Halloween, witches and Samhain

Halloween, witches and Samhain

     On October 31st is a special day – The Blue Moon falls on the same day as Halloween. 
The last article looked in-depth at what a Blue Moon is. This post will delve deeper into the subject of Halloween, where it comes from and its significance.

The history of Halloween

Halloween has its origin in the Celtic festival Samhain, celebrated on the evening of the 31st of October. This symbolized the end of the harvest season and the ‘death of the seasonal growing cycle’. It was also celebrated on the eve before All Saints Day or better known as ‘ All Hallow’s Day’- the day of the Saints and the dead Ancestors.
halloween  The Celts believed in reincarnation. The highest honour was to die in battle. The body of a slain soldier or member of society was burnt on a pyre together with the corpse of their favorite horse. The cold ashes were collected in a clay jar and buried in a mound. For centuries these practices continued. The souls turned into invisible figures wearing cloaks with large hoods – just think of the grim reaper! These figures escaped in the moonlight to another world, unseen by those left behind and eventually reincarnated into another human, animal or plant.

Moon gods, bulls and horns

cow horns Many cultures, amongst them the Sumerians, Babylonians and Minoans worshipped moon gods and their sacred animals were the cows and bulls. Here is an article that explains a bit more about the Minoan culture and their practices with bull jumping, now believed to be a forerunner of the Olympic Games.

Bull horns represented the moon cycle and the cycle of life. The first cave paintings dating back to 30,000 B.C. depicted horned animals together with the cycle of the moon. Horns decorated helmets and found their ways into the graves of the dead. The moon, fertility, celebrations and horns – all are symbols of the moon gods, celebrating the rhythm of eternal life.  Just like the seasons, we come, we go and we are reborn.
As Albert Einstein once said, ” Energy doesn’t get lost, it only gets transformed’.  As the leaves sprout in spring and help the tree survive throughout summer and autumn. Eventually, they wilt and fall to the ground.  But that is not the end. The dead leaves now have a new purpose.  Rotted down, they produce precious compost which nourishes the trees and makes sure that the next growing cycle begins.

A practice of Biodynamic agriculture sees the farmer fill a cow horn with manure in autumn. This gets buried into the ground for around 6 months. In late spring it gets dug up and the now well-rotted manure is diluted into a spray preparation that fertilizes the new crops on the fields. As weird as it sounds these preparations produce excellent results. It is most likely down to the microbes that find their way into the soil and nourish it.

How come we dress up as witches at Halloween?

During the Middle Ages and even before,  local herb women, so-called witches, ran the Ancient healthcare system. They delivered babies and attended to the sick and dying. They made concoctions and potions to give to their patients. They made these out of animal products and gathered herbs. Some medicines ask for blossoms, others for dried leaves or root extracts. Collecting roots usually happened during the evening or at night. The reason was that roots deemed to be less effective once exposed to direct sunlight. The logical time to gather these roots was around the Full Moon, as it provided the necessary light at night.  Digging out roots at Full Moon and being connected to the dead (as some patients undoubtedly died) – the myth of the witch was born.  It all fitted in nicely with Halloween, the festival of the dead.
The connection between witches and Friday the 13th comes from the pagan lunar year. The Ancient Calendar year followed the path of the moon. Normally 12 moon cycles with the occasional  13th cycle added in to align the year again with the seasons. Friday was the day of worship for the Fertility Goddess Frigga. Friday the 13th became synonymous with the forbidden pagan knowledge and a particularly unlucky day. 

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Once in a blue moon

Once in a blue moon

Have you ever heard the phrase – once in a blue moon. I should think so. So I delved a little deeper to find out what it really means and where it comes from

Countless poems and songs have been written about the Blue Moon, meaning an event that does not come around too often.

The phrase ‘Blue Moon’ became widespread in the late 19th century. One of the reasons could be that there was an actual event when the moon really turned blue.  The date was the 26th of August 1883. On this day, a massive eruption occurred on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa.

The death toll counted over 34,000 people and many more injured. A number of tsunamis followed and the shocks were felt as far as Australia.  Two-thirds of the island of Krakatoa was completely destroyed and debris was found as far as Madagascar. 

As a result, an ash column stretching over miles entered the atmosphere. It subsequently lowered the world temperature by over 1.2 degrees. But the positive byproducts were spectacular orange sunsets and the moon had a blue-greenish tinge. This phenomenon lasted for a few years and the phrase Blue Moon was born.

Disturbingly, in early 2020 Krakatoa shows signs of activity again and there was even a small eruption in April, but nobody was hurt.

We know a Blue Moon is a rare occurrence – but how often does this actually happen and how is it calculated? There are 2 definitions. 

