Up to this point, our inquiry has been a largely negative argument, as it were: what has been misinterpreted, overlooked, cast into disrepute or otherwise diminished. It was a necessary foundation to lay, considering that this thesis is concerned to establish the fact of something not culturally recognized (other than in the meagerly limited and very recent "discovery" of the SAD syndrome). The only artifacts of modern life we have been able to link to what we propose is a lost lore are seen as superstitious and irrational, and the evidence is thin and circumstantial even for this.
But now we shall look at an artifact that is so much a part of our daily lives that we give no thought to its origins -- or to its peculiarities and what they suggest of its origins. We're going to consider the calendar. Our inquiry has employed it thus far as a reference base --- a testimony to the ground-level it occupies in our world --- but we shall consider it, now, for what it actually is: a vestigial remnant of cyclic time; a formulistic yet irrational emblem of seasonal process that still connects us to earth and cosmos.
Irrational, because in a world that has insistently standardized its mensurational devices to binary, decimal and hexagesimal, the calendar remains a lone holdout of absolute disorder. Formulistic, because it repeats resolutely its disorderly form, bending all else to the necessity of one piece of precision: our annual arrival at an imaginary (but measurable) point on the solar circuit. But it is this precious bit of solar-tracking consistency that gives us the benefit of a calendar identification with the seasons, in fair regularity. And hence, the vestigial remnant of cyclic times -- as a real part of our lives. Our familiarity with this circumstance will permit us to relate to some ancient calendars that may flesh out the claim of this paper for a ripening cycle in human affairs.
We shall consider in turn, for this survey, three calendars that representatively cover the globe, and go back in time to the very dawn of calendars. Two of them are still in full use in cultures other than our own; the third can be seen in small flashes of awareness, just below the surface of our own calendar -- concealed by it as a mask might hide the truth of someone's quite familiar voice. We "know" this third calendar better than we think we do!

In fact, we shall start with it so that we can establish some points of reference that will serve us for the remainder of our inquiry. It is probably (though uncertainly) the youngest of the three, and in that sense acts as a bridge for us -- as it also does in being the only one of the three that is a solar calendar. But we should lay some groundwork, first, by backtracking toward the roots of our own solar calendar.


The calendar we are all familiar with has had a terribly tortuous road through history. It has only been what it now is for the past four centuries. Before that, it was almost what it now is, but falling behind about a day every century. It was Julius Caesar who officiated even that degree of accuracy in 47 B.C., before which it was out of synch with the sun's apparent passage by more than ten days each year -- far worse than the inaccuracy of the very much older Egyptian star charts (and not even excusable on the basis of any luni-solar correlation, for the Roman calendar of Caesar's time made no concession to lunar cycles).

The Romans had been compensating with an intercalary month every other year, alternately of 22 and 23 days -- which rather curiously was inserted not between months, but between February 23rd and 24th! The reason for this unusual situation is that these dates marked the official end of one year and start of another --- the celebrations of Terminalia, and Regifugium, --- even though February was the second month of the Roman year, as it is of our own. That it was possible to have the year's beginning in the midst of its second month only begins to suggest the complications of the Roman calendar.

The confusions just get worse, as one looks further back. There is some question as to whether February was always the second month, or may at one time have preceded January, acting as the last month of the prior year, which might account for the strange New Year circumstance. We know, in any case, that January and February were added to an original Roman calendar of only ten months, in 713 B.C. The other possible (and more likely) reason for the midstream New Year is that our strictly solar calendar has a double ancestry -- parentage in both a solar and lunar format, with the date of New Year never having been fully resolved between them.

The lineup of months on the calendar at the time of Caesar's changes, and going back probably seven centuries (except, perhaps, for the January and February confusion), was:

Ianuarius: from the god Janus -- a purely Roman deity connected with openings or beginnings, also cognate with Jupiter.

Februarius: thought to refer to some aspects of repentance -- a ritual association with this month's station as the end of the year.

Martius: from the god Mars, primary Roman deity originally associated with agriculture, not war.

Aprilis: probably cognate with "to open."

Maius: probably from Maia, an earth-mother goddess of growth.

Junius: from Juno, feminine counterpart of Jupiter; calendar implica-tions are uncertain. One aspect of interest here, however, is the goddess of warning (Juno Moneta).

Quintilis, Sextilis, Septembris, Octobris, Novembris, Decembris: ordinal designation of remaining months 5 to 10 (their initial sequence).

This historical description has been kept to brevity, to serve merely as background for what is to follow. The significant features to note are the nomenclature indication of a ripening structure as the months develop in the early part of the year --- a beginning, a subsequent secondary 'opening,' and then growth --- and the evident concern for a proper placement of the year's beginning, whether at the spring equinox or the earlier moment of the sun's slow turnaround and return from the deep of its solstice. These are characteristic aspects of nature-based calendars, as we shall see. There is also the curious circumstance that the months beyond the early growth season are merely numbered, not named, which is occasionally found in cultures where the main activity (principally agricultural) is focused at the earlier part of the year.

The question of New Year placement is a particularly interesting one for at least two reasons. It reflects the cultural perspective on their annual cycle -- where they choose to break it, and what they conceive of as a "point of beginning again." For while it is, or can be, an arbitrary choice, it certainly isn't a neutral one. It may enter into the framework of an archetypal cycle, which would be expressed as a consistent cross-cultural selection of some one calendar point considered to be a "proper moment."

The Egyptians, it will be recalled, began their civil year with the heliacal rising of Sirius, about July 20th, in clear relationship to the significance of the Nile flood-time in their world. Yet, Andis Kaulins, exploring the implications of an Etruscan calendar discovery (Etruscan bronze liver of Piacenza, p. 91), points out that the rising of Sirius, on those Egyptian star charts, comes exactly midway along the 36 decans they tabulate, suggesting the likelihood of a non-secular calendar in earliest Egypt that began at the opposite end of the year, late in January. This has no known relevance to Egyptian agriculture, so we must suppose that there was another basis than agriculture for this indication of a point of new beginning.

Rome's "new year conflict" appears to reflect a cultural ambiguity between solar and lunar focus, finally resolved by Caesar's instincts for practicality. The presumed lunar version's late February New Year timing -- a full month later than our presumed Egyptian one -- suggests differing approaches to a possible archetypal cycle.

