In Ancient times and still today, we remember the Summer Solstice as one of the 8 festivals of nature’s movement throughout the year. I hear from many people that we are all letting go, digging deep, moving into our natural and true selves. People are shifting and Knowledge is alive in the world weaving in the mystery.
To the Celtic peoples (Northern Hemisphere) the Wheel of the Year or The Earth’s Cycle of Celebration were Sacred to the honouring of Earth and for the Southern Hemisphere where it is polar opposite, there are similar celebrations at the appropriate wheel of the year there. All indigenous peoples were much closer to nature than we are today. This article focuses on the Celtic understanding.
The Celts divided the year into The Quarters known as the Solstice and Equinox, and The Cross Quarters which are the quarter points of the solstices and equinoxes. Eight festivals went with these points where people would gather as a community to sing, dance and reflect. These celebrations brought sharing and focus and structure to their lives.
The Wheel of the year is not just a matter of changing from one season to the next. Beneath the manifestation of seasonal change, there is a change in the energy of the earth. These energy patterns affect us whether we are conscious of them or not. When we understand this flow and direction of energy movement, we can move with it, in harmony with it, as true inhabitants of our planet earth; belonging to, being part of and changing on all levels of our being.
The Quarter points of the year marked by the solstices are the two exact points in the year when the day/night are longest or shortest (mid summer solstice and mid winter solstice); and the two equinoxes (spring and autumn) when day and night are equal in length. These four days, mark the beginnings of the four seasons in astronomical understanding.
The Cross-Quarters are the seasonal peaks which cross the main Quarter points. These times are used to participate with the developing energies of the earth’s natural flow. Even though these do not fall on astronomically-defined days, they are traditionally considered more important than the quarter days, since the ancient Celts began their four seasons “six weeks earlier” than the actual beginning date/s. This six week build up can be felt naturally within the body’s energy even today when with the flow of the earth’s cycles. Earth is in relationship with its sun, its moon and the whole universe of planetary activity. This was understood in ancient times and now our own evolution is seeing us move closer into this greater planetary community both as a planet and through our humanity.
The energy of the Winter and Summer Solstice is based upon the sun’s cycle of waxing and waning over the course of a year ( remember there were no calendars in ancient times and the natural earth cycles were how the year was worked out). The sun reaches a peak at each solstice, stops and begins a change in direction which affects all of life on earth. The solstices are a time to stop, look back on where the half yearly cycle has brought us, and to consider how we will work with the developing energy. When the light is increasing from winter solstice to summer solstice, all beings are expressing themselves out in the world, celebrating their own identity and uniqueness. As the light decreases from summer solstice to winter solstice, nature and life as a whole integrates itself into a more social way of being, going within, exploring inner wisdom and inner truth.
The energy of the Spring and Autumn Equinox comes when the day and night are of equal length. The outer and inner worlds, light and dark, are equal and balanced. This happens twice a year and they provide an opportunity for us to work with this integration in ourselves. The Equinoxes fall at the beginning of the two seasonal changes: Spring with its promise of summer, and Autumn with its promise of winter. Everything is beginning to move fast at this time. If we still ourselves at these points and focus to support our direction, it can help us meet the new season prepared and clear.
The energy of the Cross Quarter points falls at a seasonal peak where the energy is about to change. This offers a unique opportunity for us to celebrate and be aware of the developing energy and what it could mean for us to bring about manifestation through the power of our deepest Knowledge. We can flow with the earth’s energy, participating in a process of positive change both for ourselves and the earth. Celebrating the cross quarters could last several days in the past. They were known as the Four Great Fire Festivals and community fires were lit on the hilltops, uniting people by a common bond of celebration. Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, Samhain (Sow- ein) are the four cross quarter festivals.
Let’s look briefly at the Celtic Wheel of the Year with the Northern Hemisphere dates and allow ourselves to enter the Sacredness of this connection with our planet.( Southern Hemisphere can honour the celebrations in the polar opposite)
Samhain (end October/Beg November) – Autumn Cross Quarter. This is the ending and beginning of the Celtic New Year, affirming rebirth in the midst of death and darkness when the veil between the seen world of matter and the unseen world of spirit becomes its thinnest. Especially at dawn and dusk a crack in the fabric of space and time. Known today as: – Halloween, Hallows Eve, All Souls Night, Feast of the Dead, the Festival of Remembrance.
