Quarter & Cross-Quarter Days

The Celtic Cross Quarter Day of Samhain

The Celtic New Year

The Sun marks the year at four clear points called the Quarter Days – in the Northern Hemisphere – the Winter Solstice (longest night), Spring Equinox (equal night and day), Summer Solstice (longest day), and Autumnal Equinox (once again, equal day and night). The Celts divided the year in to eight by inserting the four Cross Quarter Days at roughly November 1st (Samhain), February 1st (Imbolc), May 1st (Beltane) and August 1st (Lughnasad). These points are roughly half the number of days between the Solstices and the Equinoxes.

Samhain (Halloween/All Saints Day) is the end and beginning of the Celtic year. By November 1st, the harvest is in and the seeds of the winter crops are planted. These seeds will lay dormant until Imbolc, called Candlemas by the Church, at the beginning of February when (in the British Isles) they move by themselves for the first time. The seed now has demonstrated that it is a living entity on its own. By Beltane, May Day, the plants are up and fertility is of extreme importance. Then at August 1st there is Lughnasad, Lammas in the Christian calendar, when the harvest begins. All the crops should be in by Samhain (pronounced "Sow-an") when the cycle begins once again.

The sow / female pig was sacred to the Celts for her fertility. Of course 'sow', the pig, and to 'sow' seeds, while they pronounced differently, they are spelled exactly the same. An, of course, Samhain (sow•wain) is when the seeds are planted for next year's crops.

If the Quarter Days start a season on the cycle (Winter Solstice starts winter, Spring Equinox starts spring, etc.), the Cross Quarter Days mark the high point of each season. For example, in Vermont (USA) where I come from, the old-timers say that you should have half your hay and half your wood by Candlemas (Imbolc). We also have our coldest nights (40 to 45 degrees below zero) just before the first of February.

The Celtic New Year

Samhain (Sow-an) marks the end of the old and the beginning of the new. All the crops are in, the animals have been brought in from the highlands, and we're battening down the hatches for winter. The seed that was planted last Samhain, that moved for the first time at Imbolc, sprouted and was up and growing at Beltane, and began to be harvested at Lughnasad/Lammas is now in the barn and ready to be planted anew as a winter crop for the next year – to start the cycle over again

With this end/beginning cusp, Samhain is the time in the yearly cycle of the Celts when the veil to the other side is the thinnest. It is the time of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. All Saints Day is on the 1st of November. It is a time to remember the dead – all the Saints. And of course the night before is Hallow 'een.

Samhain in Chagford

I'll never forget a Samhain in Chagford, a small country town at the edge of the northeast corner of Dartmoor in Devon. In the mid-eighties I had the good fortune to live in Glastonbury for almost two years. I went down to Dartmoor to visit old friends – the sacred sites of that magical moor. In the afternoon of the of 31st of October I was out on one of my most favorite sacred landscapes in all of Britain – Gidleigh Common with Kestor (a massive natural rock outcrop at the edge of the moor), the Shovel Down Stone Rows, the Teign River with its Iron Age Clapper Bridges and massive holey stone, and lovely Scorhill Circle on the side of the hill beyond the river. All of these ancient sites were folded gently in to the rolling hills of Dartmoor. I've been on Gidleigh Common in all kinds of weather from barefoot and shorts to hail coming in sideways.

On this particular Autumn afternoon, the Sun was shining brightly as I was walking from Shovel Down towards the River Teign. Some clouds scudded along the rocky outcroppings, called tors, to the West. As I crossed the Common, I became aware that the farmers were bringing in their sheep. First, all I heard was their whistling, as they instructed their sheep dogs. Then I saw them, riding ponies with nothing but a bridle and a girth with stirrups, the herdsmen and their tireless dogs were driving their sheep off the moor down to more hospitable terrain for the winter. According to Celtic tradition, Samhain was the day by which this task should be completed.

Chagford is a wonderful little town just off Dartmoor that has a marvelous village square with a nationally known bank with a thatched roof, one of the best hiking goods stores I've ever seen anywhere, The Three Crowns (an ancient inn with funky rooms and interesting food), and other typically British shops like a chemist, veg store, several small tea rooms, and the Post Office. Just around the corner from the village square was the Chagford Church, a fine Anglican sacred space whose age would have been reckoned in multiples of hundreds of years.

That same day I saw the sheep being herded off the moor, after a fine evening meal of Vitamin M at the Three Crowns, I went for a walk through the village, and took a short cut through the Church yard with it's ancient tomb stones. By that time, it was quite dark with the streetlights blinking through the grave yard trees and illuminating only a few of the old grave stones. Needless to say, every costumed kid in town was hiding in that cemetery, and they had been waiting all evening for a sucker like myself to walk through the grave yard. At least ten ghosties and ghoulies jumped me from behind various stones! It was great to encounter the startling "Boo!" and the ensuing peals of laughter. What a way to experience Samhain!

The Celtic Goddess

Goddess was found in a trinity in the Celtic world. As a Virgin, we first see her at Imbolc as Bride/Bridget. In her Mother aspect, we see her at both Beltane and Lughnasad. But it is here at Samhain that we meet the Goddess in Her third aspect, one that causes the most problems for many of us: the Crone. Our patriarchal society (of which the Celts were an earlier part) has consistently devalued women, and, today, as never before, the focus is on youth while our elders are ignored. During the early Renaissance, older women – especially if they lived alone or if they were a bit eccentric – were many times singled out as witches and burned at the stake.

Now there is an aspect of the Crone that is unpleasant to contemplate. The Hindus – at the other end of the Indo European empire - called her Kali (Ka-lee), the Death Goddess. The Celts in Scotland called her Cailleach (Kal-eh) which simply means "old woman." Images of her can make any night unpleasant. She had a blue-black face, one eye in the middle of her brow, and protruding teeth. A real beauty! Yet Cailleach is an important part of the cycle of birth, life, death, and regeneration. Her power animal was the Boar. The pig was always seen as a sacred animal to the Celts. For this reason, some Highland Scottish people, the Caldones or Kaledonioi, do not eat pork. And Samhain is both the time of death, and the time to sow the seeds. Interesting linguistic coincidence.

There is another, more agreeable aspect of the Crone that we must not forget: that of the wise old woman. Our Grandmothers (and Grandfathers) carry the wisdom of our people. Just as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of New York whose older women, the Clan Mothers, pick the Chiefs, all of the Celts from the Gaels and Picts of Ireland and Scotland down to the Gallacians in Turkey had a councils of elder women who chose their kings and war leaders. We need to redevelop ways of incorporating Crone energy in to our lives as well.

Taliesin, the most famous of the Welsh Celtic magicians, received his magic and inspiration from the Crone Cerriddwen. While she had her devouring aspects, she also had a cauldron of plenty. (An archetype of the Holy Grail.) Cerriddwen had hired a local lad, Little Gwion, to stir her cauldron for a year and a day (thirteen lunar months plus one day equal 365). On the last day, the potion boiled over and three burning drops fell on Little Gwion's hand. As he licked his burnt hand, the boy received the full dose of knowledge and wisdom that had been brewing in that cauldron for a year (and a day). After many adventures including a breathtaking chase scene and a miraculous rebirth, Little Gwion was transformed into Taliesin, the greatest Magician in all of Wales.

We all come from Goddess And to her we shall return Like a drop of rain Flowing to the ocean.

All of the Celtic Cross Quarter Days are Fire Festivals. Shortly after November first is Guy Fawkes Day on the 5th of November. Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament when King James I was in the building. The gunpowder was in place when the plot was discovered. Now Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated with fireworks (it's like the 4th of July in the U.S.), and big fires are lit and effigies of this poor guy Fawkes are burned all over England - shades of the wicker man.

