Ancient Holidays

Samhain-Imbolc 1997-8

November 1-February 1


Yay! It's the latest installment of my ancient holiday list. This list is meant to be as user-friendly as possible; therefore the modern dates have been listed first, with the ancient day second. There is more information about calendars, months, and the year in previous installments (I'm gettin' tired of writing the same thing every installment), so check those out too! If you have any questions, corrections, or comments on this list, please email me. I'd love to know what you think, or if you find it useful.
Abbreviations on the list are (R) Roman, (G) Greek, (B) Babylonian, and (E) Egyptian.


Calendars and the Year

The Attic (ancient Greek) calendar was a lunar calendar, with the full moon on the 15th of the month, making the first on or near the new moon. Because the moon's cycle isn't an even number of days, some months end up having 29 days while some have 30. And there aren't a perfect number of lunar months to the solar year, so to keep seasonal celebrations in place in a reasonable manner, some system of reconciling the lunar to solar had to be devised. So the Greeks instituted a nineteen-year cycle where some years had 12 months to them and some had 13 months, with the extra month (intercalary month) an extra Poseideon
The Attic year began with Hekatombaion in about our July/August, while the Boetian year began near the winter solstice.

The Babylonian year was lunar like the (later) Greek calendar, and they used the same cycle of nineteen years, though having begun in a different year the "leap years" are different.

The Roman calendar was originally lunar, like the Greek and Babylonian. The month was marked with three lunar points; the kalends, or the first days (new moon); the nones, first quarter; and the ides, the full moon. When the moon was waning it was the unlucky part of the month, and the days were numbered backward from the first of the next month
On the kalends, nones, ides, and all feast days, a crown of flowers was hung over the hearth, and sacrifices were made to the Lares, or household gods. The days immediately after the kalends, nones and ides were considered unlucky

The Egyptian calendar is pretty damn convoluted and I still don't want to get into it again if I don't have to. It was screwed up! (Trust me!) It started out lunar, then switched to solar (the first to do so, and from where the Romans stole the idea), though it completely ignored the fact that the year isn't really 365 days long, it's about 365 and a quarter days. Which is why we (civilized, sensible people) now have that extra day every four years stuck on at the end of February. Now, mind you, it's not that the Egyptians didn't KNOW this, they just ignored it. So the calendar got bumped up a day every four years, and they let it. And given the timespan of the ancient Egyptian culture, it went around the whole year a couple of times or so. But of course they also had the older ceremonial calendar, which they ran concurrently, to keep the seasonal celebrations in line. As well as a third calendar, all at the same time. Like I said, pretty damn convoluted. If you would really like to know the real details of this (as opposed to my complaining about the Egyptians just off the top of my head) check out a previous installment of this holiday list

As for the Celts, according to Robert Graves in The White Goddess (you wanna talk convoluted?!?) they had a calendar of 13 months of 28 days each, with an extra day thrown in at the end (the "day" of "a year and a day") to make 365. The months-names were taken from the letters in the Celtic alphabet, which were named for trees or plants. Though I've no idea what that means for the leap year day the Romans dealt with and the Egyptians ignored. He places the beginning of the year after that last extra day, right around the winter solstice. In modern tradition, Samhain (Nov 1) is thought to be the Celtic New Year. I'm not quite sure where that comes from, though the pagan Lithuanian year did begin on that day. (Lithuania was not converted to Christianity until surprisingly recently--somewhere in the 1600's I believe.) But then Pliny said that the Celtic year began in July, like the ancient Greeks', so who knows? It is known that the Celts divided the year up into eight, marked by seasonal festivals, some of which are still celebrated to this day in one form or another, Hallowe'en (Samhain) being the obvious example


Months and Seasons

Greek month names:
Maimakterion, the month holy to Zeus Maimaktes, the god of wrath, because this month marked the beginning of the winter storms
Poseideon, named after the Sea-god Poseidon
Gamelion, named after the festival of Theogamia, the sacred marriage between Hera and Zeus
Anthesterion, named after the festival of the Anthesteria, a festival of Dionysos

