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 divided 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 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).

However 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 the 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 not only fell in love with Cleopatra, but he also immersed himself in 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 of January.  Ceasar named his birth month after himself, now July. His successor Augustus did the same and modestly named 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 Egyptian culture, he would have probably chosen the most efficient calendar system of its time The Lunisolar Calendar.  It was already used by the Sumerians and later refined by the Babylonians and 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 counts precisely 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 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, and 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 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’. Above all it is a fantastic tool to structure my life and activities. 

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 The history of the moon calendar

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 origin of the moon calendar

The origin of the moon calendar

People have looked up into the sky for thousands of years to find purpose and a sense of time and order. In doing so pre-historic societies chose the path of the moon as their first cosmic guide.  Marked animal bones, recently discovered in the Dordogne region in France date back to 28,000 B.C. They show a pattern of 7 or 13 notches and are believed to be very first calendars known to man.

It is hardly surprising that early man chose the path of the moon. Firstly it is the most visible object in the sky and in the absence of electricity was the only viable light at night (bar fire). The path of the moon is also inextricably connected to the tides and the human fertility cycle. In fact, the moon had always been connected to fertility, rainfall, birth and death.   

Counting the nights from no moon (New Moon) to Full Moon and back again are roughly 28 days. The Waxing (growing) and the Waning (descending) phase were further subdivided into 4 quarters and served as the blueprint of our week.  (28:4=7). 

The word ‘calendar’ derives from the Latin word ‘calendarium’, which means register and structure. So having a calendar was a big leap forward. Now it was possible to structure festivals, daily routines and agricultural events – and they could be planned in advance. This was particularly important when humans started to settle down and then getting together for celebrations/market day and other social events really took off. It was of course the calendar, the common structure for measuring everybody’s time, that made these events possible. Apart from timing celebrations it also enabled dates for planting, harvesting and collecting taxes. 

The Ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese year consisted of 12 moon cycles (354 days) and occasionally a 13th cycle was included to keep the Ancient Lunar year in sync with the seasons. Many religious calendars operated (and still do) in sync with this lunar calendar model. Others morphed into a lunisolar calendar model. 

The number 13 became the ‘pagan number’, the unlucky number and the number of the ‘dark side’. Just think of Friday the 13th as THE unlucky day. Friday was the day of the of the goddess Venus, the day of love and fertility and 13 after the 13th lunar calendar month 

In Sleeping Beauty 12 witches were invited, but the 13th, the bad witch, had to stay outside.  Can you see the connection?

The sun, the dominant male force with its 12-month solar calendar = good.
The moon, the subservient female force with its 13-month lunar calendars = bad

The Greeks and early Romans lived their lives solely by following a lunar calendar, first mentioned in the 13th century B.C. It was not only the time structure that became so useful. They concluded that the moon with its varying influence affected the tides, crops and even human behaviour. They recorded these observations and inserted these meanings into their calendar. This would later inform the ‘varying day qualities’. This Ancient Lunar calendar model was passed down from one generation to the next, each adding new observations and discoveries. 

One example of these lunar calendar guides is depicted in the poem ‘Work and Day’, written by the Ancient Greek poet Hesiod around 800 B.C. It depicts rural scenes from Ancient Greek life, mixed with moral hints and practical tips. 

“Avoid the thirteenth of the waxing month for sowing, it is best for setting plants. And in the waning month, on the fourth, beware of heart-consuming worries…”

Four hundred years later Hippocrates connected the lunar path to the successful outcome of medical treatments and diseases such as epilepsy.

The Sumerian and later the Babylonians developed a sophisticated calendar that took the path of the sun as well as the lunar cycle into account. They created the first ‘Lunisolar calendar’. 

The Babylonians were keen astronomers and astrologers and they also established the notion that days have energies/forces and they called them ‘ Individual Day Qualities’. The “Living With The Moon’ life-style calendar is a modern reincarnation of the Ancient Babylonian calendar model.

Nowadays most of the world has adopted the Gregorian calendar model, based on the Ancient Egyptian calendar which only follows the path of the sun and treats every day the same, no changes of day qualities.

Although the solar calendar was first established around 4200 B.C. it took a long time for the rest of the world to change over. In fact, Russia only adopted the Gregorian calendar model in 1919 (the year the Communist Party came to power in Russia)  and China adopted the solar calendar in 1949 (again the year of the Communist revolution).

But the traditional Chinese New Year is still calculated in accordance with the moon cycle and its starting date is not static but varies year on year. As does Easter and Ramadan.

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