While all of these Cross Quarter Days are all Fire Festivals, I feel each of the Celtic Cross Quarter Days is also associated with one of the four elements for the purposes of scrying. At Imbolc one looks at a bowl of Water to scry the future. Beltane is the time to look in to the Fire and burning embers to ruminate about the past. Lughnasad/Lammas uses a bowl of Earth to look at the now. The element of Samhain is Air. The veil to the other side is so thin at this time that you can see the spirits in the Air. You don't need any scrying tools! Use the intuitive skills you already have inside. Be sure to use protection if you plan to scry at this time. You can do this by surrounding yourself with Love. Only Love may enter. All else will be turned away.

Just Exactly When Is Samhain?

There are a number of different answers to this question. In these four articles on the Cross Quarter Days, we will be exploring a number of different ways to determine this day.

  1. Of course, the most commonly accepted date is November 1st.

  2. Half the number of days between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice this year (1996) is November 6th.

  3. Astrologically, the half-way point is Fifteen Degrees Scorpio is also on November 6th this year!

  4. Serena Roney-Dougal has told me about the Coligny Celtic Calendar that was found as a bronze plate in Brittany that dated, I think, from about the first century CE. This cycle of the year is linked to the quarter of the Moon and the time of the day. Imbolc is celebrated at midnight at the new Moon nearest the beginning of February, Beltane at dawn on the First Quarter Moon nearest the beginning of May, Lughnasad at mid day on the Full Moon closest to the first of August, and Samhain was celebrated at sunset on the Last Quarter Moon closest to the first of November. For example, using this system, Samhain 2002 is at sunset on October 28th.

  5. In the US, MapleDragon has agreed to meet at the weekend closest to the first of those four months. And there are more…

Remember, there is no right date for these moveable feasts. It is a window in time. Which day resonates best with you? Go with your guts on the choice.

There is one thing to be said about the Cross Quarter Days regardless of exactly when you place them. These are the times of year when most everyone really becomes aware that the length of the daylight is changing. At Samhain, the days are getting shorter. At Imbolc the darkness breaks, the daylight hours are getting longer. At May Day you first become aware of how much later the Sun is setting in the evening, and at Lughnasad, for the first time you really begin to notice that those long summer evenings are beginning to get a bit shorter. The Quarter Days mark the beginnings of the seasonal changes, and the Cross Quarter Days mark the midpoints.

Jus' Bobbin' Along…

There is a traditional activity associated with Halloween that can be a very effective ceremonial tool at Samhain. It's bobbing for apples. This is an age old tool for communicating with the other side. Water represents that veil that is so thin at that time. Apples have always been associated with Goddess and temptation. Let me tempt you if I may with a technique that might yield some interesting results. At your Samhain gathering, have a big bucket or cauldron, some room temperature water, and a number of largish apples.

Before you begin, you need to have a question. Pick something that is happening for you at that moment that you relate with Samhain - perhaps some part of your life that is over, or another area where you need to sow some new seeds. Then bob for apples as usual. The only difference is when you finally get an apple in your teeth, instead of triumphantly pulling your head out of the water, even though your lungs might be screaming, "Air! Air!", keep your head under the water for a moment longer and pay attention. You will see or hear or experience something relevant to your question. This can be a very divinatory activity, and it is fun as well. Have lots of dry towels. ;)

So as this Samhain approaches, what is ending in you? What do you have inside that it is time to let go of? No healing is complete until you get beyond recovery. Use Samhain to take the thirteenth step: Transformation. In the Tarot, the thirteenth card of the Major Arcana is Death, and it is ruled by Scorpio. Samhain occurs in Scorpio. The card of Death doesn't necessarily mean physical death (though it can mean that), but more productively, it can be seen as an inevitable heavy change or transformation. Something old must be gotten rid of to make room for something new to be able to come in. Use the magic of this time to say good-bye to an old habit or addiction, an old relationship, or anything else it is time to leave behind.

At the same time, be ready to plant the seeds of the new. What would you like to become involved with? A new type of job? A more meaningful spiritual path? A better way of relating with your partner? While something old is gone, also use the energies of Samhain to plant the seeds of the new.

Happy New Year!

FURTHER READING LINK (rather academic, but some interesting stuff):  https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/barnold/www/lectures/holloween.html

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A Celebration of the Season of Darkness

(So why does it have everything to do with the Light?)

If you think of the Sun rising on the eastern horizon, like a swinging pendulum, it stops in the northeast at the Summer Solstice (Sun standstill) and begins its downward swing, moving slowly at first through the time of Lughnasad, until, by the time of the Autumnal Equinox, it is moving at its peak speed along the horizon each morning. Then, as the pendulum begins its ascent to the other end of its swing, at first, the Sun still moves quickly along the horizon until Samhain, when its rising position begins to slow down visibly each day until, in the gathering gloom of November and into December, it inches its way along the south eastern horizon towards the darkest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. This is the time when the Darkness really descends upon us in the Northern half of the northern Hemisphere.

5 December – In the Netherlands this is Sinterklaasavond ("avond" = evening). The Dutch believe that Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Mira in Turkey, and he rides his horse up through Spain to the Netherlands. In Spain, he picked up a Moor named Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), the "respected fool" who is always played by a white man in black-face. If a child has been good, he gets presents, but if he has been naughty, Zwarte Piet will put him in his bag and take him back to Turkey! This event is around the Christian time of the beginning of Advent, and helps to keep the commercialism separate from Christmas.

13 December – It’s about the Light going away. The 13th of December is Santa Lucia Day. Lucy/ Lucia = lux/lucas = light. When I was a kid, my younger sister, wearing a crown of candles, would bring cookies and cakes to our father while everyone sang “Santa Lucia.” She was the early Christian Saint who, when an admirer told her that she had beautiful eyes, she plucked them out and gave them to him! The lights are going out.

17 December – Saturnalia was the Roman event of choice just before the Winter Solstice. The Old Man Saturn was, among other things, keeper of boundaries. Winter Solstice marks one of these boundaries – the furthest south the Sun will rise on the eastern horizon each year. Saturnalia was a time when Rome went wild. It originally was held on the 17th and 18th; however, during the empire, it was extended to a week (December 17-23). It was a time of wine, women, song, and general debauchery. The annual Christmas Office Party is a pale remnant of this celebration. A time to stretch beyond the usual boundaries.

21 December +/- – Winter Solstice – Unlike the Cross Quarter Days, which are moveable feasts (depending upon how you choose to determine them), the Winter Solstice itself can be determined with extreme accuracy. This year it will occur at 00:22 GMT on Monday morning, December 22nd 2006.

The Solstices are the days when the Sun reaches its farthest northern and southern declinations.

As the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the apparent north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year. This is because the equator is tilted at 23.45 degrees to the plane of the earth's orbit, also known as the ecliptic. So, at summer solstice in the northern hemisphere the equator arcs below the plane of the ecliptic and the northern hemisphere is closest to the sun. At winter solstice it arcs above the ecliptic and the northern hemisphere is farthest from the sun, and vice versa for the southern hemisphere. When both hemispheres are equally presented to the sun, we have the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes.

Full solar year

All days at 12:00 Noon GMT, so London is always facing the Sun in these images

(I am told by astronomers that I have the Earth moving in a clockwise direction which is incorrect when viewed from above (from the North). I have always seen the eight point year moving in a clockwise direction with the Winter Solstice at the bottom and Summer Solstice at the top, and the Spring Equinox at 9:00, so please imagine that you are seeing this yearly cycle from below the Sun (from the South), and this is then an accurate representation.)

In the Northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is the day of the year when the Sun rises and sets farthest to the south; however, in the Southern hemisphere, Winter and Summer Solstices are reversed so that the Winter Solstice is the day on which the Sun rises farthest in the north east. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the first day of the season of winter. The declination of the Sun on the (northern) Winter Solstice is known as the Tropic of Capricorn (declination -23° 27').