Macedonian month names:
Audynaios, corresponding to Maimakterion
Perition, Poseideon
Dystros, Gamelion
Xanthikos, Anthesterion

Babylonian month names (no translations for any of them):
Kislimu
Tebetu
Shabatu
Adaru (one of two, since this new year is a leap year)

Sumerian month names:
GanGanNa, "month of ploughing"
AbBaE, named after a festival
AshAm, "month of emmer-grain"
SheGurKud, "month of the corn harvest"

Assyrian months in this time frame (I don't know exactly how they correspond to the Babylonian, though the Assyrian months are lunar too):
Ab Sharrani
Khiber
Sippim
Quarate, named after a festival in which the limmu, an officer, took part
Tanmarte, "shining forth"

Originally the Roman year began in March; the Etruscans added January and February. Initially January and February were considered "dead" months, and were not named. Which is why the last few months of the year are out of synch, i.e., why October means the "eighth month" when it is really the tenth
November "ninth month" in the old lunar calendar had 29 days
December "tenth month" originally had 29 days
January or Ianuarius, which originally had 29 days, was named for Janus, the god of doorways, beginnings and endings, the past and the future
February or Februarius, which had (and has) 28 days, was the month when Rome was purified with offerings and sacrifices or"februalia", during the festival of Lupercalia

Egyptian months:
Khoiak holy to Sekhet, the lioness-headed goddess, "the mighty one". She is the wife of Ptah, who defends Him and attacks His enemies
Tobi holy to Min (yay! One of MY personal favorite gods, tee hee)
Mekhir sacred to Rekeh-ur (no idea, sorry)
Phamenoth sacred to Rekeh-netches

Egyptian seasons:
Akhet, "flood", or winter, runs from Thoth through Khoiak (July 19 through Nov 15)
Peret, "emergence", or spring, runs from Tobi through Pharmuthi (Nov 16 through February 13)

Saxon months (don't know many):
Wolf-monath (wolf month), later renamed"After-Yule", so I'm assuming it's the equivalent of our January

Celtic months, after Robert Graves:
Ngetal, reed
Ruis, elder
Beth, birch
Luis, rowan


Ancient Calendar

Oct 26-Nov 1 Ludi Sullani (R) Commemorated Sulla's victories
(Oct 28-Nov 6) 12-21 Khoiak (E) Festival and Mysteries of Osiris at Dendera Festival celebrating the annual death and rebirth of Osiris, the corn god. Dendera thought to be one of the tombs of Osiris (He was cut in bits, so parts of Him were buried throughout the land). As with most Things Egyptians (it just couldn't be simple, could it?) there were many, many local versions of this holiday throughout Egypt: common rituals include mixing wheat and water into a paste and letting it dry in the sun (or baking it into bread or cake), then enbalming and burying it as the body of Osiris. On its most basic level a highly stylised, ritualised version of planting and harvesting the wheat, which I don't say to trivialise it, just to try to help you readers out there make some sense of it! At any rate I know I'm confused!
(Oct 31-Nov 1) 4-5 Ngetal (Month of the Reed) (Celtic) Samhain or Oidhche Shamhna (Celtic) Celtic New Year (according to some) Pagan Lithuanian New Year's was Hallowe'en. Start of winter in the British Isles. On this day the Cailleach (Hag-goddess, connected with Brighid, as another aspect of Her) was said to begin winter by washing Her mantle in the whirlpool off Jura. Dangerous time, when the dead and supernatural beings are abroad. Great festival and assembly held; accounts and debts were settled, histories were brought up to date, and new laws were enacted. Ritual in which all fires were extinguished, and ceremonially rekindled. According to legend, on this date at midnight, fishermen along the western shores ferried the dead: they would hear a rapping on their doors, and then find their boats laden with invisible passengers; then their boats were drawn to the Isle of Prydain, where they were mysteriously emptied, after which the fishermen went home
(Oct 31) 1 Maimakterion (G) Noumenia, Day of the Visible New Moon; also called Enkairea, "old and new"
(Oct 31) 1 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Selene
(Oct 31) 1 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Oct 31) 1 Kislimu (B) Arhu, day name