Let us turn, now, to several other ancient calendars that will broaden our view on this question.



While civilization and calendar development can be tracked with some degree of coherence among Mediterranean cultures, back into the vagaries of multi-millennial time, an entirely different situation prevails for northern Europe, whose people left no early written record and whom we know only through the mute artifacts of archeological discovery, along with sparse commentary in Greek and Roman writings.
Their early contact with Mediterranean cultures was largely hostile, although there is reason to suppose there may have been trade relations -- but there is nothing of record that sheds much light on their culture. Most of what we have comes from Imperial Roman times, when the Celts were already a fragmented people with no centralized cultural apparatus -- if, indeed, they ever had any. They had once occupied the entire central core of Europe, but seem to have lost a collective cultural identity as their influence diffused steadily outward along Europe's southeast and southwest perimeters and into Britain.

Our knowledge of their calendar system is minimal and --- like most else of what we know of them --- contradictory. There is a folk calendar that remained in use among the Irish/Welsh peasantry until well into modern times; and there was a largely complete calendar hammered out of bronze, found near Coligny, France, that has strong Roman influence. They appear to represent different cultures, and there are factions arguing whether one or the other (or either of them!) is actually Celtic. For our purposes it is sufficient to note their difference, and the one we are concerned with here -- and will call Celtic, whether it is that or not.


The Coligny calendar has a luni-solar arrangement with a 62-month intercalation period. The folk calendar is a simple quarterly solar tracking that may be far older, and of much more interest for us. As an historical artifact, it is not even traceable to pre-Christian times, but only to the Celtic cultural survival in Ireland and Wales that came into "literate visibility" less than 1500 years ago. In fact, it is not a calendar meant to keep record by -- there is no annual sequencing of years, or anything of that linear sort. It is a simple tracking device for the round of the solar year and its four major festivals. All that leads us to suspect ancient origins is the simple pagan nature of the calendar -- the fact that it carries no reflection of influence from the complex Julian calendar imposed on these people early in the Christian era --- and the circumstance of a likely link between the Celts and the monumental remains of stone clusters for which Britain is well known. For these bear unmistakable indication of a highly sophisticated astronomical awareness -- which is worth a moment's consideration.

While the astronomical orientation in the layout of these stoneworks is still in dispute --- as to whether it was intentional or fortuitous, or merely exists "in the eye of the beholder" --- the issue largely reflects an incredulity that such sophistication as seems evident can be attributed to what, by all other bases of estimate, was a culture of the most minimal technological attainment. But the fact is, we are at a total loss for any explanation of how these constructions were even erected, given the distance from where the massive stones were quarried, let alone how they may have been designed. The stonework is evidence to argue from, not against!

As Michael Balfour has observed (Stonehenge and its mysteries, p. 49), "...all too often, even in the recent past, archaeologists have underestimated the capabilities of ancient man. The intellectual heights of these people are difficult to gauge -- some would say without the evidence of writing...and yet is it not all about us, but on such a huge scale that we (literally) cannot believe it?"

Jenny Deupree, a commentator trained to astronomy, adds that further dimension with a qualified voice (The Feminine of history is mystery, p. 46): "because our modern astronomy is very abstract and dependent on calculations, we may have very little experience of observation: we don't know what techniques are appropriate to it, or what kinds of accurate knowledge can be gained from it." In other words, an unsophisticated technology does not necessarily imply an unsophisticated astronomy.

The weight of indication, of an astronomical orientation for many of these sites, is simply too great to be denied. The plan of Stonehenge, for example, in its earliest level of construction, dating back possibly to 3500 B.C., incorporates a rectangle that is precisely aligned, on its short side, with the sunrise at winter solstice, and on its long side, with the rising of the moon at its southernmost limit --- a sighting which occurs only once every 18.6 years. This rectangular arrangement --- a 90° angle between the two measurements --- can only obtain at the particular latitude at which Stonehenge is located! (ibid. p. 45)

The suggestion is not of an anomalous wonder, but of a "technology" or an observational sophistication (or both) that was being exclusively applied to the tracking of astral events. And this, of course, is of critical concern to our thesis, for the question --- as posed before --- follows: to what end was this unprecedented level of sophistication being applied? Judging by the kind of calendar that may have come down to us from them, it could have been nothing less profound than to relate the heavens to earthbound stages of development. For their calendar is an exquisitely simple and accurate accounting of this relationship.

Here's how it worked: Starting with the quarter-annual arrangement of solstices and equinoxes, they split these divisions midway to come up with four intermediate holidays called cross-quarter days. If determined with accuracy (as they surely must have been), these should fall on February 5th, May 5th, August 6th and November 6th. But they became conventionalized at the first of each month, with the rather inexplicable exception of the February occasion, which falls on February 2nd. These have come down to us largely --- though not entirely --- cloaked as civil and ecclesiastical observances.

The old Celtic names, with some modern correlates, are:

Imbolc or Teltane

February 2

Candelmas, Ground-hog Day


May 1

May Day

Lughnasa or Lammas

August 1
(see footnote)


November 1

All Hallows, Halloween (Oct. 31)

But that is not the proper sequence. For the Celts, the year ended and began anew with Samhain. This was the start of winter, by their reckoning (each cross-quarter day was seen as the seasonal turn), and the proper place for the cycle to begin. In Celtic tradition, the seed of all new growth is generated at this time, to be nourished in the dark of winter and come to first visibility in spring at the time of Imbolc, the moment of sprouting. Once in the outer world, it expands in the growing part of the year, glorified at the May Day holiday of Beltane, the time of fertility. It will reach fruition at Lughnasa, a moment of bright culmination just before the harvest. Then comes the waning and afterglow of summer -- until another seedtime arrives with Samhain, and the cycle begins again.

Is this the archetypal ripening cycle we seek? -- not of any given farm crop, but of the year as an idealized form? If it is, it should be applicable to any organic growth, and be as much a statement of natural philosophy as of agricultural husbandry. It would characterize life as a seasonal structure; and the question would then become, for us: How much more is it, than a metaphor? To what extent does it reflect the actual reality of experience?

