The Quarterly Feasts
written by Alexei Kondratiev
From the 2003 Celtic Calendar,
an historical and mythological calendar now available from the
Celtic League American Branch.
Samhain (1st of November)
The Coligny Calendar calls this the Trinouxtion Samonii, meaning, Three
of the End of Summer. After the last apples are picked, agricultural work
ceases, and the year begins again with its dark winter half, in which the
earth rests and fertility is renewed.
During the Festival all household lights are extinguished and then relit
from the ceremonial bonfire. Because the period of the New Year is
to be a gap in time, barriers between our world and the otherworld are
and one can cross from one world into the other. Providing hospitality to
ones dead ancestors is an important part of the feast, since the dead
to visit the homes where they lived.
The suspension of the laws of space and
time extend to the laws of society, so that all kinds of role-switching and
boisterous behavior can be indulged in. At the end of the festival, cattle
that have been selected as food beasts are sacrificed and their life-energy
goes to replenish the dormant soil.
The Brythonic names of the feast (Welsh: Calan Gaeaf, Cornish: Calan
Breton: Kala-Goañv) mean First Day of Winter.
Alexei Kondratiev wrote a longer article on Samhain for the Imbas web site.
Imbolc (Oimealg) (1st of February)
This is the first day of spring, mid-way through the dark half of the year.
Brigantia (Brigit), goddess of all creative activity, rekindles the fire in
the earth, preparing it for the re-emergence of green things. This stirring
of new life is manifested by the first flowing of milk in the udders of
a few weeks before the lambing season.
Agricultural tools are re-consecrated for use, household fires and the
the smiths forge are blessed by the goddess (often by a woman who plays the
role of Brigit), and talismans of rushes, Brigits crosses, are made for
protection of homes. Brigits snake comes out of the mound in which it
hibernates, and its behavior is thought to determine the length of the
remaining period of frost (Americans will recognize this as the origin of
Ground Hogs Day).
In the Brythonic-speaking lands, Brigantia has come to be assimilated
Virgin Mary, leading to such names for the feast as Welsh Gwyl Mair
Gwanwyn (Feast of Mary of the Beginning of Spring); and Breton Gouel Varia
ar Gouloù (Feast of the Mary of the Light) although Welsh also uses the
term Gwyl Ffraed (Brigits Feast). In modern Gaelic the name Lá Fheile
meaning Brigits Feast Day (Manx: Laal Breeshey) is more commonly used than
Bealtaine (1st of May)
On this day the year begins its bright summer half. The event is associated
with the myth of a young Summer God released from captivity, or with that of
young Summer Maiden wooed away from her retentive earth-giant father. In
areas a hawthorn tree (representing the giant) is cut down and used as a
The festival has come to focus primarily on the figure of Belenos, a god
light and healing with a special affinity for cattle. Cattle are driven
between sacred bonfires to protect them from disease hence the name of
feast, Bel-tine, fire of Bel(ennos).
The Brythonic names of the feast (Welsh: Calan Mai, Cornish: Kala Me,
Kala-Mae) mean First Day of May.
Steve Devillo wrote a longer article on Bealtaine for This Month in Celtic History.
Lúghnasadh (Lúnasa) (1st of August)
Before the harvest can begin, the greedy Fomorian earth-spirits must be
persuaded to relinquish the fruits of the soil to human use. It is the
god Lúgh (or Lleu) who accomplishes this, since he is kin to both the gods
the tribe and the giants of the earth. He dies, is resurrected, and gains
victory over the Fomorians.
This long festival season is marked by rituals to ensure a successful
harvest, pageants to commemorate the victory of Lúgh, and various communal
pastimes horse races, sporting events, fairs that bring together the
scattered households and reinforce the identity of the tribe.