Nov 1 Kalends (R) of November; sacrifices to Juno and Janus
Nov 1 Dises (Norse) Festival of the dead, ancestors honored; divination performed
(Nov 1-15) 16-30 Khoiak (E) Festival of Osiris Khenti-Amenti Celebrating conception, life, death and rebirth, through the metaphor of the harvest cycle, grain being made into the stuff of life, bread (and beer! Don't forget the beer!!). Three forms of the corn-god Osiris honored, with three figures molded from a paste or dough of wheat and water (sometimes spices added): Khenti-Amenti ("Foremost of the Westerners", i.e., the dead); Sep, the dismembered form (after Osiris's chaotic brother Seth or Set chopped him up), representing the harvested wheat, cut in its prime; and Seker, the re-made, whole, resurrected form (wheat that was planted/buried and since sprouted). I assume the idea of molding wheat and water into figures of Osiris has something to do symbolically with the Chia Osiris found in Tutankhamun's tomb, which is a flat tray in the shape of Osiris that had seed mixed with water that was left to sprout in the tomb. On this day the transformation of the god Osiris took place
(Nov 2) 3 Kislimu (B) Nubattu, day of rest
(Nov 3) 4 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Aphrodite
(Nov 3) 4 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Hermes
Nov 4-17 Ludi Plebei (R) Dramatic entertainment
(Nov 4) 19 Khoiak (E) Seker-figure unmolded (I assume that is the wheat and water paste); Horus sees his father Osiris during the Festival of Osiris Khenti-Amenti
Nov 5 Nones (R) of November
(Nov 5) 6 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Artemis
(Nov 6) 7 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Nov 6) 7 Kislimu (B) Sibutu (day name) and Nubattu, day of rest
(Nov 6) 21 Khoiak (E) On this day during the Festival of Osiris at Dendera the wheat cake representing the body of Osiris was kneaded and molded, then dried in the sun
(Nov 6) 21 Khoiak (E) Osiris figure unmolded on this day of the Festival of Osiris Khenti-Amenti
(Nov 6) 21 Khoiak (E) Holy Day of Anubis
(Nov 7) 8 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Poseidon; Theseus also honored
(Nov 7) 22 Khoiak (E) On the eighth hour of this day, during the Festival of Osiris at Dendera, the figure of Osiris was buried
Nov 8 Manes Honored (R) Spirits of the dead that dwell below the earth. On this day the stone over the pit on the Palatine Hill was lifted, and the Manes were believed to rise to the upper world
