Moon and Sun/Earth Calendars
By Sheila Rose Bright
I cannot let Jacqui Woodward-Smith’s reference to ‘our patriarchal solar calendar’ (GP9, Reviews) pass without comment. To my mind there is nothing patriarchal about using a solar calendar, only about ignoring the moon. And you’ve given me the ideal opening to leap up onto several of my favourite soapboxes, Jacqui!
I completely agree that we need to let the moon shine in and on our lives much more. A month is, for me, a perfect length of time to acknowledge and work with one cycle of new, waxing, full, waning, dark and new again in my life. I consciously attune my physical and spiritual life to the moon’s phases, taking the opportunity to reflect upon what new seeds/beginnings I want to sow, what growth to nurture in my life, what fullness to celebrate and what to empower, what to turn away from or let die, what to cut and end, what I want to return to and resurrect.
Whatever ritual, spiritual, emotional or physical work is needed in my life, there is always a time of the moon which is best for doing it. ‘Best’ in this context means when I will most feel like doing it and will thus do it most effectively, because my energies are flowing with the moon’s. Conversely, the current phase of the moon also leads me to reflect upon the corresponding direction of energy in my life on that day. I cannot imagine living a life which is not deeply and essentially attuned to the moon’s phases. Even the colour of the clothes I wear (and thus of my laundry loads!) symbolically follow her cycle. It is the moon which gives me my basic daily rhythm, even though it is no longer marked by my menstrual cycle.
I would imagine, with Jacqui, that inattention to the moon in our lives does have its roots in patriarchy, with its devaluing and destruction of all that the moon affects and stands for: tidal flows, menstrual bleeding, the cyclical (as opposed to linear) nature of life, and by extension ultimately Woman and Goddess herself. Naturally our oldest Goddess figurines like Willendorf show lunar notation.
However, our solar calendar is definitely not patriarchal, even if our exclusive use of it while disregarding the moon is. Our solar calendar is in fact the calendar of our Mother Earth and her changing relationship to the sun as we orbit it each year. (Remember that actually we are spinning on our axis and circling around the sun, even though it appears to us on Earth that the sun rises and sets, and shines for longer or shorter days.) The solar calendar is the calendar of Earth’s seasonal year. It must have critically affected and directed the patterns of human life ever since we learned to anticipate where and when food would be available for gathering, where and when to expect to find animals to hunt, and, later, when to plant and harvest.
As far as I know, the Wheel of the Year is a central feature of all pagan religions, including the Goddess path. This is not surprising, since the word ‘pagan’ comes from the Latin ‘paganus’ meaning ‘country dweller’. Pagans are nature people, in tune with the Earth and her seasons. Certainly in my own life, attunement to the changing seasons of the solar year is core. Thus I organise my personal life and calendar around the eight festivals, the centre of my spirituality.
In fact, the reason why I so much resent our enforced annual adjustment to Bloody Silly Time (B.S.T.)* and back again is that it destroys the sacredness of the days gradually growing longer or shorter and my appreciation of that change. It cuts across our Earth/Sun calendar with a bureaucratic patriarchal knife – with the absurd result that in West Cornwall where I live, true noon (the sun at its zenith) happens 1 hour 23 minutes later than noon by the clock. Now that’s what I call patriarchal: deliberately moving us out of synch with Earth/Sun time, imposing an artificial and unnatural time on our body-clocks.
I’m not sure why ‘Lunar Imbolc/Beltane/Lammas/Samhain’ should be celebrated on the nearest full moon. Who said that the cross-quarter festivals were/are celebrated at full moon? Why not choose the lunar phase which would be in tune with and reflect the energy of each festival e.g. waxing crescent moon for Imbolc’s new beginnings, waxing gibbous (approaching full moon) for Beltane’s flowering, waning gibbous for Lammas’ fruiting, waning crescent/dark moon for Samhain. This would follow the same principle which I use in celebrating Spring Equinox at dawn, Beltane mid-morning, Midsummer at noon, Lammas early afternoon, Autumn Equinox at sunset and Midwinter at midnight: laying the map of one unit of time (a day) over another (year) and marrying up the corresponding phases of each.
