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!
Steps Toward Deriving
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.)
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..."
souls and the universe are indestructible, although at times fire and
water may prevail..."
do not suffer death, but after death pass from one to another..."
Souls are eternal and there is another life in the infernal regions..."
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."
we know about
Druids not only possess "...knowledge of moral philosophy but of physiologa
or natural science..."
Druids "... claimed to have that knowledge of nature that the Greeks call
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..."
Druids are prophets because "...they can foretell certain events by the
Pythagorean reckoning and calculations..."
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..."
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".
can deduce this about Druids
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 Lords that Wander (the Planets):
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:
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:
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.
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:
(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:
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.
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.)
is how they seem to match up
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):
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):
Two very interesting articles are to be found on the CURA website:
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.