On the Seasons and the Calendar
      Tom's Book of Days  

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This subject can get involved, especially if you get into the historical, folkloric, and anthropological aspects. The main difficulty with the calendar revolves around reconciling the solar and lunar cycles.

The lunar cycle. A lunar calendar has many advantages over a solar calendar. The average lunar month of twenty-eight days (strictly speaking, the average visual lunation, but that is an issue that gets rather technical) corresponds to the typical menses cycle, and its ninefold multiple is the average human gestation period.

Historically, most gardeners have felt that the phases of the moon effect crop development, which is the basis of the Farmer's Almanac.

Thirteen months of 28 days each give a total of 364 days. To complete the solar year, just one additional day (though not, to be really accurate, a full day) need be added (by comparison, a twelve-month year with 30-day months produces five left-over days, while months of thirty-one days produce seven days too many).

In England, a thirteen-month calendar-sometimes called "a year and a day"-was favored until the Tudor period. In an introduction to The Greek Myths, Robert Graves writes:

Time was first reckoned by lunations, and every important ceremony took place at a certain phase of the moon; the solstices and equinoxes not being exactly determined but approximated to the nearest new or full moon.... Even when, after careful astronomical observation, the solar year proved to have 364 days, with a few hours left over, it had to be divided into months-that is, moon-cycles-rather than into fractions of the solar cycle. These months later became what the english-speaking world still calls "common-law months," each of twenty-eight days . and, since the 364-day year is exactly divisible by twenty-eight, the annual sequence of popular festivals could be geared to these common-law months. As a religious tradition, the thirteen-month years survived among European peasants for more than a millennium after the adoption of the Julian Calendar [in 45 BCE]; thus Robin Hood, who lived at the time of Edward II [1284-1327] could exclaim in a ballad celebrating the May Day Festival:

How many merry months be in the year?
There are thirteen, I say ...

which a Tudor [1485-1603] editor has altered to "...There are but twelve, I say...." Thirteen, the number of the sun's death-month, has never lost its evil reputation among the superstitious.

And indeed, the druidic calendar and the rituals that surround it survive in contemporary wiccan observances, which currently seem to be experiencing some revival.

The solar cycle. The problem with the lunar calendar is that, while it divides reasonably well into the solar year, it is difficult to reconcile with other aspects of the solar calendar. Thirteen, a prime number, does not dovetail very neatly with binary systems, and the binary impulse--which from an atronomical point of view is evident in the division of the rotation cycle into night and day--manifests itself throughout human culture at the most basic levels.

As we spin, leaning now toward (summer) and now away (winter) from the sun, its rays move up and down between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, so that we end up with a year that divides not just in two but in two twos--in four parts marked by the equinoxes and solstices. It is this quarterly aspect that determines the conventional seasons of our present twelve-month year. (Yet those quarters can again be divided, as I explain below.).

The calendar and the seasons. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, people--usually from "back east"--often say there are no seasons, which shows how out of touch with the world some people can be (back east in Wisconsin I knew someone who sought this as a virtue, and painted all of his windows black). Unless several inches of snow fall on these people's heads, they remain oblivious to major seasonal changes going on all around them. In fact, we have very marked seasons, which are ushered in on the cross quarters--the points midway between the equinoxes and solstices. In other words, our spring begins with Imbolc (or Candlemas) at the beginning of February, summer begins not with the solstice--that is midsummer, as Shakespeare knew--but with May Day or Beltane, fall with Lughnasad (August 7), and winter with Samhain (November 7). Each of the quarters is associated with certain established moons, and this mix of solar and lunar features will color our book of days.


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The Maya Calendar


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