Monday, February 8, 2016

Celtic Time-keeping

Time. Date. Minutes and Days. Modern life is plagued by the obsession of many who run their lives by logging minutes rather than living moments. Were we to deposit these people into the 5th Century how would they survive without clock-watching? At the time my novels are set (mid 5th Century AD) there were no clocks, watches, laptops, television, radios – no devices from which to discern the time of day. You looked at the arc of the sun or moon, the respective orb in the sky denoting day or night. The world around you - plants and weather - told you in which season you lived.

Celtic farmstead, North Wales c. 3rdC AD via timetrips.co.uk

For the Celts, their calendar was pastoral and linked to the turning wheel of the year, its repeated cycles of birth-growth-death as foliage sprang forth, bloomed and died back. Rural farming communities are slaves to these changes even today. The first ploughing begins at the start of February when the ground is warmer and softer following ‘cold-time’ (December/January) and lambs are born, which perhaps is why January-February was known by the Celts as ‘Anagantios’ (stay-home time). No point jetting off on that late winter-sun holiday when all the pregnant sheep are about to drop!

Celtic coin showing image of wheat, via resourcesforhistory.com

Every stage of the year was mapped by the events of nature and requirements of the farming community. To glean how important it was to the Celts, we need only look at archaeology. Farming was central to the lives of farmers and as such, made it onto coins of the time as can be seen from the cunobelinus coin shown above. We know the Celts kept calendars, though they are not as recognisable as the Roman Julian calendars we take for granted today, with numbered days of weeks, fortnights and 30 or 31 day months (with the obvious exception of February!). They were, however, sectioned into twelve segments throughout the pastoral year as follows:-

Jan/Feb            Anagantios                  Stay-home time
Feb/Mar           Ogronios                     Ice time
Mar/Apr          Cutios                          Windy time
Apr/May          Giamonios                   Shoots-show
May/Jun          Simivisonios                Bright time
Jun/Jul             Equos                          Horse time
Jul/Aug            Elembiuos                   Claim-time
Aug/Sep          Edrinios                       Arbitration-time
Sep/Oct           Cantlos                        Song-time
Oct/Nov          Samonios                     Seed-fall
Nov/Dec          Dummanios                 Darkest depths

It is evident from the Celtic meanings how our ancestors viewed the world around them and how entrenched in the natural sways of the earth their lives were. If we consider these unfamiliar-sounding names such as ‘Samonios’, the name itself does not immediately provide us with any understanding of that ‘month’. If we look at its meaning, however, we can identify with ‘Seed-fall’ around October/November, as we see it ourselves at this time of year. Trees and plants shed leaves and seeds and gardeners store tubers for the following spring. This makes sense to our modern minds. What may not make sense would be how the Celts noted down their calendars. As well as using their own language, they used their own text, known as ‘ogham’. The ‘ogham’ alphabet is based upon the woods of different trees connected with the various times of the year. Similar to runes, they appeared as vertical and horizontal bars of varying numbers.

Celtic tree calendar, via ogham.thewahzone.com


So, I’m staying home this Anagantios, at least until Ogronios is over. By then, as they say in Breton, Nevez-amzer will be here (new season/spring). Then just as I plan to do some serious gardening the winds arrive, darn that Cutios!

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Elaine writes historical fiction as 'E S Moxon'. Her debut Wulfsuna was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series of Saxon adventures, where a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. You can find out more about Book 2 from Elaine's website where she has a video diary charting her writing progress. She also runs a blog. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

2 comments:

  1. I used the same "month-names" in my novel Bronze and Stones published a couple years ago on Amazon. Found it on the website "The Celtic Year," Living Myths in 2006, http://www.livingmyths.com/Celticyear.htm.
    The names given in your chart as 'translations' (of the Latinate names in the middle column)are suggestive of each one's particular section of the year, and even of what sort of activities went on then. Thanks for the reminder!

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