It’s easy to search the internet and find a couple of sources which appear to agree but, without more careful investigation, it can lead you into trouble.
This was my experience in trying to learn something about the Celtic Calendar when I found multiple (dozens!) of sources all citing the same names for the Celtic months of the year. It was only deeper investigation spurred by a vague, inexplicable feeling of unease that revealed those month-names were the creative work of others. Based on something real, but they’ve become so common they’re almost reported as fact.
And I was about to use that information creatively in y Ddraig.
To be clear, the Coligny Calendar (which is a real, true, Gaulish artifact and which gives us our greatest leads regarding the number and intent of the Celtic months) is very specific in naming the twelve months of the year. They are Samonois, Dummanois, Rivros, Anagantios, Ogronios, Cutios, Giamonios, Simivisionios, Equos, Elembivious, Edrinios and Cantlos. Those are the Gaulish names for the months which have a literal meaning most likely connected to the activity that happens within in. But it’s important to recognise that experts can only agree on some of them and those definitions have dramatic implications for where the rest of the calendar falls.
Samonois for instance…
All versions of interpretation of the Coligny Calendar have the Celtic year starting with Samonois (because that’s what it shows over and over), but ideas on when during the northern solar year that month fell differ. Some define it as ‘seed-fall’ which would suggest the period we know as Autumn. But when during that period? The start? The finish? The middle? Others say it is cognate with Samhain (Oct 31st) and therefore relates to November. Some experts say it means ‘Summer’s end’ which (if you consider the year as only two seasons) means approx. Oct/Nov. But others say that Samon is Gaulish for ‘Summer’ and they therefore place Samonois at the start of summer instead of the end which pushes all other months (and their meanings) half way into the year.
While experts argue the point, it seems clear to me that the Celts favoured simplicity. Their days were measured in two halves—dark (night) and light (day); their month in two fortnightly moon-phases—dark (waning) and light (waxing); and their year into two key seasons—dark (winter) and light (summer).
Therefore, in the creation of y Ddraig, I have adhered to this basic dualistic pattern and positioned Samonois (‘summer’s end’) at the end of the light time of the year (which is also the beginning of the ‘dark time of the year’) and have, accordingly, fictionally augmented the names of the months where they then fell. Remember, the order of the months is without question. It’s only the start date that is unknown.
Some augmentation was easier to do than others. For instance, Equos: this could mean ‘horse’ or it could mean ‘equity’, no one is certain due to the age of the language. But in tossing up whether to make the month of Equos about some kind of activity that involved fairness and righteousness and arbitration or one that involved horses I first looked to other sources and in no time I found and old druidic reference to August as the ‘Horse Moon’. Then I thought about the time of year and decided that Celts were unlikely to do their ‘business’ during the peak farming and harvesting period so that seemed a mark against ‘equity’. Lastly I looked at the life cycle of horses and found that their oestrus is triggered by the increase in hours of daylight (to this days breeders will simulate artificial daylight to trick their mares into season…who knew?). They become fertile a few weeks after that and gestate conceived young for eleven months. This led me to July again. Lots of long daylight days to stimulate oestrus and then out pop the foals just shy of a year later. It’s not hard to imagine a Celtic community overrun with foals a year from the time the mares all came into oestrus. Enough that they’d name a month after it.
So I went with ‘horse’. In that I am in good company with most creative references doing the same. But I’m happy with the hours and thought process that went into getting there. Enough that I can back my choice.
Another example was Giamonios which most sources defined as being cognate with winter (the end of winter given that it falls on the first month of spring). I was happy with it positioned there since it fit with the placement of Samonios at the end of summer, but every second website I went to had it defined as ‘shoot-show’. It was the sheer volume of references that made me think it must be true, but chasing it back to its source to be certain showed me that ‘shoot-show’ was a name given to the month by a popular neo-pagan author to describe, prettily, exactly what it is. Spring! I knew from where it sat in the Celtic year that I wanted a spring related phrase for my first month of ‘summer’ (remember the Celts didn’t actually have a spring or an autumn, they only observed summer or winter). And what would be all around them early in summer? New life. Shoot-show as it turns out was the perfect name, but it was also distinctive and borrowed and I didn’t want to be using someone else’s creative work (no matter how thrilled the author is to have her work leaking into literature as historical fact). Hence ‘Rise‘ was born. Much more prosaic than the true Celts would probably have been but suitably evocative of plants reaching for sun.
A slightly different example is my ‘Plenty‘. Just about everyone refers to Coligny’s Rivros as the ‘Cold Time’ which was, again, made popular by the same neopagan author. Different records even call the Dec/Jan full moon, the Cold Moon. But I found an obscure reference to Rivros meaning ‘fat/large’ and I spent a day looking at that possibility. Given that Dec/Jan isn’t yet the most notably cold month of the year (and, really, if you’re the Celts naming months after things that really stand out, wouldn’t you give the phrase to January or February when it’s really cold?) I wanted another alternative and it occurred to me that (just like non-human species that live in very cold climates) maybe the people and livestock of Celtic regions ‘fattened up’ before the worst of winter, too. In the preceding months they’ve harvested, then gathered, then prepared/stored their food. It would fall to the weeks around December’s full moon to eat up anything perishable, put on a bit of winter weight and get ready for a lean few weeks ahead as they hunkered down for the worst of winter.
And so my ‘Plenty’ was born.
The irony is that most of this work never really makes it into the y Ddraig books in any meaningful way. But like all authorly research it’s meaningful to me in the world-building sense. And it’s something I want to get right. Even if it’s fictionally right.
Here’s the result of all that work…