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    [1]. The Celts

    Celts, a people who dominated much of western and central Europe in the 1st millennium BC, giving their language, customs, and religion to the other peoples of that area. The earliest archaeological evidence associated with the Celts places them in what is now France and western Germany in the late Bronze Age, around 1200 BC. In the early Iron Age, they are associated with the Hallstatt culture (8th century to 6th century BC, named for an archaeological site in what is now Ober,sterreich (Upper Austria). They probably began to settle in the British Isles during this period. Between the 5th and 1st centuries BC, their influence extended from what is now Spain to the shores of the Black Sea. This later Iron Age phase is called La T'ne, after a site in Switzerland. The word Celt is derived from Keltoi, the name given to these people by Herodotus and other Greek writers. To the Romans, the Continental Celts were known as Galli, or Gauls; those in the British Isles were called Britanni. In the 4th century BC ,the Celts invaded the Greco-Roman world, conquering northern Italy, Macedonia, and Thessaly. They plundered Rome in 390, sacked Delphi in 279, and penetrated Asia Minor, where they were known as Galatians. The Cisalpine Gauls of northern Italy were conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC; Transalpine Gaul (modern France and the Rhineland) was subdued by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and most of Britain came under Roman rule in the 1st century AD. In the same period, the Celts of central Europe were dominated by the Germanic peoples. In medieval and modern times the Celtic tradition and languages survived in Brittany (in western France), Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and Ireland.

    Way of Life

    The various Celtic tribes were bound together by common speech, customs, and religion, rather than by any well-defined central governments. The absence of political unity contributed substantially to the extinction of their way of life, making them vulnerable to their enemies. Their economy was pastoral and agricultural, and they had no real urban life. Each tribe was headed by a king and was divided by class into Druids (priests), warrior nobles, and commoners. The nobles fought on foot with swords and spears and were fond of feasting and drinking. Celtic mythology, which included earth gods, various woodland spirits, and sun deities, was particularly rich in elfin demons and tutelaries, beings that still pervade the lore of peoples of Celtic ancestry.

    Celtic Christianity

    The Christian faith was well established in Celtic Britain by the 4th century AD, but in the 5th century the Saxons and other Germanic peoples invaded the country, driving most of the Celtic Christians into Wales and Cornwall. At the same time, Saint Patrick and other British missionaries founded a new church in Ireland, which then became the center of Celtic Christianity. The Irish church developed a distinctive organization in which bishops were subordinate to the abbots of monasteries . The Irish monks, devoted to learning as well as religion, did much to preserve a knowledge of ancient Roman literature in early medieval Europe. Between the late 6th and the early 8th centuries, Irish missionaries were active in Christianizing the Germanic peoples that had conquered the Western Roman Empire, and they founded numerous monasteries in present-day France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Celtic Christianity in Ireland was weakened by the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries, and by the 12th century its characteristic institutions, which were incompatible with those of the dominant Roman church, had largely disappeared from Europe. Celtic Art is considered the first great contribution to European art made by non-Mediterranean peoples. Its roots go back to the artisans of the Urnfield culture and the Hallstatt culture (8th-6th century BC at the beginning of the Iron Age. It flowered in the period of the La T'ne culture. Although Celtic art was influenced by ancient Persian, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art and by that of the nomads of the Eurasian steppes, it developed distinctive characteristics. These are evident in its major artifacts, weapons, vessels, and jewelry in bronze, gold, and occasionally silver. Many of these objects were made for chieftains in southern Germany and France and were recovered from their tombs. The Celtic style is marked by a preference for stylized plant motifs, usually of Greek origin, and fantastic animals, derived from the Scythians and other steppe peoples; the human figure plays a secondary role. Other favorite motifs are elliptical curves and opposing curves, spirals, and chevrons, also derived from steppe art. These elements were combined in dynamic yet balanced, intricate geometrical patterns carried out in relief, engraving, or red, yellow, blue, and green champlev, enamel on shields, swords, sheaths, helmets, bowls, and jewelry. They also appeared on painted pottery cinerary urns, food vessels, incense bowls, and drinking cups. Examples of Celtic art include torcs, or neck rings, with the two open ends ornamented with animal heads; the silver repouss, Gundestorp cauldron (circa 100 BC, a bronze lozenge-shaped shield with circular medallions and small enamel circles (1st century BC); and a bronze mirror with enameled decoration (1st century BC). Also surviving are roughly carved stone monuments and wooden objects. During the period of Roman domination of Western Europe in and after the 1st century BC, the art of Celtic peoples on the Continent gradually lost its distinctive style. The Celts of Ireland continued to work with traditional motifs, but, as Christianity took hold, they combined them with Christian motifs and employed their skills in the service of the church. Their carved stone crosses; intricate metal chalices, bells, and reliquaries; and magnificently illuminated liturgical books may more properly be considered Irish art.

