What is a leap year?

What is a leap year?

The calendar reform and introduction of leap years

In the beginning, all calendars were lunar and guided by the monthly lunar cycle.  When Julius Caesar visited Egypt, he fell in love with Cleopatra and immersed himself in Egyptian culture and scientific teachings.

When he returned to Rome, he brought with him the desire to correct the then outdated Roman Calendar and replace it with a model that followed the path of the sun. In this calendar the Roman astronomers inserted leap years, but they occured on average every 3 years. His new Roman calendar, also called the Julian Calendar was introduced in Rome on the 1st of January 45B.C. and for centuries this model stood its test of time. But during the Middle Ages, it became apparent that the Julian Calendar was no longer totally accurate. In the early 13th century A.D. an English friar named Roger Bacon calculated that the solar year was actually 11 minutes longer than Julius Caesar’s astronomers had calculated. By 1267 this had amounted to around nine days. Bacon wrote to Pope Clement IV and asked that the church should correct the calendar. If this issue was left unfixed the months would shift to such an extent that the holy days of Easter and Christmas would fall into a completely different seasons. Pope Clement IV was very interested and asked Bacon to send his findings to the Vatican.  Over the next year Bacon set off to compose his theories in a manuscript he called Opus Maius (Major Work). In this work he set out (amongst many other topics) to prove that the current way solstices and equinoxes were calculated had gone completely out of sync with the true seasons and a calendar reform was badly needed. Sadly for Bacon Pope Clement IV died in 1268 before he could read or evaluate this important document. His successor Gregory X was less sympathetic and Bacon’s book became largely forgotten. But the friar did not rest and kept publishing his demands for calendar reform. In 1277 these calls  landed him in prison and his ‘dangerous teachings’ were deemed to be heretic and were largely suppressed by the Catholic church. It took almost another 300 years before Roger Bacon’s demand finally got taken seriously. Around 1573 Pope Gregory XIII appointed a calendar commission to look into the lost days. By this point it had amounted to 11.5 days. This commission was led by the mathematician Christopher Clavius who directed work on the commission, but the main author was a physician called Aloysius Lilius (sometimes referred to as Luigi Lilio) who comprehended the papal bull that Gregory would issue on 24 February 1582. Unfortunately Lilio would not see his work to fruition and passed away in 1576, leaving Clavius to credit his work and drive the commission to completion. The final product – the still used Gregorian Calendar – has now the correct length of year which corresponds exactly with the solistices and equinoxes and the year stays in complete sync with the season. The leap year correction added a day to the shortest month of the year – February – so every 4 years now February counts for 29days instead of the customary 28.
The cow jumped over the moon

The cow jumped over the moon

Most of you probably know the nursery rhyme

Hey Diddle Diddle
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed,
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

I always pondered particularly at the line ‘ The cow jumped over the moon’, thinking it was just a silly little nursery rhyme to pacify children who would not want to go to sleep. But in fact, there is a theory that ‘the cow jumped over the moon’ related to the Ancient Goddess Hathor and was probably badly translated from Ancient Greek texts and put into a nursery rhyme.

The Minoan culture

I recently visited Knossos, the birthplace of the Minoan civilization. For all of you that have not heard much about this place, Knossos was the largest Minoan royal palace, situated in Crete.

The Minoans were the first major culture in Europe ( 2700 to 1450 B.C.) to worship only one God. They left behind palaces, advanced pieces of pottery, fantastic jewelry, and many unsolved mysteries. Below you can see the throne room where ‘King Minos’ reigned in the palace that is famous for its Minotaur.

The Minoan had a complex lunisolar calendar system and there are traces of both left in the palace. They were on the whole a peaceful,
monotheist society and their prime God was a woman – similar to later Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and harvest – a shorthand for Mother Earth/Nature.

I took part in a guided tour of the famous ruins and towards the end, I asked the guide, ‘ Where actually was the famous labyrinth?’  The guide answered,’ You are standing in it – it was the palace itself. It had so many rooms that foreign visitors saw it as a labyrinth’. My remaining question of course was – and where was the Minotaur?

According to legend, Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull as a sign of support and as an offering to the Goddess. But Minos did not slaughter the bull but kept it instead alive. So Poseidon punished him by making Minos’ wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull and conceive an offspring called the Minotaur, half man – half bull.