Neolithic people knew about the Winter Solstice – New Grange in Ireland (sun rise) and Maes Howe in the Orkneys (sun set) are both oriented towards the Winter Solstice Sun. While the Maes Howe window is rather wide, the New Grange “light box” works for only a few days.

In ancient Egypt, the god-man/saviour Osiris died and was entombed on December 21st. At his moment of death, the priests brought out a baby, indicating his immediate rebirth; the Christians celebrate a birth of a god just after this time as well.

In Greece, the Winter Solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest god Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the ritual, Dionysus would be reborn as a baby - birth again being celebrated as well as ritually eating the deity.

For Sacred Plants of Winter Solstice, check out this link.

The festival now known as Yule originated with the Teutons and Norse, who celebrated it the night before the Solstice. The traditional Yule season is thirteen nights long, the Weihnachten. These thirteen nights mark the space between one year and another, the border where the worlds overlap. This border seen Saturnalia is also celebrated on Artemis/Diana’s Birthday.

Despite popular belief, Druids and the Celtic people as a whole did not celebrate the Equinoxes and Solstices as holy days, only the Cross-Quarter Days. There is no evidence for Winter Solstice celebrations in Celtic lands until after the conversion to Christianity when Christmas was introduced. Therefore, the closest Celtic equivalent to Yule is Samhain.

23 December – Artemis/Diana’s Birthday – the ‘Day’ of the “Year and a Day.” The no day. This was the last day when the Sun stood still in the South. Truly the last day of the old cycle.

Ephesus was the greatest Temple City in Asia Minor. It was dedicated to the Great Goddess Artemis Diana. This Temple was the last of the Great Goddess Temples to remain open and was the site of Goddess worship well into the Christian era. One of her names was Mother of All. Like Mary, she was a virgin.

25 December – Christmas. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan Solstice celebrations of the nativity of such god-men/saviours as Apollo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called The Feast of Sol Invicta, "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun," on December 25th.

At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian had declared Mithraism to be the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274 CE. The similarities between Mithras and Christ are legion. Christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the 4th century CE under Constantine, but for a while, it had been a very close contest.

John the Baptist day, the 24th of June, is the first day after the Summer Solstice when you can see that the Sun is beginning to rise towards the south. His job was to say that the Light is coming. His birthday is the first day when you can see that the Light is going away. Likewise, Christmas, the 25th of December is the first day that you can see that the Light is coming back (the sun is rising further to the north).

1 January – Janus - God of Beginnings and Gates; Solar God of Daybreak; Creator God. The New Year begins. The Light IS returning!

I leave you with a “Christmas” Carol that might be better called a Fractured Christmas Carol. Enjoy!

God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk

God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk
Let nothing you dismay
Remember that the Sun returns
Upon this Solstice Day!
The growing dark is ended now
And Spring is on its way

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

The Winter’s worst still lies ahead
Fierce tempest, snow and rain!
Beneath the blanket on the ground
The spark of life remains!
The Sun’s warm rays caress the seeds
To raise Life’s songs again!

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy! O,
tidings of comfort and joy!

Within the blessed apple lies
The promise of the Queen
For from this pentacle shall rise
The orchards fresh and green
The Earth shall blossom once again
The air be sweet and clean!

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

(Thanks to the Greenwood Singers)

Have a wonderful Winter Solstice!

May the returning Light Bring you the vision that you seek for the New Year.

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The Celtic Cross-Quarter Day of Imbolc

The Sun marks the year at four clear points called the Quarter Days – the Winter Solstice (longest night), Spring Equinox (equal night and day), Summer Solstice (longest day), and Autumnal Equinox (once again, equal day and night). The Celts divided the year in to eight by inserting the four Cross Quarter Days at roughly November 1st (Samhain), February 1st (Imbolc), May 1st (Beltane) and August 1st (Lughnasad). These points are roughly half the number of days between the Solstices and the Equinoxes.

Snowdrops Bride's flower
One signal of Imbolc

Samhain (Halloween/All Saints Day) is the end and beginning of the Celtic year. By November 1st, the harvest is in and the seeds of the winter crops are planted. These seeds will lay dormant until Imbolc, called Candlemas by the Church, at the beginning of February when (in the British Isles) they move by themselves for the first time. The seed now has demonstrated that it is a living entity on its own. By Beltane, May Day, the plants are up and fertility is of extreme importance. Then at August 1st there is Lughnasad, Lammas in the Christian calendar, when the harvest begins. All the crops should be in by Samhain (pronounced "Sow-an") when the cycle begins once again.

If the Quarter Days start a season on the cycle (Winter Solstice starts winter, Spring Equinox starts spring, etc.), the Cross Quarter Days mark the high point of each season. For example, here in Vermont, the old-timers say that you should have half your hay and half your wood by Candlemas (Imbolc). We also have our coldest nights (40 to 45 degrees below zero) just before the first of February. High Winter.

As it is the February Cross Quarter Day that is coming up, I would like to address the rest of this article to Imbolc. This day is sacred to the Celtic fire-Goddess Brighde, "the Bright One" also known as Bridget, Brigid, and Bride. Other cognates are Brigantia and Britain. Bride was a Sun Goddess who presides over the hearth and smithy, over the inspiration and skill of sacred art and craft, and over the world of crops, livestock, and nature. In particular she is important to sheep who (on the British Isles) begin to lamb at this time of year. The starting of their lactation is a sign that Imbolc is near. Milk has always been important to Bridget. You can see her above the south western door of the tower on Glastonbury Tor. She is milking a cow.

Another "holiday" around the time of Imbolc is Groundhog's Day. While perhaps it might not seem that way on the surface, there's something very ancient about this one - especially because it has to do with the Sun and whether it shines or not, and whether the groundhog sees its shadow. In the context of sacred space, this is very interesting. There are shadow paths that have been found in Britain where, due to the gently downward curvature of the land, a single standing stone casts a shadow that is half a mine long! Shadows and light play an important role in any sacred space, and the lowly American groundhog has become the recipient of a much older, I suspect European, tradition. Another connection between Groundhog Day and Imbolc has to do with weather prediction aspect of this day in early February. The major role this simple herbivore plays is to give us the answer to a most important question in northern climes: "Will winter end soon or will it drag on?"

Just as Christianity divides God into three – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – Goddess cultures many times divided her in to three as well – Virgin, Mother, and Hag /Crone/Wise Woman. Imbolc celebrates Goddess in Her manifestation as the Virgin Bride.

There is a lovely Irish prayer to Saint Bridget (the Christianized version of Brighde) that I would like to share with you:


Dear Saint Bridget of the Kine
Bless these little fields of mine,
The pastures and the shady trees,
Bless the butter and the cheese,
Bless the cows with coats of silk
And the brimming pails of milk,
Bless the hedgerows, and I pray
Bless the seed beneath the clay,
Bless the hay and bless the grass,
Bless the seasons as they pass,
And heaven's blessings will prevail,
Bridget - Mary of the Gael.

While she has been turned in to a saint and made analogous to the Virgin Mary, in this prayer, Bridget also remains the Goddess of Imbolc – of the kine (cattle) and of the seed that moves for the first time by itself "beneath the clay."

What seeds that have been planted in you, that have been laying asleep through the winter, have just moved on their own in your life? Can you sense an impending something in your life? Is there something that is yet to manifest above ground into physical reality, yet it lies there just sprouting under the dark covering blanket of Earth in side you? How can you nurture this seedling in the coming days and months?

Imbolc is the time to ask these questions. This is especially powerful when it is done in some kind of ceremony. You can do this alone or with friends. You might begin by creating a sacred/safe space by marking the Four Directions, making a circle on the floor, burning sage, or any other way of demarking the space you plan to work within. As Imbolc is sacred to Bridget, you will want to call Her into your space in some way. She will come to you if you call Her.

