There are many questions arising as to what calendrical practice was
used by the Celtic people. Regarding this issue there are three primary
schools of thought. These three theories all attempt to offer us a
better understanding of the Celtic calendar. To use the term 'Celtic
calendar' is somewhat inaccurate, as it were the Druids who were primarily
concerned with calendar-keeping.
One of the most commonly accepted beliefs holds that the year was
divided into thirteen months with an extra day or so the end of the year
used to adjust the calendar. This theory states that the months
correspond to the vowels of the Ogham or Celtic Tree Alphabet. For every
of the months there was a designated tree. From this a 'tree calendar'
Most archaeologist and historians accept another calendar. This calendar
is represented by the surviving fragments of a great bronze plate, the
Coligny Calendar, which originally measured 5 feet by 3-1/2 feet. This
plate, found in eastern France, was engraved in the Gaulish language
(similar to Welsh) in Roman-style letters and numerals. It depicts a
system of time keeping by lunar months, showing 62 consecutive months
with 2 extra months inserted to match the solar timetable. They appear
to have worked with a 19-year time cycle that equaled 235 lunar months
and had an error of only half a day.
The third school of thought is an amalgam of both of the others. The
proponents of this last theory believe that the first calendar pre-dates
the Coligny discovery.
It is from ancient writers such as Caesar that we learn that the
Celts were to have counted by nights and not days and in reckoning
birthdays and new moon and new year their unit of reckoning is the night
followed by the day.
Ancient Celtic philosophy believed that existence arose from the
interplay between darkness and light, night and day, cold and warmth,
death and life, and that the passage of years was the alternation of
dark periods (winter, beginning November 1) and light periods (summer,
starting May 1). The Druidic view was that the earth was in darkness at
its beginning, that night preceded day and winter preceded summer a view
in striking accord with the story of creation in Genesis and even with
the Big Bang theory. Thus, Nov. 1 was New Year's Day for the Celts,
their year being divided into four major cycles. The onset of each cycle
was observed with suitable rituals that included feasting and sacrifice.
It was called The Festival of Samhain - linked with Halloween.
The Celts measured the Solar year on a wheel, circle or spiral, all
of which symbolize creation and the constant movement of the universe Ð
growth and development.
To the ancients, the Heavens appeared to wheel overhead, turning on
an axis which points to the north polar stars. At the crown of the axis,
a circle of stars revolved about a fixed point, the Celestial Pole,
which was believed to be the location of Heaven. At the base of the axis
was the Omphalos, the circular altar of the Goddess' temple. The
universe of stars turning on this axis formed a spiral path, or
stairway, on which souls ascended to Heaven.
This Sunwise, clockwise, or deiseal (Gaelic), motion of the spirals
represented the Summer Sun. The continuous spirals with seemingly no
beginning or end signified that as one cycle ended another began Ð
eternal life. The spiral's never-ending, always expanding, motion also
symbolized the ever- increasing nature of information and knowledge.
Many of these symbols often also appeared in triplicate, a sign of the
In addition, the seasons of the year were thought to be part of this
cycle. In Gaelic, the names of the four seasons date back to
pre-Christian times: 1) Earrach for "Spring," 2) Samhradh for
"Summer," 3) Foghara for "Harvest" which refers to
Autumn, and 4) Geamhradh for "Winter."