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Celtic Astrology

An article by Searles O'Dubhain

The subject of Celtic Astrology has been mainly untouched because, quite simply, there is little actual evidence as to how the Celts viewed astrology. There is undoubtedly much archeological evidence to prove that the Celts had knowledge of the heavenly bodies and their movements. This alone does not make astrology, only a possible form of astronomy. We have literary evidence from some of the the classical writers; Strabo, Julius Caesar, Pliny that the Draoi (Druids) had knowledge of "natural sciences" and the heavens. But we have no clear cut evidence of how the Celts defined their astrology. How they interpreted the signs and the motions in the heavens. How they named their astrological signs, and what they meant. This makes the topic of Celtic astrology a very subjective one indeed. The following is a short dissertation by Searles O'Dubhain. It is provocative and thought provoking. Searles is a man whose knowledge of the Celtic people and society is surpassed only by the insight he gains through his Imbas. Admittedly, there is much still to be done in this field, much research remaining, much to be compiled. But Searles O'Dhubhain, in this short essay, breaks the ice in a strong way.

Greaghoir Mac An Ghobhainn

In connection with a book and a study series I'm doing for a Druidic journal, I've been kicking around ways that the Druids could have done Astrology. All of this work is very preliminary, but I wanted to get some feedback and/or inputs/criticisms from the list before putting a whole lot of effort into pursuing/developing this pathway. Not much is know, but a lot is hinted. Here we go!

Tentative Steps Toward Deriving
a Uniquely Irish/Celtic Astrology:

Deriving a uniquely Irish/Celtic Astrology is the work of many lifetimes. It is a monumental task, truly Druidic in its magnitude. It is clearly beyond the scope of human abilities and impossible to accomplish in one short lifetime. Such a work could never have been accomplished in the past, much less the present, without the persistence of effort that is permitted by two basic tenants of Druidic practice. These two fundamental Druidic practices are REINCARNATION and DRUIDIC MEMORY. It is the use of these two mighty tools that allowed the Druids to invent Astrology in the first place, to perfect it and, finally to pass it down from generation to generation. Based on these two sacred principles, we shall begin our attempted derivation of Irish/Celtic Astrology. (I'm going to go into more detail about my pet theory that the Druids were able to work on deriving Magical techniques over the course of many, many lifetimes at a later date. This is just the "seed" here.)

Roman/Greek sources on
Druidic belief in Reincarnation:

"..the souls of men are immortal, and that after a definite number of years they live a second life when the soul passes to another body..."
- Diodorus

"...mens souls and the universe are indestructible, although at times fire and water may prevail..."
- Strabo

"...souls do not suffer death, but after death pass from one to another..."
- Julius Caesar

" Souls are eternal and there is another life in the infernal regions..."
- Mela

"But you assure us, no ghosts seek the silent kingdom of Erebus, nor the pallid depths of Dis' realm, but with a new body the spirit reigns in another world - if we understand your hymns death's halfway through a long life."
- Lucan

What we know about
Druidic Memory and Education:

The Druids not only possess "...knowledge of moral philosophy but of physiologa or natural science..."
- Strabo

The Druids "... claimed to have that knowledge of nature that the Greeks call physiologia..."
- Cicero

The Druids were possessed of "... much knowledge of the stars and their motion, of the size of the world and of the earth, of natural philosophy... and in reckoning birthdays and the new moon and new year their unit of reckoning is the night followed by the day..."
- Julius Caesar

The Druids are prophets because "...they can foretell certain events by the Pythagorean reckoning and calculations..."
- Hippolytus

The Druids measured time using a lunar calendar "... for it is by the moon that they measure their months and years and also their ages of 30 years..."
- Pliny

The Druids went to school to study nature and philosophy for periods of time ranging from 12 to 20 years. They memorized everything they were taught in that time perfectly. They were capable of writing in both the Greek and the Roman style though they had their own form of writing called Ogham. Their knowledge of the stars was such that they could almost instantly do astrological calculation. Their interest in Magick was so keen that the Greeks claimed the Druids acted as if it "were they that had invented Magick and not the Persians".

We can deduce this about Druids
from the above quotes and information:

  • Druids were Astrologers (known to Pliny).
  • Druids were philosophers.
  • Druids were Naturalists and scientists.
  • Druids practiced Magick.
  • Druids had their own lunar calendar.
  • Druids had intellectual discourse with the Greeks, the Romans and the Persians.
  • The Druids determined when the seasons/plantings occurred.
  • The Druids believed in reincarnation.

