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Winter Solstice, Calendars, Upcoming Important Dates

Friday, December 26th, 2008

The winter solstice occurred on December 21st at 7:04 a.m. EST this year. The winter solstice can be considered to be a time of beginnings. This solstice represents the shortest day and longest night of the yearly cycle. After this date, the days gradually increase and the nights decrease in length until the vernal (spring) equinox where day and night are of equal length once again (the other equinox being the autumn equinox). According to the Astrology of I Ching (mentioned in a previous blog), the winter solstice is considered the beginning of the next yearly cycle. The winter solstice represents more specifically a point in the solar cycle. It is the time when the sun, as it appears to us in the sky, is 270 degrees from its position during the vernal equinox (during the vernal equinox the sun is considered to be at 0 degrees). In Western astrology, this point is considered to be the start of the sign Capricorn; and the winter solstice occurs when the sun enters 0 degrees Capricorn. (Note for those who have no understanding of the astronomical basis for Western astrology: the signs Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces are just the names representing the twelve 30-degree segments of the sky as seen from earth. Aries marks 0 degrees (which is pegged to the vernal equinox), Taurus – 30 degrees, Gemini – 60 degrees, Cancer – 90 degrees (the summer solstice), Leo – 120 degrees, Virgo – 150 degrees, Libra – 180 degrees (the autumn equinox), Scorpio – 210 degrees, Sagittarius – 240 degrees, Capricorn – 270 degrees (the winter solstice), Aquarius – 300 degrees, and Pisces – 330 degrees. Thus, the zodiac of twelve signs represents the 360 degree circle of the sky. This system of naming the twelve 30-degree segments is attributed to Ptolemy or Hipparchus or both.1 The names of the signs are also names of constellations in the sky, and it is generally believed these names were chosen because, long ago, it appeared that the sun was in the constellation of Aries during the vernal equinox. Presently, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the sun is in the constellation of Pisces during the vernal equinox. Regardless, the zodiac names are convenient for referencing the twelve 30-degree segments of the sky.)

The winter solstice is a significant marker in the Chinese lunisolar calendar (see “The Essence of the Chinese Calendar”). The winter solstice is the solar center point of the 11th solar month. It is always found in or close to the beginning of the 11th lunar month in that calendar to ensure that the 1st lunar month (the start of the Chinese lunar new year) falls approximately during the same time in the solar cycle (also ensuring the Chinese lunar new year does not start too late in the solar cycle).

The winter solstice is used in Robert Graves’ calendar as marking the last day of his 13th “lunar” month, Elder. The day after the winter solstice was named the “Day Apart”. The next day was the start of the 1st month, Birch. Graves’ calendar was discussed in some detail in a previous blog called “Calendars and Full Moons”, where I also mentioned two other calendars, Kondratiev’s and a Lakota calendar by Grey Wolf. Kondratiev’s calendar is not based around the winter solstice. Noticeably though, the winter solstice falls near the end of his second month, the Tide. In the Lakota calendar, the winter solstice falls in the 10th month called “Hard Freeze”.

The winter solstice has gradually become to represent a time of beginnings for me. It is the time of the year where I tend to gather my thoughts and think about the past. Then I start to think ahead and make plans for the time of increasing daylight and warmth. It seems to me to be a peaceful time, a time where I wrap myself in my own imaginary cocoon waiting to emerge when the days start to increase in length. Thus, I have been thinking about the yearly cycle, both the solar and the lunar. I have been thinking about what this time of year means to me. What else could it possibly mean?

Some meanings for this time of year can be drawn from the calendars I mentioned above. As mentioned the winter solstice falls in the 11th solar and lunar month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Although the winter solstice is one of the 24 solar segments of this calendar, it follows the Heavy Snow segment (which marks the beginning of the 11th solar month and started on December 7th this year). The next solar segment after the winter solstice is the Little Cold segment (which marks the beginning of the 12th solar month). Little Cold starts on January 5th and is followed by Severe Cold starting on January 20th.

