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History of our Calendar

Author: Grey Ghost
Posted: January 1st. 2012
Times Viewed: 2,603

“’Time’ and ‘Destiny’, two of the old Ones, have brought you unto a new beginning in this incarnation”. Thus begins this old pagan’s book of shadows, Pentagram de Tome o’ Shades. In the world of the mundane, these are just words, but to those who live within the Craft, these words describe some of the magick of old. Time, more valuable than gold, yet often wasted with haste like water, is one of the few things that we can say truly belongs to us. We will use all of the time we have in our possession, bequeathing none to our progeny, for time is not ours to give or take.

The children of the Goddess have followed the days by the change of the seasons, so that they would know when to plant crops, when to birth children or to get ready for winter. Sometimes they kept the record by notching a branch, painting an animal skin, or knotting a cord once every day. They also watched the apparent motion of the sun and stars, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the habits of animals. The making of an exact calendar, however, had bewildered many peoples for ages because the divisions of time by days, weeks, months, and years had not come in existence. Most did not have the enlightenment to invent those divisions nor understand their passage. Indeed, what separates Homo sapiens from our neighbors and co-inhabitants of this blue world is the knowledge that our span here is finite, and the shells that house us die.

The Sumerians were probably the first inhabitants that we have records for, to make a calendar. They used the phases of the moon, counting 12 lunar months as a year. To make up for the time difference between the lunar year and the year governed by the seasons, the Sumerians inserted an extra moon cycle in the calendar about every four years. The early Egyptians, Greeks, and Semitic peoples copied this calendar. Later the Egyptians worked out a calendar that corresponded almost exactly to the seasons based on the flood cycles of the Nile River.

The early Romans also used a lunar calendar, which was 355 days long. The months corresponding to March, May, July, and October each had 31 days; February had 28 days; and the rest had 29. An extra moon cycle was added about every fourth year, like the Sumerians.

The high pagan priest of Rome regulated the calendar. On the calends (the day of the new moon) the priest announced to the people the times of the nones (first and third quarters) and ides (full moon) for that month. The word calendar is derived out of the Latin word kalendae. The priests, however, did not have the astronomical ability to keep accurate track of the precise motion of the heavens, and by Julius Caesar's time the pagan priests had summer months coming in the spring. Julius Caesar corrected this situation in the year 709 of Rome (46 BC) , with the Julian calendar. He adopted the plan of the Greek astronomer, Sosigenes, who had devised a 365-day year, with one day added every fourth year. He distributed the extra ten days, not accounted for by the Roman priests, among the 29-day months, making them identical with the months today, except for August.

The month Quintilis was renamed July for Julius Caesar after his death, when he was deified. Later the month Sextilis would be renamed August in honor of Emperor Augustus. An old story tells how Emperor Augustus changed the number of days in his month from 30 to 31 so that it would be as long as Caesar's. But that is more speculation than truth.

A Brief History of the Origins of AD:

“aD”, anno Domini was a Roman term, used to describe a point of time in Roman history. In the Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius, a 1913 translation by J.C. Rolfe, we learn that Octavian, whose name later changed to Caesar Augustus, was the person to whom the term aD was correct. The first emperor of Rome was Augustus, who was born Gaius Octavius near Rome on Sept. 23, 693 A.R., anno Roma {year of Rome (63 BC) }. After Julius Caesar, his great-uncle, adopted him and made him his heir, he was known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Octavian. When Caesar was assassinated in the year 712 of Rome (44 BC) , Octavian, then nearly 19, was living in Illyria, across the Adriatic Sea from Rome. A letter from his mother warned him to flee eastward. Instead, he hurried home to Rome. In the power struggle that followed Julius Caesar's death, Caesar’s old soldiers rallied to Octavian. The youth also won the support of the Roman senate. Mark Antony and Lepidus, his chief rivals for power, were forced to come to terms with him. Together they formed a triumvirate. At Philippi, in the year 714 of Rome (42 BC) , they defeated the republican army, headed by Brutus and Cassius, who had instigated the revolt against Julius. Lepidus was later stripped of his power. Mark Antony and Octavian then divided the Roman world between them, with Octavian supreme in Italy and the West.

Antony took over the eastern provinces, but neglected his duties, to spend time at the court of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, in Alexandria. Octavian got the Roman senate to declare war on Egypt and won a decisive victory in the naval battle of Actium in the year 724 of Rome (31 BC) . Antony and Cleopatra escaped to Alexandria. The next year Octavian defeated Antony again in Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Egypt was brought under the rule of Rome, and Octavian returned to Rome in triumph.