But we are not fully primed yet, for these questions. There is more to say about the Celts, and much more to say about other early calendars.

Certain factors have contributed to a deeply mystical perception of the Celtic calendar. One of these factors, of course, is the lack of a grounded body of historical data about it: we have not the least idea of how far back it goes, nor very much in the way of characterization of the earlier Celtic culture from which it appears to descend. The Romans and Greeks largely saw them as barbarians -- and, indeed, had reason to fear their periodic depredations. Delphi was raided in 279 B.C.; Rome was actually in Celtic hands for awhile, in the early 4th century B.C. But this was the Gallic branch of Celtic culture, and we have no way of gauging their relationship to the Celts who were seeking after nature's secrets. Even so, Julius Caesar, who ventured among them in his northern conquests, had this to say of their priestly order, the Druids:

"The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be of the greatest incentive to valor. Besides this, they have many discussions concerning the stars and their movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and powers of the immortal gods, and hand down their lore to the young men." (From De Bello Gallico, quoted by Joseph Campbell in Masks of God: Occidental mythology.)

He observed, also, that although the Celts had a literary competence in Greek, they chose to maintain their lore as an oral tradition -- intentionally. And this, of course, heightens its occult aspect, as well as it leaves us very much in the dark as to its details. The suggestion of an "occult knowledge" also puts an instant onus on the material, so far as scientific interest is concerned, just as with astrology. Our inquiry seems to keep running into this barrier, in one form or another; a constant reminder that the territory of our acknowledged reality is tightly circumscribed.



It is often suggested that we owe our modern alienation from nature as much to our roots in Judaic monotheism, a religious base that divorces God from nature, as to our roots in the Greek tradition of rationalism. Be that as it may, the calendar that the Jews have kept intact since well before the Christian era has its own roots in the tracking of the seasons, as a close examination of its celebrational structure will reveal.

It is a lunar calendar with intercalation of an extra month each few years, in the Metonic 19-year pattern. Yet, there is little indication of any astronomical sophistication among the early Jewish tribespeople. They seem, rather, to have been invested in the mysticism of numbers and the count of days.

With a highly migratory historical background, a settled astronomy was problematical. They borrowed liberally from other cultures for their calendar. Remarkably, however, we find in their calendar, some significant similarities to the Celtic perspective on the natural year, though these two calendars were developed entirely remote from one another, insofar as we know.

The Hebrew calendar is the consolidating artifact of their heritage. It has performed, for the "diasporized" Jewish people, functions that are served in most cultures by a centralized political establishment -- to the extent, in fact, of suggesting that a people deprived of PLACE discover their unity in the order of TIME.

It unifies the celebration of the holy days, it annotates and perpetuates the collective Jewish history, and it provides them with parameters of guidance for the observance of Talmudic law. It has, in these ways, a high vitality quotient -- it "works" for the Jewish people, and can be counted on to tell us something of the Hebrew relationship to the natural year.

The central structure of the Hebrew calendar is the dynamic balance that exists between the spring observance of Passover and the twinned high holidays of their New Year observance in autumn: Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur. These occasions are grounded in both Talmudic law and Jewish history. Just as the Old Testament proclaims a sabbath rest on the seventh day of the week, it also ordains a time of rest at the start of the seventh month, to be followed ten days later by a day of atonement -- hence, the pair of autumn observances. (Leviticus 23:23-27)

It is interesting to note, in this circumstance -- beneath the mask of arbitrary biblical authority -- the hint of a very early pre-Metonic accommodation of the 11-day offset between solar and lunar cycles. The earliest approach to lunar/solar harmony was to add the extra days at the year's end -- creating a kind of "free zone" which obtained special status, sometimes religious, sometimes purely indulgent (as in the Roman Saturnalia), and sometimes even awesome and hazardous, for it was a "time out of time."

Arthur Waskow points up clear evidence of this in the Old Testament:

"In the Torah...there are four different recountings of the festivals. Two of these address the cycle of the solar year alone, and ignore the Tishri lunar cycle of the seventh month. In these two, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do not even appear. But the books of Leviticus and Numbers describe both the solar and lunar cycles..." (From Waskow, Seasons of our joy, p. 28)

Not only does the Bible annotate this ten-day span after Rosh Hashona, but it can be seen to "authorize" another one, although a bit differently, right after declaring the Passover observance:

"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, this month [Nisan, the month of spring equinox] shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb... and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening." (Exodus 12:1-6) [my emphasis]

This was the offering to be made for their deliverance from Egypt, of course -- but if it is, in fact, the relic of a year's end observance, it is readily seen that the fourteen days, added to an exact twelve-moon lunar passage, would bring them into a full-moon situation...and three days into the new year -- a safe calendar passage, for which the offering was originally intended!

But this is not the Jewish New Year, is it? Despite the clear biblical injunction making it "the first month of the year," Passover is a springtime observance, midway in the Jewish annual round. What does it all mean?

Only that the full story of the Hebrew calendar is hidden in the murk of history. Most likely, both times of year had, in the course of time, been regarded as end/start division points. One basis for this is a known calendar affinity with the Babylonians, who observed a spring New Year. There are those who believe, in fact, that available evidence indicates a double New Year, observed in Israel, prior to the Babylonian exile.

However it may be, the strong seasonal orientation of both major celebrational periods, relating very well to harvest occasions, affirms their origin in the natural year, despite the cultural (and biblical) attribution to historic circumstance. Were it not, in fact, for the floating nature of the lunar-month placement, they would surely be seen as equinoctial celebrations.

We can make a perhaps facile generalization, at this point, for the purpose of assessing the significance of equinox observances. Among the several methods for determining the boundaries and passage-markers of the year, the most accurate of all is to define the point(s) of solstice, for it can be done with a high degree of precision. Thus, the sunrise alignment methods of the Celts suggest to us a culture concerned with precisional calendar determination -- and very likely a magico-fatalistic outlook on the purpose and process of tracking time.

When it is the equinox, instead, which receives this degree of attention -- or heliacal risings that are related to equinoctial times of year -- the focus is more likely one of agricultural motivation. It does not call for the same degree of precision, and allows for the continued lunar designation of observances, with maintenance of only a loose relationship to the solar seasonal timing.