The winter solstice was the end of the month of Elder in Graves’ calendar. The 22nd was the Day Apart. The Birch month started on December 23rd. Meanings associated with birch include birth and beginnings. Graves’ clearly considered this month to be a time of birth due to increase of daylight, which can symbolically be seen as the strengthening of the sun. As I wrote in my earlier blog, “Calendars and Full Moons”, the birch “represents beginnings and it seems to be fitting since this is the time of year where we begin new things even if it’s just thinking of them – conception of an idea is definitely something belonging to birch”.

According to Kondratiev’s calendar we are now in the Stag month, which started on December 23rd along with Graves’ Birch month. We have left the Tide month in Kondratiev’s calendar. Perhaps we could consider what transition takes place from the Tide to the Stag months. Of the Tide month, Kondratiev speaks of a journey into the dark out of which comes renewal and rebirth. Of the Stag month, Kondratiev speaks of the glimmer of light. The stag is as a “luminous presence, bringing hope”. Kondratiev writes “In the context that concerns us, he (the stag) is a most appropriate messenger for the great change that is to take place after the Winter Solstice. Although the earth remains dark and fruitless, nights are still overwhelmingly longer than days, the light has begun – imperceptibly as yet – to grow.” Thus, Kondratiev suggests that, during this month, “we contemplate light – not in association with any meaning or purpose”, but what it actually is – something that banishes the dark and shines bright and clear.

Lastly, we have the Hard Freeze month from December 11th to January 10th in the Lakota calendar. Interestingly, the month in this calendar has a simliar theme to the corresponding solar segments in the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Not surprising if you consider the geographical locations where these two calendars were developed – they have a similar climate. Of this month, Grey Wolf mentions the hazelnut, which is strong and resilient and hard to crack. Perhaps during this month, we need to be like the hazelnut – strong and not cracking under the strain of this very cold time of the year!