1. Four full moons in a season 

The first definition refers to a fourth full moon in a season. The year has four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter and normally each season has 3 full moons. So that brings the yearly total to 12 full moons and the main reason why the year has 12 calendar months.

The Ancient Roman year was comprised of 12 moon cycles and then a period of rest, roughly what we now call January and February which did not exist at that time. 
The new year started again in March.  This coincided with the new military marching season, ruled by Mars, the God of war.  To keep the year in sync with the seasons, very occasionally an additional moon cycle was added to the year. This meant there were now 13 months (moon cycles) instead of the usual 12. As a result, one season had 4 full moons instead of 3.  The last full moon in that season was called a Blue Moon.

When Julius Caesar adopted the solar calendar model, he created 12 calendar months per year. (calendar comes from the Latin word for register) and abolished the 13th lunar month altogether. Instead, he opted for leap days every 4 years.

Although the new Roman sun calendar replaced the former lunar model for official duties and taxes,  many pagan rituals were still celebrated in accordance with the moon cycle. About 400 years later, Theodosius I made Christianity the official Roman religion. The table very quickly turned. Less than 100 years earlier Christians had been persecuted for their belief and public executions often followed. 

Under Theodosius I, now Christian heretics and people who did not adopt this new state religion found themselves in the same position. Any pre-Christian practices such as fertility rituals, worship of nature and following the lunar instead of the new sun calendars were outlawed. 

The number 13 became synonymous with outdated knowledge and seen as evil. It was hailed double unlucky if the combination fell on a Friday (the day of worship for Friga, the pagan fertility goddess). This lore is still alive in fairy stories. Do you remember the 12 good fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty and the 13th came to dinner and spoilt it all?

To give you an idea of how often this happens –  The last ‘Blue Moons’ according to this definition occurred on the 21st May 2016 and 18th May 2019. The next Blue Moon is due on the 22nd August 2021. So on average, a Blue Moon happens every 3 years, hence the saying ‘ once in a blue moon’, meaning an event that is very rare.

2. Two full moons in a calendar month

Another way of describing a ‘blue moon’ came later. Normally a calendar month has one New Moon and one Full Moon, but occasionally 2 of each can occur in the same month. From the 19th century onwards it became popular to call the second Full Moon in a given calendar month ‘a blue moon’. Although still rare, this event occurs more randomly than the first definition. The last time this kind of Blue Moon happened was in March 2016 and there were no Blue Moons in 2017. 2018 had a Blue Moon in January (31st), no full moon in February, and then again another Blue Moon in March  (31st March). After that, the next Blue Moon happens on the 31st October 2020 which incidentally is also Halloween. 

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The history of the calendar

The history of the calendar

Our ancestors used the sun, the moon and the stars to measure time and form the very first calendars (meaning register). The earth orbiting the sun marks the annual year. The moon cycle was the blueprint for the month and the weeks (28 days dived by the 4 quarter of the moon cycle – 7 day week).

The Ancient Greek word for moon ‘mene’ is the root for minute, month, and even menstruation. Very early on the correlation between the timescale of the moon cycle and the female fertility cycle was well understood.  Moon gods/goddesses were called upon for all kinds of fertility problems. These could be a lack of conceiving, problems with the menopause or failed harvests and food production.

The lunar month was the first properly understood time-measuring tool. It enabled hunter-gatherer societies during the Stone Age to forecast seasonal changes, schedule events/celebrations and stock up on food reserves for the winter months.

Animal bones found in the Dordogne region of France are believed to be the first moon calendars known to man. These archaeological finds date back to around 28,000 B.C. and show different patterns of notches that define the passing of time between the New Moon to the Full Moon. Find out more about the history of the lunar calendar. 

The Ancient Lunar year consisted of 12 moon cycles, determined by the four cornerstones of the year, the winter solstice (21st December = the shortest day of the year), the summer solstice (21st June = the longest day of the year) and the spring and autumn equinoxes (21st March and 23 September = when the length of the day equals night).

But since 12 moon cycles fall a few days short per year (354 days), a solution had to be found. So every other year a leap year with 13th moon cycle was introduced to bring the seasons back in sync with the Ancient Lunar year. The Ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese calendars all operated this system.

When Julius Ceasar arrived in 48 B.C. in Egypt, he did not only fall in love with Cleopatra, but he also immersed himself into Egyptian science. He was particularly intrigued by the way the Egyptian calendar system worked. At the time the Egyptian calendar was the only purely solar calendar of its time.  It counted 365 and 1/4 days per year. An astonishing achievement, considering it was first put in place around 4200 B.C.

Upon his return to Rome Caesar ordered a massive Roman calendar reform and the Julian calendar was born. The newly formed Roman year had only 12 months and the starting date (previously March, named after the War God Mars and the start date of the Roman marching season) was moved to the 1st January.  Ceasar named his birth month after himself, now July. His successor Augustus did the same and modestly name August after himself.

