The Religion of the Ancient Celts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 445 pages of information about The Religion of the Ancient Celts.

None of the four festivals is connected with the times of equinox and solstice.  This points to the fact that originally the Celtic year was independent of these.  But Midsummer day was also observed not only by the Celts, but by most European folk, the ritual resembling that of Beltane.  It has been held, and an old tradition in Ireland gives some support to the theory, that under Christian influences the old pagan feast of Beltane was merged in that of S. John Baptist on Midsummer day.[891] But, though there are Christian elements in the Midsummer ritual, denoting a desire to bring it under Church influence, the pagan elements in folk-custom are strongly marked, and the festival is deeply rooted in an earlier paganism all over Europe.  Without much acquaintance with astronomy, men must have noted the period of the sun’s longest course from early times, and it would probably be observed ritually.  The festivals of Beltane and Midsummer may have arisen independently, and entered into competition with each other.  Or Beltane may have been an early pastoral festival marking the beginning of summer when the herds went out to pasture, and Midsummer a more purely agricultural festival.  And since their ritual aspect and purpose as seen in folk-custom are similar, they may eventually have borrowed each from the other.  Or they may be later separate fixed dates of an earlier movable summer festival.  For our purpose we may here consider them as twin halves of such a festival.  Where Midsummer was already observed, the influence of the Roman calendar would confirm that observance.  The festivals of the Christian year also affected the older observances.  Some of the ritual was transferred to saints’ days within the range of the pagan festival days, thus the Samhain ritual is found observed on S. Martin’s day.  In other cases, holy days took the place of the old festivals—­All Saints’ and All Souls’ that of Samhain, S. Brigit’s day that of February 1st, S. John Baptist’s day that of Midsummer, Lammas that of Lugnasad, and some attempt was made to hallow, if not to oust, the older ritual.

The Celtic festivals being primarily connected with agricultural and pastoral life, we find in their ritual survivals traces not only of a religious but of a magical view of things, of acts designed to assist the powers of life and growth.  The proof of this will be found in a detailed examination of the surviving customs connected with them.


Samhain,[892] beginning the Celtic year, was an important social and religious occasion.  The powers of blight were beginning their ascendancy, yet the future triumph of the powers of growth was not forgotten.  Probably Samhain had gathered up into itself other feasts occurring earlier or later.  Thus it bears traces of being a harvest festival, the ritual of the earlier harvest feast being transferred to the winter feast, as the Celts found themselves in lands where harvest is not gathered before late autumn.  The harvest rites may, however, have been associated with threshing rather than ingathering.  Samhain also contains in its ritual some of the old pastoral cults, while as a New Year feast its ritual is in great part that of all festivals of beginnings.

Project Gutenberg
The Religion of the Ancient Celts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook