Celtic Religious Festivals.
We can infer certain things about the religious beliefs of the Celts from the nature of their festivals. To get accurate information about these festivals historians usually turn to the Coligny Calendar which appears to be written in Gaulish by the people of France before the coming of the Romans and this language continued on alongside Latin into the 5th century.
The calendar was clearly influenced by Romans in that, although it was written in Gaulish it used the Roman alphabet. Romans had kept calendars and the Coligny Calendar is based on a Roman prototype. It is what is called a Lunisolar calendar which meant it was based on both the Moon and the Sun. The months would go by the movements of the Moon but every two and half years they would put in an extra month and this would keep it on track. It seems, according to the calendar, that the first month was called Samonios (Summer End) and if we are to interpret this correctly then we may conclude that the Solar year began in Halloween (October 31st to November 1st) which ties in well with Caesar‘s idea that when the Celts celebrated time they celebrated the dark before the light (night before day – a festival began at sundown of a given day and end at sundown of the following day.) It follows then that if the day began with the dark half it is fair to conclude that the year began with the dark half beginning at Halloween.
Halloween was clearly a major festival in Ireland in pre-Christian times and Samonios was considered to be the beginning of the Celtic year. The months in the Calendar were divided into two halves and were also arranged into lucky – 30 day months and unlucky months. They described the lucky months as ‘Mat‘ and the latter as ‘Anm‘ or ‘not good‘.
The whole cycle runs for about thirty years and then starts over again.
To the Celts, time was circular rather than linear. This is reflected in their commencing each day, and each festival, at dusk rather than dawn, a custom comparable with that of the Jewish Sabbath. It is also reflected in their year beginning with the festival Samhain (Halloween) when nature appears to be dying down.
The Months were as follows:
1. Samonios – Seed Fall – Oct/Nov
2. Dvmannosios – Darkest Depths – Nov/Dec
3. Rivros –Dec/Jan – Cold Time
4. Anagantios – Jan/Feb – Stay Home Time
5. Ogronios – Feb/Mar – Ice Time
6. Cvtios (Sonnocingos) – Mar/Apr – Windy Time
7. Giamonios – Apr/May – Shoots Show
8. Simivisionnacos – May/Jun – Bright Time
9. Eqvos – June/July – Horse Time
10. Elembivios – July/Aug – Claim Time
11. Edrinios – Aug/Sept – Arbitration Time
(The translations are based on those of Caitlin Matthews)
When we study the Coligny Calendar we can see certain dates are marked. It is thought that these marks indicate important points in the Celtic year. When we look at Irish tradition we see that these same dates are included in the Irish Celtic calendar:
1. Samhain – Oct 31st – Halloween.
2. Bealtaine – May 1st – Bonfire Night.
3. Lughnasa – Aug 1st – Lughnasa.
4. Imbolc – Feb 1st – St. Brigid‘s Day. (1st Day Of Spring)
12. Cantlos – Sept/Oct-Song Time