The moon and the origin of the Olympic Games

The bull was always very connected to the Minoan culture. There are still frescos preserved that show young athletes, male and female, jumping over a bull. It was a common sport and sign of bravery in Knossos, similar to bullfighting in Spain, but the bull did not lose its life as it was a worshipped animal, closely connected to the Moon God. The Palace still is decorated with cow horns, most likely showing the crescent waxing and waning moon and the connection to the land, fertility and the bull was its obvious manifestation on earth.

Babylonian calendar records exist that points to a very possible Minoan connection and suggest that it has to do with the existence of the lunisolar calendar. In it, the priests recorded many celestial events, such as solstices, solar and lunar eclipses, and of course various star patterns.  This occurred more than a thousand years before the Babylonians established their own calendar version.  It looks like the Minoan culture in Crete was the blueprint for all the other cultures that followed.

A rich and seafaring civilization such as the Minoans would have had a calendar system of sorts and would have traded with Egypt, the Phoenicians, and of course the Sumerians. Furthermore, King Minos was not one person, but a title, such as Ceasar or Pharoah. So there were many ‘King Minos’ figures and their time in office was limited to one big lunisolar cycle, lasting around 8 years. Then a new King Minos would come into the office. The most likely explanation is the octagonal cycle that occurs every 8 years when Venus completes her cycle and returns to its original position at the same point in the sky. As no firm calendar records survive we can only speculate.

But it would totally correspond with the practices of other cultures, including the Mayans. They also used the Venus cycle (when the path of Venus, the Earth, and the sun align) together with the lunar phases to calculate the synodic period of Venus (584 days). The ratio of the earth cycle to Venus is 8:5. So 5 Venus years and 8 Earth years coincide, making this a marker when the sky resets to its original position. This is quite significant in a time when there were no other ways of recording precise timings.

So coming back to the cow and the moon. The Minotaur most likely represented the worship of the sun and the moon. The mother goddess = nature, represented by the 8-year cycle where the Sun, the Earth, and Venus perfectly aligned again – and the Moon God (represented by a bull with 2 horns showing the Waxing and the Waning Moon cycles). The monster Minotaur was most probably a kind of ritual involving bulls and sacrifices in the palace of Knossos.

Another explanation is what we know as the octaeries.   This describes the phenomenon that after a period of 8 years the moon phases occur at the exact same time during the calendar year  (with very small discrepancies).  These calculations determined the exact dates of the Olympic Games (50 moon cycles between games). Both calculations and games, seem most likely to be Minoan legacies.

But why is the cow jumping over the moon?

The bull-jumping has certainly something to do with it. We know that the Minoans build their palaces to align with the solstices and the winter solstice seems to have had a particular significance, as it symbolized the rebirth of the sun and still lives on in our current Christmas tradition.

The star Orion, ‘the bull of the sky’, is visible in the Northern Hemisphere between November and February and rises over the crescent of the winter moons. Could that be the cow jumping over the moon?


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The Moon

The moon has been the Earth’s nocturnal companion for around 4.5 billion years. There are a few theories about how the moon was formed. The most convincing one to date is the Theia impact theory. Around 4.5 billion years ago the new earth collided with an astronomical body the size of Mars. This impact was so great that a lot of debris flew off and formed the current moon. In contrast to the earth, the moon has a lower density than the earth and a relatively small iron core.

Today the moon is responsible to keep the earth axes to a stable, 23.4 degrees. This provides us with a fairly mild weather pattern throughout the year and a temperate climate. Mars, for example, has no stabilizing moon and the weather is totally unpredictable. One day could be very hot and the next very cold. Without the moon, there would be no seasons and regulated day and night. In short, the moon’s stabilizing influence makes life on earth possible.

Lunar gravitation is greater on the side facing the moon and that creates the tides. The moon rotates around the earth and the gravitational pull travels with it forming on average 2 high and 2 low tides per day.

Additionally, this tidal friction slows the earth rotation down and keeps it to a 24-hour rhythm.