I shall now begin to attempt to construct a Druidic Lunar Calendar using information from Celtic myth, Astrology and starlore (Pliny), Celtic seasonal festivals and holidays, and the Coligney Calendar. I will also make use of information from other Indo-European forms of astrology as well as astro-archaeological information derived from a study of the brughs and stone circles of Ireland and the British Isles.

The Names of the Constellations in Irish:

  • The Pleiades, Griglean, Grioglachan, Meanmnach.
  • Ursa Major, the Bear, The Plough, Camcheacta.
  • Ursa Minor, The Lesser Bear, The Fire Tail, Drag-blod.
  • Virgo, wife of Bel, Dan-nu, Maiden of the Wheat-field, the Kern-baby, Danu?.
  • Milky Way, The River of Heaven, The Way of the White Cow, Boand?
  • The Scales, An Mhe'a (the Scales, Libra), Gainni (scales), Ga'inne (reed), Coimheas (ratio, balance)
  • The Fish, na hEisc (Pisces)
  • The Dog, an Madra
  • The Ram, an Reithe
  • The Bull, an Tarbh
  • The Eagle, an Iolar
  • The Water Bearer, an tUisceadoir (Aquarius)
  • The Twins, an Cúpla
  • The Harp, an Clairseach, an Lir (Lyre)
  • The Swan, an Eala,
  • Sagittarius, an Saighdeoir
  • Capricorn, an Ghabhar
  • Leo, an Leon
  • Cancer, an Portan
  • Scorpio, an Scairp

Other Signs:

  • The Stone, The Pole, an Mól Thuaidh (North Star)
  • The Spear, an Laigen
  • The Sword, an Claiomh
  • The Cauldron, an Coire

The Lords that Wander (the Planets):

  • The Sun, Grian.
  • The Gleaming One, The Moon, Gealach.
  • The Sunfaced One, Mercury?, Ogma?
  • The Bright One, Venus, Lugh?
  • The Red One, Aedh? The Dagda?
  • The Fiery One, Brighid? Aedh? The Dagda?
  • The Shining One, Jupiter?, The Sun?, Bel?
  • The Silver One, Saturn?, Nuada?

The Quadrants:

  • North, Fal (Conflict)
  • South, Goire (Harmony)
  • East, Finn (Creation)
  • West, Muir (Regeneration)

The Coligney Calendar:

The Celts reckoned the months from Dark Moon to Dark Moon (The month having a Light and Dark half.... the Light half being the waxing Moon and the Dark half being the waning Moon). This treatment of months is no different than how they viewed the days and the years as well (Day began at sundown, dawn marking the second half of the day. The year began and ended at Samhain with Bealtaine marking the midpoint of the year.)

How the cycles of the moon were reconciled with the seasons of the year and the 3 major pathways of the Sun (Mid-Winter, Mid-Summer, Equinoxes), is a much more difficult question to answer. Most of the calendars that I've seen only give hints at what the names of the Months (Moons) were. Some ideas can be found within an ancient Gaulish calendar called the Coligny Calendar. The names in this calendar were:

  • Samonios - Summers end (Oct/Nov)
  • Dumannios - Dark time (Nov/Dec)
  • Riuros - Frost time (Dec/Jan)
  • Anagantios - Indoor time (Jan/Feb)
  • Ogronios - Time of Ice (Feb/Mar)
  • Cutios - Time of Winds (Mar/Apr)
  • Giamonios - Winters end (Apr/May)
  • Simiuisonos - Time of Brightness (May/June)
  • Equos - Horse time (June/July)
  • Elembiuios - Claim time (July/Aug)
  • Edrinios - Arbitration time (Aug/Sept)
  • Cantlos - Song time (Sept/Oct)

This calendar covered a period of 5 years and included 2 extra months to go with the (5 x 12) or 60 that I've named. The intercalary month was named Mid-Samonios or Mid-Giamonios depending on where it fell within the five year cycle (at the beginning or after two and a half years). These extra months basically caught the calendar up to the year in terms of solar days. The Coligny calendar looks promising but it is only the effort of the Gaulish Druids to produce a calendar that conformed more closely with that of their Roman conquerors IMHO. I mention it here to get and idea of what the names for the moons may well be.

