The Celtic [Druid Tree] Zodiac



Definition: [Zodiacs] A lunar zodiac thought to have been used by the Druids. This "Tree Zodiac" was, according to some, rediscovered by Robert Graves in his famous book, The White Goddess [1949]. Others, however, accuse Graves of being at best mistaken and at worst inventing this Zodiac. Much of what Robert Graves put forward as the Tree Calendar and Tree Zodiac relies on modern interpretations derived from the book Ogygia, seu rerum hibernicarum chronologia [1685], a chronological account of Irish events, by the seventeenth century bard Roderick O'Flaherty [1629 - 1718]. O'Flaherty claimed that his information was gained from Duald MacFirbis [1585-1670], the great Irish scholar, clan bard of the O'Briens. Modern scholars, however, seriously doubt these interpretations, and as the Bardic schools were essentially Christian, it is very unlikely that they preserved Druidic knowledge long into the Christian era. ['Camden's Britannia' notes that the word Ogygia comes from the Latin. It is quoted in Plutarch as the Roman's name for Ireland: Most Ancient.]

The latest offshoot of Graves lunar zodiac - and the one currently most commonly cited on the net - has been by Helena Peterson in her Handbook of Celtic Astrology [1995]. Joseph Monard, a Celtic scholar has described her work in the following terms: "Her lunar zodiac only makes the ancient Druids look like senile lunatics." and the zodiac as "phony." [Celtic Astrology: A modern Hoax [2002] Centre Universitaire de Recherche en Astrologie]. It is certainly notable that the astrological system as outlined includes Uranus, Neptune and Pluto which were almost certainly unknown to the Druids. It also appears ignorant of the ancient Celtic names of several planets and Gods. Also the zodiac starts on December 24th whereas the Coligny Calendar shows us that the Celtic year started in October/November [see below].

However, the Graves and Patterson models are but two of several competing attempts at a Druidic Zodiac. Others are: Friedrich Hageneder's Tree-signs; Carol Carnac's Celtic Astrology; Edgar Bliss's Gaulish Astrology; and Kaledon Naddair's Shamanistic Calendar. These approaches offer wildly different Tree Zodiacs, some 13-sign lunar, some decanated solar with 36 divisions. Whilst the Hageneder approach is also based on Ogygia, the others possess little in the way of exposition of how precisely each author determined that this was the zodiac used by the Celts.

History of Celtic Astrology: That there was a comprehensive Celtic astrology is in little doubt. Classical writers, such as Strabo, Caesar, Diodorus Siculus, Cicero and Pliny, comment on Druidic knowledge of astrology. There was even a school of thought amongst some of the Classical Greek astrologers based in Athens that their astrology had been borrowed from the Celts.

For example, Caesar in the Conquest of Gaul [Conquest of Gaul, VI.18] writes: "The Gauls claim all to be descended from Father Dis [a god of death, darkness and the underworld], declaring that this is the tradition preserved by the Druids. For this reason they measure periods of time not by days but by nights; and in celebrating birthdays, the first of the month, and new year’s day, they go on the principle that the day begins at night."

Caesar was not exactly known for his pro-Druidic sympathies. However, his comments do preserve some idea of the difference and complexity of real Druidic astrology.

Unfortunately for us, the Druids left us nothing about their side of the story. They left absolutely no written records. Irish and Welsh written literature does not begin until about the 6th century AD. Therefore, the proof of the existence of any Celtic Zodiac has vanished along with the Druidic culture of two millennia ago. By the time of 6th century literature it appears that standard Western astrology, based on the Babylonian/Greek Solar Zodiac model, had completely displaced any native Druidic system.

Aside from the references of the Classical authors, what evidence there remains for Celtic astrology is as follows:

The Coligny Calendar: This is probably the best preserved example of a Celtic calendar.

A number of engraved copper-alloy fragments were discovered in 1897 in ancient woodlands fifteen miles north-east of Bourg-en-Bresse, France. They were pieces of a single, large bronze tablet, which originally would have measured some 1.5 x 1 metres. The French archaeologist J. Monard has dated the fragments to the 1st century AD.

Several important features of the ancient Celtic calendar were notable on the Coligny tablet:

The Coligny calendar.


The surviving fragments of the Coligny Calendar restored to their original configuration. Click on the image [157 kB] to see a larger version.

  1. The Celtic month started at the full-moon, rather than the new-moon. Each month alternately contained 29 or 30 days, making a Celtic year 354 days in length.
  2. The calendar took into account the problem of the lunar month not being an exact fraction of the solar year by inserting an extra month on a regular cycle. This method of intercalation meant that most years contained twelve months, and approximately every third year contained thirteen months. This extra month was called Mid Samonios, and was intercalated between Cutios and Giamonios in the calendar.
  3. The month was divided into two parts, a 'light' half, and a 'dark' half, each approximately of two week's duration; the division marked by the word Atenoux 'returning night' on the Coligny fragments. This indicates that the new-moon also played a part in the Celtic calendar. This also bears-out the impression we get from the traditional Celtic folk-stories which maintain that the normal period of Celtic timekeeping was the fortnight.
  4. By extrapolation, the calendar also confirms that the Gallic druids maintained a thirty-year cycle of timekeeping, comprising five cycles of 62 lunations and one cycle of 61 lunations, during which period, eleven intercalary months would be added.

The months of the Celtic calendar were as follows:

Celtic names  Modern months  Meaning*
Samonios October/November  Seed-fall
Dumannios November/December  Darkest depths
Riuros December/January Cold-time
Anagantios January/February Stay-home time
Ogronios February/March Ice time
Cutios March/April Windy time
Giamonios April/May Shoots-show
Simivisonios  May/June Bright time
Equos June/July Horse-time
Elembiuos July/August Claim-time
Edrinios August/September   Arbitration-time
Cantlos September/October   Song-time

* Translations based on the work of Caitlin Matthews in The Celtic Tradition.

Two major Celtic religious festivals, Beltain and Lughnasadh, were marked on the Coligny calendar by small sigils. Each year started with the month of Samonios, during which period the festival of Samhain was celebrated.

The Survival into Modern Irish of Ancient Astrological Terms: The other main evidence for a Celtic astrology is the survival of some of its words. In Old Irish there were at least seven words for an astrologer. Rollagedagh [one who gains knowledge from the stars], fisatóir [one who gains knowledge from the heavens] eastrolach [one who gains knowledge from the moon], fathach [one steeped in prophecy], n éladoir [one who divinates from the sky, or clouds], réalt-eolach [one versed in astrology] and réaltóir.

The Zodiac and Astrology:

01:  What is a Zodiac? What are Zodiac Wheels?
02:  Galactic Zodiac
03:  Real Solar Zodiac and Zodiac Charts
04:  Tropical Zodiac
05:  Sidereal Zodiac [Vedic Zodiac]
06:  Comparison of Tropical and Sidereal Solar Zodiacs
07:  Examples of Tropical and Sidereal Zodiac Wheels for Prince William's Horoscope
08:  Planetary Zodiac
09:  Lunar Zodiac and Lunar Mansions
10:  Chinese Zodiac
11:  Celtic Zodiac
12:  The Non-Zodiac Stars and Constellations

© Dr Shepherd Simpson, Astrological Historian


Historical Astrology

See the new Astrological Index for the meaning of other astrological words and phrases

Galactic Zodiac