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My local shops are already full of spooky masks, cobwebs and halloween paraphernalia. I just wanted to remind people of the ancient origins of this Celtic Festival.

Halloween or Hallowe’en is now celebrated across the world on the night of 31st October. Modern day celebrations generally involve groups of children dressed in scary costumes roaming from house to house, demanding “trick-or-treat”. Fearing the worst, intimidated householders normally hand over vast amounts of treats in the form of chocolates, sweets and candy to avoid whatever dastardly tricks may have been dreamt up by these little miscreants. The origins of these celebrations however date back thousands of years, to pagan times.

The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Until 2,000 years ago, the Celts lived across the lands we now know as Britain, Ireland and northern France. Essentially a farming and agricultural people, the Pre-Christian Celtic year was determined by the growing seasons and Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter. The festival symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Massacre of the Druids

It was believed by the Celts that on the night of 31st October, ghosts of their dead would revisit the mortal world and large bonfires were lit in each village in order to ward off any evil spirits that may also be at large. Celtic priests, known as Druids, would have led the Samhain celebrations. It would also have been the Druids who ensured that the hearth fire of each house was re-lit from the glowing embers of the sacred bonfire, in order to help protect the people and keep them warm through the forthcoming long, dark winter months.

The Romans conquered much of the Celtic tribal lands when they invaded from mainland Europe in 43 AD, and over the next four hundred years of occupation and rule, they appear to have assimilated many of their own celebrations into the existing Celtic festivals. One such example may help to explain the current Halloween tradition of ‘bobbing’ for apples. The Roman goddess of fruit and trees was known as Pomona (pictured to the right), and her symbol just happened to have been that of the apple.

As the Romans moved out of Britain in the early 5th century, so a new set of conquerors began to move in. First Saxon warriors raided England’s south and east coasts. Following these early Saxon raids, from around AD430 a host of Germanic migrants arrived in east and southeast England, including Jutes from the Jutland peninsula (modern Denmark), Angles from Angeln in southwest Jutland and the Saxons from northwest Germany. The native Celtic tribes were pushed to the northern and western extremes of Britain, to present day Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Cumbria and the Isle of Man.

In the decades that followed, Britain was also invaded by a new religion. Christian teaching and faith was arriving, spreading inwards from those northern and western extremities from the early Celtic Church, and up from Kent with the arrival of Saint Augustine from Rome in AD597. Along with the Christians arrived the Christian Festivals and amongst them “All Hallows’ Day”, also known as “All Saints Day”, a day to remember those who had died for their beliefs.

Originally celebrated on 13th May, it was Pope Gregory who had the date of the All Hallows’ feast moved to 1st November sometime in the 8th century. It is thought that in doing so, he was attempting to replace or assimilate the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with a related but church approved celebration.

The night or evening of Samhain therefore became known as All-hallows-even then Hallow Eve, still later Hallowe’en and then of course Halloween. A special time of the year when many believe that the spirit world can make contact with the physical world, a night when magic is at its most potent.

Throughout Britain, Halloween has traditionally been celebrated by children’s games such as bobbing for apples in containers full of water, telling ghost stories and the carving of faces into hollowed-out vegetables such as swedes and turnips. These faces would usually be illuminated from within by a candle, the lanterns displayed on window sills to ward off any evil spirits. The current use of pumpkins is a relatively modern innovation imported from the United States, and we can also extend the same debt of gratitude to our friends in America for that ‘quaint’ “trick-or-treat” tradition!

Link source: http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Halloween/
Link: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

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Beginning at sundown on the eve of July 31st to sundown on August 1st

The Celtic Harvest Festival – Lughnasadh – also known as Lammas – is a harvest celebration beginning at sundown on the eve of the 31st of July until sundown on August 1st and derives its name from the Irish God Lugh. In Wales, this time is known simply as Gwl Awst, the August Feast. Lugh is associated with the power of sun and light, and so fires were burned in honor of Him on this day. In addition to His associations with light, Lugh is a God of Skill and Craft, a master of all human skills. On this His feast day, it is particularly appropriate that we celebrate our own abilities and skills.

“Celtic Festival of the first fruits and ripening corn “

Lugh dedicated this Celtic festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died from fatigue after working and clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. When the men of Ireland gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games and celebrations in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song.

Lammas (was christianized as Lammas:  the word ‘Lammas’ is an Old English word meaning ‘Loaf Mass’) celebrates the first harvesting of crops, the first of three harvest festivals.  The Earth yields up Her first gifts to us … a blessing from the Mother and the product of our human hands.  It is a time to celebrate the fruitfulness of the Earth and fruits of our labors.  We have sown and nurtured, and now we are reaping the benefits in rhythm with the Earth.  In later times, the festival of Lughnasadh, but in rural areas it was often remembered as “Bilberry Sunday,” the people would gather the earth’s freely-given gifts of black berries.  As well people sang and danced jigs and reels to the music of melodeons, fiddles and flutes, and held uproarious sporting contests and races.

Corn, grains and berries are of particular significance at this holiday (see recipes below from corn, flour and grains).  Traditionally, the newly harvested grain is made into bread to be shared with all in this celebration.  Fruits and vegetables are ripe and ready for canning and preserving.  We celebrate and partake in the fullness of the Earth while beginning to make provision for the cold months ahead.

This was also an occasion for handfasting and displaying of their skills and specialized crafts.  Through the centuries, Ireland’s country-people have celebrated the harvest at revels, wakes and country fairs. Some still continue this festival today with an entertaining manner and it is usually celebrated on the nearest Sunday to August 1st, as so that a whole day could be set aside from work.