Here is a time-line and some interesting facts about this fascinating celestial body:

  • 4.5 billion years ago the moon was formed
  • The similar time scale of the human fertility cycle and moon cycle did not go unnoticed. The first primitive moon calendars appeared around 30,000 B.C. usually carved into wooden pieces and animal bones.
  • The horn (symbolizing the lunar crescent) has always been a fertility symbol.
  • Most cultures portrayed the moon as ‘female’ as it is connected to water (the tides), night and fertility.

People carved little statues of a moon goddess and prayed to it. The most commonly known ones were Isis (Egypt), Selene, Artemis, Hekate (Greece) and Luna in Rome.

The goddess Luna was celebrated on the night of a Full Moon. Then predominately women got together and ate moon-shaped cakes.

Statues of moon goddesses were found the world over. From Central Africa, Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and finally they came to Europe. Many churches, especially those dedicated to Mary, are usually built on ancient pagan shrines, all honoring the moon goddess – Artemis, Diana, Luna, Isis, Kybele and whatever else she was called.

In the Middle Ages, herb women still practiced pagan health care rituals and herbal lore. Many providing basic healthcare and delivered babies.

50th Anniversary of the moon landing

50th Anniversary of the moon landing

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission

On the 20th July 1969 three astronauts from the Apollo 11 NASA space program landed on the moon. These brave men were Neil Armstrong, the first man ever to set foot on the moon. The second man on the moon was Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins remained on Appollo 11 throughout the mission and was the first man to see the dark side of the moon.

The mission started at the Nasa space station in Houston on the 16th July 1969 and it took 4 days to get to the moon. The astronauts landed safely again on the 24th July 1969.

A small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind

Neil Armstrong’s words as he stepped on the lunar surface for the first time.

After successfully completing the mission, the men had to stay in quarantine until the 10th August 1969 to assure that they came back with a clean bill of health before they could be released to celebrate their achievement with the American nation.

The moon landing has always fascinated me and it looks like that we are on the cusp of a second ‘moon age’ where commercial space travel is made possible in the not too distant future. Watch this space!

The origin of Easter

The origin of Easter

This article explains how the origins of the Easter tradition, which remains to this day a lunar festival
Why does the Easter date change every year?

In 325AD the Council of Nicaea determined that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This tradition is still with us and explains why Easter is to this day a “moveable feast”, as it is of course guided by the path of the moon.

However, there’s a defined period in which Easter Sunday can fall. This always is between March 25 and April 25. The origins of Easter derive from the Jewish festival of Passover. You can still see it in the various names like Paques (French), Pasqua (Italian) or Paaske (Danish).
But in English-speaking countries, the name Easter is taken from Eostre, the goddess of spring and nature. It honors the re-birth of another growing cycle. In Germany, this goddess was known as Ostara and Easter there is called Ostern.

 Where does the Easter celebration originate from?

Many of the pagan customs associated with the celebration of spring found their way into Christian festivals. Christmas (celebrated shortly after the winter solstice = the shortest day of the year) celebrates the rebirth of the sun. Baby Jesus with the halo is a direct reminder of this.

Easter is about death and rebirth. Traditionally the spring equinox on the 21st March (when day equals night) symbolized the ‘death’ of the old year and the ‘rebirth’ of nature and a new growing cycle. Trees start to blossom, the farmers start sowing and the Roman military traditionally started their ‘marching season’. The reason why the year started with March (named after Mars, the God of war).

The zodiac also starts with Aries (the ram) on the 21st March – and of course, there was the ‘sacrificial lamb’ slaughtered at Passover – to celebrate the safe journey into the new season. In a round-about way, all these symbols align and point to one event – the rebirth of the new year (growing cycle).

What has the Easter rabbit got to do with it all and why do we colour Easter eggs?

In spring nature ‘resurrects’ and a new fertility cycle starts. What would be more fitting than using fertility symbols to celebrate this ‘burst of new life’.

Since the beginning of time, the moon cycle connects to the human fertility cycle. No wonder that ‘menstruation’ comes from mene – the Ancient Greek word for moon. Eggs are one of the most prominent fertility symbols. The human embryo grows in ‘an egg’ and so do all other mammals. Birds and reptiles also hatch from an egg. During the Middle Ages, people began decorating eggs and eating them as a treat following mass on Easter Sunday. They would have tasted wonderful after a month of fasting, better known as Lent. This tradition is still widely practiced in Central Europe. Countries like Poland, Austria, Germany still decorate hard-boiled eggs at Easter.