But for all the yearly time-keeping improvement that the Egyptian calendar brought, Cesar wisely kept all the lunar festivals and names of the previous months intact.  Otherwise, his reform would have been too radical and confusing. Can you imagine –  September (previously the seventh month) would theoretically now be the 9th and should really be called November and so on.

Had it not been for Ceasar’s enthusiasm for the Egyptian culture, he would have probably chosen the most efficient calendar system of its time. The Lunisolar Calendar as operated by the Sumerians and later Babylonians, which combined the solar and lunar cycle.

Caesar almost got it right, but there was a slight miscalculation in the Egyptian calendar when it came to leap years.  The solar year actually counts precisely 365 days, 5hours, 48minutes and 45 seconds. That difference would finally add up to 10 days!
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII finally corrected this mishap and introduced another calendar reform which we still use to this day – the Gregorian Calendar.

But there was another error creeping in. The years (meaning the rotation of the earth around the sun) are slowing down – appropriately 1/2 a second per century. So in 1972, the answer was found by employing the ‘atomic clock’ and that is what all our computers, phones, alarm clocks use today for accurately measuring time. It is no longer connected to the stars, the moon and the heavens. We have disconnected ourselves from all these movements and now we follow the oscillations of atoms. This tool is called UTC – the Co-ordinated Universal Time. 

I am happy to follow the UTC clock to time my zoom calls and alarm clock. But when it comes to structuring my own life, I happily revert back to the Lunisolar calendar (the calendar model the LWTM lifestyle calendar is modeled on). This calendar does not only measure time,  but it also gives an insight into the ‘quality of time’, a fantastic tool to structure my life. 

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 The history of the moon calendar

The lunar influence

The lunar influence

This is a very controversial subject and one I have swerved many times as you find as many people pro as against. I am not a scientist, nor claim to have any scientific foundation, so I was always keen to just pass on people’s first hand experiences, rather than science experiments and statistics.

I have spoken to a few nurses and doctors about it and again heard very different versions and opinions. I have now come to my own conclusion. I firmly believe  that it does exist, but that it does not affect everybody. As it is so very personal and variable it is hard to pin down and even harder to do a firm study on it.

  In earlier days without many artificial light sources, the moon formed a big part of people’s life. For once they relied upon the moon as a nocturnal source of light. Therefore seeing a full moon or no moon made a big difference. But with artificial lights everywhere that is of course no longer the case. So, in my opinion most people are not even aware of what they moon is doing right now. The only exception may be when there is a ‘supermoon’ or some lunar eclipse hyped by the mainstream media.

I recently read an article about this subject which prompted me to write this post. Here is what an  A&E nurse wrote on this subject:  ” I don’t know much about physics, but I definitely know that the moon has an influence. I have worked in A&E for 20years now and have definitely noticed that on average we are busier at Full Moon, especially with  people coming in with stab wounds or other injuries from heated arguments gone wrong. Another problem are drinking related injuries, from alcohol poisoning to people injuring themselves being drunk.  At New Moon we see more drug overdoses and self-harming cases. No month is the same, but I can tell you there is definitely a connection’. And when you talk to people who work with mentally ill patients you will get a similar reaction.

This would make perfect sense. I don’t believe that everybody is actually affected by the moon. I for one am not, but my grandfather and a few other people I know definitely were or are affected . So that is why it is so controversial. When you don’t feel the effect you think there is nothing to it, but then speak to a ‘lunatic’ (a person that is specifically affected by the moon) or someone who is living with one and their experience would be entirely different.

The reason my grandmother started looking into Biodynamics and eventually passed it on to me was sadly that my grandfather was a real ‘lunatic’, who could be very unpleasant at Full Moon and to a lesser extent at New Moon. It took her a while to make the connection with the moon cycle, but when she did, she made sure that doors got locked or she was away at these crucial times. I remembered her saying that not all Full Moons would be the same, some affected him stronger than others and if you know a bit about the path of the moon around the earth it again makes total sense. This path is not round, but ecliptic, therefore the distance is not always the same. Sometimes the moon is nearer (we call them supermoons) and at other times more distant. And as it is a feeling/behaviour that is mainly noticed by others and not always 100% measurable it is hard to measure and proof with statistical data. The ones who want the moon to influence people will find the data to support their case, the ones who don’t can also find enough cases where the moon does not make a difference.  As there is no  100% guaranteed way to measure how a person feels or is perceived by others, this phenomena does statistically not exist. Yet speak to my grandmother and others like her who have to live with ‘lunatics’ and they will tell you stories that definitely proof a lunar effect.