The battle of Actium made Octavian master of Rome and its provinces. He kept up a show of republican government, with himself as first citizen (princeps civitatis) . The question then, "Who among us is primus inter pares? " (first among equals) was raised in the Senate on numerous occasions. Many historians consider the year 724 of Rome (31 BC) to mark the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. In the year 728 of Rome (27 BC) the senate conferred on Octavian the noble title of Augustus (the exalted or sacred one) , implying he was more than a man but not quite a god. A cult was established to worship the Genius of Augustus. According to old Roman belief every man had a guiding Genius, and the Genius of the head of a family guided the fortunes of that family. Augustus became proconsulare imperium, leader of all the armies of Rome in the year 732 of Rome (23 BC) . Lastly about two thirds of the way through his rule as emperor, he added the title of Pontifex Maximus, making him the supreme high priest of all the Pagan temples of Rome.

At this point in time Augustus's enemies in the Senate of Rome started using the term, anno Domini. (aD) (year of a master or lord) Caesar Augustus did not like the term and referred to it as reproachful and insulting because Domini or Dominus is a term used by a slave for his master or lord (lord as in the English land owner or baron) . This was like calling him a deity, and Augustus in his lifetime never claimed to be a omnipotent being except in the Hellenistic world, which had for centuries been accustomed to a divine monarchy.

Flavius Domitian is credited with making “aD” official. Later this indeed became the worship of the living emperor as god, a state cult to which all Roman citizens had to subscribe or be condemned to treason and crucifixion. Augustus solidified his rule when he added the title of Tribunicia potestas, the finial level of judicial decision. He was acclaimed Pater Patfiae (father of his country) by the citizens of Rome. It has been debated among historians whether this title was figurative or literal, although Augustus was one of the most beloved of the Caesars. Augustus is the most eminent disproof in history of the famous dictum of Lord Acton that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

After a series of victories, the expansion of Augustus' empire was stopped at the Rhine River by the Germanic tribes defeat of the Roman general Varus in the year 763 of Rome (aD 9) . Augustus concentrated on domestic problems and the reform of the army. The political system he established endured essentially without change till 312 aD, which also marks the time in history when the Christian cults were first tolerated as a religion by the Roman state.

Augustus did so much to beautify Rome that it was said he found a city of brick and left a city of marble. He also founded cities in the provinces, encouraged agriculture, promoted learning, and patronized the arts. The great writers Virgil, Horace, Livy, and Ovid flourished in this Augustan age, a term since used to describe periods of great literary achievement in modern nations. Although he was never in good physical health, Augustus' strong will to live helped him to survive to a very old age by the standards of the day. After his death, on Aug. 19, the year 768 of Rome (aD 14) , he was deified. He was succeeded by his adopted son, Tiberius, who soon made the Senate of Rome realize the error of giving so much power to one individual. The calendar was renumbered from the year 754 of Rome to coincide with the cult of Augustus’ proclamation of godhood.

Romans, in general, were hospitable to all religions. But the religion of emperor worship, which was the state sanctioned religion of the Empire, was both more than and less that a religion. On the one hand, it was not expected to command the religious devotion of the people, but on the other hand, no one, save only the Jews, whose obsession with monotheism was well known to the Romans, was exempted from paying at least formal tribute to the emperor as a deified god. The persecution of Christians, however, in spite of creating many martyrs, ultimately ended when Emperor Constantine agreed to tolerate the new cult religion. During his reign, Constantine converted to Christianity, as did all the Emperors of Rome following him, except Julian the Apostate. In 392 aD, the emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the empire.

The bishop of Rome, later called pope (papa, Latin for father) become the second person in power in Rome after the emperor till the end of the fourth century, when emperor Honorius removed his royal court to Ravenna. This left the pope as the chief dignitary of Rome and at times he performed the functions of a Roman ruler in the city. Pope Leo I was given official recognition by emperor Valentinian III of Ravenna, who conferred upon him full authority over all the bishops in the empire, established Rome as the center for the new cult religion of Christianity. Christianity would still meet the definition of “cult” at this time in history due to the charismatic nature of its leaders.

