Nature Festivals

Compare with the Roman Festivals on the Roman Religious Calendar.

Nature spirituality festivals - Wheel of the year

Wheel of The Year


4 of the festivals are celestial. These are Summer/Winter solstices and Fall/Spring equinoxes. The other 4 are earthly quarter holidays because climate lags astronomy by about 1 1/2 months. This captures the involvement of the celestial realm with the earthly realm.

Overview - Wheel of the Year

(January 2, 2024) Pagan nature based Festivals honor the Divine through nature's annual cycle which modern Pagans call the "Wheel of the Year." The main historical sources used to develop these during the modern Pagan spiritual revival were a poem in a medieval Irish commentary called Hibernica Minora on the Psalter (Psalms) and a French witch trial transcript dating to 1598 used by Margaret Murry. The most common names used today in English derive from Irish Gaelic.

The French witch trial transcript (Cambrue, 1567) which probably derives from Celtic Britany uses the French word “Esbat” meaning "frolic" to refer to the quarter festivals.​ This was the word adopted by Margaret Murry. She gave the main festivals the name of Sabbat which is French for Sabbath.

The quarter festivals are mentioned in an Old Irish poem dated to 750 CE based on its word style. It is found in the appendix (page 49) of a medieval Irish psalter commentary entitled the Hibernica Minora. The poem is:


Atberim frib, lith saine, I'll tell to you a special festival,ada buada belltaine: The glorious dues of Beltanecoirm, mecoin, suabais serig, Ale, worts, sweet wheyocus urgruth do tenid. And fresh curds to the fire
Lugnassad, luaid a hada Lammas- day, make known its duescecha bliadna ceinmara, In each distant yearfromad cech toraid co m- blaid, Tasting every famous fruit,biad lusraid la Lugnasaid. Food of herbs on Lammas- day.
Carna, cuirm, cnoimes, cadla, Meat, ale, nut-mast, tripe,it e ada na samna, These are the dues of Samaintendal ar cnuc con - grinde, A bonfire on a hill pleasantlyblathach, brechtan urimme. Buttermilk, a roll of fresh butter
Fromad cach bid iar n- urd, Tasting every food in order,issed dlegair in- Imbulc, This is what behooves us at Imbolc,díunnach laime is coissi is cinn, Washing of hand and foot and head,is amlaid sin atberim. It is thus I say.
These four poetic quatrains on Belltaine (May-day), Lugnasad (Lammas-day), Samain (All Saints day) and Imbolc (Candlemas) are also found in Harleian, 5280, fo. 35 b, 2,

References

HIBERNICA MINORA - BEING A FRAGMENT OF AN OLD- IRISH TREATISE ON THE PSALTER WITH TRANSLATION, NOTES AND GLOSSARY, AND AN APPENDIX CONTAINING EXTRACTS HITHERTO UNPUBLISHED FROM MS. RAWLINSON , B. 512 IN THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY. EDITED BY KUNO MEYER. Oxford AT THE CLARENDON PRESS 1894. Online at: https://ia903205.us.archive.org/20/items/HibernicaMinoraMeyer/Hibernica_minora_Meyer.pdf
Margaret Murray (1921) The Witch-Cult In Western Europe. A Study in Anthropology. Online at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20411/20411-h/20411-h.htm
Yule at Hogwarts
Yule is a time of feasting, reflection on the past, and hope for the future. Hope is because from here on out the days will be getting longer. This new hope inspired the early Christian church to adopt this day as the birth date of Jesus Christ and call it Christmas. 

Yule, Christmas, New Year - December 22 Winter Solstice

(July 3, 2022) Yule eve is the longest night of the year and thus it is a time for reflection on the past. Traditionally this connection to the past is represented by the Yule log which is piece of wood taken from last year’s fire and placed into this year's fire.

Yule was also a time of feasting, mostly on pig because the forest floor nuts which they ate were almost be gone now. Consequently, any pigs not destined for breeding had to be killed before they starved.  After a Yule ceremony at Stonehenge such feasting commenced the next day at nearby Woodhenge where archaeologists found lots of yearling pig bones.

