Folklore

The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective

The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective provides a resource for people interested in folklore, paganism, mythology, legend and all related matters. The site is aimed at those wanting to connect with other like-minded individuals and groups and allows us to share and enjoy the fruits of our past. We also extend our interests to all related matters such as black and folk metal, traditional folk music, artwork and local and worldwide events. If we sound like your type of people then join us. We accept all people into the collective as long as you respect one another...

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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.

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.

Beltane

April 30 / Mayday is celebrated on the first of May
Pronounced "bel-ten-ya" or "bel-chen-ya" depending on the Gaelic dialect. The word means literally 'the fire of Bel', a deity related to Belinus. the festival went by many names: Beltaine in Ireland, Bealtunn in Scotland, Shenn do Boaldyn on the Isle of Man and Galan Mae in Wales. The Saxons called this day Walpurgisnacht, the  night of Walpurga, goddess of May.The Celts celebrated the return of summer at Beltane, when livestock was let out of winter pasture to crop the new greenness of Spring. Also known as May Eve, this festival marked the beginning of Summer and the pastoral growing season. It is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane was the last of the three spring fertility festivals, and the second major Celtic festival. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, Winter and Summer.

RITUALS
On the eve of Beltane the Celts build two large fires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them), created from the nine sacred woods, in honor of Summer. The tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.. The fires celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth. Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside and "going a maying". Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name "May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth"). It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the forest.  It is the time of the sacred marriage which honors the fertility of the Earth; it represents the divine union of the Lord and Lady. Celebrations include weaving a web of life around the Maypole. Wiccan handfastings are common at this festival, for a year and a day, take place at this time.This is a time of self-discovery, love, union and developing your potential for personal growth. A time when the blood runs hot and lust is in the heart of all.

Houses were bedecked with flowers and greenery collected from the woods and fields on May Eve especially branches from a Hawthorn tree. The Hawthorn, or Whitethorn, is the tree of hope, pleasure, and protection. The strong taboo on breaking Hawthorne  branches or bringing them into the home was traditionally lifted on May Eve. People jumped the Beltane fire for luck ; (the young hope in finding a spouse, travelers jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and pregnant women jumped the fire to assure an easy delivery

Beltane joyfully heralded the arrival of Summer in its full glory. It was believed that if you bathed in the "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) of Beltane morn, your beauty would flourish throughout the year.

At Beltane, the Horned One dies or is taken by the Goddess, only to be reborn as her son. He then reclaims his role as consort and impregnates the Goddess, sparking his own rebirth. Other beliefs tell of the Summer God being released from captivity, or the Summer Maiden wooed away from her Earth-giant father. The Hawthorne (Huathe) tree represents the giant and  sometimes this wood is used for the Maypole.

CHRISTIANITY
In ancient Celtic communities,  As with Brighid, the  Church transformed this goddess into St. Walpurga and attached a similar legend to her origin. Rogationtide sprang from the Roman feast of Terminus, god of fields and landmarks, but is now a celebrated Christian festival when the priest would bless the crops. Ascensiontide well dressing in the Midlands provides alink with pagan well worship. Other names for May Day include: Cetsamhain ('opposite Samhain'), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany), and Roodmas (the medieval Church's name) This last came from Church Fathers who were hoping to shift the common  people's allegiance from the Maypole (Pagan lingham - symbol of life) to the Holy Rood (the Cross - Roman instrument of death).

The Puritans, in fact, reacted with pious horror to most of the May Day rites, even making Maypoles illegal in 1644. They especially attempted to suppress the 'greenwood marriages' of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. One angry Puritan wrote that men 'doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.'
And another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods,'not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.' Long after the Christian form of marriage (with its insistence on sexual monogamy) had replaced the older Pagan handfasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May Eve rites.

May 1, May Day , May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek   mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia's parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph. May 1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers.

May 29, Oak Apple Day, Commemorating the Restoration of Charles II , who  hid in an oak tree to avoid capture, the rites may srem from tree-worship.

June 23, Midsummer Eve, In Celtic times, great sacrificial bonfires where lit in honour of the sun. Even in recent times, rural folk in Cornwall lit bonfires and men and beasts passed through them to ward of disease and bad luck. It was also a night when girls practised simple magic to find out the identities of their future husbands.

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’.

Yarrow

A wonderful herb to use in love spells! Also works to draw courage and to purify (exorcism). Drink as a tea to increase your psychic powers. Wear a sprig of yarrow for protection. Hold some in your hands when you are afraid. This will stop all fear and give you courage. Carry some with you to draw love and to attract friends.

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.

Yew

I~Ioho~Yew The yew tree lives the longest of all of the trees of the Celtic Tree Ogham. They are often found in cemeteries, but may be far older than the cemetery itself. The Crowhurst Yew in Surrey is believed to be at least 1,600 years old. Research work by dendrochronologists indicates that some yew trees in British churchyards may be as ancient as four thousand years old! This longevity is achieved through the style of growth. The yew's branches grow down into the ground to form new stems, which grow to become trunks of separate but linked growth. In time, the central trunk becomes old, but a new tree grows from within the decay, and is indistinguishable from the original growth. Thus the yew tree represents age, rebirth and reincarnation - the birth of a new soul which springs from ancient roots. The average yew tree grows to fifty feet in height. It is an evergreen with dark green needles, light on the underside, and bears a bright red fruit containing a single seed. Female flowers are green and small, as contrasted to male flowers which appear on different trees and are slightly larger and yellow in color. The needles bark and sap are extremely poisonous and has no medicinal uses. A Druid sacred tree. Sacred to the Winter Solstice and deities of death and rebirth. The Irish used it to make dagger handles and bows.

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)

Tree Lore

Certain trees are considered to be under the protection of the 'fairies', and to destroy a fairy tree is a very dangerous act. WILLOW and ALDER are especially beloved of water spirits. Thorn trees are said to be sacred to the fairies, especially if three are found growing together. IVY is protective of milk. Ivy, woodbine and rowan are combined in wreaths and placed over the lintels of cow houses. Many plants are said to have magical properties, such as Saint John's Wort, pearlwort, vervain, yarrow, woodbine, foxglove and many others. Milk could be charmed from another's cows, but certain plants, such as pearlwort, could be used to counteract this.

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.

Trefoil

Also known as shamrock, or searaog. A Druid sacred herb, which symbolizes all triple deities. Always leave something in payment when you take trefoil, because it is a favorite herb of the Little People and faeries. A pinch of Ginger or a little milk poured onto the ground are acceptable gifts.