A Short History
- Calendar History
- A calendar is a method to organize extended periods of time
to recognize seasonal changes. The problem with calendars is
that there are many ways for ancient cultures to organize their
time. Some calendars create their passing of time based on astronomical
observations, some are careful to enumerate units of time and
some calendars are ambiguous. Ancient calendars were established
by one of 2 methods, through oral traditions or through codified
ancient times, calendars served as a link between the Divine
universe and humankind. Thus calendars were often held as sacred
tools or sources of information. These early calendars provided
instructions for when to plant, hunt or migrate between cold
and warm climates. They were used for divination and prognostication,
as well as, for tracking religious cycles to honor the Gods or
worship the Divine universe.
- Possibly the oldest known lunar calendar is the Ishango bone
dated at 6500 b.c. The bone was found along the side Lake Edward
between the Zaire (Congo) and Uganda. The cycles recorded in
this bone regulated the tides and marine activity. Something
quite necessary for a fishing village that existed along side
a large body of water.
- The Mayan Calendar is also a well known lunar calendar system
based on agriculture requirements. Their cycles had to predict
the cycles of life in the rain-forest. And their calendar is
based on mapping humanity to the cycles of the universe, which
to them functions in a logical, cyclical and predictable way.
If a person could align them self with these cycles, they could
take advantage of their time in the universe. Because of this,
time, order and how to correctly align oneself to the cycles
of time became an obsession with their culture. The Mayans developed
a number of calendar systems, but at the center of these was
the sacred tzolkin calendar. It consisted of 260 days
and worked in 2 cycles. A cycle of 13 numbered days and cycle
of 20 named days. These two cycles would repeat every 260 days.
They also had a ceremonial calendar called a tun which
consisted of 360 days, plus 5 unlucky days. These calendars and
others they designed made the Mayans the most accurate timekeepers.
As one scholar put it: It is not unfair to say that Mayan
life was one long continuous cycle of religious ceremonies.
- Lunar calendars are often measured by the cycles of the moon.
A new month occurs on each full moon or new moon phase. Lending
a 12 month 28 day calendar year. The problem with lunar calendars
is they often exist in a cycle that has no regard to the tropical
(solar) year. Thus they fall out of cycle ever so often and a
major shift must be accounted for in some fashion. Lunar calenders
lose 45 days every four years, making it very difficult to create
a long term yearly cycle. In order to keep these calendars in
sequence additional days or months are interjected. This is called
intercalation. Our own "Leap Year" is a perfect
example of intercalation.
- Some calendar systems utilize the lunar and solar cycles
to make up for this. These calendars are often referred to as
lunisolar calendars. The Hebrew and Chinese calendars
are examples of this type of system. These systems have a sequence
of months based on the lunar phase cycles, but every few years
an entire month is inserted to bring the calendar back into phase
with the tropical year.
- Many lunar calendars follow the same type of mathematical
approach seen in the Chinese calendar. The cycle of the moon
is about 29.5 days. A lunar month therefore is either 29 or 30
days long. And there are often 13 months in a lunar calendar
year. The Chinese calendar starts it's year between late January
and early February.
- The Hebrew calendar utilizes a 12 month system with a 13
month leap year. Like many pagan lunar calendars, the 'days'
begin at sunset. And every month begins approximately on the
day of a new moon. A leap year occurs every 4 years. Thus there's
3 years of 12 months, and then 1 year of 13 months.
- The Islamic calendar has it's starting point when Mohammed
escaped from Mecca to Medina. The most widely accepted date for
this is July 16, 622 AD. The Islamic calendar is also a lunar
system of 12 months. Alternating 29 or 30 days, except for the
12 month which includes additional days on leap year cycle to
keep it in synch.
- The oldest Babylonian calendar as a lunar system of 12 months,
that alternated 29 to 30 days. It was eventually replaced by
the Egyptian Calendar. The Egyptian calendar system was based
on 12 months and 30 days. Adding 5 days to their calendar each
year to bring it back into the tropical cycle over time. This
265 calendar was in effect for more than 3000 years during Pharaonic
times, lasting until 238 BC.
- The Roman Calendar started with the vernal equinox and consisted
of 10 months totaling 304 days. The months: Martius, Aprilis,
Maius, Junius, Quntilis, Sextilis, September, October, November
and December are the basis of our modern calendar system. The
Roman Numa Pompilius (715-673 BC) introduced two additional months,
January and February to increase the length of the year to 354
or 355 days. The Roman Calendar was eventually replaced by the
Julian calendar in 46 BC.
- In 46 B.C. Romans
used a 365 day year, but that ended when Julius Caesar took his
armies into Egypt. There he learned about the Alexandrian calendar
with its leap year cycle, which was more accurate than the current
Roman calendar of 365 days. Caesar brought several astronomers
to advise a calendar reform, which became the Julian calendar.
This system was so accurate that only one day was in error in
about every hundred years.