It is a time to ask ourselves:  “What are my talents?  What are my skills?   How do I express my creativity?  How do I use my abilities to re-craft my world … to add beauty …. color … richness?  Our skills may include woodworking, designing, creating, sewing and needlecraft, art, music, dance, sports or communication, organizing, healing, parenting, problem solving etc.  Whatever our talents or abilities, this is a time to recognize them and honor them, and to share our recognition of the talents and abilities of others around us.  If you have had an interest or urge to develop a particular skill or creative outlet, now might be the time to make a pledge or commitment to yourself to pursue your interest.  By offering the fruits of our labors back to the Universe we enrich both ourselves and our world.

Because Lughnasadh is a celebration of the new harvest, people cooked special ritual foods and festive meals.  If you are curious about this historic celebration and the abundance of foods prepared, please search the internet. It is a wonderful time to celebrate the abundance we receive from mother earth and be with our special loved ones.

Lammas Traditions

Lammastide was the traditional time when craft fairs and pageants were held. Long Summer evenings are beginning to get shorter.
In Ireland Lammas is traditionally a time for buying and selling, horse trading and music.
The ‘Oul Lammas Fair’, Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, which takes place in Ballycastle, Co Antrim on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, attracts people in their thousands at festival time.

Saint Catherine was celebrated – ‘ The Catherine Wheel’ came from the Pagan rites when a wagon wheel would be tarred, set on fire and rolled down a hill – symbolizing the decline of the Sun God as the seasos wheel turns to Autumn Equinox. If the wheel went out before it reached the bottom – poor harvest, abundant if it remained lit.

St. Ciaran’s Well, Clonmacnois, County Meath – pilgrims go with torches at midnight on the first sunday in August – looking for a trout. The sun was believed to live in holy wells during the night.

Celts erected temporary hills to celebrate the harvest festival of Lammas. In Ireland a girl would be seated on the hill-top, garlanded with flowers and proclaimed the goddess of the hill. Celts would climb hills to pray to the gods and gather bilberries at Lammas.
The raising up of Celtic crosses onto stone steps recalls the Lammas tradition – Perrons – a type of man-made holy terraced mountain.

Making of the Corn Dolly from the best ears of corn taken from the last sheaf to be harvested.
This was usually kept hanging over the hearth to bring good luck, and the seeds were added to the new seeds in the Spring.

Link: http://www.mysticfamiliar.com/library/witchcraft/lughnasadh.html
L
ink: http://www.new-age.co.uk/celtic-festivals-lammas.

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Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween. 

Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer’s end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as O�che Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter’s calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

 

In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in — barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples — for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal. 

In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year.   The greatest assembly was the ‘Feast of Tara,’ focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year — not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age. 

At at all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire,  and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come. 

The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries.  In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing thirty fires lighting up the hillsides all on one night, each surrounded by rings of dancing figures, a practice which continued up to the first World War. Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges of house and farm, while community leaders surrounded parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months — and of course, they also improved the soil. The bonfire provided an island of light within the oncoming tide of winter darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined our nights. When the last flame sank down, it was time to run as fast as you could for home, raising the cry, “The black sow without a tail take the hindmost!”

Even today, bonfires light up the skies in many parts of the British Isles and Ireland at this season, although in many areas of Britain their significance has been co-opted by Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5th, and commemorates an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. In one Devonshire village, the extraordinary sight of both men and women running through the streets with blazing tar barrels on their backs can still be seen! Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winter’s dark.

Divination at Halloween  

Samhain was a significant time for divination, perhaps even more so than May or Midsummer’s Eve, because this was the chief of the three Spirit Nights. Divination customs and games frequently featured apples and nuts from the recent harvest, and candles played an important part in adding atmosphere to the mysteries. In Scotland, a child born at Samhain was said to be gifted with an d� shealladh, “The Two Sights” commonly known as “second sight,” or clairvoyance. 

Apple Magic
At the heart of the Celtic Otherworld grows an apple tree whose fruit has magical properties. Old sagas tell of heroes crossing the western sea to find this wondrous country, known in Ireland as Emhain Abhlach, (Evan Avlach) and in Britain, Avalon. At Samhain, the apple harvest is in, and old hearthside games, such as apple-bobbing, called apple-dookin’ in Scotland, reflect the journey across water to obtain the magic apple. 

Dookin’ for Apples
Place a large tub, preferably wooden, on the floor, and half fill it with water. Tumble in plenty of apples, and have one person stir them around vigorously with a long wooden spoon or rod of hazel, ash or any other sacred tree. 

Each player takes their turn kneeling on the floor, trying to capture the apples with their teeth as they go bobbing around. Each gets three tries before the next person has a go. Best to wear old clothes for this one, and have a roaring fire nearby so you can dry off while eating your prize!
If you do manage to capture an apple, you might want to keep it for a divination ritual, such as this one: 

The Apple and the Mirror
Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Cut the apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see and in image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.

(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go “soft,” and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition.) 

Dreaming Stones
Go to a boundary stream and with closed eyes, take from the water three stones between middle finger and thumb, saying these words as each is gathered:                        

         I will lift the stone
           As Mary lifted it for her Son,
           For substance, virtue, and strength;
           May this stone be in my hand
           Till I reach my journey’s end.
 

(Scots Gaelic)
          Togaidh mise chlach,
          Mar a thog Moire da Mac,
          Air bhr�gh, air bhuaidh, ‘s air neart;
          Gun robh a chlachsa am dh�rn,
          Gus an ruig mi mo cheann uidhe.

Carry them home carefully and place them under your pillow. That night, ask for a dream that will give you guidance or a solution to a problem, and the stones will bring it for you.
Article from ‘The Stonehenge Stone Circle’ Website

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