The Celtic Cross dates back to the ancient Celts that lived in the boreal forests of what is now Germany. They connected to trees in a unique and powerful way. From these trees they created an alphabet and a belief system that trees were their ancestors. The Oak family of trees were named Duir,which also means door. A druid was a person who knew how to open the “door of an oak” . This is consistent with early shamanic cosmology of seeing trees as a way to travel through worlds.
The Celtic Sun Cross was often placed on top of an Irminsul that stood in the center of a sacred and open grove. Irminsul’s were wooden poles made from Oak Trees to honor the connection between man on earth and the world of spirit. The Irminsul also acted as a compass and guide for the seasons of the year. The word Irmin means to “to blow”, eventually Irmin was also called Odin, Woden. The word used today for the name of God finds its roots here. When the Bible was translated to German the word Guden or Gud was used to replace Adonai and Elohim and YAHWEH etc… Guden means “to invoke” and is related to the ancient concepts of Odin, Woden and Irmin. The Germanic Celts lived in the forests until they were forced to move to the British Isles as Roman soldiers forced them out and Christian conquerors such as St. Boniface and Charlemagne forced their conversion to Christianity by cutting down their sacred Irminsul’s.
The Celtic Sun Cross tracks the eight season of the years and is also in alignment with the directions of the compass. When placed on top of a pole and oriented toward the North Pole it can track the movement of the Sun and tell the time of day. The following Celtic “Holy Days” were often incorporated into Christian tradition which is why I find it important to understand. It is good to know your roots…..from that place of truth we can heal the separation we may feel deep within us.
Samhain – Oct 31st – Summers end. Samhain is also seen as the official beginning of the New Year. The evening/dusk of Oct 31st is marked by the thinning of the veils between day and night allowing for souls to reconnect and wishes to be heard before the great darkness of winter sets in. The Celts like the ancient Chinese Taoists honored the harmonious yet opposing forces of dark and light, night and day, cold and heat, death and life. The year was divided into two seasons: the light and the dark. They celebrated the light on May 1st (Beltane) and the dark beginning at dusk on October 31st (Samhain). Most cultures, including Jewish and Muslim, begin their day when the sun sets and the moon rises. They honor time as proceeding from dark to light, understanding that in the silent darkness life prepares itself for new beginnings. To the Celts of ancient Europe the evening was the most important part of the celebration. This was a time to gather the best of the autumn harvest, feast and create a village bonfire. A member of each family would light a torch from the bonfire and bring it to their home to light the hearth that night. This act created a bond within the village that neighbors would help each other get through the winter. Food and drink was set out in front of each home to welcome deceased ancestors with great ceremony. Windows, doors, and gates were left unlocked to give them free passage. Apples were eaten in honor of the “Paradise of Apples,” where spirits of the nether world ate the sacred fruit and enjoyed blissful immortality. Celts carved the images of spirit-guardians onto pumpkins and gourds called “jack o’lanterns” and set them out before their doors to keep out any unwelcome spirits. 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. The eve of Samhain is popularly known as Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, when children dress up in costume and go to neighborhood homes for “trick or treating”. Samhain also celebrates the marriages of Dagda, the Celtic God of Earth with Morrigan, the triple Goddess of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. Together they give birth to Brighid the Goddess of purification who brings the prophecy of light for the coming of Beltane. Together Samhain and Beltane represent the two great doorways of the year and the cycle of Death, Rebirth, Birth and Life. Samhain marks the beginning of the year as people enter the darkness to listen within and set intentions for the upcoming planting season.
Winter Solstice – Dec 21st – The birth of the sun. The Winter Solstice is both the shortest and darkest day of the year, but also the day when the sun is reborn, gradually growing in strength to the Midsummer Solstice. This celebration is known as Yule and lasts for twelve days. Yule trees are cut and decorated with images of wishes for the year ahead. A Yule log is burned and a portion of it saved to be used for protection of the home. In Roman culture Saturnalia (Saturn is the Roman God of Agriculture) began on December 17 and lasted for seven days culminating on December 25th when Mithras the Sun God is born. A harvest-home or winter solstice celebration is marked by carnival, exchange of gifts, wreaths on doors and feasting. The celebration of Mithra began around 1500 BC, as the Persian Sun god who dies and rises again (birth of the “sun”), Mithra is also known as the Chaldean trinity of Anu, Bel and Hea, sometimes referred to as Ad (Adonai, Adonis or Lord) circa 605 BC. With the creation of the Julian Calendar in 46BC the Winter Solstice officially fell on December 25th and the Romans celebrated it as the birth of the “sun” in honor of Mithras or “Sol Invictus”. Early Christians decided to place Jesus birthday on December 25th as a way to celebrate the birth of the “son”. This effectively blended the Winter Solstice with Christmas for nearly 1500 years. Pope Gregory reformed the Julian calendar in 1582, with the Gregorian calendar which places the winter solstice on December 21st. He officially separated the “pagan” holiday from the Christian holiday by keeping Jesus birth on December 25th. Even though the “Holidays” have been separated, many shared customs have continued on. In Celtic tradition the Winter God Cernunnos, (also known as Cronus – the Greek God who castrated his father, the Sky God Uranus to become the ruling God of the Titans) is born on the Winter Solstice, marries the Goddess Beltane (Spring Goddess of Fertility) and dies at the Summer Solstice. Cernunnos is seen the dark aspect of the Green Man (The Summer God of Life Energy), together they represent the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth.
