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The term Celtic calendar is used to refer to a variety of calendars used by Celtic-speaking peoples at different times in history.

Contents

Continental Celtic Calendar

The Gaulish Coligny calendar is possibly the oldest Celtic solar/lunar ritual calendar. It was discovered in Coligny, France, and is now on display in the Palais des Arts Gallo-Roman museum, Lyon. It dates from the 1st century BC, when the Roman Empire imposed use of the Julian Calendar in Roman Gaul. The calendar is made up of bronze fragments, in a single huge plate. It is inscribed in Gaulish with Latin characters and uses roman numerals.

The Coligny Calendar is an attempt to reconcile both the cycles of the moon and sun, as is the modern Gregorian calendar. However, the Coligny calendar considers the phases of the moon to be important, and each month always begins with the same moon phase. The calendar uses a mathematical arrangement to keep a normal 12 month calendar in sync with the moon and keeps the whole system in sync by adding an extra month every 2 1/2 years. The Coligny calendar registers a five-year cycle of 62 lunar months, divided into a "bright" and a "dark" fortnight (or half a moon cycle) each. The months were possibly taken to begin at full moon, and a 13th intercalary month was added every two and a half years to align the lunations with the solar year.

The astronomical format of the calendar year that the Coligny calendar represents may well be far older, as calendars are usually even more conservative than rites and cults. The date of its inception is unknown, but correspondences of Insular Celtic and Continental Celtic calendars suggest that some early form may date to Proto-Celtic times, roughly 800 BC. The Coligny calendar achieves a complex synchronization of the solar and lunar months. Whether it does this for philosophical or practical reasons, it points to considerable degree of sophistication.

Medieval Irish and Welsh calendars

Among the Insular Celts, the year was divided into a light half and a dark half. As the day was seen as beginning at sunset, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the darkness, at Samhain, the first of November. The light half of the year started at Bealtaine, the first of May. This observance of festivals beginning the evening before the festival day is still seen in the celebrations and folkloric practices among the Gaels, such as the traditions of Oíche Shamhna (Samhain Eve) among the Irish and Oidhche Shamhna among the Scots.[1][2]

Julius Caesar said in his Gallic Wars: "[the Gaulish Celts] keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night." Although Caesar says "at night" he specifically does not say "sunset" so we do not know how much the Gauls differed from others in methods of counting from midnight. Longer periods were reckoned in nights, as in the surviving term "fortnight."

Calendar terms in Celtic languages

Term Proto-Celtic Irish Scottish Gaelic Manx Welsh Cornish Breton
Year *bl(e)id-anī- blian bliadhna blein blwydd, blwyddyn bledhen bloavezh, bloaz
Season ráithe, séasúr ràith imbagh tymor, pryd séson koulz-amzer
Winter *gijamo geimhreadh geamhradh geurey gaeaf gwaf goañv
Spring *ers-āko (alt. *uesr-āko) earrach earrach arragh gwanwyn gwaynten nevez-amzer ("new season")
Summer *samo samhradh samhradh sourey haf haf hañv
Autumn *kento-gijamo fómhar foghar fouyr hydref kynyaf diskar-amzer ("falling season")

In Neopaganism

In some Neopagan religions, a "Celtic calendar" loosely based on that of Medieval Ireland is observed for purposes of ritual. Adherents of Reconstructionist traditions may celebrate the four Gaelic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnassadh.[3][4]

Some eclectic Neopagans, such as Wiccans, combine the Gaelic fire festivals with solstices and equinox celebrations derived from non-Celtic cultures to produce the modern, Wiccan Wheel of the Year.[5] Some eclectic Neopagans are also influenced by Robert Graves's fictional "Celtic Tree Calendar", which has no foundation in historical calendars or actual ancient Celtic Astrology.[6]

See also

References

  1. ^ Danaher, Kevin (1972) The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2 pp.200-229
  2. ^ McNeill, F. Marian (1961) The Silver Bough, Vol. 3. William MacLellan, Glasgow p.11-42
  3. ^ Bonewits, Isaac (2006) Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2. pp.134
  4. ^ McColman, Carl (2003) Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Alpha Press ISBN 0-02-864417-4. pp.12, 51
  5. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1991) The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford, Blackwell ISBN 0-631-18946-7 p.337
  6. ^ Hutton (1991) pp.145

Further reading

  • Brennan, Martin, 1994. The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions
  • Brunaux, Jean-Louis, 1986 Les Gaulois: Sanctuaires et Rites Paris: Editions Errance
  • Duval, Paul-Marie, et Pinault, Georges [eds] Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises (R.I.G.), Vol. 3: The calendars of Coligny (73 fragments) and Villards d'Heria (8 fragments)

External links

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