Celtic Festival

The Celtic wheel of the year

For information on the Celtic Festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year, scroll down the page.

Calan Mai, Beltane – Spring cross quarter festival, Friday 1st May

Beltane is a celebration of the full potency and wildness of the life force, illustrated by the blossoming and abundant growth of nature all around us. Unions, fertility and manifestation of all kinds are the heart of this festival.

For the Celts, May Eve was the night the horned god, Herne the Hunter, chased and united with the fertile goddess, the fruit of their love-making bringing fertility to the land. The opposing male and female forces were believed to blend together in an explosion of energy to transform them both physically and spiritually (the word lust in old German means religious joy)! This was a time for staying up all night, making love under the trees and wearing green to honour the spring and the faerie folk whose world was believed to be closer to ours at this time.

Old May Day celebrations included dancing around the Maypole, which symbolised the joining and interweaving of male and female energies, and tying ribbons and clothing to the May trees – especially those by sacred wells and springs which were particularly potent during this month. The name of the festival comes from the words ‘bel-tene’ which means a goodly fire. All other fires in the Celtic communities were put out, before a special fire was kindled. Couples jumped through it to purify themselves and ensure fertility, and cattle were driven through the smoke to ward off disease and bring abundance. At the end of the night, each family would take a little of the fire away to rekindle their hearths and homes with Beltane energy.

Beltane energy

This is the most potent time of year for earth energy when all of life is bursting with potential and growth. Now is a good time to explore the ancient ley lines and to look for the supernatural and otherworldly when dawn and dusk thin the veil between realities. This is the beginning of the most active waxing phase of the sun’s cycle, a time to be sure of what you want and to go for it with the abundant energy you can tap into. Honour the raw power of sex, the union of opposites which brings life-changing forces of fertility to anything and everything.

How to celebrate

If you have room in your garden for an outdoor fire, collect some firewood beforehand so that the Beltane fire can be prepared in advance. In these lockdown times, though, even a candle flame will serve just fine as a symbol. Have celebratory food and drink available, and wear something green to honour the faerie folk and the Spring. Begin the festivities by lighting the fire with whatever words or ceremony are appropriate for you or your small group if you have others with you. Play music it’s impossible to sit till to (live musicians would be wonderful if you’re a musical family) and dance to relax and release emotions and energy. Before you eat, form a circle around the fire and hold hands, feeling the connection, love and friendship flow between you,. If you’re alone, you can do this intentionally with your loved ones in their homes and gardens. Thank the elements, nature spirits and helpers for their presence and bless the food you’re about to eat. Feast!

With thanks to Glennie Kindred for her excellent source book Sacred Celebrations.

Celtic wheel of the year

In this modern age of city living and science-ruled society, many of us have lost touch with the ebb and flow of the seasons and our place in the natural world. The Celtic festivals remind us of our closeness to nature and help us celebrate our connection with all living things, inspired by the turning of the seasons reflected on the changing face of the land. Some of these Celtic festivals are still honoured today – although often without recognising their true origins.

There are eight Celtic festivals marking our cycle through the wheel of the year (the most current one is described at the top of this page):

Samhain – Autumn cross quarter festival, end of October/beginning of November

Winter solstice – Winter quarter point, 20 to 23 December

Imbolc – Winter cross quarter festival, 1st/2nd February

Spring equinox – Spring quarter point, 21 – 22 March

Beltane – Spring cross quarter festival, end of April/beginning of May

Summer solstice – Summer quarter point, 20 to 23 June

Lammas (Lughnasadh) – Summer cross quarter festival, end July/beginning August

Autumn equinox – Autumn quarter point, 20 – 23 September

Samhain – Autumn cross quarter festival, end of October/beginning of November

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night, when the Celts acknowledged the great turning wheel of the year and of time itself (yule actually means wheel in Norwegian). The winter solstice was a time to pause and look back at the dark period since Samhain when the earth and its people had turned inward to gather energy and nurture dreams, and to look forward to the approaching return of the sun and a new season of activity.

The Celts did not view time in a linear way. The solstice was another station on the wheel of life – a part of the endless cycle of birth, death and then re-birth of something new. They decorated their homes with evergreens which represented this cycle of everlasting life – Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe which still have their place in Christmas celebrations today. Yule logs, candles, decorated trees and presents all have their roots in this ancient honouring of the sun’s return, bringing with it a new season of light, warmth and activity. The church deliberately chose this time of year to celebrate the arrival of its own Son!

In many cultures there are myths of sun gods and, further back, goddesses, who are born at this time, sacrificed or taken into the underworld with the end of the summer, and reborn to begin the cycle again at the winter solstice. This is the sun’s birthday!