Celtic Year

Whatever names we give to them now many of our modern day festivals owe their existence to hallowed festivals long before Christianity. Long ago they marked the dates of key Celtic festivals in the rural year, for example days when planting occured or when harvesting happened. The early Christian church fully aware of the hold these festivals had on the community, wisely adopted these dates into its own calender. Thus we still celebrate Easter with the same awerness of sacrifice and rebirth that our pagan ancestors brought to the apparent yearly miracle of returning spring and the wonder of new green life.

In the ages when people worked more closely with nature just to survive, the numinous power of this pattern had supreme recognition. Rituals and festivals evolved to channel these transformations for the good of the community toward a good sowing and harvest and bountiful herds and hunting.

The Celtic year was divided into two halves, the dark and the light. Samhain was the beginning of the dark half, with its counterpart, Beltane beginning the light half. Between these two 'doors' or portals fell Imbolc, on February 1, and Lughnasadh or Lammas, celebrated on August 1, quartering the Celtic year.

These four festivals marked the turning of the seasons. Two of the fire festivals, Samhain and Beltane, were considered to be male, and Imbolc and
Lughnasadh were female. Each was celebrated for three days - before, during and after the official day of observance. These quarters were again divided by the the two solstices, and the two equinoxes, which were known as the four Albans. In folklore, these are referred to as the four 'quarter-days' of the year, and modern Witches call them the four 'Lesser Sabbats', or the four 'Low Holidays'. The Summer Solstice is one of them.

Imbolc                (February 1) 
   - Alban Eiler     (Vernal / Spring Equinox, Ostara,  - Around March 21)
Beltaine              (May Day, Roodmas - the beginning of summer)
   - Alban Hefin   (The Summer Solstice , Midsummer - Around  June 21)
Lughnassadh     (August 2nd/Lammas)
  - Alban Elfed    (Autumn Equinox, Mabon - Around September 21)
Samhain            (Halloween, November 1- the beginning of winter)
   - Alban Arthan (Winter Solstice, Yule - Around Dec. 21)

The First Monday of the Quarter is dedicated to the moon, and is also considered very lucky. A system of divination used in the Highlands, known as The Frith, was carried out on this day, just before sunrise. The seer would go barefoot to stand in the doorway of the house, and the divination would be made from what is seen, particularly of birds and animals.

The Equinoxes and Solstices may vary by as much as a day from year to year, but aside from these four solar events, movable feasts are generally derived from the Phases of the Moon. Many Witches and Pagans observe these movable days, and the Church with it's Easter cycle. Easter is one of the most important lunar-derived festivals of the Witches year, being the lunar Spring celebration of the Goddess Eostre or Ostara. Veritably, Easter should be observed on the first Sunday occurring after the first Full Moon following the Vernal Equinox, providing this Moon doesn't occur on March 21! This idiosyncratic system was instituted by the Catholic Church so that their Easter would never coincide with the Jewish Passover, which is reckoned on a cognate basis.

Many of the festival days coincide with holidays of the Jewish and Christian calendars. This is no accident; these points in the year were important community celebrations, and were kept largely intact although they were rededicated to the Christian God or a saint. The names may have changed, but the old Pagan practices still show through.

The Solar Cycle
The "Wheel of the Year" uses eight spokes ; the four major agricultural and pastoral festivals and the four minor solar festivals of the solstices and equinoxes. In the Wheel of the Year, the four solar Sabbats (Spring and Fall Equinox, Summer and Winter Solstice) are placed at the cardinal points of East, South, West, and North. The remaining four Celtic festivals are placed between them: Imbolc at the north-east; Beltane at the south-east; Lammas at the south-west; and Samhain at the north-west.

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