The truth of the matter is that only mere snippets of archaeological evidence exists about what the Druids believed or practiced. Moreoever the handful of (roughly) contemporary references to ‘what Druids’ did come from a small handful of writings left by the Romans – who let’s face it were unlikely to be unbiassed in their summations.
It can be assumed, and the idea is fairly well supported, that the Celts had a knowledge of the movements of the stars, indeed classical writers do attest to this – Ceaser, Strabo, Pliny all comment on the idea that the Druids had an understanding of natural phenomenon.
But what they knew and what they taught is very much the topic of speculation and debate.
So what do we know?
In 1897 several pieces of a bronze tablet were discovered in Coligny, France.
These pieces turned out to be peices of a calandar.
In all there were 73 pieces which when reassembled created a five-foot wide, three and a half foot. This tablet displayed a calandar which was both lunar and solar; depicting the phases of the moon and the time of the solar year.
Now known as the Coligny calandar, these tablets seemed to date back to the Second Century and so linked too Gaulish (possibly Druidic) practices.
There is much debate as to how the information on this calandar can be interpreted. For example did the months run from New Moon, Full Moon or First Quarter Moon? Does the calandar-year begin in Autumn or Autumn?
What is clear is that the lunar calandar is made up of 354 or 355 days.
The Coligny calandar contains twelve months which have been translated by researchers such as John and Caitlin Matthews as:-
- 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)
To make the calendar work a thirteenth month referred to as Sonnocingos, was included every 2.5 years.
Some superb work by the author Searles O’Dubhain suggests that the Moon names associated with the months could be understood as follows:-
- 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
Among the Welsh and Irish it seems that the year was divided into a light half and a dark half.
It seems that the day was seen as beginning at sunset, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the darkness, at Calan Gaeaf/Samhain (1st November) whilst the light half of the year started at Calan Haf/Bealtaine (1st May). These festivals have survived into the modern day such as the traditions of Oíche Shamhna (Samhain Eve) among the Irish and Oidhche Shamhna among the Scots even though they exist in modern form as Halloween.
So what about the Tree Calendar?
The much publicised Celtic Tree Calandar, which is built around the Celtic Ogham alphabet, can be considered as a re-invention by the poet Robert Graves who published a very influential book, The White Goddess, in 1948.
Best considered as a work of mythic-poetry, The White Goddess can be seen as a the source of a number of today’s Celtic and Goddess inspired teachings. The book itself lacks any rigour in terms of its research and frequently questionable references. In terms of the Ogham Alphabet, true the marks are Celtic and form part of an alphabet used in monumental inscriptions and, if we can rely on slightly older (but not contemporaneous) sources we can see that each of the Ogham letters did have an association with Trees, Birds, Colours and a number of other natural objects.
In truth there is no historical link between the every Ogham letter and trees, indeed only five or six of the Ogham symbols relate directly to trees!
So what about Celtic Astrology?
Modern writers either relate the months of the moon to trees or animals; these then form the basis of modern presentations of Celtic or Drudic Astrology.
- Month Animal Tree
- December 24 – January 20 Stag/Deer Birch
- January 21 – February 17 Cat Rowan
- February 18 – March 17 Snake Ash
- March 18 – April 14 Fox Alder
- April 15 – May 12 Cow/Bull Willow
- May 13 – June 9 Seahorse Hawthorn
- June 10 – July 7 Wren Oak
- July 8 – August 4 Horse Holly
- August 5 – September 1 Salmon Hazel
- September 2 – September 29 Swan Vine
- September 30 – October 27 Butterfly Ivy
- October 28 – November 24 Wolf/Hound Reed
- November 25 – December 23 Falcon/Hawk Elder
Modern Druids who consider certain animal totems to represent the ‘directions’ and ‘hence’ the seasons would recognise:-
The Hawk in the East, representing Spring
The Stag in the South, representing Summer
The Salmon in the West, representing Autumn
The Bear in the North, representing Winter
So there seems to be some disagreement between these two lists.
But there are some other issues. As every astrologer knows it’s not just the birth month that is important, but the way the heavenly bodies traverse the skies in relation to the place, time and date of birth. Hence whilst each of these modern intepretations offers monthly ‘zodiac-like’ qualities they are far removed from what might be considered as ‘astrology’.
In order to re-construct or re-imagine any kind of Druid Astrological system we would need to understand what planets, constallations the Celts identifed.
It seems that we have little direct evidence for any system the Druids/Celts may or may not have used, it is clear that modern mythic-poets and recreationsists have pieced together a zodiac of sorts.
The Tree Calendar, in terms of authenticity, also raises some questions.
The point, however is, that since most neo-Druidry is recreated, reformed or re-invented, any system that has personal relevance and meaning is viable and valuable. Symbols and symbolic systems can and do evolve and indeed need to do so in order to have a relevance.
In the words of the Reformed Druids of Gaia –
We are “doing it the way the ancients did, making it up as we go along!”