Our Celtic pagan ancestors marked the passage of time through the seasonal wheel of the year. This was a wheel of eight festivals, based on solar and lunar events, which were traditionally celebrated at the full moon, nearest the traditional date.
Sometimes ceremonies and celebrations were held at stone circles and other earth works, aligned to mark these events accurately, as can be seen at Stonehenge, and the mound of Newgrange in Ireland for example.
The solar events mark the suns zenith at the summer solstice and its apogee at the winter solstice, the median points inbetween being the spring and autumn equinoxes.
The Lunar festivals, called fire festivals due to the fires lit to celebrate them, divide the year into two seasons, the warm and the cold.
Beltane and Samhain are the major festivals of the year, marking the rise and fall of the oak king and his mirror the holly king, being the old gods, and dual consort to the ever changing triple goddess. Imbolc and lughnasadh being the agricultural festivals which mark the medians between them.
In this way, the balance between the lunar and the solar cycles and energies and our relationships with them are balanced, honoured and maintained.
The Celtic new year was celebrated at Samhain, October 31st, or in ancient times the full moon nearest this point. A time when all that has passed is honoured, including the spirits of the dead, who are taken to the underworld ( Annwn) by the Wild Hunt and the Holly king, lord of the Hunt- Arawn, Gwyn, Woden, Herne. All that is to come in the following year is meditated upon and explored by divination, overseen by the goddess as Crone.
Winter Solstice Dec 21st, marks the point when the sun god has descended into the underworld, a process begun at Samhain. Here the Hunter God, the lord of the animals is at the height of his powers, providing for the tribe, while the Sun god rests in the grandmothers arms as the child of promise, yet to return to the world and be birthed at the spring equinox. A time for honouring household spirits and the magic of the hearth.
As winter draws to its end, Oimelc, or Imbolc 2nd Febuary celebrates the lambing, and the return of the ewes milk which was often greatly needed by the old and very young to make it through to the spring. Women celebrate the return of the maiden goddess at the feast of the goddess Brigid, or Bride, patroness of poetry, smithcraft and midwifery.
March 21st. Here the hours of light and dark are in equal balance, but the sun is steadily returning to power, as the growing oak king which will eventually defeat the holly king of the underworld at Beltane, when he will become a worthy mate to the goddess. A time when all is in balance and internal stillness comes as preparation for the exuberant energy to come. The goddess Eostre, eggs and the hare are of special sanctity, reflected in the Christian Easter (Eostre) celebrations.
At Beltane 1st May, the warn season finally returns and the clans could finally go visiting and gather. A time of faery revels, the doors of the otherworld are opened for all once again. The time of the marriage between goddess and god, when the oak king becomes worthy of his bride. Yet contrary to modern pagan custom, Beltane is cited in ancient Irish Brehon Law as the traditional time for divorce- the end of trial marriages which were made at Lughnassadh. It should be remembered that the goddess takes a new king each year.
June 21st. The Sun God is at the height of his power, as the oak king, strong and beneficent all-father, and mate to the goddess pregnant with the coming harvest. All is fruitful and the life force of all things is fey and passionate. Spirits of the wild celebrate in ecstasy in the fleeting nights and revel in the balmy longest day.
The festival of Lugh, the shining one 1st August marks the point between the hay harvest and the barley harvest. This was the time to make trial marriages, when the tribe was abundant and well fed, to compete in the racing of horses and feats of strength and prowess reflecting the sun gods skill and energy.
Sept 21st. Again the world returns to balance between night and day, the world above and the world below. Yet the nights are drawing in and the holly king of the underworld is growing in his power, to gather the souls of the dead and the falling leaves of the oak king, to shelter them beneath the sleeping earth as autumn draws again towards winter.