Mar 6, 2009

The Four Fire Festivals

When speaking about the four seasons, I like to use my pagan view of them because it's my opinion (and only my opinion I remind you) that these were the original versions of spring, summer, fall and winter that we recognize today. What follows is the Celtic view of of these seasons or "fire festivals."

The four fire festivals marked the turning of the seasons. Two of the fire festivals, Samhain and Beltane, were considered to be male, and Imbolc and Lughnasadh were female. Each was celebrated for three days - before, during and after the official day of observance.

~Imbolc, which literally means "in milk", traditionally has marked the lactation period of ewes and cows. Ewes are unable to produce milk until after they bear their young, which occurs at this time. Since milk was very important to the basic survival of the tribes, this was a time of great joy. It meant that the end of a long winter was in sight, and green pastures were only a few months away. It's significance was placed upon the Light of fire and at Imbolc, Brighid was pregnant with the seed of the Sun. She was ripe with the promise of new life, as the seeds of the earth deep within its soil begin to awaken at this time, ripe with the promise of Spring, new life for the planet. Thus Imbolc was a time of awakening, promise and hope for the coming spring.

~Beltane, was a celebration of the return of life and fertility to the world, and was celebrated on or around April 30. It is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane was the last of the three spring fertility festivals, and the second major Celtic festival. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, Winter and Summer. Beltane joyfully heralded the arrival of Summer in its full glory. It was believed that if you bathed in the dew of Beltane morn, your beauty would flourish throughout the year

~Lughnasadh marked the beginning of the harvest season, and the decline of Summer into Winter. Traditionally called Lammas from the Saxon word Hlaf-mass, the Feast of Bread, festivities and rituals typically centered around the assurance of a bountiful harvest season and the celebration of the harvest cycle. A bountiful harvest ensured the safe passage of the tribe through the upcoming winter months. The gathering of bilberries was an ancient practice that symbolized the success of the Lughnasadh rituals. If the bilberries were bountiful, it was believed that there would also be a plentiful harvest.

~Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendant of the ancient Celtic festival called "Samhain" meaning Summer's End. Samhain was the first day of winter, and the end of one pastoral year. It was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark winter half. Also called Samhiunn or Hallowe'en, this festival is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia or "Three Nights of the End of Summer."

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