This festival is called Yalda in ancient Persian and Syriac suggesting it originated as an Indo-European word where it means "birth."

Yule has nothing to do with the final Roman harvest festival of Saturnalia which comes right after the olive harvest is done in early December. The planet Saturn, being the slowest planet, represented harvest time and the end of life.  The following quote from a Roman text shows Saturnalia was not associated with the winter solstice:

The Romans were the ones who separated the winter soltice from the feasting celebrations surrounding the end of the old year (Saturnalia). Their solstice day was January 1 and called Aesculapio Vediovi (Aesculapius' is Seen) which celebrates the healing of the celestial light from the sun.  Their final olive harvest celebration may simply have coopted the older winter solstice feasting.

References

"The Saturnalia." Online at: https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Macrobius/Saturnalia/1*.html
Imbolc/Imbolk is a festival of purification and focus on the essentials of one's life, qualities needed to persevere through the depths of winter.  This focusing is represented by candles and hearth fires which naturally draw one's attention. 
The Old Irish Text Hibernica Minora (750 CE) says this:
  1. Tasting every food in order,
  2. This is what behooves us at Imbolc,
  3. Washing of hand and foot and head,
  4. It is thus I say.
Groundhog day in the United States came out of German culture where it is an faint echo of the original Imbolc. The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day is found in a diary entry by Morgantown, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris dated February 4, 1841:​
  • "Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate. "(from History Society of Berks County, Reading, Pennsylvania)

In Europe the predicting creature was a hedgehog or a badger (der Dachs). On Dachstag (Badger Day) if a badger emerged from its den and saw its shadow, it presaged four more weeks of winter.
In Germany, Candlemas or Lichtmess (lightmas) was the beginning of the “farmer’s year.” It was a legal holiday in Bavaria until 1912. It was also associated with weather lore and associated rural sayings (Bauernregeln).

Imbolc, Candlemas, Lightmas,  Groundhog Day - February 1 or 2

(January 28, 2023) Imbolc/Imbolk is a festival of purification and focus on the essentials of one's life, qualities needed to persevere through the depths of winter.  This focusing is represented by candles and hearth fires which naturally draw one's attention. 

Imbolk is a Druid Akkadian phrase meaning "emotion's involvement with life-constraints" from IM.BL.K. This indicates that it is a pre-Christian festival. Yet this festival entered the Christian calendar as Candlemas after it was first associated with the next Pagan festival, the Spring budding festival (Ostara), then being celebrated around Jerusalem. 

This happened during the late 300's CE when the Western pilgrim Etheria attended this celebration in Jerusalem which the local Christians had connected to Jesus by giving it a cover story that it was celebrating the legend that Jesus was presented to the temple shortly after he was born. It's date that year was on February 14.

At this time Jerusalem was no longer Jewish. After the final Jewish revolt against the Romans called the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136) led by Simon bar Kokhba Jews were no longer allowed to enter Jerusalem, exempting only those Jews who wished to enter the city for Tisha B'Av (a day of remembrance for all the disasters which had befallen the Jewish people held in late July or early August).

She wrote about it in her travel book, the Peregrinatio Etheriae. It soon spread to other Eastern Roman cities. In 542 Justinian I decreed that its date should be moved to February 2 (40 days after Christmas and co-opting northern Pagan Imbolc). By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles was adopted and the name Candlemas developed from this custom.

The Pagan festival Etheria experienced in Jerusalem also became the Jewish holiday called the “15th of Shevat” which is its date on the Jewish calendar. This date ranges from January 25 to February 15. This festival is also known as “Tu Bishvat.” It celebrates the first budding of the trees in the Levant. The earliest Jewish mention of this festival is the Mishna (200-300 CE). 

The word "Imbolc" is Gaelic from Ireland and it is pronounced "imbolg." (The introduction of the letter C into the alphabet was because K had developed a /g/ sound in some situations. The /c/ sound has remained rather fluid ever since). In Ireland this holiday became associated with Saint Brigid who would have died just before Justinian's proclamation. 