However, personally I quite enjoy the variety of lunar phases which our Earth/Sun calendar brings to our festivals. Whereas a full moon at Beltane will reinforce Beltane’s full-on ecstatic extrovert nature, a dark Moon at Beltane subtly tones down the energy and introduces an undertone of endings, loss and introspection. Similarly for all the solar festivals: the phase of the moon affects the energy of the festival – yet one more reason why the same festival is different each year.
Clearly we need to honour both Moon rhythms and Earth/Sun rhythms in our physical and spiritual lives if they are to be full and rich. The problem is that the two calendars do not fit together neatly over any useful time-span. The repeating cycles of the sun and moon do in fact coincide exactly, but only every19 years in what is called the Metonic cycle.
For example, if there is a full moon on your birthday this year, there will be a full moon on your birthday in 19 years’ time, just as there was 19 years ago. I once started an important relationship on the day of a Solar Eclipse. So on our nineteenth anniversary, there was also a solar eclipse, at the same degree of the zodiac. In other words, any chosen exact season of the Earth/Sun (let’s say Midsummer although it could be any day of the solar year) will be matched with any chosen exact phase of the Moon (let’s say New Moon although again it could be any day of the lunar month) in a repeating pattern every nineteen years. The Druids call this 19-year cycle a Great Year. So you can re-use your soli-lunar diary every 19 years, because the phases of the moon each day will be the same as they were on that same day 19 years ago.
Sadly, however,19 years is too long a cycle to be much use for marking time in a human lifespan. Can you imagine waiting 19 years for each (Sun and Moon) birthday? And equally the Moon’s cycle is too short – a birthday every month when the Moon returns to the same phase (or alternately the same degree of the zodiac) as it was when you were born? In a life of 80 years, you would then have something like 2280 lunar birthdays in your life – rather too many to be a special event! For birthdays, one solar year is probably about right. Whereas it would be much too long to wait for the next piece of ritual work you need to do. Then the moon’s cycle is what’s needed.
This may be the time to point out that, despite popular belief and wishful witchy thinking, there are not 13 moons in a solar year, however you calculate it. The Moon returns to the same position in the sky (i.e. against the background of the zodiac or stars) every 27.32 days. Multiply 27.32 by 13 = 355 days, 10 days short of a solar year. However, this kind of month (technically known as a sidereal month) is not a readily visible phenomenon and in fact requires careful attention (and clear skies!) to even observe.
What is obvious and clearly visible in the sky, and what most people mean by a lunar month, is the period between one lunation and the next e.g. from one Full Moon to the next Full Moon (technically known as a synodic month). This occurs every 29.53 days (the extra 2+ days longer than a sidereal month are the time it takes the Moon to cover the distance by which the Sun has moved on from where it was at the last Full Moon). Multiply 29.53 by 13 = 384 days, 19 days longer than a solar year; or multiply 29.53 x 12 = 354 days, 11 days short of a solar year. So some years have 12 Full Moons, some have 13, but more years have 12 than 13 (365 /29.53 = 12.36). No neat relationship here either.
You begin to see the problems of trying to marry the solar and lunar calendars? Celestially the two calendars do not easily fit together and cannot be made to do so, although several cultures have tried. So it is up to each one of us to live the integration internally within ourselves, by fully honouring both the Moon and Earth/Sun cycles and the complex pattern in which they relate, not asking for a tidy overlay or relationship which does not exist. Once again I conclude that it must be both/and not either/or. We cannot be asked to give up our intimate connection to either the Moon’s phases or the Earth’s seasons. Both rhythms regulate our lifeblood.
©Sheila Rose Bright
* British Summer Time – clocks are put forward an hour between late March and late October – also known as Daylight Saving Time.
At Samhain 2012 she crossed the threshold into old age with magical croning celebrations in Avebury and Glastonbury. She is now looking forward to retiring from her accounting and astrology work. "Being free to create a life doing what I want to do and thinking about what I want to think about should lead me to A Better Cronehood (ABC)."
She is/was co-organiser of the Goddess in Cornwall Event, co-founder of Goddess Alive! Magazine, and the author of numerous Goddess-related articles and the booklet The Eleusinian Mysteries – a Modern Pilgrimage (available from the Goddess Temple website).