I was looking for the little book that had the "Invocation to Saint Bride" in it. I couldn't find it, and as I have piles of books all around, I spent a lot of time rummaging through this pile and that. I couldn't find it, so I went back to writing this article. Then after a while I looked again. I still couldn't find it. Yet I knew it would go well in this article. In desperation I said out loud, "Bridget, help me find that book." My hand was on it within five seconds. Call Her, She'll come to you.

In any event, at Imbolc, after invoking Bridget and any other deities of choice that you might want to have with you, spend some time thinking about the seed (or seeds) that are quickening within you.

While the four Cross Quarter Days were know as Fire Festivals by the Celts, as there were four of them, I suspect that each one of them was also ruled by one of the four elements. For me, Imbolc is ruled by Water. It is a time to look in to the future. February, just before spring is the time of year that many need to take a deep breath and look forward to the year ahead. You might want to spend some time planning how you will protect and nurture the new part of you that is now quickening inside you. Each of the four elements can be used for scrying. Water speaks of the future. Fill a small bowl with water. Put it on a table, and in a darkened room look at the surface of the water. Perhaps a candle would be useful to provide some reflection. Think about the seed quickening inside you. Unfocus your eyes as you gaze into the bowl. (I usually try to look at the surface of the water from a 45 degree angle.) Don't look for, or at, anything. You won't "see" it with your physical eyes anyway. When something comes, remain relaxed. Maybe you'll think you saw something, maybe that triggers something aural through your ears. Pay attention. Don't jump up and shout, "Far out!" Stay calm and allow more specifics to come into your consciousness. Maybe you will "see" only one image, maybe you'll see and hear a whole movie. Maybe it will come as a feeling.

After your time of scrying the future in water, spend some time thinking about the seed, the image/movie you "saw", and the future. What associations can you make between them? How do they all fit together? Do you have a better sense of what the year will be like?

When you have worked all of that through, and any friends who might be there with you have shared what they have "seen," it is time to thank Bridget for being with you, and to release her. Finally, open the space you have worked in.

This is only one, very simple way that you can celebrate Imbolc. I have friends in Wales with whom I spent the whole day and night working on the themes of Bridget and Imbolc. They created a wonderful pattern of events. The women went to the holy well at Carreg Cennen, a natural tunnel deep beneath an ancient Welsh Castle. We men gathered wood for the evening fire and spoke of Imbolc in many different ways. It culminated with a joyous gathering in the evening in a warm and cozy small building out in the woods where we sang songs and told more stories about this ancient Celtic Goddess. Bridget was there with us at that time of quickening.

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The seeds planted at Samhain, lying dormant at the Winter Solstice. having moved on their own at Imbolc, have now sprouted, and are above the surface of the Earth.
In the cycle of manifestation of, say, an idea, it is at this point where the idea becomes manifest to others. This, then, equates with the moment of birth. Tender as it is, others can see it. The year/idea/project/baby is born. The first breath of Spring.

And the light at this time of year is doing the same – it is moving upwards - towards the summer.
Equinox means "equal night," and anywhere on the Earth, given a level horizon, the Sun rises due East, and sets due West. Equal day and night. But, while equal and balanced, in the northern hemisphere, the momentum is definitely towards the Light.

Sun paths

The Spring Equinox was a critical time for the ancient astrologers. They started their astrological year then - as the Sun moves into Aries - this sign, bursting with initiating energy, like the seed bursting through the top soil, characterized this time of year. (You may be aware that astronomically, on the 21st of March, the Sun is no longer in Aries; it is much closer to the beginning of Pisces. Thus the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. This has to do with the Precession of the Equinoxes and the 26,000+ year wobble of the Earth.)

15 Ides of March – The term Ides comes from the earliest Roman calendar , which is said to have been devised by Romulus , the mythical founder of Rome . Whether it was Romulus or not, the inventor of this calendar had a penchant for complexity.

The Roman calendar organized its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days:   

  • Kalends (1st day of the month)   

  • Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)   

  • Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)     

The remaining, unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or the Ides.

17 St. Patrick – everyone knows this one, but some sources also say that it is Joseph of Arimathea's day as well. Both of these Saints spent time in Glastonbury.

19 St Joseph – husband of Mary and father of Jesus, is the patron     saint of carpentry, defender of the family and symbol of generosity and benevolent     patriarchal protector. Why do you think his day is just before the Spring     Equinox?

20 St. Cuthbert of Lindesfarne – accepted the decrees of the Synod of Whitby in 663 (see below), which committed the English Church to following Roman customs that had been introduced into Canterbury by Augustine instead of their older indigenous Celtic Christian traditions.

21 - Equinox – equal day/equal night – anywhere on Earth. On this day, a line drawn from the centre of the Earth to the centre of the Sun crosses the Equator.

Easter – One of the Major decisions made at the Synod of Whitby in     644 CE was the way Easter was to be determined. The Celtic Church arrived     at the date one way, and the Roman Church used the method that eventually     won out. After Whitby, Easter was officially defined as the first Sunday     after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. What a pagan way to determine     the most sacred moveable feast in the Christian Calendar! It was the Venerable     Bede who set the rules of how to determine this date. Unfortunately, due     to the precession of the Equinoxes. the use of the 21st of March as the date     of the Equinox became more and more inaccurate. Even by the time of Charlemagne     only several centuries later, the date of the Equinox, had already slipped     back to the 17th or 18th rather than the 21st of March. By the end of the     Middle Ages, Ptolemy had been rediscovered, and it was obvious that his     interpretation of the Earth standing still and the Sun and other planets     was the way to go. Anyone could see that was how it was. But then, along     came the unfortunate Galileo who,based on the earlier work of Copernicus,     claimed that the Earth rotated around the Sun! Heresy! Recant! Which he did.

But it was the Church's on-going need to be able to accurately predict when the Spring Equinox was that eventually proved Galileo correct. The answer lay in the use of meridian lines, a line drawn from north to south that goes directly over your head. The Sun is on the Meridian (the highest point in the sky on any given day) at noon. You need a box camera to make this work. Cathedrals, large dark chambers, fit the bill exactly. Prior to this time, the major entrances to sacred spaces were oriented towards a significant astronomical (usually horizonal) event (think of New Grange in Ireland which was oriented towards the Winter Solstice Sunrise, or Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, which was oriented towards the Equinox Sunrises). But with this need to be able to accurately predict Easter, the astronomical uses of sacred space changed.

The ability to determine this date became of critical import to the Church as much of the yearly cycle of liturgy was based upon an accurate date for this moveable feast of Easter. (For example, Lent is forty days before, and Pentecost (Whitsunday) is fifty days after Easter. As the date of the Equinox shifted farther and farther away from the 21st of March, the Church became more and more frantic to be able to determine it accurately. A universal Church should needed to ascertain this critical date accurately.

But the Church astronomers in cathedrals like the Duomo of Palermo or Toscanelli meridiana in S.M. del Fiore in Florence (completed in 1755) were able to put a small hole, high on the southern face of the church wall that allowed a dot of sun light to fall upon a line drawn on the floor. Each day, the astronomers could track the Sun at noon - from its low point in the winter to its high point in the summer. The dot created an analemma, a path through the that looked like a lopsided eight. Observing this path showed the Church astronomers that Ptolemy was wrong and Galileo was correct.

So, in the cycle of growth,
the Spring Equinox is a time of sprouting,
that initial manifestation,
of the ideas that you planted at last autumn at Samhain.
It is a time of balance,
a time of growth,
a time of equality.
What is at a balance point in your life?
May it grow and flourish as we move on towards Beltane.

Blessed Be!

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The Celtic Cross-Quarter Day of Beltane

Beltane is May Day – High Spring. The seed, which was planted last November at Samhain (Sow-an), and moved all by itself for the first time in February at Imbolc, is now up and growing. For the Celts, this was a time of fertility. The May Pole's phallic shape is but a mild hint at the kind of spring revels that went on during this day and night sacred to the Sun God Bel. The idea of the Sun being masculine is actually a relatively new idea - no more than four or five thousand years old. Originally in the British Isles (as was also the case in most of this Earth of ours), the Sun was a Goddess. (see McCrickard) Bridget, Brigid, Bride and Brigantia, the deity of Imbolc's names. She is where we get the word "bright." Another of her names was Grainne - Igraine, King Arthur's mother was certainly of that Sun Goddess lineage.