    The Wheel of Time

    In our own way we will try and explain where the idea of Infinity came from. For our great and wise ancestors of the past, time was celebrated as it moved in a wheel. This calendar, created many years ago by the great neolitic builders that studied the stars in the sky. The solar wheel comprised of four corners (eqinoxes and solstices) and the four cross quarters which are known as Fire festivals of Oimeag Feb 1st, Bealtine May 1st, Lughnasadh Aug 1st and Samhain Oct 31st or Halloween. The fire festivals or cross quarter days were the festivals of the change. There were two major festivals at Bealtine May 1st and Samhain on Oct 31st. These are considered very important days for they are the gateways when we cross from the light half of the wheel to the dark half ( at Samhain ) or visa versa at Bealtine. Being the most spiritual festivals, this was when the different dimensions of reality came closer as if the time at dusk. It was at this time the gateway to the underworld became visible as the mounds of the Sidh (fairies) were open. you would protect yourself form them by placing a saucer of milk outside your door or placing a Mayflower (Hawthorn) on your door at Bealtine. At the other side of the wheel is Samhain. This is the time to make peace with all that is dead and gone for the old cycle dies and a new one begins. In the Celtic tradition all new life comes from dark places and the New Year begins as we enter the dark half of the wheel. In the bygone days a new fire was kindled on the eve of Samhain as they were at Bealtine. This was a great time for divination when the young maidens would seek to see the face of their future love - traditional methods included separating the grain from the sheaf and seeing an initial in the grain or tossing an apple peel over the left shoulder to see what initial would form on the ground. It is a time associated with games and mischief [ seen today in Trick or Treating' ] as there was three days of lawlessness and each household split a loaf called a Barm Brack in which was hidden a ring, a stick, a pea or a rag and a coin. The ring stood for marriage and whoever ate the slice with the ring would marry first. The stick was symbolic of a coffin or a death , the pea replaced the rag as a symbol of poverty and the coin symbolize wealth. Nowadays bracks are still eaten and games are played on this night. For people today practicing the older spiritual ways, this is the time to make peace with all that is dead and gone. They are our yesterdays, our ancestors. It is the time when we shed our old ways to make room for the new ways, a time to go from outer action to more of a place of inner contemplation. for the seed of the new awaits to be planted. Here are the festivals and how they were celebrated in the old days and how they are in today's Christian calendar. The following is an insight from Fran McKeagney.

    Winter Solstice (Rebirth)
    Geerah, the festival of Rebirth at midwinter, celebrates the winter solstice (21nd Dec.) when the sun has been appearing lower in the skies each day since mid Summer, stops it's apparent decent and pauses for three days before beginning to rise higher in the skies again as each day then proceeds the next mid summer. The three days of the winter solstice are the darkness days of the year. But as soon as the solstice has ended. the sun, the source of light and life, appears to experience a rebirth. This is of course Dec. 25th Christmas Day. Christianity celebrates this day as the birth of Jesus. We have a beautiful pre christian monument to this festival at Newgrange (3500 b.c). At sunrise on the winter solstice the sun shines into a passage way and illuminates the inner chamber. The light shines in the dark and we begin the journey back to the light which symbolizes illumination or understanding and beyond that to Peace. This has happened for over 5000 years in this chamber.

    Imbolic ( Dedication)
    Imbolic is the festival of Dedication and of the washing of the Earth's face is associated with Brigid"s Day, Feb 2nd . Bridgid rules over the movement of life onwards from the heart in which Winter transforms into Spring. On the eve of Imbolic, the Cailleach. the old woman goddess of winter drinks the water from the sacred well and is transforms into the young maiden of the Spring. This is the time when the young sprouting seeds pushes it's shoots above the ground, drinking the rain and becoming green in sunlight, visible now to the world. The bareness of Winter becomes becomes adorned with new green life- the Cailleach becomes the maid. In the Christian calendar, St Bridgid's Day is followed by Candlemas, the festival of purification and the festival of Lights 2nd Feb. In the legend of St. Bridgid, there was a perpetual flame on Bridgid's shrine at Kildare. This was tended by two nuns for nineteen days at a time, but on the 20th day it was allowed to burn on it's own. check out our links for the rekindle site of Bridgid's flame.