(Nov 8) 23 Khoiak (E) (Part of the festival of Un-per?) Two heifers were yoked to the funerary furniture of the god Osiris
(Nov 9) 24 Khoiak (E) Un-per Osiris appears with a jackel
(Nov 9) 24 Khoiak (E) Osiris figure enbalmed during Festival of Osiris Khenti-Amenti; buried (or enbalmed) for 7 days
Nov 10-13 Festival of Isis (Roman!) On this day Osiris was murdered, and found by his sister-wife Isis; dirges and lamentations performed
(Nov 10) 25 Khoiak (E) Isis and Nephthys say prayers for Osiris, as part of His festival
(Nov 10-15) 25-30 Khoiak (E) Wheat figure of Osiris buried during these days at His festival at Abydos; Abydos or Abedju having the most important buriel ground in the land. Pilgrims from all over Egypt came to Osiris' festival here; the tomb of Djer at Abydos was later thought to be the tomb of Osiris Himself
Nov 11 Isis Searches for Osiris' Body (R) Frantic grief and anxiety during Her Roman festival
(Nov 11) 26 Khoiak (E) Ploughing of the Earth A ritual in which the earth was moistened with blood
Nov 12 Osiris Found (R) Rejoicing, music, dancing and orgies (wha-hee!) during Isis' Roman festival
Nov 13 Lectisternium (R) Festival of All the Gods, but especially Juno, Jupiter and Minerva
Nov 13 Ides (R) of November; Holy Day of Jupiter
(Nov 13) 28 Khoiak (E) Holy Day of Khnum, the ram-headed god who fashioned mankind on a potter's wheel
(Nov 14) 15 Maimakterion (G) Dichomenia, Day of the Full Moon
(Nov 14) 15 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Selene
(Nov 14) 15 Kislimu (B) Shabattu, day name
(Nov 15) 30 Khoiak (E) Djed pillar raised, Osiris figure buried (or unburied, depending on source! Oy!) during Festival of Osiris Khenti-Amenti
(Nov 15) 16 Kislimu (B) Nubattu, day of rest
(Nov 16) 1 Tobi (E) Holy Day of Thoth, the ibis or baboon god of knowledge. Associated with the moon, and therefore written knowledge, since the moon provides a basis for figuring the days of the month
(Nov 18) 3 Tobi (E) Holy Day of Osiris
(Nov 27) 12 Tobi (E) Festival of Bastet, the cat goddess of pleasure and luxury; "bas" the ointment-jar, protectress. Music, dancing, jokes, sexual rites; Her feast day commemorated the massacre by Sekhmet
(Nov 27) 28 Kislimu (B) Bubbulu, day name
(Nov 29) 30 Maimakterion (G) Holy Day of Hekate
(Nov 30) 1 Poseideon (G) Noumenia, Day of the Visible New Moon; also called Enkairea, "old and new"
(Nov 30) 1 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Selene
(Nov 30) 1 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Nov 30) 1 Tebetu (B) Arhu, day name