- In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII established his own commission
to advise on calendar reform. By this time the calendar trailed
the seasons by 11 days. His commission established the 4 year
leap year calendar. As well as, changing New Years Day from March
25th to January 1st. The Gregorian calendar we utilize today
was born. It took nearly 200 years for the change to be implemented
around the world as it was seen as a ploy enacted by the Catholic
Church. But in 1752 Great Britain and her colonies made the change
and September 2nd was followed by September 14th. The change
was not without protest and widespread riots occurred, with protests
demanding "Give us the eleven days back!"
- Today there is an estimated 40 different calendars in use
throughout the world. Although there is a vast array of references
about calendars, there are very few complete authoritative references.
The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics published in 1910, offers
some basic information on historical calendars that are still
relevant today. But resources are provided based on how the calendar
system is being studied. For instance, if you're interested in
the mathematical perspective vs. the cultural or regional perspective.
Since this article is being written to discuss the recognition
of modern pagan celebrations, we'll look at calendars based on
a religious perspective.
- Pagan Lunar Calendars
- Today's pagan calendars are typically associated with early
European pagan calendar systems. And of course there are many
of those as well. And as stated up front on this article, calendar
systems were either mathematical or oral in nature.
- The earliest physical example of a Celtic Calendar we have
comes from the Coligny tablet. The tablet was found in a field
north of Coligny Ain, France. The tablet was inscribed with Roman
letters and numbers, but was written in an early language of
the Guals. It's thought to have been fabricated in or about 50
A.D. or about 100-years after the Roman invasion.
- The tablet provides us with some details about the structure
their calendar system. A Celtic month started during the full
moon, rather than a new moon. Each month alternated 29 to 30
days, making a 354 day calendar year. The calendar took into
consideration the tropical cycle as well. Which means it was
a lunisolar calendar. The calendar contained 3 years of 12 months
and 1 year of 13 months. The extra month was called Mid Samonios.
- A month was divided into 2 parts; the light half and the
dark half. Each half was approximately 2 weeks long. Some scholars
believe this confirms the importance of the new moon to Celtic
calendar for religious significance. The stone also marks the
festivals of Bealtaine and Lughnasadh with small sigils. The
festival of Oimelc is also identified and occurs during mid winter.
And Samhain marks the Celtic New Year.
Nov / Dec
The Darkest Depths
Dec / Jan
Jan / Feb
Stay home time
Feb / Mar
Time of Ice
Mar / Apr
Time of Winds
Apr / May
May / Jun
Time of Brightness
Jun / Jul
Jul / Aug
Aug / Sep
Sep / Oct
- Oral traditions bring us 2 additional Celtic calendar systems.
The Celtic Tree Calendar and the Celtic Shamans Calendar. Both
of these are spoken of in ancient lore that pre-date the Coligny
stone. But once again, because they are oral lore, it's hard
to establish evidence to their accuracy or be reliably sure these
calendars were utilized by early pagans at all.
- I'll refer further reading to the Celtic
Tree Calendar article. The Celtic Shamans Calendar doesn't
really have a name or reference. Some call it the Shamans calendar
simply because it has reference for use outside the Druidic order
or before the Druids aligned the varying regions of Celtic belief
under one roof.
- The Celtic Shamans Calendar is based on the balance of time.
It contains 13 months of 28 days, making a 364 day calendar year.
Like the Coligny calendar, the year begins on Samhain and divided
each month into 2 halves. But the months began on each New Moon
and was know as the dark half. The light have ended the month
after the full moon. The days began at sunset and were also divided
between dark and light. The festivals were marked on time periods
coinciding with an equinox, or solstice to divide the year into
fertility or planting and harvest or hunting times.
- Modern Pagan Calendar Celebrations
- Today's pagans may recognize the phases of moon for practices
and rituals, but the lunar cycles for sabbat celebrations have
been left in the past. Not because of a lack of reverence or
dedication, but because as a modern culture we rely on modern
concepts and advancements. In other words, we have evolved in
knowledge and understanding of our universe and how it works.
We can define the exact time of a new moon, or the exact time
of day that the vernal equinox will occur. Something our ancient
ancestors couldn't do.
- But with modernization comes accommodating schedules and
providing convenience. Today sabbats are recognized on specific
days to correspond to an equinox, solstice or yearly cycle. But
sometimes celebrations are conducted on weekends to allow for
people to take time from work, or arrange their schedules so
they can attend festivities.
- This doesn't diminish the reverence a person has for their
faith. Typically a practicing pagan may honor the actual day
of a festival on that day alone in their own home. And then again
on the weekend as part of a coven celebration. What ever calendar
you follow to honor your beliefs, try to keep it consistent from
year to year and acknowledge that others may follow a different
calendar system than you do.
- Grand Mother Moon:
- Additional reading:
With The Moon
Monthly Full Moon / Moon Names
Calendars - A Short History
Source: 1, c13,
- 2008 Farmers Almanac,
- US Navel Observatory:
Phases & Earth
Eclipse Website, Space.com
- Created: 07.21.2007