But not every lunatic is turning violent, burns down building or abuses drugs. These examples exist and are the extremes, but the majority of ‘lunatics’ just tend to have mood swings, sleep problems, more or less appetite and feel somehow unsettled and unfocused and if you did not point out that there is a Full Moon, nobody would even connect the two events.

One of the best known studies in the ‘pro-camp’ is Lieber’s  study of  ‘the existence of a biological rhythm of human aggression which resonates with the lunar synodic cycle’.(Journal of  Clinical Psychiatry,  1978). He researched “

At the University of Miami, psychologist Arnold Lieber and his colleagues decided to test the old belief of full-moon “lunacy” which most scientists had written off as an old wives’ tale. The researchers collected data on homicide in Dade County (Miami) over a period of 15 years — 1,887 murders, to be exact. When they matched the incidence of homicide with the phases of the moon, they found, much to their surprise, that the two rose and fell together, almost infallibly, for the entire 15 years! As the full or the new moon approached, the murder rate rose sharply; it distinctly declined during the first and last quarters of the moon.

To find out whether this was just a statistical fluke, the researchers repeated the experiment using murder data from Cuyahoga County in Ohio (Cleveland). Again, the statistics showed that more murders do indeed occur at the full and new moons.

Dr. Lieber and his colleagues shouldn’t have been so surprised. An earlier report by the American Institute of Medical Climatology to the Philadelphia Police Department entitled “The Effect of the Full Moon on Human Behavior” found similar results. That report showed that the full moon marks a monthly peak in various kinds of psychotically oriented crimes such as murder, arson, dangerous driving, and kleptomania. People do seem to get a little bit crazier about that time of the month.

That’s something most police and hospital workers have known for a long time. Indeed, back in eighteenth-century England, a murderer could plead “lunacy” if the crime was committed during the full moon and get a lighter sentence as a result. Scientists, however, like to have a hard physical model to explain their discoveries, and so far there isn’t a fully accepted one. Dr. Lieber speculates that perhaps the human body, which, like the surface of the earth, is composed of almost 80 percent water, experiences some kind of “biological tides” that affect the emotions. When a person is already on psychologically shaky ground, such a biological tide can push him or her over the edge.

Although there is no scientific proof that the moon affects us in any way,  it does certainly affect the tides and some species of animals, who reliably use the moon for breeding behaviour.
This gravitational difference between mid-day and midnight is the greatest during the days of the full and new moon and the least effect has the end of the 1st and 3rd quarter.

Here is an article from a little while back in the Telegraph on how the moon affects human behaviour and some interesting moon facts.

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 consisted 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 to be much older than the Sumerian Calendar. Some sources suspect it goes all the way back to the Minoan civilization (2700-1450 B.C).

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Why ‘right timing’ matters

Why ‘right timing’ matters

why 'right timing' matters
As long as humans existed they watched heaven, nature, the stars, the sun and the moon to make sense of time.

The Biodynamic principals hone in on the concept of ‘right timing’ which is as old as the ‘understanding of time’ itself.  Here are verses of a text from the Old Testament – Ecclesiastes 3. 1-13, written around 300B.C.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; …

I don’t know what you think but to me, this seems quite current and not something that was written over 2300 years ago.

The calendar meaning ‘register’ is man’s way to structure time. I have always been fascinated by how early man came up with ways of measuring time and translating the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars into predictable events.

By doing so our ancestors found out early on that there is actually a ‘concept of right timing’.

 What is ‘right timing’?

When I grew up in Austria my family went on frequent hiking trips to the Alps. As children, we particularly enjoyed the trips going up gorges and walking over wooden bridges over wild Alpine rivers. From there we watched the waterfalls shooting down the mountain. The views were spectacular.

One day I overheard a local guide explaining to a group of climbers how these bridges were installed.

He would explain how the wood was hoisted up hills on ropes and then he said “…and the most important part is that the wood was cut at the right time in the moon cycle. Because only then can you be sure that it does not rot. As you can see this bridge has been standing now in the water now for over 200 years and no sign of rot”

Many scientists look down on these ‘hocus pocus’ methods.  But the bridges are living proof-  right in front of your own eyes. Below is an analogy that shows how ‘right timing’ can work for you

  ‘Right timing matters’

 Picture yourself – You are on a beach next to a small boat and you want to row to the little island you can see in the distance. Of course, you can set off at any time and somehow you will get there.

How about using a smarter way to get there –  by looking at the weather forecast and choosing a time when you can go with the tide and not against it.

Your journey will be far more pleasant, less strenuous and you will not only arrive in good spirit and less exhausted at your chosen destination, but you also get there faster and can put the gained time to good use! So why would you want to go at any other time?

The same metaphor also applies to many activities. Why make it hard on yourself when you can go with the natural flow.

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