Dec 1 Kalends (R) of December; sacrifices to Juno and Janus
(Dec 2) 3 Tebetu (B) Nubattu, day of rest
(Dec 3) 4 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Aphrodite
(Dec 3) 4 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Hermes
Dec 5 Nones (R) of December
Dec 5 Faunalia (R) Festival of Faunus; dancing and high spirits, protection of Faunus, the god of fields and shepards invoked for agriculture and cattle. Corresponds to Greek Pan
(Dec 5) 6 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Artemis
(Dec 5) 20 Tobi (E) Field of Osiris Sacred barley was cut this day and made into cakes
(Dec 6) 7 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Dec 6) 7 Tebetu (B) Sibutu, day name, and Nubattu, day of rest
(Dec 6) 21 Tobi (E) Holy Day of Anubis
(Dec 7) 8 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Poseidon; Theseus honored also
Dec 8 Offerings Made to Tiberinus (R) God of the Tiber river
Dec 11 Agonia (R) Victims sacrificed
Dec 13 Ides (R) of December; Holy Day of Jupiter
(Dec 13) 28 Tobi (E) Holy Day of Khnum
(Dec 14) 15 Poseideon (G) Dichomenia, Day of the Full Moon
(Dec 14) 15 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Selene, goddess of the moon
(Dec 14) 15 Tebetu (B) Shabattu, day name
(Dec 15) 16 Tebetu (B) Nubattu, day of rest
Dec 15 Consualia (R) Festival of the earth god Consus, afer sowing ended
(Dec 16) 1 Mekhir (E) Holy Day of Thoth
Dec 17-24 Saturnalia (R) Festival of Saturn; great holiday. Schools, goverment offices, markets all closed during this holiday, gifts exchanged, feasts held, and buildings and homes were decorated with evergreen branches and lanterns. Sound familiar? The holiday of Christmas was moved in the 3rd century AD to "take over" for this big pagan celebration, and many of the originally pagan customs are still celebrated now. A man played Lord of Death, representing both the Emperor and god Saturn
(Dec 18) 3 Mekhir (E) Holy Day of Osiris
Dec 19 Opalia (R) Ops the goddess of plenty and fertility, and wife of Saturn. Sexual orgies and rituals of touching the earth held; opals represent Her many-colored veils
Dec 21 Capac Raymi (Incan) Incan Summer Solstice Festival
Dec 21 Winter Solstice Celbrated with bonfires on the hilltops in Ireland, Scotland, France and Germany, and fires were lit in the halls of Norse kings
(Dec 21) 27 Ruis (Month of the Elder-tree) (Celtic) Yule Bonfires lit
(Dec 21) 22 Poseideon (G) Rites of Dionysos Held every three years around the winter solstice; women and girls went into the mountains at night and celebrated the grief at the death and joy at the resurrection of Dionysos. Wild rites were held, in which, like the Maenads, women tore animals to pieces and ate them raw
Dec 23 Larentalia (R) The flamens of Quirinus and the pontiffs sacrificed to Acca Larentia, an earth goddess and the mother of the Lares (household gods); the first half of the day belonged to Her, and at the sixth hour, the moment when the year passed away, sacrifices were made to Her--then the rest of the day went to Jupiter, as god of light and new life
Dec 23 (Celtic) The "day" of "a year and a day" is this day; it is outside the year
Dec 24 Modranect (Saxon) Night of the Mother
(Dec 24) 1 Beth (Month of the Birch) (Celtic) Celtic New Year, according to Robert Graves
Dec 25 My Mom's Birthday! (American) Carolyn Moore (later Crane) born this day in 1926. Wish her well! What with that pesky Christmas-thing, she's never had a proper birthday party!
Dec 25 Son of Astarte born to Her (Syrian?) Astarte the celestial virgin of Syria and Egypt
Dec 25 Birth of the Unconquered Sun (Persian) Birthday of Mithras, a god of light who was born in a cave, and drove away the dark
(Dec 25) 26 Poseideon (G) Haloa Festival of Demeter and Persephone; Harvest-home, festival of women and the threshing floor. A fertility festival that was held in Athens, and was to ensure the growth of new-sown seeds. Banquets held, with food (such as bread) made in phallus-shape
(Dec 27) 28 Tebetu (B) Bubbulu, day name
(Dec 28) 29 Poseideon (G) Holy Day of Hekate
(Dec 29) 1 Gamelion (G) Noumenia, Day of the Visible New Moon; also called Enkairea, "old and new"
(Dec 29) 1 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Selene
(Dec 29) 1 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Dec 29) 1 Boetian month name? (G) Boetian and Aeolian New Year
(Dec 29) 1 Shabatu (B) Arhu, day name
Dec 31 Hagmena or Hogmeney (Scottish folk holiday) "Hag's Moon" Last night of the old year
(Dec 31) 3 Shabatu (B) Nubattu, day of rest