Greetings to you, Sun of the seasons,
As you travel the skies on high,
With your strong step on the wing of the heights.
You are the happy mother of the stars.

You sink down into the perilous ocean
Without harm and without hurt.
You rise on the quiet wave
Like a young queen in flower.

– Traditional Gaelic Prayer

Bel, Bil, Belinus and Baal

Beltane means "the fires of Bel." This Sun God Bel supplanted Bride in the British (hear her name again?) Isles. He was part of the patriarchal takeover of Europe. In Ireland, Bil, the God of the underworld, is the father of Miled. The sons of Mil (read: Miled), or the Milesians, were the Goidelic Celts who took over Ireland from the Partholanians. They came from Spain, the Gaelic land of the dead. Bel was honored at Beltane not only as a god of death, but also as a god of life as well, and was depicted as a solar deity. He gained victory over the powers of darkness by bringing the people to within sight of another harvest. At Beltane, all fires were extinguished, and Bel's fire was created from the sacred rays of the Sun, "the sacred fires of Bel." This Fire was then carried to all the hearths of the land.

Bel is found all over mainland Europe. Belgium. Caesar, who first met him in Gaul called him "Belenos," and saw him as comparable to Apollo (the Sun again). Down in what is now Lebanon, in the "Old Testament," we frequently hear of the Hebrew women leaving their homes to be with the Canaanite Goddess Asherah or Astarte and her lover consort Baal. (Incidentally, the Anglo Saxons called Astarte "Ostara" – the Goddess of the East. It's where we get the name "Easter" from. Real Christian derivation isn't it?)

Of Roots and Fertility

As a Sun deity, Bel is closely associated with Fire – indeed all of these four Cross Quarter Days are Fire Festivals, but in my article on Imbolc, I suggested that each of the four can also be associated with one of the four elements. For example, Imbolc was a Fire Festival associated with Water. As such, a bowl of water was used for scrying the future. Here in the height of spring, before the major burst of crop growth of May, June and July, it is time to look back - into the past. Beltane is a double Fire Festival, and Fire is a wonderful tool for looking into the past. The cycle is well up and needs fertilization for the next rush of growth, but here is a moment to remember the roots, where this cycle began. How many times have you sat around a camp fire or stared at the burning logs in a fire place and ruminated on the past? As one looks at the glowing embers at the base of the fire, the burning wood takes on all kinds of shapes and meanings - reflections of the past. Beltane is that time for one last look back, one final deep fertilizing breath before the time of massive growth in summer. Fire energizes that growth and fruitfulness, just as the heat of the returning Sun warms the Earth and nourishes the growing seedlings. At Beltane, the Celts used to drive cattle between two bonfires to ensure fertility. In Scotland it was also the time to then drive these cattle and the sheep up to the highlands for the summer.

Some say that if you leap sky-clad (nekkid) with your loved one over the Beltane Fire, it insures that you will have a baby in the coming year. Be warned about this! - I learned about the fertility aspect of the Beltane Fire at a week-long gathering I helped to organize just outside of Glastonbury in 1986 – the week after Chernobyl went up. Fire seemed to be everywhere at that camp - appropriately enough given the amount of excess radioactivity in the air. At night, young men were juggling burning logs of wood and making enormous flashes of fire by spitting mouthfuls of kerosene (in British it's called "paraffin") at a flame. Kooosh!

In the late eighties, at a meeting of OakDragon here in England, there was a very interesting, frustrating, lovable mountain of a man by the name of Sid Rawle. Sid is a traveler. At that time, he was one of Britain's unemployed who lived on the road in a big truck with his partner Jules, the mother of several of his children. He was in his forties and quite robust with red hair and beard, and at that Beltane Fire Sid assumed the role of Fire tender. He was forever putting on another arm load of wood or adjusting the already-burning logs to get just a bit more heat and light. At one point, he announced to us that his partner Jules had told him that he could play with the Fire all he wanted, but he mustn't under any circumstances jump over the flames - she didn't want to have a baby that year! (Actually, she did have a baby that year anyway. When you work with Fire, sometimes you get burned.)

Sid also taught me an interesting way of tuning into the element of Fire. The idea is to go up as close to the bonfire as you can possibly stand and stay there until the Fire physically drives you away. Try this the next time you are at a big bonfire (perhaps you'll have one for this Beltane).

Of course, Fire walking is a fantastic way to tune into the Element of choice for Beltane. Contact Patrick MacManaway if you are interested in having such an event in your area.

The Beacon Hills

All over Britain there are ancient beacon hills, high points where year after year, the Beltane Fires were lit. Each of these hills was so located that you could see at least one other beacon hill from it. Actually there used to be big piles of brush on those points at all times ready to light in case of emergency. It is said that when the Spanish Armada came, these beacons were used to warn all of Britain of the impending danger. At Queen Elizabeth's fiftieth birthday they lit one beacon hill, and when it was seen, others lit the next one, and so on. It was amazing how quickly the beacon hills all over Britain became lit. It was similar to the Native American smoke signals. Passing the light. Quite effective.

One way of thinking about the Earth energies that are found at sacred spaces all over the world is to think in terms of acupuncture. In this analogy, the standing stones become Earth acupuncture needles, the leys are the meridians, and the beacon hills, the points of Fire, would then be moxibustion points.

Goddess and May Poles = Fertility

The Goddess of the Celts manifested herself in three ways. At Imbolc we see her as the Virgin Bride. Here at Beltane, and again at Lughnasad in early August, the manifestation of the Goddess we see is the Mother - she becomes this, many times, as a result of Beltane lovemaking. She is woman in her prime. Lover. Fully aware. In her power. At Samhain around the first of November, we shall see her in the final phase of this trinity, the wise old woman or the Crone.

So at Beltane there is the crowning of the Queen of the May (the Virgin who may become Mother) and her King. In their honor, the people dance around the May Pole. You might want to try this. Cut a twenty foot pole remembering to honor the spirit of that tree and the spirit of the place (genius loci). Ask your friends to each bring twenty feet of one to two inch-wide ribbon – any color. (You might want to have a couple of extras in case someone forgets.) When all are gathered, tie the ribbons at the top of the pole and plant it several feet into the ground. There needs to be an even number of people for this to work out. Have everyone form a circle around the pole. Break up in pairs and face each other. Half are facing clockwise (deosil) and half are facing counterclockwise (widdershins).

In square dancing, there is something called "the Grand Right and Left." Shake your partner's right hand and pass them by and shake the next person's left hand and pass them by, and shake the third person's right hand, and so on. Have the participants go all the way 'round the circle shaking hand after hand weaving in and out. When they return to their original places, have everyone pick up the end their ribbon, and once again face their partner. You are now ready to weave a beautiful pattern on the pole with the ribbons. Everyone passes by on the right of their partner, then left of the next person they meet, then right, in and out, in and out.

A wonderful chant that I love at this time is:

We are the flow, and
We are the ebb,
We are the weaver,
We are the web.

If everyone has done it correctly, when all of the ribbon is used up, you can turn in the opposite direction and dance out until all of the ribbons are un-wound. Then, perhaps, you can devise a more intricate pattern - perhaps two in and one out, two in and one out. I like to leave the ribbons 'till next Beltane woven on the pole and tied at the bottom so a couple of feet of ribbon flow in the breeze. It makes a beautiful woven sacred ornament in your back yard.

Twelve and Eight

The idea of dividing the year up into eight parts (first quartered then cross-quartered) as the Celts did is not a very common one. Most people divide the year up into twelve parts. This is especially the case with most Indo Europeans.