The rabbit is also connected with the moon and Easter. Some believe we can see ‘a hare’ looking at the moon. I am not so convinced by this theory. But ‘breeding like rabbits’ has definitely something to do with fertility.

‘The Easter bunny bringing eggs’  is a metaphor literally bursting with fertility symbols and new life. Over time though, this tradition started to dwindle. But that changed in 1722 when the German medic and writer Georg Franck von Franckenau published a story that reassociated the rabbit with Easter. In his book, the hare started to hide coloured eggs and sweets – which children had to find on Easter Sunday. This practice took off in 18th century Germany. Today children still go on an Easter hunt for chocolate eggs in their garden, keeping the old pagan fertility tradition alive.

The Sumerian calendar

The Sumerian calendar

The Sumerians and later the Babylonians were the first known civilizations to use what we now recognize as a lunisolar calendar.

By the 21st century B.C. the Sumerians had come up with a solar year consisting of 360 days. It was made up of 12 lunar cycles (354 days) which were rounded up to 360, forming 12 months at 30 days. What differentiated the Sumerian calendar system from any other lunar calendars of this time, was the way they measured time. The Sumerian calculations are all heavily based on the numbers 6, 12 and 60, still used today.  Our current year has 12 months and the day in many countries is structured as 12 hours am and 12 hours pm. The hour itself has 60 minutes and every minute has 60 seconds.

To bring the shortfall of these embellished lunar months into sync with the solar year, the equinoxes (where day equals night) and the solstices (longest and shortest day of the year), the Sumerian astronomers introduced an extra month every four years. This is what we now call a leap year.

The Sumerians also recorded ‘day qualities’. Enuma Anu Enlil is a collection of stone tables and oracles compiled by Sumerian and Assyrian scribes.  The tables include information about lunar eclipses, weather events, the movement of the stars, planets and constellations. The most important part was the interpretations of all these cosmic movements and what they meant for life on earth. The dominant observations concerned the moon cycle and its relation to the other stars and the sun.

 It is still unclear where all this knowledge came from. But what is certain that it helped to shape the later famous Babylonian calendar. Although these were humble beginnings, these scribes crucially laid down the foundation of the houses, the star signs and the creation of the zodiac (called the ‘circle of the animals). They named many star constellations in the sky and created the basic principals of Western astrology. The movements of the planets and stars were meticulously observed, recorded, and interconnected with symbolic meaning. These observations traveled to other countries, particularly to India in the 3rd century B.C.

From 499.B.C. the Sumerian calendar transformed into a proper lunisolar calendar. The shift came when it was recognized that 19 solar years equal exactly 235 lunations (moon cycles) and this formed the first proper re-occurring connection between the solar and the lunar cycle.  This principle was formally described by the Greek astronomer Methon of Athens in 432 B.C. when he ‘discovered’ the Metonic cycle. But most probably he came across the Babylonian calendar and recalculated their calendar formula.

The Sumerian calendar month started at sunset with the first sighting of the new crescent moon (Waxing Moon) and ended with the last sighting of the descending crescent (Waning Moon). Once the Waning moon had vanished there followed a period of the ‘disappeared moon’ (New Moon) when no moon was visible in the sky.

This played a big part when planning to travel, especially crossing a desert. Due to the hot climate caravans preferred to travel at night. But with no moonlight to guide them, there was a great chance of getting lost.  Therefore the New Moon became known as the time to stay at home and rest.  A concept we still use in the LWTM life goal planner.

On the other hand, the moon’s opposite position in the lunar cycle – the Full Moon-  was the time for gatherings and ceremonies. Then people could easily find their way home once it got dark.

The roots of the Sumerian lunisolar calendar still exist today, particularly in many religious calendar systems and associated practices.

The ‘Living With the Moon lifestyle calendar’ is also based on the Ancient Lunisolar Calendar. It is now believed that this calendar model was in far more widespread use than initially thought. For example, many believe that the Minoan civilization (3000-1450 B.C). followed this calendar system. 



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