At the heart of symbolism

(Irish) Celtic orientation and tradition


The four Celtic “festivals”

The four “festivals”

The oral Celtic tradition has lost its place in a world where temporal took over spiritual, where historical facts supplanted myths. One of the most reliable sources today comes from the Irish Middle Ages. According to this source, the annual cycle was regulated by four “festivals” (for lack of a more appropriate word), ordered in agreement with the Eastern orientation, which held a central role in the (Irish) Celtic tradition.

Facing East, the being has South on his right and North on his left. As the living world associated with South is above the dead world related to North, South is “above” whereas North is “below”. The North-South vertical axis consequently separates the year into two cold and warm seasons connected to the sunrise and sunset movements alongside the horizon.

The four known “festivals” were held close to the dates of sunrise and sunset at solstices and equinoxes:

  • Samain (“Assembly”) on 1st November sets out the beginning and the end of the year;
  • Imbolc (“lustration”) on 1st February is the handcraft “festival”;
  • Beltaine (“Fire of Bel”, luminous aspect of Lug) on 1st May is the sacerdotal festival;
  • Lugnasad (“Lug's assembly”) on 1st August is the royal “festival”.

These “festivals” undeniably reflect the strong hierarchical structure of the Celtic society.

All mythological and epic stories have their main episodes running around the first “festival”, Samain. It was the object of meetings, banquets or feasts which lasted at least 3 days before and 3 days after the “festival” day itself if not during one or two weeks. The “festival” is an “enclosed period”, beyond time, where men may communicate with the Other World, the “síd”. The in-between world “festival” symbolizes death of the being to his ordinary state and his re-birth into the fully human state, the primeval being's state.

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