Feasts / Festivals


Calendar || Druidic Holidays


Before the development of agriculture, with its associations with solar and lunar calendars, ritual feasts were probably celebrated by hunters and gatherers of tubers and fruits. Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) peoples from about 30,000-10,000 BC and those living in what are called "Stone Age" cultures in the 20th century, such as the Aborigines in Australia and New Guinea, have celebrated various rites in which feasts have assumed positions of significance. Seasonal variations--important in the maintenance of the food supply--were associated with the migrations and fertility of animals and the growth and decay of tubers and fruits upon which the clan or tribe depended for its very existence. Thus, out of an acknowledgment of seasonal change, rituals--often including ceremonial feasts--most likely developed in relationship to beliefs that the continuance of the food supply depended on the sacred or holy powers that controlled various aspects and facets of nature: e.g., animals, vegetation, the change in climatic conditions, weather phenomena, mountains, and rivers.

Access to the sacred or holy powers was obtained and maintained by certain religious personages (e.g., shamans, or persons having healing and psychic transformation powers, priests, clan or tribal leaders, and other persons having special learned or inherited powers). Though interpretations by scholars vary and the evidence is still subject to much speculating, Paleolithic cave paintings--such as that of the "sorcerer" (a bearded figure wearing a mask on the top of which were antlers of a deer) at Les Trois Frères in France--and rock paintings of the Aruntas of central Australia--such as totemic animals (symbolizing clan and animal relationships) or mythological nature heroes (e.g., Katuru, the "lightning man")--may indicate that fertility of animals and vegetation has been a primary concern (though not the only concern) in the ritual control of the food supply. Rituals connected with controlling the food supply generally centre on a feast in which eating, drinking, dancing, and the chanting of efficacious formulas play important symbolic roles.

At some point in human history (about 8,000-6,000 BC in the ancient Near East), when calendrical seasons were associated with planting and harvesting, special days or periods most likely were set aside for fasting (because of a paucity in the food supply) or for feasting (because of an increase in the food supply). Thus some calendrical periods inspired feelings of discouragement and remorse (when the food supply was low) or feelings of encouragement or joy (when the food supply was sufficient to meet immediate and future needs). Certain days were set aside during these periods for special rituals (often including feasts) that celebrated seasonal renewal, later interpreted in terms of individual spiritual or social renewal. In Zoroastrianism and Parsiism, for example, the annual seasonal renewal festival of Noruz (New Year) in the spring, dedicated to Rapithwin (the time of the midday meal), is at the same time a solemn and joyful celebration of new life in nature and the anticipated resurrection of the body when the world will be restored to its original and intended goodness--after the defeat of Ahriman (the spirit of evil and chaos) and his demons.








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