Indeed earrach is derived from ear, meaning the head or front, also the east. Samhradh is from samh, the sun. Fogharadh is from fogh, meaning hospitality and abundance. Geamhradh is connected to geamhtach, meaning stiff, thick, binding, and thus sees tied-in with the idea of snow and ice.
With the Scottish Quarter Days differing from the English Quarter Days, F. Marian McNeill concludes that "Scotland follows the ancient customs of the Celtic peoples, and England that of non-Celtic peoples of Europe." The Scottish Quarter Days are as follows: FEBRUARY 2 - CANDLEMAS MAY 15 - WHITSUN or OLD BHEALLTAINN AUGUST 1 - LAMMAS NOVEMBER 11 - MARTINMAS, or OLD HALLOWMAS
The ancient Celtic year started on the eve of November 1. Then in 527 C.E., this was changed and New Year's Day was declared to be March 25. Almost a thousand years later this was changed again to January 1. In Scotland it wasn't until 1600 that New Year's Day was first celebrated on January 1. The PectiWita, in common with many Witches, still celebrate the start of the year at Samhuinn, though their Samhuinn is November 11 rather than November 1.
The calendar, festivals, customs, and celebrations can become very complicated, especially when you start studying the changes that have taken place over the centuries. But the PectiWita celebrated only on those festivals/dates which were important to them. These were:
SAMHUINN - NOVEMBER 11
YULE - DECEMBER 22 (Feill Fionnain)
BEALLTAINN - MAY 15
MIDSUMMER - JULY 5 (Feill-Sheathain)
First thing in the morning of the New Year the head of the household, for luck, will treat everyone in the house to a dram of whiskey and a spoonful of half-cooked sugan an ancient Celtic dish. The toast is Bliadhna mhath ur dhuit "A good New Year to you." The response is Mar sin duit fhein is moran diu "The same to you, and many of them."
"First-footing" is treated very seriously. The very first person to enter the house on New Year's Day should be a dark-haired man bearing gifts of a piece of coal or peat, and/or salt and bread. Many households will not allow anyone to enter the house until the appropriate first-footer has come.
New Year's Day is a great day for taking precautions against bad luck, both to the humans and to the animals of the household. Juniper was burned in the byre; the house was decked with mountain ash: door-posts, walls, even cattle were sprinkled with wine.
One of the methods of divination practices by almost everyone on New Year's Day was to toss a shoe over the roof of the house. The shoe had to be held by the tip when thrown. The thrower would then rush around to the other side of the house to examine how the shoe had landed. It was believed that in which direction the toe pointed, that was a direction the thrower would be taking before long. However, if the shoe landed with the sole upper-most, this was a sign of misfortune to come.
Yule is celebrated with a large bonfire on the top of a ben. Since it can be very cold and sometimes snowy, the fire is usually much appreciated! As at Samhuinn, however, there is a sacredness about the fire. The main log in it, the largest one, is the Yule log. This must have been cut from the celebrant's own tree or have been a gift from a neighbour. It must not be a log that was bought. It is traditionally oak, ash or beech. In some areas of the Highlands the Pictish Witch will carve into the Yule log the semblance of an old woman. This is known as the Cailleach Nolliaich, or the Yule Old Wife. A toast to future prosperity is drunk, from the Quaich, over a log before it is taken away to the ritual fire, and libations poured over it. At the start of the ritual the Yule Log stands to one side, to be placed on the fire at a particular point.
The sometimes "orgiastic" fertility festivities associated with Bealltainn were too blatant to be adopted by the Christian Church, which had assimilated so many Pagan practices. By 1644 the Puritans had got Parliament to ban May festivities and to do away with the Maypole. But with the return of Charles II in 1660, the people joyfully brought back their old beliefs and practices. On the first Bealltainn after Charles's return, a Maypole 134 feet tall was erected in the Strand and remained there until 1717.
Bealltainn falls on the old date of May 15th. As with all other PetiWita Sabbats, the ritual starts on the rising of the moon the night before. Have your Quaich available, filled with wine or ale. The staff may be decorated with bright ribbons, greenery and wild flowers.
Throughout Scotland, and the rest of Britain, villagers would make "cartwheels" of straw and dip them in pitch. On Midsummer's Eve these would be set alight and bowled down the hillsides, to give power to the sun god. It the flames went out before the wheel reached the bottom of the hill, it presaged a bad harvest.
Torches are frequently lit from the ritual bonfire. In the Orkneys these torches, made primarily of heather, are then carried through the cow sheds to keep away sickness and to make the cattle fertile. In other parts of the country the torches are carried around the fields and the houses of the village, always moving clockwise or deiseil.
The smoke of the ritual fire was also held in awe. To be censed by it ensured a healthy year to come. Mothers would hold their babies in the smoke of the Midsummer bonfire to bless them. Jumping over the fire, as it blazed, was another time-honoured custom. Highland women were prone to leap over the fire with their skirts held high, exposing their genitals to the smoke and flame, to bring fertility. Ashes from the fire were sought after. Ashes were rubbed onto the foreheads of children to bless them.