Imbolc – Feb 2nd – Mid-winter – prophecy and purification – Festival of Brighid who is also considered a Christian Saint. Brighid is the Goddess of healing, arts and crafts, poetry, useful and inspired wisdom. She is the Goddess of fire, the hearth and energy. As the Goddess of fertility she is said to lean over every cradle to protect the innocence of the soul.
Spring Equinox – March 20th – rebirth – Festival of Eostre, Goddess of Spring, Rebirth, Fertility and New Beginnings. Eostre is connected to the direction of East or rising sun, the new day, the new dawn. This is a marker for determining the dates for Passover within Jewish tradition and Easter within the Christian tradition. It is connected with life and death, resurrection and rebirth. To the Romans and Greeks this was a time to celebrate Apollo the God of light, prophecy, music, medicine, flocks and herds, the divine archer, a pastoral god. Wise, beauteous, all-knowing, ever just, ever young. Apollo urges forgiveness to all offenses. Some referred to him as Adonis or Adonai, meaning “my lord”. Rabbits and eggs were symbols of fertility and birth during Eostre. A common custom is to hide brightly colored eggs for children to find.
Beltane – May 1st – Mid-spring – planting and fertility – May Day. This marks one of the two great “doorways” celebrating the “light” after six months of “dark”. In many ancient cultures this day marks one of the two great “doorways” celebrating the “light” after six months of “dark”. Beltane/May Day marks the time when the veil of darkness lifts, it is the halfway point of the year. Samhain/Halloween signals the beginning of the year when the veil begins to fall. Both are seen as “in between days” when this veil is at its thinnest providing the opportunity to communicate more freely with the spirit world.
Beltane is named in honor of the ancient Chaldean/Mesopotamian Goddess Belta, who represents fertility, vegetation and flowering. She is the female counterpart to Bel, the Lord of the Worlds and Father of the Gods. Bel is a part of the ancient male trinity of Bel, Anu and Hea. Together they became known as Ad or Adonai meaning “my lord”.
Belta was a part of the feminine trinity made up of Belta, Anata and Davkina. Together they became known as Astarte or Ishstar meaning “star”. Beltane falls on May 1st, and is named for the star Maia, the oldest and brightest of the “seven sisters” in the constellation of the Pleiades, which rises in the East signaling the beginning of summer. Other names associated with Maia include Gaia, Tellus, Cybelle and Tera Mater to name a few. Maya is also the name given to the virginal/fertile aspect of the primordial triple Hindu Goddess known as Devi, the divine feminine. Tara is the primal/earth aspect of Devi. From Devi all life was created. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time in early Rome/Greece as they celebrated fertility and the sacred feminine. Tellus/Maia was seen as the original earth mother Goddess who had two daughters Flora and Fauna.
Flora, Goddess of flowers and fertility, was honored with the wearing of a crown of flowers in the hair; while Fauna, Goddess of animals and fertility, was honored with the letting loose of rabbits. The festival eventually focused on the worship of Flora. It was in her honor that a celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The Romans brought the Floralia festival to the British Isles where they were added to the celebrations of Beltane. May Day is celebrated with flowered wreaths worn by women and girls. Children dance around the May Pole holding onto long ribbons representative of the circular dance of springs unfolding.
Summer Solstice – June 21st – the time between the planting and harvesting of crops, marks the time to celebrate the union and balance of the feminine (moon) and masculine (sun) energies. It is also referred to as midsummer solstice because it is roughly the middle of the growing season. The word solstice derives from a combination of the Latin words sol meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand still. This is because as the summer solstice approaches, the days lengthen and the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky on each successive day. On the actual day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount compared to the day before. In this sense, it “stands still.” The summer solstice represents the longest day and the shortest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. This is a time to celebrate the first day of summer with dancing and bonfires in honor of the wedding of Heaven and Earth. The first full moon in June is called the Honey Moon because this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives. Mead is made from honey collected on the honeymoon and later used as a part of wedding ceremonies. The Summer Solstice also celebrates the birth of the Celtic Green Man, God of the woods, life energy and fertility who marries the White Tara or Mother Earth.
Lammas – Aug 2nd – Mid-summer –First Harvest – Lammas celebrates the harvesting of the grain. The first sheaf of wheat is ceremonially reaped, threshed, milled and baked into a loaf of bread. The grain dies so that the people might live. Eating this bread, the bread of the Gods, gives life to the people and the animals for the winter ahead.
Fall Equinox – Sept 22nd – Marks the time for gathering and storing. It celebrates the direction of the West, the setting sun, the beginning of night and regeneration. It is also seen as “Natures Thanksgiving” with apples being a symbol of female energy and nuts being the male energy. The Autumnal Equinox is a time of great inner reflection and preparation, a time go within and reflect on where you are. To harvest what you need and shed what does not serve you. The time to gather seeds of transformation for the upcoming year. The Autumn Equinox reminds us of our mortality and the coming death of winter. The Eleusinian Mysteries, celebrated around the Autumn Equinox, culminated in the revelation of a single ear of corn, a symbol to the initiate of the cyclical nature of life, for the corn is both seed and fruit, promise and fulfillment. Demeter is the earth mother Goddess, the oldest of the gods who presides over these mysteries. Eleusian is possibly named after the Sumerian God EL.
Chant for Samhain – A year of beauty. A year of plenty. A year of planting. A year of harvest. A year of forests. A year of healing. A year of vision. A year of passion. A year of rebirth. This year may we renew the earth. Let it begin with each step we take. Let it begin with each change we make. Let it begin with each chain we break. And let it begin every time we awake.