(Moons are not indicated, the months are 30 and 29 days long, and modern correspondences are only roughly indicated)

The modern Scottish Gaelic calendar:

I looked for the root meanings of these names. These are as close as I could come. This calendar is a bit more "Pagan", has these names for the months:

  • an t-Samhain - (samh, "sleep or ghost") - November

  • an Dubhlachd - (dubh, "black or dark") - December

  • an Faoilleach - (faol, "wolf") - January

  • an Gearran - (gearr, "rabbit") - February

  • am Mart - (mart, "cow") - March

  • na Giblean - (gibleid, "scraps, bits") - April

  • an Ceitean - (ceatha, "showers") - May

  • an t-Ogmhios - (Ogma = og, "young", mios, "month") - June

  • an t-Iuchar - (Jupiter = iuchair = eochair, "keys") - July

  • an Lugnasdai - (Lugh = lug, "lynx") - August

  • an t-Sultain - (suil, "eye") - September

  • an Damhair - ( damh, "stag") - October

John Mathews' Celtic Totem Moons:

John Matthews suggests that the Druids were Shaman and that the Celtic tribes had animal totems. Using his list (which follows, and the above information plus some Celtic knowledge and some more information about the reconciliation between years of moons and years of solar days, I'm going to attempt to come up with a Celtic Moon Calendar.

  • Oct/Nov - Salmon Moon

  • Nov/Dec - Wolf Moon

  • Dec/Jan - Eagle Moon

  • Jan/Feb - Otter Moon

  • Feb/Mar - Crow Moon

  • Mar/Apr -Sow Moon

  • Apr/May - Hawk Moon

  • May/June - Bear Moon

  • Jun/July - Horse Moon

  • July/Aug - Stag Moon

  • Aug/Sep - Hound Moon

  • Sep/Oct - Heron Moon

Matthews suggests naming the extra moon that occurs (every so often) after your own totem or that of your tribe/clan. In this way, the entire clan can celebrate together (every so often) in a festival that reconciles the Sun, the Moon and the spirit of the tribe (my own idea). Matthews suggested placing the totem moons around the wheel of the solar year with the *extra* moon in the hub or center of the wheel. I don't agree with all of Mathews's assignments but I like the idea of a clan totem moon.

Here's how I would assign them:

First I split the year into halves as designated by the rising of the Pleiades, at dawn in the East, and their falling, at dawn in the West (to the ancient Celts, they were a window into the Otherworld). This occurs when the Sun is within the constellations of the Bull and the Scorpion. To many of the northern peoples of ancient Europe, the Pleiades were known as the "Sieve", (an Criathar to the Irish). I would then locate the first full moon after the rising of the Pleiades This is the time of Bealtaine. It is also the month of Bealtaine to the modern Irish. All subsequent months/moons would follow that until the month of Samhain which would be the first full moon after the setting of the Pleiades If Samhain or Bealtaine month would occur before the rising or falling of the Pleiades, then I would insert the extra "Clan Totem" month around the time of the Winter or Summer Solstice, prior to that event to adjust my solar/lunar calendar. In this way the two major hubs of the year, (Bealtaine and Samhain), always coincide with the rising and the falling of the Pleiades and the "window/sieve between the worlds".

My own choices for month/moon names:

  • Mi na Samhna - Ancestor time

  • Dubhlach - Dark time

  • Faolma - Wolf Moon

  • Gearran - Rabbit Moon

  • Mi na Banbha -Sow Moon

  • Mi na Ceitean - Rain Moon

  • Mi na Bealtaine - Bright Fires

  • Mi na Grianstad - Moon of MidSummer

  • Mi na Tallamh - Earth Moon

  • Mi na Lughnasadh - Moon of the First Harvest

  • Mean Fomhair - Moon of the Equinox
  • An Damhair - Stag Moon

(Be aware, I'm still playing around with these)

For the two times I might have to add a month to even up the Sun and the Moon on the Wheel of the Year, I chose the following months:

  • Mi na Iolar - Eagle Moon (during the Geamhra or dark time)
  • Mi na Math - Bear Moon (during the Samhna or light time)

The Metonic Cycle:

The actual process wherein the Moon and Sun come into almost exact synchronization is called the Metonic Cycle which happens every 19 years or 235 lunations which are both equal to 6940 days. Keeping track of it seems complicated but I read a book by Gerald Hawkins called, "Stonehenge Decoded", that showed how the Sun's position and the lunations could be tracked using the henge's solar alignments and the "Aubrey holes" and moving a rock every moon or so! (This synchronization was perhaps referred to as when the "God", (the Moon), visited the Hyperborean Temple of the Sun (Stonehenge) by the ancient Greek historians, Diodorus Siculus and Hecataeus of Abdera.)