Yet, there is a metaphysical factor also at work, here: In the very process of dislodging the calendar structure from its solar rigidity, the lunar aspect preserves an element of indeterminacy. It challenges the human propensity for linear precision, and supports the recognition that nothing in nature operates with such precision -- though nature surely functions with a satisfying degree of regularity.

The lunar calendar, having no seasonal consistency, cannot be applied to agriculture purely in and of itself . It is therefore never made analogous with exterior growth -- but on the other hand has always been understood to represent inner growth.

It can be seen, then, that the need to effect some harmony between the two --- to actually use both solar and lunar elements of cycle (not the pseudo-month employed in the Julian calendar and its later variants) --- represents a philosophical conception of calendar time that has been lost to the modern world.

It has also been lost to the modern Jewish world, notwithstanding the fact that they maintain a present-day usage of this archaic luni-solar Hebrew calendar. For one will find, in present-day commentaries on the calendar, no indicated awareness of the particular cyclic significance of a series of secondary observances -- a "minor" pattern -- in the Hebrew calendar that we can now illuminate against the backdrop of the major pattern.

First of all, in order to establish at the outset of this detailing, the parallel that I am attempting to establish, it will be convenient to list the four cross-quarter observances of the Celtic calendar, their idealized and normalized dates, and then the respective four lesser Jewish holy days with the date-spread (i.e., in our own solar calendar) wherein they are located.

Celtic observance

seasonal context

ideal date

normal date

Jewish observance

solar calendar date-spread



Feb 5

Feb 2

Tu B'Shvat

Jan 16 - Feb 14



May 5

May 1

Lag B'Omer

April 29 - May 27



Aug 6

Aug 1

Tisha B'Av

July 17 - Aug 14



Nov 6

Nov 1

Sh'mini Atzeret

Sept 27 - Oct 25

It will be seen, immediately, that there is a degree of variance in how closely the dates for the two cultures can be related. For the Samhain correlate it is wide of the mark by a week to a full month and more. The others manage to come within the span, but only for Imbolc and Lughnasa are they reasonably centered within it. Nevertheless --- and considering the free-form range of the lunar indeterminacy factor --- we will see a strikingly close relationship between the pairings. Let us take them one at a time.


Taking place well before the traditional spring celebration of Passover, this minor observance yet resonates with the onset of new life. It is often called the "New Year for the Trees," and celebrates the emergence of fresh greenery on the barren trees of wintertime -- clearly parallel in concept with Imbolc. Yet, according to Jewish tradition, it was nothing more than the occasion for a tithing of fruit by Israelite farmers to support the priesthood, based on the size of the earlier year's crop.

It might seem strange to make such a tax assessment when the farmers were barely emerging from winter, and Arthur Waskow poses that very question -- and quotes the Talmud, in response, with what seems a non-sequiter of an answer: "Because...even though most of winter is still to come, most of the rain has already fallen -- so the trees begin to drink from it, and their sap begins to rise." (Waskow, Seasons of our joy, p.106) It is an entirely inadequate explanation, and we have to assume deeper reasons for the observance, probably forgotten; and that the Talmud was rationalizing.

Because of the connection with trees, the mystical side of Jewish tradition has taken this day of observance a step further and portrayed it as the regeneration of the Tree of Life. This certainly identifies it with Imbolc, the Celtic version of this annual "moment." Waskow presents this particular aspect of the occasion as a birthday of the earth, itself... "It is as if this day were God's own Rosh Hashana." (Ibid, p.107) But he does not find in it a signification of any equivalence, for human beings.


This holiday represents something called "counting the omer." An omer is a sheaf or bushel of grain; but with the typical obfuscation of such cultural traditions, it is not grain at all that is counted but the days between Passover and the harvest festival called Shavuot -- the days which constitute the seven weeks of harvesting. Lag is an alphabetic shorthand for 33, so that the time of the observance in question falls on the 33rd day of the count -- as to which, Waskow says, "Why [the festival] comes on that day is utterly unclear." (Ibid, p.178) With the exception of this one day, the entire 49 (7 x 7) are passed in a general state of mourning -- about which, Waskow observes, "When and why this tone of mourning was adopted is not clear." (Ibid, p.167)

He is clear, however, on the nature of the holiday itself, and some cultural similarities that can be seen in it. "...[I]ts arrow-shooting and bonfire celebrations [are reminiscent of] the ancient Anglo-Germanic custom of shooting arrows at demons on May Day, when they are thought to be especially dangerous, and the Celtic and Swedish customs of lighting May Day bonfires to frighten demons and witches away" (Ibid, p.178) -- an observation about as near to blasphemy as one might expect to encounter, in a book celebrating the festival round of the Jewish faith.

There is similar comment from others: "I have always found the connection of omer period abstinence to Christian Lent and its pagan precursors to be persuasive... Lag B'Omer, parallel to May Day, breaks the tension as people work up the courage to defy the anxiety forces of frustration." (Both of these quotes attributed to Edward Greenstein by Michael Strassfeld in The Jewish holidays, p.51). And, "Lag B'Omer the equivalent of May Day? If not the equivalent, they are surely related..." (Everett Gendler, also quoted in Strassfeld, ibid.)

Many speculations are offered in the texts from which these quotes are taken, as to the roots of the moody tradition that surrounds this relatively obscure Jewish holiday; but our brief purpose here is only to present the day in a pattern context, to show the relationship of the pattern in its entirety to the nature perceptions of the Celtic calendar.


Here we have the most fascinating comparison of all. In Jewish lore, Tisha B'Av annotates the most tragic disasters in their history: the two occasions when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, once by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and once more by the Romans in the year 70 of the Christian era -- about 650 years apart, yet documented to within a day or two of the same lunar calendar moment! In terms of the modern western view of such things, it was a matter of coincidence. But as we examine other considerations, the idea of "coincidence" (in any other than a temporal sense) will become increasingly untenable.