Winter Solstice (21st – 23rd Dec) – Winter Quarter Point/Mid-Winter. The Shortest day and the Longest night. The opportunity to come out of hibernation. The old year has died and the way is now prepared for the rebirth of activity and expansion in the outer world. Known as: Yule, Return of the Sun, and the Festival of Rebirth.
Imbolc (end Jan/Beg Feb) – Winter Cross-Quarter. This festival is sacred to love and close to Valentine’s day. Technically it is the incoming energy of spring when you see the snowdrops start to appear. Known as: Candlemas, Brigids Day. Imolg Divine spark, the Festival of Earth Awakening
Spring Equinox (21st – 22nd March) – Spring Quarter Point. Day and night are of equal length. Known as the first day of Spring and other names: – Oestar, Oestre, Easter, the Festival of Balance and Awakening
Beltane (end April/Beg May) – Spring Cross-Quarter. This celebrates the fertility of the earth and the potency of the life-force and union. Known as: – Bel-Tene, Walpurgisnacht, May Eve/May Day, the Festival of Fertility.
Summer Solstice (20th – 23rd June) – Summer Quarter Point/Mid-Summer. The Longest Day and the Shortest Night. The sun reaches the height of its power but the energy changes. The days shorten and the suns power begins to wane. This is a dual celebration, honouring the light and all that is manifest and the return of the dark side of the year where we connect once again to the inner world. Known as: – St John’s Day, Litha, the Festival of Attainment, and Return of the Dark.
Lammas (end July/Beg August) – Summer Cross-Quarter. This is the summer’s height and the celebration of the grain harvest. Known as: – Lughnasadh, Feast of Lugh, Celebration of the Grain-Mother, the Festival of First Fruits and Reminder
Autumn Equinox (20th – 23rd Sept) – Autumn Quarter Point. Here day and night are in perfect balance and the final stages of the harvest are complete. The family gathering of autumns end, Thanksgiving, Harvest Festival, A celebration of nature’s abundance. Equinoxes are a chance to stop and adjust. Things are moving fast now, preparations and intentions for the coming winter must be made. Summer has ended. The days will shorten. The cooler weather reminds us that we must all respond to this transition and change with it. This is the beginning of root energy, bringing rest and renewal in the dark. The opportunity to go within and re enter the womb of the spiritual world which provides the strong foundation for our lives. It is an opportunity to explore and understand ourselves.
It is also a time within to plant seeds which will incubate through the winter months and re-emerge in the spring. transformed and strengthened by their time in the dark. Known as: – Alban Elued, Harvest, the Festival of Thanksgiving and Restored Balance.
So then the old year ends and the New Year begins at Samhain again.
The understanding of earth’s wisdom is not only a Celtic one, many indigenous peoples understand this wisdom in their own rituals and traditions. As our modern world has sought to limit us with science as well as expand our universal thinking and open us to space, we must still remember that the Sacred is in every relationship.
Knowledge is in everything, the mystery is everywhere and our relationship to earth, to the greater universe and to the source of all life is Sacred. As so succinctly put in the teachings of Marshall Vian Summers “there is no your Knowledge and my Knowledge, there is only Knowledge”. Knowledge is here all the time in the past, in the present and in the future.
The Celts and our ancient indigenous ancestors had the Knowledge and wisdom of the earth that may have been used differently in their time, but still holds great learning for us to remember and honour our heritage on earth as we now face a planetary and humanitarian crisis. This is our time to re establish our Sacred relationship with Earth and heal the damage we have done to the precious home that feeds, nourishes us and gives us life.
We are still the greatest guardians of our planetary home and being in touch with the energy of the earth’s cycles can help us allow the Sacred Knowledge to move us where we may be of most benefit to heal through this crisis.