Gregorian Calendar:

Julius Caesar's correction of one day in four years (1/4 day, or six hours, a year) made the calendar year longer than the tropical year. Thus seasonal anniversaries began coming earlier and earlier in the year. St. Bede the Venerable, an Anglo-Saxon monk, announced in aD 730 that the 365 1/4 day Julian year was 11 minutes, 14 seconds too long, a cumulative error of about a day every 128 years, but nothing was done about this for another 652 years. In 1582 A.D. the vernal equinox, or beginning of spring, occurred on March 11 instead of the correct date, March 21.

Pope Gregory XIII modified the Julian calendar by directing that ten days be dropped from the calendar and that the day after Oct. 4, 1582, should be October 15. He also directed that three times in every 400 years the leap-year arrangement should be omitted. Thus, 1600 was a leap year; 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not, but 2000 will be. Leap years are those years divisible by 4, except centesimal years, which are common years unless divisible by 400.

Another reform that the Gregorian calendar affected was general adoption of January 1 as the beginning of the year. Until then some nations began it with December 25, others with January 1, some in the middle of January, some on the Vernal Equinox, or March 25, (the old Roman New Years Day) as England did before 1752.

France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Luxembourg adopted the Gregorian calendar at once. Within 2 years most German Catholic states, Belgium, and parts of Switzerland and the Netherlands had also adopted the new calendar, and Hungary followed in 1587. The rest of the Netherlands, along with Denmark and the German Protestant states, made the change over one hundred eleven years later in 1699-1700 (German Protestants retained the old Greek Orthodox reckoning of Easter until 1776) .

The British government imposed the Gregorian calendar on all its possessions, including the American and Canadian colonies, in 1752. The British decreed that the day following Sept. 2, 1752, should be called Sept. 14, a loss of 11 days. All dates preceding were marked O.S. for Old Style. In addition, New Year's Day was moved to Jan. 1 from Mar. 25 (e.g., under the old reckoning, Mar. 24, 1700, had been followed by Mar. 25, 1701) . George Washington's birthday, which was Feb. 11. 1731, O.S., became Feb. 22, 1732, N.S. (New Style) . Pope Gregory’s edict was expanded to change aD to A.D. (Year of The Lord) and added B.C. (before Christ) to denote years before AD because of his belief that the defied Jew, Jesus, was born in year one.

In 1753 Sweden also went Gregorian, retaining the old Easter rules until 1844 due to religious bickering. In 1793 the French revolutionary government adopted a calendar of 12 months of 30 days each, with 5 extra days in September of each common year and a 6th extra day every 4th year. Napoleon reinstated the Gregorian calendar in 1806. Most of these countries were forced to change by pressure from the Christian religious community, or face excommunication by the Holy Father in Rome. Since many of the monarchs claimed divine right to rule, they were compelled to support the Pope. As countries became republics or democracies, this pressure decreased.

The Gregorian system slowly spread to non-European regions, first in the European colonies and then in the independent countries, replacing traditional calendars at least for official purposes. Japan in 1873, Egypt in 1875, China in 1912, and Turkey in 1925 made the change, usually in conjunction with political upheavals. In 1918 the revolutionary government in the Soviet Union decreed that the day after Jan. 31, 1918, O.S., would become Feb. 14, 1918, N.S. Greece followed in 1923. In China, the republican government began reckoning years from its 1911 founding - e.g., 1948 was designated the year 37.

Common Era replaces AD, due to growing proof that was come fort showing that AD dates did not coincide with actual historical events surrounding the original “Jesus” birth year. After 1949, the Communists adopted the Common Era, year count, even for the traditional lunar calendar. Common Era was more acceptable to their secular governments. Current supportable theory places the historic birth year of Jesus, the deified Jew at 4 BC. (The Russian Orthodox Church has retained the Julian calendar, as have various Middle Eastern heretical Christian sects.) To convert from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, add 10 days to dates Oct. 5, 1582, through Feb. 28. 1700; after that date add 11 days through Feb. 28, 1800; 12 days through Feb. 28, 1900; and 13 days through Feb. 28, 2100.

A century consists of 100 consecutive calendar years. The 1st century aD consisted of the years 1 through 100. The 20th century consists of the years 1901 through 2000 and will end Dec. 31, 2000. The 21st century will begin Jan. 1, 2001 C.E.

