Meaning in the Cosmos
The Druids recognized only two seasons: winter and summer. By paying
close attention to the movement of the moon, sun and stars in the sky,
they were able to mark the beginning of one season and the end of the
other. The Druids created myths around these events and had elaborate
The rising of the Pleiades constellation in the sky occurred at the
end of summer. The Druids believed that this movement of the Pleiades
marked the triumph of night over day. It was the beginning of the time
of year that was ruled by the moon.
The Druids celebrated this change in season with the Samhain
(or Samhuinn) festival on October 31st and November 1st. Samhain
means "time of the little sun" or "end of the warm
According to the ancient Celtic philosophy, a year passed between
darkness and light. They believed that earth was in darkness in
the beginning and night comes before day just as winter comes
before summer. November 1st marked the beginning of winter and
the first day of the year. It was like our New Year's Day.
This day was a solemn occasion for the Druids because it was
a time when darkness overwhelmed the world. At this time of year,
the days became short and the earth became cold and barren.
The Druids explained the Samhain celebration through the telling
of a myth about a god named Lugh who represented the sun.
According to the myth, Lugh was the god of light. At summer's
end, he was killed by Tanist, the lord of misrule. Tanist was
the god of the moon.
Samhain is the time when Lugh passes from the world of life to
the world of death and Tanist becomes ruler of the Druids' world.
The long nights of moonlight were explained by the belief that
Tanist, the moon, was a cruel and cold ruler. Although he shone
brightly in the sky, he did not provide warmth to the land.
The Feast of the Dead took place on Samhain Eve. The Feast of
the Dead united the past, present and future. It was believed
that the spirits of the dead as well as the spirits of those yet
unborn walked the earth among the living. This was considered
a divine time because it was one of two times of the year when
the "veil" between Earth and the Otherworld was at its
The ancient Druids also believed that a person's spirit lived
in the head. They believed that if they displayed the head of
an enemy killed at battle during Samhain, then the enemy could
not cause them any harm on the days when the dead walked the earth
with the living.
In fact, the traditions of carving pumpkins at Halloween in the
United States and carving turnips in Europe stem from this ancient
Samhain was also a time when the Druids renewed their commitments
to their community. Hilltops were lit with fires at Samhain. All
home fires were extinguished and then lighted again from community
bonfires. The Druids and cattle left the hills and glens to live
in their winter quarters. This was a time to reunite with family
and friends and strengthen bonds with those you cared about. Druids
spent time during Samhain discussing religious philosophy and
telling stories by the fires at home.
of Lugh: On August 1st, the Druids celebrated a feast in honor
of the sun that had enabled their crops to grow.
This festival was called the Feast of Lugh, for their sun god
Lugh. The Feast of Lugh marked the end of growing time and the
beginning of the harvest. Warriors returned to begin harvesting
crops of corn, wheat, fruits and vegetables at this time. Many
feasts and sports competitions were held in honor of Lugh.
Lugh was their sun god who gave them light and warmth. During
the Feast of Lugh it was common for the Druids to set a wheel
on fire at the top of a hill and then roll it down to the bottom.
This tradition symbolized the decline of the sun god and the descent
of the sun.
The Feast of Lugh was also a time to sacrifice bad habits and
remove unwanted things from one's own life.
Many marriages and divorces took place during this festival.
A couple could have a trial marriage that lasted only one year
until the next Feast of Lugh. At the following festival, the husband
and wife would stand back to back in front of their community.
If they wished to end the marriage, they walked away in opposite
directions. Records tell us that these trial marriages continued
well into the 16th century.
According to one Celtic myth about the festival, the sun god
Lugh is married to the land, known as Nass. Lugh's death is necessary
for rebirth to take place in the land. The sun god sacrifices
himself to the land when he is at his hottest but when his light
is fading. At this time, days are getting shorter and shadows
are getting longer.
In a different version of this myth, Lugh requested this annual
celebration in honor of his foster mother, Tailltiu. In this myth,
Tailltiu is the Goddess of the Land who had died while preparing
the fields for planting.
If her memory was not honored, the Druids believed that Lugh
would destroy the crops before they could be harvested. With no
crops to harvest for food, the community would starve during the
coming winter months.
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