The Tree Calendar:

Now, as to the Tree Calendar.... it is not well supported within the ancient Druidic lore. That is not to say that it couldn't be valid. It just isn't mentioned directly. To my knowledge, this calendar was first derived by Robert Graves in his book the "White Goddess"; based on a lot of mythological lore and his interpretations of the Ogham. I had really hoped that Gerold (a friend of mine from Germany) would cover this topic in his Mythology class (it was a major part of the coursework in a Workshop on another cyber-service). Alas! That's on hold. I am personally still deciding the validity of the "Tree Calendar" for myself. If I had to place the Beith month anywhere it would be in November, (as Colin and Liz Murray place it in their book, "The Celtic Tree Oracle"), and not around the Winter Solstice. Remember, the Celtic year starts after Samhain. Some of the other trees fit with particular months, such as hUaithe and perhaps Eo/Idad, but I find a better use for the Ogham in Fionn's Shield and the division of the seasons.

(But that's another entire issue)

Putting it All Together:

In my search for a Celtic Astrology, I've looked at many sources, everything from the Coligny calendar to Shamanism. This search into calendars and shamanism led me to a variety of sources on the transformations of people into animal forms. Some of these stories are about the histories of Ireland. Others are about how wisdom was obtained. Still others are about the origins of tradition, placenames or practices. I'll attempt to present some of this information here as a series of lists and also give my sources for each as I go.

The Book of
Lismore
(Irish)
World Ages

The Settling
of the
Manor of Tara
(Irish)
Fintan
Mac Bochra

The Book
of the
Dun Cow
(Irish)
Tuan
Mac Caerill

The Mystery
(an Invocation)
(Irish)
Amergin

Book of
Taliesin
(Welsh)
Taliesin

         

-

Deluge

Deluge

Storm

Rain

-

Voyage of Cessair

Voyage of Nemed

Wind / Wave

Wave

-

-

-

Murmur of Billows

-

Stake

-

Fleeing Wolves

Point of Lance

Shout in Battle

Feild

-

-

Lake in the Plain

Gushing Torrent

Hound

-

-

-

Wood

Horse

-

-

-

Stallion

Human

Man

Man

Ollamh

Man

Hound

-

Stag

Ox / Stag

Bull / Roebuck

Ousel (Crow)

Crow encounter

Boar

Boar

Wild Sow

Eagle

Eagle

Hawk

Hawk / Vulture

Eagle

Salmon

Salmon

Salmon

Salmon

Fish

-

Falcon

-

-

-

Yew

-

-

-

Fork of Tree

-

Man

Man

-

Man

-

-

-

Word of Science

Sage

-

-

-

Fire in the Head

Head

-

-

-

God

Circle

If one looks at the lists above and reads the related tales, what appears is a story of the Creation of the World and the cyles of the ages. The stake in the first list (from the Book of Lismore), seems to be the pole star, the center of the zodiac. Each of the succeeding ages of the World (as shown by the animals), can be interpreted as the constellations or signs of the zodiac itself. Since there are only nine remaining ages in the first list, I have grafted the Voyage, the Deluge and the Raven onto the list of ages from the other lists to make twelve signs for my Celtic Zodiac. (In the finished product, I'll probably quote and discuss each of the passages from the table above to give some background.)

Here is how they seem to match up
to the modern Astrological Signs/Ages:

Modern Signs

Celtic Signs

Irish Names

     

Capricorn

The Horse-mackerel (Horse)

An Gabhar (Capall)

Aquarius

The Water Bearer (Deluge)

An t-Uisceadoir (Dile)

Pisces

The Fish (Salmon)

An hEisc (Bradan)

Aries

The Voyage

An Aistear

Taurus

The Bull

An Tarbh

Gemini

The Eagle

An Iolar

Cancer

The Raven

An Trogan

Leo

The Hound
(Sirius/Canis Major)

An Cu

Virgo

The Feild (The Corn Maiden)

An Gort (An Mhaighdean)

Libra

The Yew (Life and Death)

An Eo

Scorpio

The Stag

An Dam allaid

Sagittarius

The Archer (Man)

An Saighdeoir (Duine)

Pages and pages of research and writing much be done to verify/improve/revise this list as well as to explain the rationale behind its creation and ordering. Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me here.