Brigid was born, according to tradition, in Fochart, near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland.  She died around 525 in Kildare, Ireland. She was the abbess of Kildare and became one of the patron saints of Ireland alongside Saint Patrick. Irish traditions surrounding this holiday include making a straw doll and doing things around the home fire such as baking and singing poetry.

References

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Candlemas
https://www.german-way.com/history-and-culture/holidays-and-celebrations/groundhog-day-the-german-connection/
Alphabetic Akkadian Lexicon - 4th Edition 2023. Online at these 2 places:
  1. https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:55809/
  2. https://www.academia.edu/102930516/Alphabetic_Akkadian_Lexicon_4th_Edition_2023
Ostara (Easter) bunny
Pagan Ostara is the time of budding trees and greening grass which brings out of hiding the rabbits to feed and breed.  Song birds also appear singing out their territory and mating. This time is called both Easter (March 22) and Valentine's Day (March 14) in Christendom.

Ostara/Valentine's Day (Roman Liberalia Agonia - Liberation from Struggle) - March 22 Spring Equinox

(January 28, 2023) Ostara is the name given to the Pagan budding festival although due to a complex history Valentine's Day is also mixed in with it. This is a time in the northern hemisphere when buds appear on trees and the grass starts to turn green and grow again. Eggs are the animal equivalent of tree buds. 

The earliest historical record of this festival is found earlier and further south in Roman Judea where budding begins earlier. At this time Jerusalem was no longer Jewish. After the final Jewish revolt against the Romans called the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136) led by Simon bar Kokhba Jews were no longer allowed to enter Jerusalem. The only exception was for the Jewish disaster remembrance day of Tisha B'Av (late July or early August).

In mid February during the ate 300's CE a western pilgrim named Etheria attended its celebration in Jerusalem which the local Christians had connected to Jesus by giving it a cover story that it was celebrating the legend that the new born Jesus was presented to the temple shortly at this time. This festival became the Jewish holiday called the “15th of Shevat” which is its date on the Jewish calendar. This date ranges from January 25 to February 15. This festival is also known as “Tu Bishvat.” It celebrates the first budding of the trees in the Levant. The earliest Jewish mention of this festival is the Mishna (200-300 CE). Tu Bishvat informally became the February 14th Christian Valentine's day during the medieval 1300's.

The word Ostara itself is the modern Pagan spelling of the goddess Eostre (Easter) who is mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon historian Bede (672-735 CE) as giving her name to the month which the English Christians were then trying to change to Paschal month. Here is the quote:


Eosturmonath (Eostre month) has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance." (in De temporum ratione by Bede translated in Wallace 1999 page 55)

The name of Eostre seems to derive from the Alphabetic Akkadian phrase "E  ŠeTu"  meaning "end of the year."  ("er" is an Indo-European ending.) The Indo-Europeans seem to have started their new year during the spring equinox which is still seen in the Persian New Year festival called Nowruz.

Beltane (May Day) is a time of the first Spring flowers
Flowers are the representation of Spring. Originally flower garlands went onto heads or were made into a house wreaths or were placed onto community Maypoles. By the time of the industrial revolution (1750's) flower garlands were replaced with easier to get colored ribbons which soon led to dancing around the Maypole.

Beltane or May Day (Gaelic Beltane, Roman Ludi Florae - Festival of Flowers) May 1

(July 3, 2022) Beltane is a celebration of Spring. This is the time when flowers appear and the buzz of summer begins releasing the feelings of new energy.

Beltane's main symbol today is the maypole which originally was a public pole on which were placed flower garlands. In the Nordic countries in which summer comes late, Maypoles are associated with the Midsummer festival and not with Beltane.