Here is a partial list of events, from Jewish history, that have happened during the five calendar dates that center on the ninth day of the Hebrew lunar month of Av (the day called Tisha B'Av):

586 BC

Nebuchadnezzar sets fire to first temple

70 AD

Romans destroy second temple


Site plowed over to build Roman colony


Last independent Jewish outpost fell to Romans


Anti-Jewish riots in Arnstadt, Germany


Jews expelled from England by Edward I


All French Jews arrested, then expelled for 9 years


Black Death massacre of Jews in Frankfort, Germany


Hundreds of Catalonia Jews murdered


Riots in Silesia led to expulsion of Jews from Poland


Jews in Valencia massacred; community destroyed


Jews expelled from Spain


Pope Paul IV confines Rome Jews to ghetto


3000 Jews massacred in Konstantynow


Jews expelled from Vienna


Jewish quarter of Jassy, Rumania gutted by fire


'Final solution' order sent by Goering to Heydrich


Warsaw ghetto Jews ordered to concentration camps

Yes, those events all happened between Av 7 and Av 11. (Compiled from Abraham P. Bloch, Day by day in Jewish history, pp. 242-246). Several qualifications are in order here. 1) In our own calendar terms, they ranged between July 7 and August 5, though only two occurred earlier than July 18. 2) Seven of them happened right on Av 9 -- more than twice the number on any other single date. 3) While calamities are characteristic of the Jewish people, this particular concentration is extraordinary. For comparison, in a randomly selected five days elsewhere in the calendar, only six events of similar consequence could be found, half of which took place during WWII. (Ibid. pp.1-3, 102-3).

The proposition, here, is that Tisha B'Av marks the same point of ripening, on the cycle, as Lughnasa; and that in some remote time of pre-history both observances originated in a conscious awareness of this circumstance. The relationship between ripening and calamity might be a bit obscure at first notice. There are two possibilities: Most simply, it can be the "ripening" or maturation of a calamitous trend. But far more likely, it has something to do with the response being made to some other ripening development.

Imagine a tree encountering the resistance of an obstacle, such as the roof-line of a house, or the concrete of a sidewalk. To the house or the sidewalk, it would result in a calamity. Free will, so often indulged by human beings, can be an equivalent "obstacle" to a ripening development. This is speculation arising from the experience of the writer, which will be detailed in a later section -- the general principle being that maturation forces its way through any material resistance to its natural development.

According to Waskow, the Babylonians had also (and earlier) regarded the ninth of Av as "a day of dread and sorrow, a climactic moment in a month-long celebration focused on torches and firewood." (Waskow, ibid, p.208). He goes on to speculate that it may have "had to do with midsummer and a sense of the raging sun." Perhaps, but let us now turn back to the Lughnasa tradition and examine what is known of it a little more closely.

Máire MacNeill, who has gone as deeply as is perhaps possible into the background of this specific observance, tells us " not comparable with Samhain nor even with Beltaine, as a time of magical occurrences. It is, however, associated with one of the legendary invasions of Ireland, that of the Fir Bolg..." (my emphasis). And then he adds a further interesting note: "Surprisingly, there is no mythological reference to its connexion with the harvest. To find the harvest connexion in an early source we must turn to Christian tradition." (Máire MacNeill, The festival of Lughnasa: a study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of the harvest, p.2). Thus, we see that the pagan roots of Lughnasa bear reference not to agriculture, but to the same kind of "eventful culmination" as we find to be characteristic of the calendar-seasonal time of Tisha B'Av.


Possibly because the timing of this observance is too greatly at variance with our Celtic template, this Jewish occasion is the least suggestive of comparative similarities. It completes the pattern, although it is not really close enough on the cycle to do so -- but there is none closer, in the Hebrew calendar. It comes too soon to be a seeding moment, except perhaps when it arrives very late (in our terms), in the Metonic scheme of things.

It is clearly, however, the vestige of a seasonal ritual function, in that it comes immediately after the last harvest festival of Sukkot, and it ritualizes a prayer for good rains during the coming winter. In fact, our primary commentator on these matters, Waskow, is himself sensitive to the cyclic implications of the occasion:

"Not only was the explicit message of Sh'mini Atzeret a measure of constriction, retreat, quiet -- so was its medium, the implicit message of its form. For by tacking Sh'mini Atzeret right on to Sukkot, the Torah made sure that it would almost disappear from sight -- like a seed disappearing into the ground..." (Waskow, ibid, p.68)

One might reasonably wonder if the Torah's human authors had not conspired to make the mystical nature-affinity of the entire festive calendar "almost disappear from sight."

We will come back to this seasonal structure in the two calendars and explore it more fully. But first, we must consider the last of our exemplary calendars, to give our probe its final dimension.



If any people at all understood that it was the seasons, themselves, which brought things to perfection, it was the Chinese. Their earliest writings leave no doubt of it. They do not cloud or hedge the issue.
"The four seasons promulgate to mankind the clearest universal law, but they do not discuss it. The myriads of beings exist according to perfect natural laws..." (Lao Tzu)

"Does heaven say anything? And yet the seasons pursue their course, so that all things are produced." (Confucius)

"In the months of midsummer the growth of the days reaches the ultimate point, and the Yin and the Yang commence their annual struggle..." (Lu Puh-wei)

In translation it's a bit flowery, but the intent should be clear. The quotations are culled by J.J.M. de Groot (de Groot, Religion in China, pp.74-5, 136), who -- if clarification be needed -- provides us a summary in the form of specifying governmental responsibility as seen in the early Chinese empire:

"...the imperial government is preeminently a creation of the Order of the World itself, the instrument tending to keep the human race in the correct Tao by means of sage political measures and laws. It ought, therefore, to be the sum and substance of the Tao of Man, the realiser of the great principle that the conduct of man must be in perfect accord with the Order of the World, lest he lose his happiness, and even his life. The Order of the World is the process of Nature, repeating itself every year. It is the annual course of time. Accordingly, a paramount duty of government is to enable mankind to live in accordance with that time, so that mankind may secure for itself the blessings which the Universe dispenses in the several seasons, months, and days." (ibid, pp.216-7) (emphasis mine)

This is clearly not in reference to an agricultural injunction. It is more nearly a hint of our own Declaration of Independence! And one that incidentally provides us with an insightful commentary on the question that lurks behind our thesis, the question of free will vs. pre-destiny: de Groot gives us the picture of a culture firmly committed to their subservience to the seasons, yet equally so to their own responsibility for living in accord with the seasons.