So much of time is divisible by three: sixty seconds, sixty minutes, twenty-four hours, twelve months. To divide the year into twelve, you start by dividing the year into four at the Solstices and Equinoxes, you then divide each quarter into thirds. 3x4=12. It beats the three against the four. This is called a base twelve system.

As the Celts were Indo Europeans who used base twelve systems extensively, their use of a base eight system instead of base twelve is even more fascinating. The way one divides the year into eight is first by dividing the year into two parts, then four, then by dividing each of those quarters in half. Unlike the twelve, dividing the year into eight is a progression by halves. 1_2_4_8. Some say that the Celtic division of the year into eight is a rather recent phenomenon.

We see the twelve system in the British inch, foot, and yard measurements. There are twelve inches to a foot, and three feet in a yard – related to the system that divides things into twelve. On the other hand, the inch itself divides by halves: 1 — 1/2 — 1/4 — 1/8. Both base twelve and base eight systems are found in our British and American form of measurement. (The measurement of time intermingles two systems as well. While there are twelve months in a year, twelve hours on the face of a clock, sixty (5 x 12) minutes in the hour, and sixty seconds in a minute, seconds themselves are divided into tenths - an unwelcome invasion of the Metric System which is based on ten rather than twelve or eight.)


The Cross Quarter Days do indeed divide the year into eight even parts. Some say that the Spring Equinox to Beltane is the same number of days as from Beltane to the Summer Solstice; however, if you mark the progress of the Sun along the Eastern horizon, the story is quite different. Around the time of the Spring Equinox, given a level horizon, the rising Sun is traveling its full diameter Northward along the Eastern horizon each day! It is really trucking. On the other hand, around the Summer Solstice the Sun moves almost imperceptibly along the horizon as it rises each day. {Solstice = Sun Stand(s still).} This means that at Beltane, the Sun does not rise half the distance between the Spring Equinox rise and the Summer Solstice rise. As a matter of fact, by May 1st, the Sun has traveled seventy-percent of the distance between due East (the Equinox rise anywhere on Earth given a level horizon) and the Summer Solstice rise at the particular latitude you happen to be on (In scientific terms, this distance is called the Root Mean Square). So in half the number of days between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, along the horizon, the Sun moves seventy percent of the distance between those two rises. You can see this visually in our Orthographic Projection section.

Beltane is a time of fertility. What part of your life is particularly fertile, particularly ready to grow? Is there a place inside you that's saying, "Hey, I really want to spend more time doing ________."? Take advantage of the energy of this time. Use Fire to energize you for the growth ahead.

May the Fire of Bel
be kindled in your heart
in this time of
fertility and growth.

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In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year (near June 21st) when the Sun rises farthest in the north-eastern horizon, rises highest in the sky at noon, and sets farthest along the north-western horizon of any day in the year. The Summer Solstice marks the first day of the season of summer. The declination of the Sun on the (northern) Summer Solstice is known as the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 30 minutes north of the Equator). Another way of saying this is that on the Summer Solstice, a line drawn from the centre of the Earth to the centre of the Sun will exit the surface of the Earth through, the Tropic of Cancer. At noon on that day, at the Tropic of Cancer, the Sun will be directly overhead. On that day, at the Arctic Circle, an imaginary circle on the surface of the Earth at 66 degrees 30 minutes N Latitude, i.e., 23 degrees 30 minutes south of the North Pole, is the southernmost point of the northern polar regions at which the midnight sun is visible. (It also marks the northernmost point at which the sun can be seen at the Winter Solstice – about December 21).

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, respectively, in the sense that the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a maximum for the year. (In the Southern Hemisphere, Winter and Summer Solstices are exchanged.)

In 2011 the Summer Solstice will be on June 21st at 17:16 GMT.

"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere,"to cause to stand still. This is because, as the Summer Solstice approaches, the sun rises further and further in the north-eastern horizon on each successive day. On the day of the Solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount further northeast, compared to the day before. In this sense, it "stands still."

Many prehistoric sacred sites aligned towards the Summer Solstice. In Sweden, a number of inland Viking labyrinths are located towards the sunset on that day. This is also the case for the Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio. The jaws of that terrestrial serpent, and the major axis of the egg that it grasps in its mouth, align to that same sunset. Calendar II, and enigmatic lithic site in central Vermont has an alignment from an astronomical platform to a standing stone that points the eye to the Summer Solstice sun as it rises, rolling up the side of a hill. Of course, the most famous Summer Solstice Sunrise is at Stonehenge, on the Wiltshire Downs in southern England. On most years, thousands of people gather at this sacred site to celebrate Sun rise over the Heel Stone on the longest day of the year.

In ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.

MidSummer, June 24th, is celebrated by all kinds of groups. It is a holiday adapted by neo-pagans to celebrate the middle of summer. The origins of the holiday originated in Wales where the celebration of midsummer was practiced and is called Gwyl Canol Haf. Others call it Litha - which perhaps comes from the Saxons.

In some European traditions, the first (or only) full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives. This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the "grand [sexual] union" of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltane. Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favourite month for marriage today. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon.

There is an interesting relationship between one of the most important Saints and the Light. As I said above Solstice means stand still of the Sun. On a practical level, for three or four days before the Summer Solstice until three or four days after that time, unless you have a very keen sense of observation, the Sun seems to rise at the exact same point along the north-eastern horizon.

June 23 – is the Vigil of the Nativity of John the Baptist. This is the night when one can wait to see if the Sun will rise just a tiny bit South on the horizon that it did the day before.

June 24 – celebrated the nativity of John the Baptist. On the Day when you might be able to see that the Sun has risen slightly to the South presaging that the hours of light are getting shorter, the Saint whose job was to say the Light is coming is celebrated! Likewise, on the opposite end of the year, December 25th, the day when you can first tell that the days are getting longer, the Light of the World, Jesus, is born.

Midsommar is an important celebration to this day in Sweden, and I have been privileged to be part of a number of these celebrations. A Midsummer tree (stang) is set up and decorated in each town. Like the May Pole in England, the people dance around it singing songs. In ancient Sweden, women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.

Midsommar Stang drawing by Sig Lonegren

Later, on the big rock in the background, we built a labyrinth in the tradition of the coastal fishermens' labyrinths built in Sweden since the Fifteen Hundreds, and walked each day before going fishing to ensure a good wind, a good catch, and as a snare for the trickster Trolls, who would follow the fishermen in, the men would run out quickly and jump in their boats, and the Trolls would become confused, and couldn't find their way out to follow them, and cause them trouble when they were fishing.

What do you call it when you go fishing with the boat moving slowly forward, and the line out behind you? Trolling!

Trollfangere/Troll Catcher Labyrinth
Built on Midsommar Nedergardsö, Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

I personally have found the time around the Summer Solstice the most anarchic time of the year. It is very difficult to get people to all do the same thing in terms of ceremony as this is the peak of rugged individualism. It is a time of celebration and wild parties, but it is also a time to pause, at the height of the Light to remember that from now on, the days will become shorter and shorter until the Winter Solstice Sun begins the return once again.

Blessings to all On this day Of the Sun's Greatest power.

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The Celtic Cross-Quarter Day of Lughnasad

Lughnasad marks that moment at the beginning of August just before the harvest of the seed that had been planted in Samhain (sow-an) in early November, first moved on its own at Imbolc in early February, and had sprouted and was growing at Beltane in early May. The Celtic harvest season began when the first crops were gathered at Lughnasad and lasted until the last sheep and cattle were brought down from the highland pastures in time for Samhain around the first of November.