Colorful ribbons replaced garlands in some areas. The earliest picture of a maypole with ribbons dates to a private garden party held in 1759 at Ranelagh Garden in London. This was a for-profit public garden which charged an entrance fee. See it at: https://www.londonpicturearchive.org.uk/view-item?i=6819&WINID=1649681830068

Maypoles were not a phallic symbol. Historian Ronald Hutton who has studied historical Paganism extensively says this: 

"There is no historical basis for his claim, and no sign that the people who used maypoles thought that they were phallic" and that "they were not carved to appear so." (Hutton 1996)

References

Hutton, Ronald (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198205708. pages 233-235

Nature Spirituality festival of Mid-Summer or Litha represented by dancing around a bonfire
Adam of Breme in Book 4 of his History of the Archbishops of Hamburg 1075-1080 CE Says This about a Midsummer Festival (Even though this Christian official took every opportunity to disrespect Paganism by exaggerating animal and human sacrifices he still provides good information for the most part.):
It is customary also to solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted Kings and people all and singly send their gifts to Uppsala .... Feasts and sacrifices of this kind are solemnized for nine days. On each day they offer a man along with other living beings in such a number that in the course of the nine days they will have made offerings of seventy-two creatures. This sacrifice takes place about the time of the vernal equinox. (Online at: http://germanicmythology.com/works/uppsalatemple.html

Mid-Summer or Litha (Gaelic Alban Hefin, Roman Summanos) June 22 Summer Solstice

(July 5, 2023) This holiday celebrates the power of light and passion which is at its maximum during the summer solstice. This energy is  celebrated with community bonfires. 

Midsummer is a time of openness and imagination. It is a time to dream as evidenced by Shakespeare's play “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”  This is a time to let the mind run free about life’s future possibilities before time runs out for now the light of day begins to shorten. Don't forget to live for today for the time of life on earth is limited so it should not be wasted.

Paganism survived the longest in Nordic countries and Mid-Summer remains the main festival in Sweden. In this video Jacob Toddson has a conversation with a Swedish woman about how Mid-Summer is celebrated there today.
Nature spirituality first harvest festival of Lammas
Lammas is the first of three harvest festivals and it focuses on grains, thankfulness, and growth because grains were the fastest growing harvestable going from nothing to a whole plant in less than a year. Consequently, Lammas is celebrated with spiritual growth exercises in addition to fresh bread.

Lammas (Gaelic Lughnasadh, Roman Lucaria) August 1

(July 3, 2022) This is the first of three harvest holidays of the year. Because grains were the fastest growing this holiday typically focuses on the virtue of growth.

The word Lammas comes from the Old English word meaning “loaf mass.” This holiday is celebrated by baking a loaf out of the first grains of the season.​ Lammas is also celebrated as Lughnassadh after the Celtic god called Lugh.

Nature spirituality 2nd harvest festival of Mabon
Mabon is the second of the three harvest festivals focusing on thankfulness, fruits and balance because this is the fall equinox. Mabon is represented by the cornucopia (Latin word for horn of plenty)

Mabon (Gaelic Alban Elfed, Roman Anual Market Day) September 21 Fall Equinox

(February 1, 2024) In the north this is the second of the three harvest holidays in which fruits and berries were harvested. In Italy is is the final harvest which adds summer vegetables to the fruits. The final harvest signals a month of plenty and leisure which is why this became the main market day in Italy. This month of plenty is represented by the cornucopia. Finally, this is also the Fall equinox in which night is balanced with day. 

Fruits represent a life balance because trees and bushes must balance their need for survival versus their need to reproduce by committing energy to fruits. This holiday is a good time to focus on various spiritual balance practices.

Nature spirituality final harvest festival of Samhain or Halloween
Samhain is the third and final harvest festival focusing on thankfulness, meat, and connection.  The word "Samhain" comes from Gaelic and is pronounced sow-wen

Samhain or Halloween (Gaelic Samhain) October 31

(July 3, 2022) Samhain is the last of the three harvest holidays. Samhain focuses on the virtue of connection in general and specifically on the connection between life and death. Life cannot exist without death to make room for new living things.

This is the time of year when plants begin to go dormant in preparation for the winter. This was also the time when farm animals (except for free ranging pigs) not saved for breeding or farm work were killed and their meat preserved. This is why spiritually attuned people say that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest at this time of year.

 Samhain was also a time of giving thanks for the sacrifices of food animals as well as for the sacrifices made by one's own ancestors. Due to historical circumstances in the United States, Thanksgiving was shifted to the fourth Thursday of November in an attempt to ignore its religious origins. This artificial split left Halloween as the celebration part of the holiday.