The ancient Irish also believed that the winds originated in the signs of the heavens. Here are their names, signs, colors and effects (as provided in the Senchus Mor, the Saltair Na Ran, and the Hibernica Minora):

Wind

Sign

Color

Effect

       

North

An Gabhar (Capall)

Black

Red Sworded Battle

North-Northeast

An t-Uisceadoir (Dile)

Speckled

Venom / Battle

North-East

An hEisc (Braden)

Dark

Plentiful Fish / Sickness

East

An Aistear

Purple

Fruitful though Plagued

South-Southeast

An Tarbh

Yellow

Good Fruit

South-East

An Iolar

Red

Fish / Corn

South

An Trogan

White

Rich Harvest

South-Southwest

An Cu

Grey-Green

Meager Crops

Southwest

An Gort
(An Mhaighdean)

Green

Battles
Scant Harvest

West

An Eo

Pale

Death of a King

West-Northwest

An Dam allaid

Dark Brown

Great Bloodshed

North-West

An Saighdeoir
(An Duine)

Grey

Grey Death
Slaughters

Much work remains to be done, particularly in the area of the planetary influences, the relative influences of the Sun and the Moon as well as the influence of the "duile" (Celtic elements of the Self and the Cosmos). I also need to get more information from the Senchus Mor.

Sources I've used (to date):

  • Allen, Richard Hinckley, Star Names, Their Lore and Meanings, Dover Publications, New York, 1963, ISBN 0-486-21079-0.
  • Brennan, Martin, The Stones of Time, Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont, 1994.
  • Burnham, Robert .Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
  • Ellis, Peter Berresford, Celtic Inheritance, Dorset Press, New York, 1992.
  • ____ A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992.
  • ____ A Dictionary of Irish Mythology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1987.
  • Focloir Scoile, English - Irish, Irish - English Dictionary, Criterian Press Tta, Dublin, 1986.
  • Graves, Robert, The White Goddess, The Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1993.
  • Gray, E. A., Cath Maige Tuired, The Second Battle of Maige Tuired, Irish Texts Society, Kildare, Erin, 1982.
  • Hawkins, Gerald S., Stonehenge Decoded, An Astronomer Examines One of the Great Puzzles of the Ancient World, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1986, ISBN 0-88029-147-8.
  • Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone, A Celtic Miscellany, Penguin Books,New York, 1971, ISBN 0-14-044247-2.
  • King, John, The Celtic Druids' Year, Seasonal Cycles of the Ancient Celts, Blandford, London, 1994.
  • Krupp, Dr. E. C., Beyond the Blue Horizon, HarperCollins Publishing.
  • Matthews, John, A Celtic Reader, Selections from Celtic Scholarship and Story, Aquarian, Press, Hammersmit, London, 1992.
  • ____ The Celtic Shaman, A Handbook, Element Books, Rockport, MA, 1991.
  • ____ Taliesin, Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland, Aquarian Press, London, 1991, ISBN 1-85538-109-5.
  • Matthews, John and Cailtin, Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, A Celtic Shaman's Sourcebook, Element Books, Rockport, MA, 1994.
  • Murray, Liz and Colin, The Celtic Tree Oracle, A System of Divination, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1992.
  • North, John, Astronomy and Cosmology, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-393-31193-7.
  • O'Donaill, Niall, Editor, Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla, Oifig Dhiolta Foilseachan Rialtas, Baile Atha Cliath 2, 1992, ISBN 1-85791-038-9.
  • Quin, E.G., Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1990.
  • Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, Celtic Heritage, Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, Thames & Hudson, New York, 1994.
  • Renton, R.W. and MacDonald, J.A., Scottish Gaelic - English, English - Scottish Gaelic Dictionary, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1994.
  • Rey, H.A., The Stars, A New Way to See Them, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 988, ISBN 0-395-24830-2.
  • Rolleston, T. W., Celtic Myths and Legends, Dover Publications Co., New York, 1990.
  • Sakoian, Frances and Acker, Louis S., The Astrologers Handbook, Aquarian Books, New York, 1987, ISBN 0-06-272004-X

FURTHER READING:

Two very interesting articles are to be found on the CURA website:

Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument by Peter Berresford Ellis
The Fabrication of 'Celtic' Astrology by Peter Berresford Ellis

Brief snippet:

The Celtic 'tree zodiac' fabrications, the direct result of Robert Graves' invention of a tree calendar', have become an almost insurmountable barrier to any serious study of the forms of astrology that were practised by pre-Christian Celtic society. For fifty years, from the time Graves' published his book The White Goddess (1946), a veritable industry has been built up among his acolytes, which preach artificial astrological ideas based on Graves' spurious arguments. Some have even published books on what they fondly term 'Celtic Astrology', manufacturing a completely artificial 'astrological system'.

It has hitherto not been my practice to directly criticise Graves nor his acolytes. As a novelist and poet, Graves' work is much to be admired and his two-volume study of The Greek Myths (1955) is highly regarded. There is even much in The White Goddess that is praiseworthy. It can be said that Graves' work is a fascinating attempt at an anthropological and mythological study which, had he had some scholastic advice, might have resulted in an interesting contribution in the mould of Joseph Campbell's work.

 

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