The mysticism of the Chinese perspective on nature has confounded most Westerners who have tried to assess their real understanding of nature. In the abridgement of his massive study of Chinese science and civilization, we find an elaboration, by Joseph Needham, of the distinction he sees between our western idea of Laws of Nature and the eastern concept of Order in the Universe. He concludes that the eastern investment in a phenomenological view of nature was the roadblock that hindered their development of any kind of science as we know it.

"[T]he Chinese notion of Order positively excluded the notion of Law. Yet so unconscious has the idea of laws of Nature been among Europeans that many Western scholars of Chinese have unsuspectingly read the word 'law' into texts when in fact there is no Chinese word there to justify it." (Needham, The Shorter science and civilization in China, p.301).

Needham attaches this difficulty, in his final analysis, to

the "depersonalization of God in ancient China... It was not that there was no order in Nature for the Chinese, but rather that it was not an order ordained by a rational personal being. Hence there was no conviction that rational personal beings would be able to spell out, in their lesser earthly languages, the divine code of laws which He had previously decreed." (Ibid., p.305).

If this view is thoughtfully considered, it identifies the paradigm of Western rationalism as nothing more than a notional offshoot of our religion! The filter of rationalism -- according to Needham -- is God's, not our own. In the end, it is a culturo-centric fixation, explaining our inability to relate to Chinese perceptions of reality, rather than their inability to comprehend the laws of nature!

With this thought as a grounding point, let us take a look at the Chinese calendar. As with all such that range back into antiquity, any account of the historic development of the Chinese calendar is fraught with uncertainties and suppositions. Let's first consider the evidence of the calendar itself. It is a luni-solar instrument, its months tied to the occasion of the new moon, just as the Hebrew calendar, and harmonized to the solar cycle by the Metonic series of seven intercalations every nineteen years -- again, just as with the Hebrew calendar. Here the similarity ends. Its year begins with the (usually) early February new moon, and has within it a subdivision of "solar terms" or "breaths" -- semi-monthly divisions that generally annotate the passing stages of a country year.

The intercalation harmony goes back to the third century B.C., although the Chinese are known to have determined this relationship at least several hundred years earlier -- substantially prior to the Greek discovery of it. (Mao Yisheng, Ancient China's technology and science, p.45) The point is made in order to establish the fact that the Chinese had quite a grasp on rationalism; they merely didn't consider it holy!

Notice, too, that the Chinese New Year equates, on the cycle, to the Celtic cross-quarter time of Imbolc. There is also some indication that at a time in the long past, they had observed an October/November new year, which would also validate a Celtic resonance. The known calendar history indicates there may have been several shifts back and forth across the solsticial line for the New Year observance -- another curious parallel with the Hebrew calendar. Yet, intriguingly, the Chinese seem to have alternated "tightly" across the winter solstice, rather than "broadly" across the solstice of summer, as the Hebrew shift had done.

We might briefly summarize, before going on, the new year points of present or ancient recognition, in our three illustrative calendars. Solar is shown as a specific date, while lunar indication is within a two-week (--/+) spread on either side:

September 21+/-



November 1 (or 6)



November 8 +/-


old Chinese?

[January 1]



February 6 +/-



April 9 +/-


old Jewish?

It might be said that the Jewish calendars, based on equinoxes, provide the outer containment; while the "central agreement" between Chinese and Celtic is that a new year focus should be close to one or the other side of the winter solstice, but not on it. The Western calendar "averages" these out (and like most averages, it is meaningless).

The Chinese calendar, however, is of interest to us not so much as a participant in this spread, but for a much deeper reason. Going back much earlier than anything known of the calendar design, or the assumptions behind it, is another philosophical structure of ancient Chinese usage that relates to their calendar in a way that is both astounding and puzzling. In order to demonstrate this relationship, we need to go into that older system, itself, in such a way that its calendar element can be clearly grasped. This is the Chinese classic called the I Ching, thought to be one of the world's oldest texts.

The I Ching is essentially two things: a divinatory tool and a remarkably subtle philosophy of living. In the latter capacity it served as the foundation for both Taoism and Confucianism, two philosophies often seen as being at odds with one another. Confucianism with its emphasis on formalism and "right action" in the world, and Taoism with its contrary emphasis on the nature-sensitive wisdom of restraint. That the I Ching could provide a common foundation is one testament to its universality.

In its better known capacity as a divinatory device, it relies on the elements of its philosophy for personal guidance. The two functions are integral to one another, which has been responsible for a frequently superficial view of it by Western commentators with little tolerance for the anti-rational aspect of divination. Yet, this is illusory. Considering its age -- well-attested to the early part of the Chou dynasty, about 1100 B.C. -- the I Ching is remarkably rational in the design and expansion of its basic structure.

It begins with the primary distinction between Yin and Yang, the dualism of energies, or tendencies, that interactively constitute the underlying nature of everything in the universe, be it object, organism, action, situation, or state of being. There is a range of descriptors that come readily to mind, in categorizing the distinction between these two, but any such delineation -- no matter how extensive as to terms -- is an over-simplification. In the same sense as that by which the Tao cannot be named, or the Hebrew term for god -- YHVH -- cannot really be spoken, Yin and Yang are incapable of verbal definition.

Bearing this in mind, the general distinction between them is often rendered by just such reference to contrasting polarities which include, for Yang: active, bright, heaven, sun, male, external, intellection, initiating, and so forth; while for Yin: passive, dark, earth, moon, female, internal, intuition, reciprocating, etc. These common distinctions can be compared to those generally assigned to sun and moon in Part IV of this text.

