Award-winning BRF author David Cole shares some of the themes of his new book, 'The Celtic Year', to be published in September
Living in the rhythm of the Celtic Year
Look out the window at any time of day and you can usually tell what season it is. The weather in England might not be the best indicator of that, but other things give it away, especially trees. Trees are remarkable parts of the natural world and have been held sacred by many cultures for many centuries. Look at a deciduous tree and you will see it either in blossom, in full leaf, losing leaves, or bare. This tells us what season we are in, where in the rhythm of the year we are.
This natural rhythm can be seen in other places in nature too: phases of the moon each month, for example, or whether the sun is in the sky or not each day, and whereabouts in the sky the sun is for the time of day. These cycles and rhythms, from annual ones, through monthly ones and daily ones, to the moments of each day, remind us that the whole of nature has been created to live in a natural rhythm.
In the modern Western world we humans very easily forget that we are a part of the natural world, and that we are designed to live in this natural rhythm. Indigenous cultures and those cultures still reliant on the land are much more aware of both the natural cycles, and their connection to it. It is no bad thing to re-educate ourselves in the ‘civilised’ West into living better in the natural rhythms of the earth and all creation.
For the ancient Celtic cultures the seasons and cycles of the natural world were not only part of their livelihood, but it was all also interwoven into their spirituality, as they wove their spirituality and their everyday life together. There was no dualistic thinking in the ancient Celts, pre-Christian and Christian, no separating the physical life from the spiritual life, of separating the sacred from the secular: everything for them was spiritual.
So it is no surprise that both the pre-Christian and the Christian Celtic people held feasts and festivals at certain points of the year, 8 points, to be precise. The 4 obvious ones are the 4 seasons. But each season had a midpoint to focus upon. The Celtic year, it is believed, began with Winter, ‘Samhain’, which started at sunset on October 31st (using the modern calendar) and ran to the end of January. The midpoint of this is the Winter Solstice, the point where the sun is above the horizon for the shortest amount of time. Following the seeming death of the earth over Winter came Spring, Imbolc, which ran until the end of April. The midpoint of Imbolc was the Spring Equinox, the time where the light and dark in the day are equal. Then came Summer, Beltane, which ran until the end of July, the midpoint being the Summer Solstice, the point where the sun is above the horizon for the longest amount of time. The final season of the year was Harvest, Lammas, sometimes referred to as Autumn. This ran until the end of October and had the Autumnal Equinox at the centre.
The rhythm of these 8 points, the 4 seasons, the 2 Solstices and the 2 Equinoxes, means that there was an earth based or celestial based feast and festival around once every 6 weeks. With all the Ecclesiastical feasts added in for the Celtic Christians, we can see that they rivalled the Jews for the number of feasts and festivals honouring God and creation!
As part of our own spiritual journey, both into the heritage of our faith, as well as our reconnection with the natural world, we can begin by engaging with these festivals and start replacing the natural rhythm into our year so that we can begin living in the rhythm of the Celtic year. To celebrate the seasons and cycles of creation as well as the church-based celebrations enables us to truly engage with the Divine within nature. As the Apostle Paul said ‘...by taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.’ (Romans 1:20, The Message).
My upcoming book The Celtic Year (BRF, September 2020) gives service liturgies, daily devotions, and general prayers for each of these 8 points of the year so that we can begin to take a long and thoughtful look at the natural world which God has created so that we can better see and engage with the mystery of the divine being which flows through creation.
About the writer
Previously a full-time church minister, David Cole is an international spiritual teacher and retreat leader, an award-winning author and the Deputy Guardian for the Community of Aidan and Hilda. He is also the founder of Waymark Ministries, which creates opportunities for people to engage with the Christian message.
David's new book will be published in September. For more details click here.