The CeLfic CaLendarz

Gaelic Culture

Long before the Celts the indigenous peoples of western Europe governed their lives by seasonal changes. They were also aware of the cycles of the moon, sun, and the major celestial bodies. Evidence from stone circles such as Stonehenge suggests that cosmology was widely practiced. The Celts further developed the cosmological discoveries made by earlier peoples.

Facing below: The

Standing Stones in Stenness, Orkney. Research has proved that the builders had extensive calendric and astrological knowledge.

j he Coligny Calendar is the earliest known | Celtic calendar, and dates from the first century BC. Of Gallic origins, it consists of a series of engraved bronze plates, inscribed with Gallo-Celtic inscriptions. Since its discovery in 1897 historians have studied it extensively and, by combining this with other sources, researchers can understand how the Celtic people used their calendar and linked it to religion, farming cycles, and solar or lunar events. The Coligny calendar was based on a 30-year cycle, confirming the observation made by the historian Roman Pliny. Comparisons with other calendar systems from older Indo-European cultures suggest a relationship between the Celtic version and these earlier systems. The Celtic calendar was certainly more advanced and complex than the Roman

Right: The Celtic New Year is still marked in Burghead in Scotland by means of their annual Tar Barrel burning ceremony. The celebration has Celtic roots.

Julian one that replaced it.

The annual cycle centered around the month of midsummer (Samon) and that of winter (Giamon). This divided the year into a light period (after midsummer) and a black period (after midwinter). Months were also labeled as either good (Mat) or bad (Anm). Each month consisted of 29 or 30 nights—the Celts measured by nights rather than days as we do today. Pliny suggests that the beginning or end of a month followed the lunar cycle (either a full moon or no moon). The months themselves followed a 62-month (or five-year) cycle rather than a 12-month one, which was repeated six times in the cycle of the calendar.

Cycle of life and death

The yearly cycle was a crucial point of reference for an agrarian community, and festivals marked the transition from one season to the next. Samhain (linked with death, and not to lx' confused with Samon) is the period now-celebrated as Halloween. Beltane (now Mayday) represented youth and love. Midsummer and midwinter also formed crucial phases of the calendar, and marked the start of the light or dark

phases of the annual cycle.

Early Irish literature provides details of the four main seasonal festivals in the Celtic year, marking important points in the annual agrarian cycle or to simply mark the passage of the four seasons. Samhain was seen as a time when spirits roamed among the li\"ing, giving rise to the Halloween mythos of today, while Beltane marked the beginning of summer, when livestock was released to pasture. Light or fire has been associated with this festival, and a ninth-century Irish chronicler recorded that during Beltane cattle were driven between two bonfires to symbolically ward off disease.

Spring was marked by the festival of Imbolc (February 1st) and marked the start of the lambing season, while Lughnasadh was an autumnal han'est festival celebrated on August 1st, and was celebrated by gaming and feasting. Imlwlc is still marked by a Celtic New Year ceremony in Burghead in northeast Scotland, while Harvest Festiv al and Halloween have Celtic roots.

The Coligny calendar provides a timetable for religious festivals which suggests that the festivals celebrated by the Irish in the Dark Ages had also been marked by the Gauls in the first century BC. Following the Roman conquest of Gaul in the mid-first century BC, the Roman calendar was adopted, although it was sometimes adapted to incorporate local festivals. A similar abandonment of the Celtic calendar took place in Roman Britain. Another Romano-Celtic development was the adoption of Roman astrological symbols in preference to the older Celtic ones.

Above: A Gallo-Roman zodiac carved on wood and ivory from the 2nd century ad and found in the Vosges region of France.

Romano Celtic Timeline Conquest
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