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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Time Out For Calendrics

Time Out For Calendrics Cover People seem increasingly confused about the "real" dates for various festivals. When we founded Wicca in the 1960s, we honestly gave very little thought to this subject; it seemed only natural to use the moon calendar for a religion based on the ancient Celts' agriculture and fertility. Farmers still come to us to ask about the best time for planting major crops. In those far-off days forty years ago, such questions occurred even more frequently than they do today.

Some Christian commentators claim that the ancient festivals of Samhain and Beltane were based on a solar calendar (1)--whereas all our research (and common sense and modern scholarship) has them as agriculturally based -- in other words, lunar. All ancient religious calendars were lunar. Lunar calendars have historically been used throughout the world; and extant records from as early as 1000 BCE record loans and employment contracts that went "from threshing to threshing" or between the moon dates of various festivals. Ipso facto Middle Eastern "sun" festival dates were also based on a lunar calendar.

Prehistoric evidence of lunar calendars comes from the megalithic monuments of northern Europe, which have many more moon than sun alignments. Specifically Gerald Hawkins (2) found there were twice as many moon alignments as sun alignments in Stonehenge. He went on to document the same findings at the monument at Callanish in Scotland. Alexander Thom(3) measured hundreds of megalithic monuments in northern Europe. In reviewing his measurements today, we see that his work bears out Hawkins' findings.

Stonehenge has three rings of Aubrey Holes. The two inner rings of holes consist respectively of 29 and 30 holes, and there is an outer ring of 56.(3) The synodic month is calculated today as approximately 29.53 mean solar days.(5) Apparently the ancients almost universally counted alternately by hollow months (29 days) and full months (30 days) to arrive at a lunar month of 29.5 days. Hence the two inner rings.

An interesting sidelight on moon versus sun: In 1955, Gavin (with a team from the University of Bristol) tried to photograph sunrise at Stonehenge for two days before and two days after Summer Solstice. Regrettably the same meteorological phenomenon--morning mist--obscured the view for every one of these mornings. In fact the keeper of the monument laughed at the team's attempts. He said, "The mist is here throughout the summer." Of course there would be no such problem with measurements with moonrise and -set. This reinforces the idea of a lunar calendar because moon alignments were continually usable; whereas sun alignments would not have been.

It should therefore be obvious to anyone that when an ancient writer cites any number as the time between festivals, if that number is not divisible by 30, by 29 1/2, or by 29, it is spurious. Numbers slightly less than (say) 180 could be correct; but numbers greater than 180 would be sun-based, not moon-based. This is especially clear when a number that is a sub-multiple of the year length like 183 is proposed.

Many calendric variations developed in the ancient world, and there were various approaches to making the moon calendar synchronize with the sun calendar:
A. The most popular was based on the Babylonian Octaeteris cycle which computed the solar year by the Sothis (Sirius) helical rising method.(6)
B. The modern Muslim calendar still uses lunar counting. It consists of lunar months of alternating 29 and 30 days. To keep it in synch, intercalcary months are added so that the new moon of Ramadan always occurs in the same season of the year.
C. In a similar way the Hebrew religious calendar is synched to Passover, the lunation when the barley is in ear.
D. The modern Korean religious calendar also uses intercalcary moths to bring its start date to the new moon in January.(7) It calculates sun festivals within itself using timing like, "The 15th day of the sixth month is called 'Yudu.' On that day...."

In his Commentaries in the historic period, Julius Caeser wrote, "The Druids calculate by nights rather than days, and use a 30-day base for their calendar."(8) This is particularly instructive because at the time (50 BCE) good old J. Caeser was revising the Roman calendar. The Roman "republican" calendar, introduced by the semi-mythical third Etruscan king of Rome, was lunar-based, and was used to calculate not only festivals but also such things as rents and taxes. By 50 BCE it was almost three months out, because its year of 366.5 days put the vernal equinox in late May when it should have been in late March. With the help of an Alexandrian astronomer, J Caesar corrected the calendar, going to 365.25 days each year. In 46 BCE, he added 23 days to February -- and two freebie months aftr December. Later Caesar Augustus made more changes, decreeing that "his" month was to be 31 days long.

Now the Roman world had a solar calendar. Unfortunately it presented enormous difficulties to the early Christians, who wanted their festivals to happen on the "right" dates. To give but one example: Easter is defined as three days after Passover, and the Hebrew calendar defines Passover as the 14th day of the lunar month that falls on or next-after the vernal equinox!

So the Christians invented a whole series of new calendars and the famous "golden" numbers so the faithful could duly calculate their festivals. This state of affairs continued until Pope Gregory inaccurately re-fixed the calendar for all time.

The actual dates and purpose of the early Celtic festivals are in the prehistoric time domain, but they must have been calculated in a lunar paradigm. Later commentators using the Roman or Christian calendars could not have known those dates, and so indulgedin the standard history-as-wished-for approach. We believe that our reconstruction is closer to the old ways than most. If anyone can refute our statements, please do so ... but with documentation.

Note: If you want to get really involved in this subject, try figuring out how the ancients' recorded time to an accuracy of better than one second per year, and how with supposedly short life spans they knew about eclipse cycles of 56 years in length.

As usual, we invite your comments. We are not trying to offend anyone or scorn their tradition, so please be constructive. Our hope is that we all may arrive at a shared understanding of what we are doing. If you know a better way and the reasons behind it, please share that better way with the community at large.

Free eBooks (Can Be Downloaded):

Michael Ford - The Book Of Cain
Ona - The Dark Forces
Aleister Crowley - The Soul Of Osiris
Aleister Crowley - The Three Characteristics
Edward Smedley - The Occult Sciences