Traditional Chinese usage then refines these two terms into symbols, and they become the basis, in the I Ching, for an ideogrammatic extension into detailed situational specifics: Yang expressed by a solid line (------) and Yin by a broken line (--  --). With this convention, it is possible to layer them on one another so that two-level, three-level, and ultimately six-level structures are obtained. At every step of the way, a rationalist approach is in evidence, if you allow for the different way of seeing things. Thus, in the two-level usage there are four combinations:

Sorry...until I get a graphic image in here (soon), this isn't readable

complete Yang
Yang over Yin
Yin over Yang
complete Yin
---------------  ----
----  ---------------
----  ---------  ----
The lower element, in this sense, can suggest a range of things: subservient to, followed by, influenced by, challenged from within by, etc. It is a language of the interaction between tendencies, or subtle energies that operate in all situations. If it is remote to western consciousness, it is essentially because we don't think in terms of energy interaction.

When we come to the three-level structures, there are eight possible combinations, and the meanings inferred become more complex, though they still derive from these basic one and two-level implications. They have become stylized into eight thematic elements called trigrams, which are worthy of a momentary summarization here. It will be seen that each trigram has a basic symbolic meaning (underlined), which is then extrapolated into secondary themes.

  • --  --
  • --  --
  • --  --

 Earth: yielding, receptive, responsive, devoted, submissive.

  • --  --
  • --  --
  • ------

Thunder: arousing, movement, activity, shock, growth.

  • --  --
  • ------
  • --  --

 Water: mysterious, profound, meaningful, dangerous, difficult.

  • ------
  • --  --
  • --  --

 Mountain: still, resting, meditating, tranquil, immobile.

  • --  --
  • ------
  • ------

 Lake: joy, openness, pleasure, satisfaction, excess.

  • ------
  • --  --
  • ------

 Fire: illumine, clarity, intelligence, dependence, attachment.

  • ------
  • ------
  • --  --

 Wind: gentle effects, small efforts, penetrating work.

  • ------
  • ------
  • ------

 Heaven: firmness, creativity, strength, force, power.


The final extension of this system was done by pairing-up the trigrams -- putting each cluster in juxtaposition with each other, one trigram below, one above. This provided sixty-four variations called hexagrams, each of which became situationally descriptive according to the trigram elements involved and how they now related to one another (upper or lower, each with its own full range of suggestive meaning), as well as other internal structural elements -- and the system was now capable of a complexity of possible "readings." To give just one example:

  • ----  ----
  • ----------
  • ----  ----
  • ----  ----
  • ----  ----
  • ----  ----

This hexagram consists of Water above Earth, and it is called Holding Together. The I Ching  begins to explain the situation in these terms:

"The waters on the surface of the earth flow together wherever they can, as for example in the ocean, where all the rivers come together. Symbolically this connotes holding together and the laws that regulate it. The same idea is suggested by the fact that all the lines of the hexagram except the fifth [the Yang line, counting from the bottom], the place of the ruler [this is a traditional placement in a hexagram], are yielding [i.e., Yin]. The yielding lines hold together because they are influenced by a man of strong will in the leading position, a man who is their center of union..." etc. (From Richard Wilhelm & C. Baynes, The I Ching or Book of Changes, pp.35-6)

Needham was quite correct in calling it phenomenological; but this is no more an indication of insufficiency, as a natural philosophy of "real life," than the idea that climate and weather contribute to our psychological state of being and therefore to our action in the world. But that is neither here nor there; we are interested in discovering how this imaginatively developed system relates to the Chinese calendar.

The foregoing outline was presented for the sole purpose of indicating the means through which meaning was inferred from the structure of the hexagram -- starting with basic Yin/Yang elements of structure, and extending through a logical progression of development. For it is crucial to know this, in order to realize the significance of what follows.

From among the set of sixty-four hexagrams, one can locate twelve which, as a structured series, provide an interesting graphic presentation of a cycle of flow, from Yin through Yang and back again. The I Ching  specifically identifies these hexagrams with the lunar months of the Chinese calendar. Bearing in mind the direction of flow, from bottom to top, it is visually evident in the rise of the solid (Yang) lines, followed by the rise of the broken (Yin) follows:

The numbers provided are the hexagram designations as they appear in the standard I Ching  sequence, indicating that these hexagrams have indeed been extracted from another arrangement. But lined up in this fashion, they illustrate a seasonal development that correlates both descriptively and visually with the lunar months of the Chinese calendar.

The first hexagram shown, number 2, signifies the October/November passage, the all-Yin month of the year and our now familiar Celtic New Year point, as well as the presumed onetime New Year of the Chinese calendar.

Number 11 marks the existing Chinese New Year month, the January/February passage -- and it is a symbolic portrayal (in hexagram construction) of the moment when Yang energy is about to "spring forth" into the outer world (the upper part of the hexagram) from its winter-long "burial" in the below-surface nourishment process. The midspace between each pair of trigrams is translatable as the line between outer manifestation and inner evolvement.

Each monthly ideogram in its turn displays the rising tide of Yang energy, until fullness is reached in number 1, which is the April/May lunar month -- the time of Beltane bonfires and pagan maypole celebrations in many ancient traditions.

From this point, the Yin energy begins to intrude from below. Number 12, where Yin energy has reached the midpoint, is the July/August passage...the midsummer heat of Lughnasa for the Celts...the Dog Days of the ancient Mediterranean world...the repeatedly tragic time of Tisha B'Av, for the Jews -- and, not accidentally, a moment that is definitionally of great instability according to the I Ching  description of hexagram number 12:

"Heaven and earth are out of communion and all things are benumbed. What is above has no relation to what is below, and on earth confusion and disorder prevail." (Ibid. pp.52-3)

Remember, though: the I Ching  hexagrams are accounted for on the basis of structure alone, and if a relevance to actual seasonal circumstances occurs, in this cyclic flow, it has to be "entirely coincidental!" The ascribed reason why the situation of number 12 is regarded as unstable is not given as seasonal, it is because earth and heaven, in this trigram arrangement, are in disruptive relationship to each other. Heaven tends to rise, so it should be below, as in hexagram number 11, so that they will flow toward each other instead of drifting apart. Number 11 is in fact described in the I Ching  as "Heaven...beneath the earth, and so their powers unite in deep harmony." (Ibid, p.48)

Now we can see the rather awesome relationship between the I Ching and the calendar. A system of phenomenological speculations about human relationship to the cosmos contains the model of a seasonal flow, though there is no 'reasonable' connection between the two (in our Western terms). Yet, it would appear to be borne out in nature itself! The model relates, furthermore, to cyclic perceptions in the seasonal pattern of other cultures around the globe.

