- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Of Ancient Celts and Microwave Ovens

Some time ago there came a posting in one of our forum discussions:
I agree and it is accepted scholarship that there were no festivals
around the solstice and equinoxes and that these celebrations are a
modern concept.
There is evidence however that the ancient celts* may
have marked some of these days. This comes from stone structures
that mark these events...Newgrange being the most popular."

*the writer here meant to say "Neolithic peoples of Britain and Ireland"; 
the ancient Celts were around only back at the half-way point on a timeline 
stretching from our time back to the Neolithic people who built New Grange and Stonehenge...

...I -had- to reply:                             
1.) I feel there's really too little known about the Celts to assume anything so comprehensive about their calendars. The Coligny calendar is an amazing artifact which is definitely Gaulish but strongly affected by their exposure to Roman culture. There are a number models for its interpretation but it's far from a closed case. Even if one or more of those come close to the mark, what then does it tell us about "The Celts"? The Gauls maybe...

2.) I'd also suggest that modern 'scholarship' has no real evidence that the solstices and equinoxes were -not- known and celebrated by the Celts either.

They may have had a system of musical notation: we don't know that they didn't.
They may have had really funny jokes about hedgehogs: we don't know that they didn't

They may have had microwave ovens: we also don't know that they didn't.

The latter of course simply being more unlikely, yet the point of contention about the calendar is statements inferring that "The Celts" didn't have religious celebrations for the solstices and equinoxes and did not base the structure their year on a solar astronomical pattern... Sometimes, to me, that they didn’t seems as unlikely as that they had microwave ovens. Contemporary "scholarship", represents a spectrum of quality and rigor and much of modern Celtic scholarship is still rife with unconfirmed assumptions and traditionally-parroted factoids.

It is a commonly made observation that the body of Irish and Welsh literature (only 500 to 1200 years old and written-down by Christian monks) mentions Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain almost exclusively. Yet I think there's only one known citation** which actually mentions all four together. But oddly enough, the same mass of unrelated documents hardly ever seems to mention the Christian feasts with the "solar” dates... You know: The Nativity in December, Lady Day/Easter in March, the Feast of St John in June, and Michaelmas in September... but you see, THESE DATES HAVE BEEN THROUGHLY “SCRUBBED” of any pagan lore by the popular Christian feasts which supplanted them and this is particularly likely in the cases of the Yule Solstice and Easter equinox.

These, to a greater or lesser degree, were already long obscuring anything that may have preceded them historically. Certainly this effect was evident in the so-called "fire-festivals" as well: St. Bridget's; Walpurgis, Lammas, All Hallows...

I feel that one should try to reckon-in the fact that the 'fire festivals' managed to still "stick-out" - a little more since they were significantly less the subject of the erasure-by-proximity factor than things like Christmas, Easter, or the Feast of St.John (a.k.a Midsummers, one of the HUGEST pan-European celebrations of the folk-year yet hardly given credit as such in the NP literature).

And very much to the point of our discussion, there is an unnoticed but active bias/spin-factor afoot in the use of the term "fire festivals" instead of the more historically compelling term "cross-quarter days". Hmm, what "quarter days" are those "cross-quarter days" astride and crossing? Well? Allowing students to model the Celtic feast cycle as a pattern of two or four(if it ever was a "pattern"...) without giving a nod to the framework of the astronomical year which neatly frames them-in with ITS skeleton of two or four NON-arbitrary global/solar calendrical "events" is in my mind just shameful tunnel-vision. The solar cross of St. George provides the sole justification for the cross of St.Andrew standing astride it; yes, it's what I've always thought of as the the Druid Mystery of the Union-Jack (Masons? Illuminati? Moste Anciente Cabal of ye Republican Astronomers?). The solstices and equinoxes are the factual underpinning of the natural year and can be seen as the very seat of our religious mysteries - and, in their directing all cycles of life and climate foundationally, we find they are there, at least skeletally, supporting the mythic patterns of most cultures around the world...
Denigrate the solstices and equinoxes? - -  BAH ! - HERETIC !

Yep, we love Celtic stuff... yet, sometimes, I can't help feel that it's because there's so little known about it with certainty.
- Earrach
**see Tochmarch Emer
(The Wooing of Emer) paragraph 27: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T301021/

RELATED POSTS:  "On the Origins of the Cross-Quarter Days"