December holidays, exact dates not known:
Festival of Bona Dea (R) "Good goddess" worshipped by women; identified with Fauna. Festival in early December (same day as Faunalia, the festival of Faunus?)
Rural Dionysia (G) sometime in the second half of Poseideon Festival of Dionysos; hope of fertility for the coming year. Processions and dramatic contests held. New wine drunk; askolia performed, a dance in which the participant danced on one leg on an oiled inflated leather bag, and tried not to fall! Another kind of dance performed was the komos, a phallic dance in which the participants dressed as satyrs, and carried a really big model phallus (and so were called phallopheroi, or "phallus bearers"). Drama has its roots in this festival
Isthmian Festival of Poseidon (G) sometime in Poseideon

Jan 1 Festival of Janus, or Roman New Year (R) New Year changed from March 1 in 153BC; good wishes and gifts were exchanged
Jan 1 Kalends (R) of January; sacrifices to Juno and Janus
(Jan 1) 4 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Aphrodite
(Jan 1) 4�Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Hermes
(Jan 3) 6 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Artemis
(Jan 4) 7 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Jan 4) 7 Shabatu (B) Sibutu, day name, and Nubattu, day of rest
Jan 5 Nones (R) of January
(Jan 5) 8 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Poseidon; Theseus also honored
(Jan 5) 21 Mekhir (E) Holy Day of Anubis
Jan 6 Koreion (Coptic) Birth of the New Year god, the savior-son born to Kore. Celebrated in 4th-c. AD Alexandria
Jan 11-15 (or Jan 11 and Jan 15 and not the days in between) Carmentalia (R) Carmenta the goddess of prophecy and patroness of women in childbirth, celebrated by Roman matrons
(Jan 12) 15 Gamelion (G) Dichomenia, Day of the Full Moon
(Jan 12) 15 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Selene
(Jan 12) 15 Shabatu (B) Shabattu, day name
(Jan 12) 28 Mekhir (E) Holy Day of Khnum
Jan 13 Ides (R) of January; Holy Day of Jupiter
(Jan 13) 16 Shabatu (B) Nubattu, day of rest
(Jan 15) 1 Phanemoth (E) Holy Day of Thoth
(Jan 17) 3 Phanemoth (E) Holy Day of Osiris
Jan 24-26 Paganalia (R) Celebrated the autumnal and the spring sowing; pregnant cow sacrificed to Tellus (the Roman equivilant of Gaia) or Ceres
(Jan 25) 28 Shabatu (B) Bubbulu, day name
(Jan 27) 30 Gamelion (G) Holy Day of Hekate
(Jan 28) 1 Anthesterion (G) Noumenia, Day of the Visible New Moon; also called Enkairea, "old and new"
(Jan 28) 1 Anthesterion (G) Holy Day of Selene
(Jan 28) 1 Anthesterion (G) Holy Day of Apollo
(Jan 28) 1 Adaru (B) Arhu, day name
(Jan 30) 3 Adaru (B) Nubatu, day of rest
(Jan 31) 4 Anthesterion (G) Holy Day of Aphrodite
(Jan 31) 4 Anthesterion (G) Holy Day of Hermes

January holidays, exact dates not known:
Agonalia (R) Sacrifices by the Balii to Janus
Feriae Sementivae (R) movable feast after the winter seed-sowing
Lenaea (G) sometime in Gamelion Feast of Vats; Wine Feast of Dionysos, to arouse the sleeping vegetation; processions at the temple of Dionysos. Lyric and dramatic poetry contests held; some of Aristophanes' plays were first performed at the Lenaea. Lenaea from the Lenae, one of the names for the Maenads
Theogamia (G) Sometime in the end of Gamelion; Celebrated the sacred marriage of Hera and Zeus
Compitalia (R) Three days in early January, sacrifices made to ensure purity of the coming year

Feb 1 Kalends (R) of February; sacrifices to Juno and Janus
Feb 1 Juno Februata Honored (R) Virgin mother of Mars
(Feb 1) 12 Luis (Month of the Rowan) Imbolc or Oimelc (Celtic) Festival of Bride or Brighid, and Feast of Milk; start of lambing season, and beginning of spring. This day called am Fheille Bride in Gaelic. Bride held prisoner over the winter by the Cailleac Bheur, "the Old Wife" (by some accounts another form of Bride herself); on this day she was freed (or became young again) and spring began. Called Brighid Bhoidheach, or Bride the Beautiful. Fire festival; candles burnt. Bride a fire-goddess; said to hang her cloak on the rays of the sun, and She was patroness of three fire arts: the hearthfire and smithcraft (using fire to shape metal); healing and midwifery (tending the fires of life); and poetry (the fire of inspiration). She was said to have invented Ogham
Feb 1 Disting (Norse) Charming of the Plough, day when the ground was first broken, associated with smithcraft


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