To realize how fully appropriate is the elaboration of this month-to-month pattern, let's look at how each of the twelve stages in the series relates to a seasonal flow. Reference will be made to the hexagram numbers as shown above, followed by the commonly assigned name of the hexagram, the lunar-month locus, and lastly my own extrapolated sense of the seasonal implications. In the perspective of the Chinese lunar year, we begin with...

Other internal cycle relationships are suggested by this structural arrangement. If the Yang and Yin lines of development are paired alongside one another, it will be seen that there is a certain contrasting balance, not only as to form but to meaning. The pairing, for instance, of numbers 11 and 12, Harmony and Stagnation, already spoken to, presents an interesting perspective on the stasis of winter versus the stasis of summer. Or of numbers 33 and 19, Retreat and Approach, suggestive of the psycho-emotional experience that differentiates an impending arrival of each such mid-season point of stasis.

But the situation exemplified in Number 12, Standstill/Stagnation, as a point of energy imbalance, and its resonance not only with the seasonal situation but with the Hebrew Tisha B'Av and the Celtic Lughnasa, is almost like a Rosetta Stone, for our purposes. Now that we have the three-culture picture of it, let's go back to MacNeill's deep investigation of Lughnasa and add the finishing touch. There is a very ancient folktale about the god Lugh and a battle between the gods that the festival celebrates. MacNeill tells us that the battle:

"...has been interpreted as a struggle between beneficent and harmful powers. D'Arbois de Jubainville interpreted the battle as one fought by the Gods of Day and Life against the Gods of Night and Death [the clash of Yang and Yin!], and subsequent commentators have made somewhat similar deductions... The folk-legends of the festival [of Lughnasa] certainly support the theory of a struggle between two gods...[and it] cannot be dismissed as artificial. However composed, it is a repository of myth." (Maire MacNeill, The festival of Lughnasa..., p.4)


The three calendars we have looked at have each, to some large extent, been concerned with seasonal time outside of an agricultural context. For the Chinese, it was in relationship to a philosophy of nature, with divinatory aspects. For the Hebrews it was to shape and hold a cultural nucleus (the very nature of a wandering and then widely dispersed culture could hardly benefit from a calendar focused primarily on agriculture). For the Celts we cannot be quite sure, but there is the strong suggestion of a mystical relationship to time. Yet, the calendars are richly seasonal, and resonate certain common perceptions about seasonal time. Perceptions that clearly support the thesis of this paper.

We can never know for sure what those ancient peoples are saying to us through their calendars. But we can be fairly sure that it goes outside today's range of rational truth. And that it worked for them! It should make us a little bolder about what we're willing to believe.


If you are ready, let us move along to Part VI, our closing section.

(or, alternatively, to the main Staging Area for other destinations on the site)

FOOTNOTES (linked from text)

"...complications of the Roman Calendar." A most thorough treatment of the Roman calendar can be found in Roman festival calendar of Numa Pompilus by Michael York (1986). Also see Harrison J. Cowan (Time and its measurement, pp. 26-30). Back to text.

" actually Celtic" Most authorities uphold a Celtic identity for the Coligny calendar. Robert Graves (The White goddess, pp. 166-7) was the earliest to challenge it -- certainly in part because his opus is based upon another calendar scheme. But Kevin Danaher ("Irish folk tradition and the Celtic calendar" in Robert O'Driscoll, The Celtic consciousness, pp. 217-224) argues persuasively that the two calendars come from quite separate traditions and cannot be considered in one cultural context. Back to text.

"...a highly sophisticated astronomical awareness..." Kevin Danaher (ibid. p. 222), who makes the strongest case for a pre-Christian antiquity, also insists that the calendar structure must be considered pre-Celtic. Back to text.

"...(as they surely must have been)" This assessment is my own speculation. I have found nothing to support it, although Pliny is noted to have observed that they regularly held an important sacrificial ceremony on the sixth of every month. (See Miranda Green, The Gods of the Celts, p. 74) Back to text.

"...falls on February 2nd." Maire MacNeill (The Festival of Lughnasa, p. 1) establishes each as being on the first of the month, but most encyclopedic references seem to make a distinction for the February occasion. Back to text.

(for August 1) There is no modern correlate for Lughnasa, though in some ways it is the most critical point in the pattern. Lammas was a latter-day adaptation by the Anglo-Saxons -- vestigial now, too, like the calendar format itself. Back to text.

"...prior to the Babylonian Exile." Most of the month names of the two calendars are obviously related; and the Metonic Cycle was being used in Babylonia (clearly by their own discovery) as early as 550 B.C. The possibility for the doubled New Year is annotated in detailed commentary on an Ugarit myth from second millennium Syria, which appears to relate strongly to the early Jewish calendar (see Johannes C. de Moor, The Seasonal pattern in the Ugaritic myth of Ba'lu, pp. 61-62). Back to text.

"...the most tragic disasters in their history." Quite arguably, the tragedies were exceeded by the Holocaust, but we are dealing here with tradition, in the significance of this day of observance. And see the table that follows, in the text. Back to text.

"...elsewhere in the calendar..." Comparative dates used were Tishri 1,2 (@ September) and Shevat 15,16,17 (@ February) Back to text.

"...also validate a Celtic resonance." One notation to this effect is the observation on the sacral nature of the Chinese calendar in Frank Parise (Ed.), The Book of calendars, p.215: "Each year the new calendar was presented in an elaborate ceremony held on the first day of the tenth month." [i.e., the October/November lunar passage.] Back to text.

"...the Chou Dynasty, about 1100 B.C." Earliest assured textual reference, taken from Michael Loewe and Carmen Blacker (Eds.), Oracles and divination, p.41. There is structural evidence that it is much older, and a copy of it dating to the Han dynasty, 180 B.C., is already a fully developed system, substantially as it has come down to us, according to F. David Peat, Synchronicity: the Bridge between matter and mind, p.135. Back to text.

"...incapable of verbal definition." Of course, we have diminished them, in our own cultural perspective, to a cliché -- as we do with everything that goes against our cultural grain and threatens to challenge it. Back to text.