Mid Quarter Days

The solstices and equinoxes divide the year into four almost equal parts. If one further divides each of these parts into two, the additional dates are what are known variously as the mid-quarter or cross-quarter days, or sometimes as the Scottish quarter days, since in Scotland, as opposed to England, they—and not the solstices and equinoxes—were used as the basis of the legal division of the year into four. The dates are February 4, May 6, August 6, and November 5.

A number of later prehistoric monuments in Britain and Ireland are aligned upon sunrise or sunset close to one of the mid-quarter days, although whether these alignments were intended and hence reflect a widespread cal-endrical practice is a matter of considerable doubt. Perhaps the earliest example is a U-shaped setting of large timber posts constructed in the Earlier Neolithic (fifth century b.c.e.) at Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire, England, which was aligned upon sunrise in early May and early August. Others include the longer passage at the Neolithic passage tomb of Dowth, County Meath, Ireland (one of three large tombs in the Boyne valley), which is aligned upon sunset in early November and early February.

Four of the eight festivals traditionally associated with the Celtic calendar were also associated with mid-quarter days, namely Imbolc (early February), Beltaine (early May), Lughnasa (early August), and Samhain (early November), and these same dates found their way into pagan and Christianized calendrical festivals, most notably the feast of All Saints on November 1.

See also:

Christianization of "Pagan" Festivals; Celtic Calendar; Equinoxes; "Mega-lithic" Calendar; Solstices.

Boyne Valley Tombs.

References and further reading

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

McCluskey, Stephen C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, 51-76. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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