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.

Samhain, Autumn cross quarter festival, Wednesday 31st October

Samhain means the end of the summer and it marks the Celtic New Year. As the earth turns away from the light of summer and into the darkness of winter at this time, the Celts believed that the door to the Otherworld opened and the veil between us and the spirit world became thin. Wise men and women could communicate with their ancestors, and faery folk, hobgoblins, elves and other mischievous spirits could slip into our world – this later developed into the Christian idea of demons and evil ghosts being let loose to terrorise all good Christians on All Hallows Eve (Halloween)!

Special bonfires were lit on the hilltops, from which all the other fires in the community were rekindled, and then each village or household had their own bonfire (it can’t be an accident that this is so close to our more modern Bonfire night!) The Halloween game of apple bobbing came from the Celtic belief that the apple was a holy, sacred and magical fruit – closely linked to immortality, death and rebirth.

This was the time of the old, dark hag, the crone of the Triple Goddess – the season of darkness, death and inward regeneration that the Celts didn’t regard with fear or dread, but realised was necessary before rebirth into light and the Spring. To the Celts, darkness came before light and new life couldn’t happen without the experience of death, so their year began with this time of death and darkness which, to them, was the beginning of all things.

Samhain energy

This is the best time of year to look inside yourself and connect to the spirit world. Although this is inevitably a time of death, it is also a time to think about preparing for something new to replace the old that has passed and to recognise the endless cycle of life. Meditate, rest, sleep and listen to your inner voice telling you what you need to let go of, what old habits or thought patterns need to be transformed so that you can be reborn in the Spring. Now is the time to face and bring light to your inner dark fears, to search out and absorb new information and to sift through the lessons you have learned in the past year.

How to celebrate

Have a bonfire party with close friends and family. Get everyone to write on a piece of paper anything they want to leave behind in the old year – it could be an emotion, a job or a habit. Or they could bring something that symbolises whatever it is they want to get rid of. Let everyone throw their paper or object into the fire and give it to the flames as they ask to be changed and transformed. I remember my husband throwing a work uniform tie into a bonfire when he’d decided to leave a miserable job, and the expression on his face was a picture!

At the end of the evening, throw a white stone into the ashes. In the morning, see whether the dying fire has left any messages or signs for you on the recovered stone.

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!