Celtic Warriors on the Gundestrop Cauldron

Who was this Solar deity of the Celts after whom Lughnasad is named? Who was Lugh (Loo)? There was a time rather late in Irish prehistory when the Tuatha De Danann, the people who conquered Ireland just prior to the arrival of the Sons of Mil (the Celts/Gaels), were contesting for supremacy in Ireland with Fomorians. Nuada (Noo-a-ha), King of the De Danann was a mighty warrior, but unfortunately one day in battle, his arm was hacked off at the shoulder. Now the King must be whole and unblemished on all levels, so even though Nuada's arm was replaced with a lifelike one made of silver, he could no longer lead his people. He was no longer whole and unblemished.

King Nuada was replaced by Eochaid (Yo-hi) The Beautiful, son of a De Danann woman named Elotha. She had not told him that his father was a Fomorian chief. Eochaid was crowned King of the De Danann with the proviso that if he did not please the people, he would have to abdicate his throne. Yet, after his coronation, for a King of the De Danann, Eochaid became more and more partial to their enemy, the Fomorians. Eventually, the Tuatha De Danann rebelled against him, and Eochaid had to agree to abdicate, but he asked to remain king for just seven years more. (He wanted to give his newfound friends, the Fomorians, time to build up their forces.)

At that critical point when the Fomorians were finally at the peak of their power, Nuada Silver Arm had a miraculous recovery. A magician named Miach (Mee-ah) came to him and put his old hacked-off arm back on, chanted some powerful healing charms, and in three days it was restored completely. Nuada then recovered his throne as well and Eochaid defected to the Fomorians.

Celtic Warrior by Theodor de Bry in 1590

It was just before that mighty confrontation, known as the Second Battle of Moytura, where the Tuatha De Danann met the Fomorians face to face that Lugh, the deity after whom Lughnasad is named, first comes to Irish Celtic consciousness. He showed up at the walls of Tara during the celebration of King Nuada's reinstatement.

"Who are you and what is your purpose?" was the challenge from the doorkeeper.

"Tell King Nuada that Lugh Long Arm is here. Take me to the King for I can help him."

"And what skill do you have, for no one enters Tara without qualifications," replied the man at the gate.

"Question me doorkeeper, I am a carpenter."

"We have one already."

"Question me, I am a smith."

"Sorry, we have one of them as well.

"I am a champion warrior."

"We've got our own."

At this point, it appeared that anything that Lugh might offer, the gateman would reject, but Lugh persisted with a list of his qualifications - harpist, poet, sorcerer, one skilled in the strategies and tactics of war, cupbearer, metalworker and physician. In each case, the gateman replied that they already had one.

Finally Lugh said, "Then ask the good King if he has anyone who has all of these skills. If he does, I will not enter Tara."

When King Nuada heard these words, he sent his best chess player to the main gate of Tara to challenge Lugh to a game of chess. Lugh firmly trounced him. At this, Lugh was finally welcomed to Tara, and went on to lead the warriors as Battle Chief of the Tuatha De Danann to victory over Eochaid and the Fomorians.

It's a mystery why sometimes the solution to a problem has to hit you over the head repeatedly before you are finally able see it.

Lugh, is a Solar God of the Celts. Some myths say that Bel (of Beltane fame) was his father. Others say that both London (Lugh-dunum - Lugh's town) and Lyons in France were named after him (though the linguistic link is not particularly clear in either case). In any event, this Solar deity was honored throughout the Celtic world from Ireland to southern France.

The Sun is critical to a successful harvest. Just as Lugh Long Arm offered himself to the Tuatha De Danann, the crops offer themselves to us at the peak of their power and ripeness. It's no wonder that Celts offer the first of their harvest to him.


In addition to Lughnasad, this early August Cross Quarter Day is also known as Lammas. The word Lammas combines the words "loaf" and "mass" (Old English "hlafmsse," Middle English "Lammasse"). It had to do with consecrating the first loaf of bread made from the first harvest of that year. In the same spirit, corn dollies were made from the straw of the first harvest at this time as well. "Corn" in British means "grain" in American. Most of the famous "corn circles" that have occurred in Southern England in the last decade occurred in wheat fields, though other crops are involved as well. Modern corn dollies are many times made of wheat. In the case of the Iron Age Celts, their corn dollies were probably made from made from two early grains called emmer or spelt. Once again, in Celtic climes, this first harvest of the corn/grain crops occurs around the beginning of August. Lammas is a Christian holy day, and is celebrated by the Church on the 1st of August.

Timing and the Quarter Days

The Solstices and the Equinoxes can be fixed to the nanosecond by astronomers.     The 2010 Summer Solstice is at 6:28  EST (11:28  GMT) on  the     20th of June. The 2010 Autumnal Equinox will occur at 22:09 EST on  the 22nd of September and (03:09 GMT)     on the 23rd of September. While the dates do vary a little bit, these Quarter Days are very much fixed feasts.     They can be timed to the nearest nanosecond.

On the other hand, you may have noticed that I have not been very specific as to the dates of any of the Cross Quarter Days. This is because there are many different ways to determine exactly when they occur. Some make it simple and say that Samhain (the Celtic New Year) is on November 1st, Imbolc is on February 1st, Beltane is on May 1st, and Lughnasad/Lammas is on August 1st.

Half the Days

Others have different ways of calculating the Cross Quarter Days. For example, if you take exactly half of the number of days between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox in 1997, Lughnasad occurs on Wednesday the 6th of August.


Kathy Jones, a gifted playwright, author and authority on the Labyrinth that surrounds the Tor in Glastonbury (England), defines the Cross Quarter Days astrologically. Kathy feels that these octile points occur at fifteen degrees of the Fixed Signs of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. The Sun entered fifteen degrees Leo very late on Wednesday, the 6th of August in 1997, the same day that year as the half the number of days technique.

The Moon

I happen to go with the Moon on this one. The Sun determines the Solstices and the Equinoxes. I like to relate the four Cross Quarter Days with the four phases of the Moon. Samhain, the Celtic New Year, is the New Moon. So Samhain happens on the New Moon nearest the 1st of November. The moveable feast of Imbolc would be on the waning First Quarter Moon nearest the 1st of February. Beltane is the Full Moon nearest the 1st of May, and Lughnasad/Lammas on the waxing Third Quarter Moon nearest August 1st. In 1997, this puts Lammas on Saturday the 26th of July. There at least one other way of doing this as well with the full moon being at Samhain, and so on through the yearly cycle. There are other methods used to determine these Cross-Quarter points including the blossoming of the Hawthorn indicated Beltane in Britain, and the scientific "root mean square," which calculates the distance along the horizon that the Sun will have traveled from the Equinox rise to Beltane.

So here are four different ways to decide when Lughnasad will be this year: it's always the 1st of August, it's half the number of days between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox (in 1997, August 6th), it's fifteen degrees Leo (in 1997, also August 6th), and it's the Third-Quarter Waning Moon nearest August 1st (in 1997, 26 July). Remember, the last three methods of divining the date will vary considerably from year to year. I remember celebrating Samhain at the New Moon on the 20th of October one year. That's about as early as it gets. Just as Autumn doesn't come on the same day every year, the Phase of the Moon method of determining a given Cross Quarter Day uses a very wide window of about twenty days in which each of the Cross Quarter Days can occur. These are truly moveable feasts. I encourage you to go with the method that feels best to you and your group. And even if your group ultimately chooses a different method than the one you favor, there's nothing to keep you from privately celebrating Lughnasad in your own special way on the day you prefer.

Lugh and Hermes

Lugh is also associated with Mercury, the messenger of the Gods. Perhaps you can use that Hermetic energy of that time to get some messages from the other side. In past columns on these Cross Quarter Days I have suggested that in addition to all being Celtic Fire Festivals, each of the Cross Quarter days has one of the Elements that is particularly associated with it, and that Element can be used for scrying. For me, Samhain is when the veil to the other side is thinnest, so Air works well for divination. Imbolc is the time to use water for scrying the future. Beltane is Fire that can scry the past. Lughnasad/Lammas is Earth for scrying the present - sometimes the most difficult of all to see clearly (remember the story of Lugh Long Arm).