Other Calendars:

The Jewish calendar assumes that the world was created in what is 3761 BC on the Gregorian calendar. The years are designated AM for anno mundi, which is Latin for "year of the world." There is, therefore, no need for a designation of BC or AD as there is in the Gregorian calendar. Because the solar year exceeds 12 lunar months by about 11 days, a 13th month of 30 days is intercalated, or inserted, seven times in each 19-year cycle. This procedure follows the ancient Babylonian tradition with which ancient Israel was familiar. Other adjustments to the calendar are required periodically to make sure that the festival of Passover follows the first day of Spring.

Christianity, for most of its major festivals, adheres to the Jewish lunar calendar or older Pagan observances. Therefore, many of its feasts are movable. The chief holiday, Easter, always falls on the first Sunday following the full Moon that falls on or after the vernal equinox. This closely parallels the Pagan celebration of Ostara. Therefore, most of the church year, including the pre-Easter season of Lent, is always adjusted to the date of Easter. Other festivals, such as Christmas, are fixed.

The Chinese calendar is basically lunar consisting of 12 months of alternately 29 and 30 days. This lunar year totals 354 days. To keep this calendar in step with the solar year of about 365 days, intercalary months are periodically inserted in much the same way they are in the Jewish calendar. One interesting feature of the Chinese calendar is the naming of the years. Twelve animal names from ancient times have been attached to years. These names, in order of their occurrence are: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, fowl, dog and pig. This cycle of years is frequently used for astrological purposes; much the same way the 12 signs of the zodiac are use in the West to describe personality traits. The Chinese New Year moves around a bit and fell on January 28, 1998 and February 16, 1999 most recently.

Islam’s year is entirely lunar, following directives from their holy book, the Koran. The lunar cycles are considered guides for the faithful in their religious observances. The Islamic year has 12 months, which alternate 29 and 30 days, making a year of 354 or 355 days. Because there is no attempt to align this lunar year with the solar year, Muslim months have no relation to the seasons. The months continually move around the year, so major festival observances may, therefore, occur in any season.

Scientific Year:

A true year, as opposed to a calendar year, may be defined as the time the Earth takes to return to the same point on its orbit around the sun. But there are several ways of defining the "same point." Astronomers therefore recognize three different kinds of year.

The simplest reference point is one on the orbit in which the Earth aligns with the sun and a particular star. Such a point revolves so slowly around the plane of the 23 degree tilt of Earth, that it remains the basically the same century after century. The year measured between two successive crossings of such a point is called the sidereal year, from the Latin word sidus, meaning "star, " or "planet." It is 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, and 9.5 seconds long. Most modern astrologers use the sidereal year as a basis for determining planet location on the horoscope. Most ephemeris are based upon the sidereal year.

Another reference is a point on the orbit where the Earth's axis is perpendicular, or at a right angle, to a line from the sun. This occurs twice a year, at the vernal equinox and the fall equinox. A year measured between successive crossings of one of these points is called the tropical year. Its duration is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. The seasons keep in step with the tropical year because both are based on the position of the Earth's axis. For that reason the calendar year is based on the tropical year. House positions on natal horoscopes are based on the tropical year or tropical zodiac.

Still another astronomical reference point is the perihelion, the point on its orbit that the Earth is closest to the sun. The time between crossings of this point is called the anomalistic year. Because the perihelion is moving slowly in the same direction as the Earth travels on its orbit, the anomalistic year is the longest of the three types. Its duration is 365 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, and 53 seconds. This measurement is responsible for the progression of the equinoxes. A full cycle of the perihelion takes about 20, 000 years, roughly the time between ice ages.

Months, Weeks, and Days

The word month is derived from the Old English monath, a word for moon, also mona. A month was originally the time between two new moons. Today astronomers refer to this period of time as a lunar month. Its average length, about 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds, varies due to the non-circular orbit of the moon and acceleration/de-acceleration caused by the Sun and planets. The moon travels around the Earth in 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, and 11.5 seconds, which is the sidereal month. Calendar months usually differ in length, and all except February are longer than 29 days in order to accommodate the solar year, which is almost 11 days longer than a lunar year.

The names for the months in the present Gregorian calendar are taken from the ancient Roman months of the Julian calendar. January is derived from Janus, a household God of beginnings and endings, who guards the doorway when evoked. He is often depicted as facing in two directions at the same time and is often accompanied by a dog. February was the time of a feast of purification called Februa. It is the time new light is brought into the home to cleanse it. March was named after Mars, the God of War and change. April is of uncertain origin. It may be named after the Greek Goddess Aphrodite. May is probably derived from the Goddess Maia. Daughter of Atlas, mother of Hermes by Zeus. Later identified with Fauna and with Bona Dea. June was named after the Goddess Juno. July and August were renamed after Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, respectively. The last for months got their names from their original numerical placement in the year. Septem, for instance, is Latin for seven, et cetera.