    Spring Equinox (Promise)
    The festival of Promise celebrates the Spring Equinox, which occurs on March 21st. The Festival marks the middle of Spring when nature is vibrant with reawakened life. On the equinox, light and dark are equal in duration's so it marks a balance point during the year. The symbol of this time is the sun rising in the East, the dawn of a new day. In the Christian calendar, it is marked by the feast of the archangel Gabriel 25th March. It is also closely connected with Easter, for Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Equinox.

    Beltaine (Unification)
    Beltaine celebrates the end of Spring and the beginning of summer. because Beltaine is a quarter-day festival (ie it is one of the four solar festivals which divides the year into four seasons or quarters). it is not so easy to fix an exact date on the calendar. Where as the solstices and equinoxes are precisely fixes by the position of the rising and setting sun on the horizon. The ancient celts and other societies solved this problem by choosing the time of the nearest full moon to celebrate the quarter day festivals. Thus they brought together the solar and lunar cycles.

    At Beltaine May 1st is the time when we cross from the dark half of the wheel into the light.. It was the time when the old celtic god Cernunnos came forth from beneath the Oak tree and married the queen of May. It is the time when all nature comes together to provide the abundance which will follow. In Irish tradition, all fires were extinguished and the four Kings came from the provinces to rekindle the flame at Uisneach. from this flame all flames in the country were rekindled.

    Summer Solstice (Joy)
    The summer solstice and the festival of Joy (21st-23rd June) culminated after the third day of the Solstice with Midsummer's Day 24th June) Mid Summer is the time of maximum light and the beginning of the journey back into the dark. Interestingly, this was the time of the court of King Arthur and Guinevere presided over the Round Table. The Round Table symbolized the solar wheel, the wheel of space and time, with it's four seasons, eight festivals and 13 moons. Mid Summer is a time of great warmth and color with Nature in full flower. The element Air represents Summer and Air represents the Mind. Light represents illumination and so Mid Summer celebrates the fully illuminated when the dream is absolutely clear and reveals it's full color. This is the season of Joy when the sun in highest in the sky and the Earth is abundant and fruitful.

    Lugnasagh (Transformation)
    Lugnasagh celebrates the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn. The horse racing and fairs all took place around Lugnasagh as the animals were at their strongest and well fed. The corn is ripe and the fruits begin to appear. The festival was also known as Lammas, derived from Loaf Mass, used to denote the first offering from the harvest of the year. In the Christian it is celebrated by the festival of Transfiguration Aug. 6th and followed by the festival of first fruits Aug. 8th, marking the culmination of the summertime illumination and the beginning of the Autumn harvest. The climbing of Croagh Patrick (Co Mayo) on reek Sunday is lined with the Lugnasagh festival. Croagh Patrick is Ireland's holy mountain, Irelands mountain of vision, having been to the mountain top, it is what you bring back from into their daily lives which is important. Fire is the element of Autumn, the fire is action, the fruit of your labors. It is the fire in the belly that gets things done. Lugnasagh celebrates the transformation from thought to action- the bringing down of a vision into magnification. just like the sun, we travel from a place of maximum light back into the dark.

    Autumn Equinox (Harvest)
    The main harvest festival is celebrated at the Autumn equinox (22nd-23rd Sept.) The ripe corn is harvested and stacked in sheaves in the fields, where the golden heads of corn will continue to ripen in the sunlight while the stalks and sheaf start to wither and die. All that is no longer useful is allowed to die. So we reap the harvest of all the work that we have put in over the previous years and symbolically let go of all that is no longer useful as we move in the year to come. The turf is gathered and is dry in the shed, the darkness of winter is moving in. We await the firelight

    Samhain (Peace)
    Samhain, the festival of Peace or of Death, celebrates the culmination of the cycle when the old dies and the new begins. It is the time when we cross from the light into the dark half of the wheel. It is the time of the threshing, when the sheaves of corn are threshed, the grain separated from the chaff, the chaff and the straw burned and the grain either ground up for flower to make the bread or sown into the ground as seed for the new cycle. The seed planted rests asleep until it's germination at Christmas. It is a time of Remembrance of all that is dead, a time for storytelling, remembering all that we have done and who we met. A time of Reflection from a place of outer action to a place of inner comtemplation. The Christian calendar celebrates the festival with Halloween 31st Oct, All Saints Day Nov. 1st All Souls Day Nov. 2nd when the souls of all, past and present are remembered.


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