Lughnasad Ceremony

You might want to try this experiment. Before your Lughnasad festival go out to your garden and get a bowl of soil. Don't pat it down. Allow the Earth to lie as it falls into the bowl. Perhaps you might want to ask for Lugh's help in what you are about to do. Put the bowl of Earth on a table in a darkened room. Light a candle to honor the fact that, while you are working with Earth, Lughnasad is also a Celtic Fire Festival. State what aspect of your present situation you want to see more clearly. (Pick something in your life that isn't going particularly well for you at the moment.) Gaze at the surface of the Earth. Take some deep breaths and time to relax. You might want to go down through your body looking for places of tension and asking them to relax. Take another deep breath. Unfocus your eyes. Think again of your question. See the interplay of light and darkness as the candle flickers in the darkness. What do you "see?"

When you do become aware of something, stay calm. Perhaps more will come. Don't push it. Relax. Afterwards, if you do this with a group, it's always useful to provide an opportunity for anyone to share what happened.

The rocks, the stones and the crystals Hey yung, hey yunga, hey yung. The rocks, the stones and the crystals Hey yung, hey yunga, hey yung. The power of the Earth, The power of the Earth, The power of the Earth, The power of the Earth!

I have been working with these Cross Quarter Days for about thirteen years. Lughnasad is the one I miss more frequently by far than any of the others. I am not sure why this is, but until recently, the groups I associate with do not seem to make so much of an effort to celebrate Lughnasad as they do the other three Cross Quarters. Another thing I would say is that I have found the Summer Solstice to be the most anarchic of the Quarter Days. Perhaps that bleeds over into Lughnasad as well.

In any event, Lughnasad marks that point of the very first loaf of bread, the very initial point where projects that you have started in the darkness of winter, after much shepherding through the Spring, begin to bear fruit at the height of summer. What in your life is at that point?

May Lugh Long Arm Be With You!


Hope, Murry. 1987. Practical Celtic Magic. Thorsons Publishing Group, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press. The best quick reference work on things Celtic that I know of. Ross, Anne, Dr. 1986. Druids, Gods & Heroes from Celtic Mythology. Peter Lowe Publishers. My favorite book of Celtic Mythology.

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The seeds planted at Samhain, laid dormant at the Winter Solstice, moved on their own at Imbolc, sprouted the Spring Equinox, fertilized at Beltane, grew vigorously under the Sun of Summer Solstice, and ripened at Lughnasad, are in the middle of the harvest season as the days, now once again are of equal light and darkness. In the cycle of manifestation of, say, an idea, the Autumn Equinox is point where the idea has become manifest, has grown through fertilization and the nurturing of Mother Nature, and is now more than ready for harvest. The end of the cycle (at Samhain) is in sight.

Sun paths

And the light at this time of year while at a point of equality, has the momentum of moving towards the darkness. Just the opposite of the Spring Equinox, which has a similar evenness of day and night, but the momentum is toward the light. Equinox means "equal night," and anywhere on the Earth, given a level horizon, the Sun rises due East, and sets due West. Equal day and night. But, while equal and balanced, in the northern hemisphere, the momentum is definitely towards the darkness of Winter.

The Autumnal Equinox happens once a year. At this time, because of the motion of the Earth around the Sun and because the Earth is tilted, the Sun crosses over the Earth's equator on its way South.

Table of Autumnal Equinoxes

Year Date Time (GMT)
2012 22 September 14:49
2013 22 September 20:44
2010 23 September 02:29

The Autumn Equinox is one of the Four Quarter Days of the year. It marks a major mid-point of two of the seasons - even though Autumn officially starts on this day, in the Celtic Calendar, it marks the mid-point of the season of harvest which began at Lughnasad and ends at Samhain. Gathering in the fruits of our labors. The Holi/Holy days around this time reflect this reality. In the United Stated, Labor Day - the first Tuesday after the first Monday in September - marks the beginning of the Autumn Equinox season. Labor Day recognizes the value of those who labor, and it gives them a final fling at the end of Summer.

September 10 - Dagobert, Frankish king c.612–c.639. The last of the Merovingians to exercise personal rule in France was said to be of the blood line of Christ (see "Holy Blood, Holy Grail.").

9/11/2001 - The destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. A grim harvest by the Grim Reaper. A blatant attack on the hegemony of the Unites States.

September 15 - Octave of the Nativity of Mary [PCP (Paris); WTS (Bruges)] This feast was established by Pope Innocent XI in 1683. What gave occasion to the institution of this feast was the desire of all Christendom for a solemn thanksgiving which would commemorate the deliverance of Vienna, obtained through the intercession of Our Lady, when the city was besieged by the Turks in 1683. An army of 550,000 invaders had reached the city walls and was threatening all of Europe. It marked the greatest incursion of a Moslem army into Europe. John Sobieski, King of Poland, came with a much smaller army to assist the besieged city during the octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and made ready for a great battle. Some say that Al Quaeda and Osama bin Laden chose the 11th of September 2001 to revenge the defeat of the Moslem armies at Vienna in 1683 on that same date.

September 21 - Matthew, apostle, evangelist. On this usual day for the Autumn Equinox, the Church chose to celebrate Matthew, the tax collector, who gave up everything to follow Jesus. His name in Hebrew means (according to the "Metaphysical Bible Dictionary") Gift of Jehova; gratuity of Jah: given wholly unto Jehova. Of the four evangelists, he is represented by the man, or water bearer, which is in the sign of Aquarius which symbolizes the taking of the message out in to society.

September 24 - John the Baptist (Conception) - This man figures greatly in our yearly cycle. as the pre curser to Jesus, the man whose job it is to say that the Light is coming, celebrates his birth day (appropriately) nine months later on the 24th of June, the first day after the Summer Solstice, when one might be able to see that the light is going away. Incidentally, the Annunciation to Mary is on March 25th - nine months before Christ's birth.

September 29 - Michaelmas Day - Michael, the archangel, and All Angels (Hebrew: "Who is like God ?"). St. Michael is one of the principal angels; his name was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against He-who-has-no-name and his followers. In Normandy St. Michael is the patron of mariners in his famous sanctuary at Mont-Saint-Michel in the diocese of Coutances. In Germany, after its evangelization, St. Michael replaced for the Christians the pagan god Wotan, to whom many mountains were sacred, hence the numerous mountain chapels of St. Michael all over Germany. There are Michael hills all along the Michael Line in England including the Glastonbury Tor, which is dedicated to St. Michael. Michaelmas Day, in England and other countries, is one of the regular quarter-days for settling rents and accounts; but it is no longer remarkable for the hospitality with which it was formerly celebrated. Stubble-geese being esteemed in perfection about this time, most families had one dressed on Michaelmas Day. In some parishes (Isle of Skye) they had a procession on this day and baked a cake, called St. Michael's bannock.

It is appropriate to mention Archangel Michael here as he pinned down the Earth Energies dragon with his spear, and marks the final turning point towards Samhain, and the death of the Celtic Year.

St Michael
Archangel Michael spears the Dragon

A Little Exercise in Balance

The Equinox is the time to try egg balancing. Take a raw egg out of the fridge the night before so it warms up to room temperature. On the Equinox, you will find that you can balance the egg on a flat surface, on its fat end. It doesn't work right away (I think it takes time for the yolk to settle), but keep at it, and suddenly, it will feel like it locks, and you can remove your fingers, and it stays there - balanced on its fat end. Honest.

So, in the cycle of decline,
the Autumn Equinox is at harvest time,
of those ideas
that you first planted
last Autumn at Samhain.
It is a time of balance,
a time of reaping,
a time of equality.
What is at that balance point in your life?

May the fruits of your labors
of this cycle
serve you well
as the light turns
towards the dark half of the year,
and the death and rebirth of a new cycle
at Samhain.

Blessed Be!

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