The seven-day week has no obvious astronomical basis. It may well have originated in the Middle East or in the Hebrew Torah (Bible) . By the 3rd century aD, the entire Roman Empire was operating on a week of the same length. The days were named after the then known seven planets: Sol (the sun was not distinguished from a planet at this time) , Moon (also considered a planet at this time) , Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. The names of days in Latin countries still point to these origins, as do Sunday, Monday, and Saturday in English. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, however, originate after the Scandinavian Gods: Tiw, Woden, Thor and Frigga most likely due to the conquest of England by the Vikings.

Most North American tribes did not have true calendars, or integrated systems for indicating days and longer periods of time that I am aware of. Usually intervals of time-days, months, and years-were counted independently of one another. The day was a basic unit recognized by most tribes, but there are few records of any names for the days. Persons with verifiable, first inhabitants of North America names, for the days would be welcomed by myself. Longer periods of time were counted by moons, which began with the new moon or conjunction of moon and sun. Moon names vary greatly from nation to nation, often related to the tribe’s means of survival or obtaining foodstuff. Years were divided into four seasons. Among settled agricultural tribes, the cycle of seasons was significant, but the beginning time of the year varied.

For some a new year was observed at the vernal equinox, the start of spring. The Hopi Indians of Arizona celebrated the new year, which they called the new-fire ceremony, in November, while the Creek Indians' ceremony was in late July or early August. Some nations had no record of the change of years, relying on a counting of lunarations.

Among the Nations who lived in the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the most complex calendars were those developed by the Mayan and Aztec peoples.

The basic structure of the Maya calendar is common to all calendars of ancient Mexico and Central America. It consisted of a ritual cycle of 260 named days and a year of 365 days. These cycles, which ran concurrently, formed a longer cycle of 18, 980 days, or 52 years of 365 days, each. Called a "calendar round, " a designated day occurred at the end of the cycle in the same position. The 365-day year was divided into 18 months of 20 days each, with five "days of evil omen" during the winter, added to fill out the years. These five days surround the winter solstice, when it is extremely difficult to determine if the hours of sunlight are decreasing or increasing. Since these religions evolved around their Sun God, His slow demise indicated that the dark evil was growing in strength. Many blood sacrifices were required to return the Sun God to health.

The calendar of the Aztecs was based on earlier calendars of the Valley of Mexico and was similar to the Mayan calendar. It had a ritual cycle as well as a year of 365 days. But the Aztec and Mayan years did not necessarily coincide with one another. The Aztecs also had 18 months of 20 days, plus the five extra days to complete the year. These years were also considered to form a 52-year cycle. The year served to fix the time of festivals, which occurred at the end of each month. The Aztec calendar is said to mark both the beginning and end of time. Its most noticeable central figure is an effigy of the Aztec Sun God.

Very little is known about the calendar used by the Incas of Peru. Some scholars have even said they had no calendar, but most historians believe that the Incas had a calendar based on observations of both Sun and Moon. Names of 12 lunar months are recorded as well as their association with festivals in the agricultural cycle. Work seems to have been organized on the basis of a nine-day week. Three nine day weeks, or 27 days is the approximate time between new moons. Every third year was made up of 13 moons, with the others having 12. This formed a cycle of 37 moons, and 20 of these cycles made a period of 60 years.

As we have seen, religion has played a key role in the development of the calendar. Pagan beliefs have had as much or more influence in the construction of the current calendar system as any other cultural pressure. We should all be proud of our heritage and contributions to that which make the world we live in.

Bibliography and suggested further reading:

Compote’s 99 Encyclopedia; The Learning Company, 1999

Grenier, C. The Roman Spirit in Religion, Thought, and Art,
Alfred A. Knopt, Inc. 1926

Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, II, trans. J.C. Rolfe,
Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge Mass; 1913

Tacitus, Annals, trans. A.J. Church and W.J. Brodribb, Modern Library, Inc.
New York, New York; 1942

Armstrong, Karen, A History of God, Ballantine books, New York, 1993.


Grey Ghost

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