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.

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

Imbolc celebrates the reawakening of the earth and the potential to manifest all we have nurtured and learned through the dormant Winter months. The Celts lit candles at this time to symbolise the return of the light as the sun begins to grow stronger again. A magical alchemy takes place now when we join the spark of intuition from deep within our unconscious to the intellect of consciousness, resulting in fertility and growth on all levels – this is the secret of Imbolc.

In the Celtic tradition, the triple Goddess has become her maiden self again, blessed with intuition and inspiration and keeper of the spark of life. The maiden’s life-giving waters contained in the sacred springs and holy wells of the British Isles were honoured at this time. Celtic mythology is full of stories of a beautiful Spring maiden who initiates the young sun king in a sexual but deeply spiritual experience – illustrating the Imbolc alchemy at work.

The church adopted this festival too as Candlemas (celebrated on February 2) but, again, channelled the aspects of goddess worship into veneration of the Virgin Mary to mark her period of purification after childbirth. The real meaning of this festival originated in the raising of sexual energy, “cande” in Anglo-Saxon, “kundalini” from the Sanskrit, which rises like a serpent up the spine during sacred and sexual union. The Celts believed that sexuality and pleasure were also deeply spiritual experiences and a way of merging the self with the infinite. On Imbolc Eve, the awakening hibernating serpent was said to re-emerge from its hole as an image of inspiration, healing and potent life-force.

Imbolc energy

As the earth begins to stir and the serpent life-force is ready for rebirth, it’s time for you to express your visions and inner understanding in an active, outward way through poetry, song and art. Let your unconscious and consciousness join together now to bring about growth, fertility and manifestation. Call on the life-force and use its dynamic energy to activate your intuitive visions and dreams for a new and better way of life.

How to celebrate

Invite friends round for a “planting party” to symbolise the growth and manifestation of their new ideas and dreams. Ask everyone to bring a packet of seeds and then share them out for planting in small window boxes, letting each guest take one home to keep on their window sill. As you plant, take it in turns to express your creativity by sharing a poem, telling a story or singing a song or simply celebrating your accomplishments as you move forward into the active phase of the year.

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!