I frequently hear people say that once upon a time, all calendars were "lunar-based" and therefore had thirteen months of 28 days. I'm very puzzled by this, and would like to figure out where this theory comes from.
Astronomically, it makes no sense. The moon's period is approximately 29 1/2 days. There are twelve lunar months in a solar year. A thirteenth moon (called a "blue moon") is an unusual occurance.
I've found a number of early lunar calendars: the Celtic Coligny calendar, early Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Jewish, Islamic, Japanese, and Chinese. *All* of them have twelve months of 29 and/or 30 days. I went back to check the Neo-Pagan sources which had mentioned the 13/28 calendar, and found that none of them referenced a single historical example!
The only "traditional" 13/28 calendar anyone cites is the "Celtic" tree calendar, invented by Robert Graves in 1948. Graves' best evidence for a 13/28 calendar is the fact that Blackstone, an early modern English jurist, says that in common law a month is 28 days long. And he claims that "popular reckoning" makes a month 28 days. Graves assumes this is because there was an ancient "lunar" month of 28 days. But frankly the same thing is true today -- most people think of a month as four weeks. It's not a memory of an ancient calendar. It's just a sensible rough estimate for a people with a seven-day week.
My question is, does anyone know of any pre-modern calendar that had thirteen months of 28 days? So far I can't find a more reliable source than _The White Goddess_, which is an extremely unreliable work.
I'm with you as to the unreliability of *The White Goddess* as a historical source.
At the moment, I cannot think of a good referent to a 13/28 calendar, but will look into this question. Since the moon circles the earth in 29plus days, I would not be surprised to see a strict 29-day calendar somewhere, with the excess days in the year being accounted for somehow. (Then again, we probably live in such a system -- the excess days becoming longer months -- but I'm not at all sure how this precisely developed...)
Thanks! I'm nearly convinced that this is yet another
of Graves' innovations, one that speaks highly of his
impact on Neo-Paganism.
Basically, just as you say. The early Roman month was strictly lunar. It began on the kalends (new moon) and peaked at the ides (full moon). Days got their dates by their distance from major lunar events. For instance, "February 2nd" would be "2 kalends February", the second day (by Roman counting) after the new moon of February. The 17th would be something like "3 ides February" rather than February 17th. Under this system months had 29 or 30 days. Extra days were dumped into an extra month, whose length was determined by special bureaucrats. When Julius Caesar established a fixed calendar, he distributed those extra days amongst the various months.
It's funny, many people make a sharp distinction between "solar" and "lunar" calendars. Lunar calendars are Goddess-oriented and good; solar calendars are patriarchal and bad. Yet when I look at ancient calendars, almost none of them ignore either of the luminaries. Most cultures had a moon-based "month" of some sort, yet most wanted the solstices and seasons to fall at roughly the same "time" each year. So calendars try to juggle both celestial cycles. I've only seen a couple purely "lunar" calendars (Coligny and, from what I can tell, the earliest Roman calendar). And I don't know of a single one that's purely sun-based.
" Yet when I look at ancient calendars, almost none of them ignore either of the luminaries." -- good point, most lunar calendars make solar referent, and solar calendars, as far as is known, all make lunar referent. Most are a melding of the two. (Something neither patriarchal nor matriarchal per se.)
>>Most are a melding of the two. (Something neither patriarchal nor matriarchal per se.)<<
I was writing a post about calendars once and kept trying to come up with a word ("solilunar?" "lunisolar?") to describe the average calendar. Never did succeed to my satisfaction. Maybe I should have just stuck with "average". <g>
The other big stumbling point when you're talking about ancient calendars is getting people to see that a culture's calendar doesn't say anything about their political structure. Many assume that lunar calendars are matriarchal, solar ones patriarchal. That's another myth I've always wondered about. I think it comes from the common assumption that the moon is always a goddess and the sun a god. Therefore people think that a goddess-oriented calendar would naturally focus on the moon.
Which is terribly ironic, given that our word "sun" comes from the name of Sunna, the Norse sun-goddess. <s> The sun is feminine in approximately 50% of Indo-European cultures, the moon masculine in about the same number. The northern Celts and Germans consistently described the sun as a goddess (Sunna, Aine, Macha, or Mon). So for them, a goddess-oriented calendar would be solar, not lunar. The Mediterranean religions (and the Celtic tribes who bordered them) described the sun as male and the moon as female. But again, in Egypt and Mesopotamia the moon was male. And the luminaries don't have to have opposite sexes, either. In Mesopotamia, both the sun and the moon were male.
Good point, about the sun and moon not necessarily being seen as "male" and "female" in cultures across the board. Germanic cultures saw the moon as being male (the "Man in the Moon"); some but not all other Northern Europeans saw the moon as masculine as well.
I can't recall for sure, but isn't the sun considered feminine in Japan?
I suspect that, rather than being a determinant of what degree of political "patriarchy" a society was in, calendars were more correlated to agricultural needs. I hypothesize, for instance, that a climate where there was minimal / non-severe yearly climatic changes would be more likely to have a calendar with more solar and less lunar referents.
The Sun Goddess in Japan is called Amaterasu. She is
supposed to be the mother to the Yamato tribe from which
I believe the emperor is descended. A good book on the
role of the Sun as a goddess (around the world) is: _O
Mother Sun!, A New View of the Cosmic Feminine_ by
Patricia Monaghan, ISBN 0-89594-722-6. It has tales from
the Balts, Scandinavia, the Orient, Africa, the Americas,
Australia and the Pacific. She's more of a feminist than
I am but I agree with many of her
Thanks for the book recommendation!
Getting these multicultural referents handy helps one in realizing distinctions in understanding deities across cultures -- it's not necessary to assume that each culture will have 8 sabbats, male sun gods, female moon gods, etc.
Two other excellent books are _Eclipse of the Sun, An Investigation into Sun and Moon Myths_ by Janet McCrickland and _Stonehenge, A New Interpretation of Prehistoric Man and the Cosmos_ by John North (this one contains star alignments for many passage mounds, bush barrows and woodhenges).
Inthe myths we can see explanations and knowledge as to how the ancients viewed the heavens as part of their spirituality. In their observatories and ritual centers we catch hints of their ingenuity and adoration.
The ancient Vedic culture considered the Sun and the Moon to be primarily male but to also be governed by female goddesses. Among the Celts, this was basically reversed in terms of gender. The thing about ancient Indo-European cultures is that generally where one finds a goddess, one also find a god that corresponds to her and vice versa. I personally use the terms masculine and feminine to describe how we as humans canrelate to and interpret the actions of the deities, rather than a specification of their gender. After all, they are deities and not humans. They contain within themselves and unlimited potential to be masuline, feminine, both and other. Come to think of it, so do we! :-)