Upcoming calendar dates:
December 27 – new moon at 7:22 a.m. EST; start of the 12th lunar month in the Chinese calendar, known as the Ox month in Chinese astrology (the Chinese lunar months start on the new moons)
January 5 – 12th solar month in the Chinese calendar, Little Cold segment (I should note here that the Chinese calendar dates I’m giving are from an actual Chinese calendar, which is set for Chinese Standard Time – 13 hours ahead of EST. No times are given in the Chinese calendar though. To be precise to your location, if you know Western astrology, check the time at which the sun is at 15 degrees Capricorn.)
January 10 – full moon at 10:27 p.m. EST; Blue moon in the Lakota calendar (second full moon in Hard Freeze month, the previous full moon was on December 12th); Wolf moon, folk name for the full moon this month (there are other folk names, but I prefer the Wolf moon)
January 11 – Deep Snows month in the Lakota calendar
January 19 – (See the note for January 20)
January 20 – Rowan month in Graves’ calendar; Severe Cold segment in the Chinese calendar (As noted above, I’m using Chinese calendar dates. Severe Cold segment occurs when the sun enters Aquarius. As mentioned, you may use Western Astrology to find the precise time of this event for your location. I use the Astrological Pocket Planner, which indicates that the sun enters Aquarius on January 19.)
January 21 – The Flood month in Kondratiev’s calendar
January 26 – new moon at 2:55 a.m. and solar eclipse at 2:59 a.m. EST; Chinese Lunar New Year – Year of the Female Earth Ox (1st lunar month, known as the Tiger month)
February 4 – Imbolc; Chinese Solar New Year – Li Chun (Start of Spring) segment (1st solar month) in the Chinese calendar (Li Chun occurs when the sun is at 15 degrees Aquarius. Again, use Western astrology to check the precise time. You will note that I list Imbolc here as well. This was explained in my previous blog, “Happy Dog Year and Imbolc”. When I have the chance, I will check the dates and times for the major sabbats, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain for this coming year.)

~~~C

Notes:
1. See David Ovason’s The History of the Horoscope on page 23, “…Ptolemy had adopted the tropical zodiac – the zodiac of the twelve equal-arc signs – associated with the mathematician Hipparchus, who set the beginning of the zodiac against the vernal equinox.”)

Calendars and Full Moons

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

MM,

As the year draws to a close, I found myself immersed in the subject of calendars. A boring subject for most people, however calendars are quite important to any pagan or anyone who wants to live according to nature’s cycles.

This little bit of study spawned off of me planning my next year of moon rituals. For awhile now, I’ve been wanting to do a full year of personal moon rituals (for me or for me and my partner). The idea behind this is to attune to the cycle of the moon and the seasons. For this, I decided to work through a set of moon rituals presented in Enchanted by Titania Hardie. The author of this book is using what is commonly known as “Celtic Tree Months” – birch, rowan, ash, alder, willow, hawthorn, oak, holly, hazel, vine, ivy, reed, and elder. This calendar is adapted from Robert Graves’ in his book The White Goddess which lists these 13 months. Of course, there are some major differences between Hardie’s suggested calendar and Graves – one of which is that she is trying to ensure 13 full moons in a year (which does not occur ever year). In contrast, Graves has fixed his calendar to the winter solstice (which is the last day of the 13th month and is normally on the 21st of December) and created 13 months each consisting of 28 days (which he calls a lunar year). Since 13 months of 28 days is only 364 days in a year, Graves has indicated that the day after winter solstice is the intercalary day (also the last day of the year). This is where the common pagan term “a year and a day” comes from. It refers to Graves’ 13 lunar months and the extra (intercalary) day. Note of course that Graves’ calendar does not suggest there are always 13 full moons in a year or 13 new moons in a year. Actually, you will be missing at least a full moon or a new moon except in the years where there is a 13th new moon or full moon (more on this later below). This means that to celebrate 13 lunar months, a practicing pagan will have to adapt and do some new moon rituals as well if she wants to celebrate all 13 moons.

Of course, me being a inquisitive pagan and loving math, I decided to look into what is called a lunisolar calendar wondering if this would be more practical. Some of the more famous lunisolar calendars are the Chinese calendar and the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar. Lunisolar means that the calendar is reconciling the lunar year with the solar year. This occurs every 19 years and the 19 year cycle is called the Metonic cycle. Why does this occur? First, a true lunar month (synodic month) is about 29.53 days and a solar year is about 365.25 days. A lunar year of 12 months is 354.36 days, just about 11 days short of a solar year. (Note: 13 lunar months is 383.89 days, 18 days more than a solar year.) In 19 solar years, it works out that there will be 235 synodic months. Here’s some of the calculations:

365.25 days x 19 years = 6939.75 days
6939.75 days / 29.53 days = 235 synodic months
29.53 days x 235 synodic months = 6939.55 days

Note the days in bold. Based on the lunar month, after 19 years, we’re just short by 0.2 days, a few hours. On a practical note, this means that your REAL birthday comes around again in 19 years give or take a few hours and by REAL birthday I’m referring to the position of the stars on your birthday. In 19 years, the stars should be basically the same as when you were born.

Because the lunar year is shorter than the solar year by about 11 days, every so often an intercalary month is required. Recall that in 19 years, there should be 235 months. If our calendar consisted of only 12 lunar months every year for 19 years, we’d only have 228 months, 7 months short. This means that the 7 intercalary months need to be inserted throughout the 19 year cycle to ensure that the months occur around relatively the same time each year.

In comparison to Graves’ calendar, the lunisolar calendars seem more practical adding the extra lunar month every few years as you don’t feel like you lost a moon to celebrate! The most important difference is the 13 months in Graves’ versus the 12 months in the lunisolar calendars.

The other important topic regarding Graves’ calendar and the “Celtic Tree Calendar” is whether there is some basis for considering these to be Celtic. Graves’ in his book never calls his calendar Celtic and frankly it is obvious that he was creating a calendar to his liking. What he did was associate a poem, The Song of Amergin, to the 13 months and then associate 13 of the ogham to the months. It is from the ogham where we get the names of Graves’ months. If Graves’ calendar is not truly Celtic in origin, then what is? The Coligny calendar is thought to be a true Celtic calendar. It was found 1897 in the Celtic region, Gaul. The calendar has 12 months and tracks the lunar monthly cycle. It is disputed among scholars and contemporary pagans about where the month starts. Some claim it starts on the full moon while others suggest the new moon. Yet, some evidence points to the month starting on the 6th or 7th day after the new moon, i.e., the first quarter. (In comparison, the months begin on the new moon in the Chinese calendar.) The names of the months are known though and it is known that the calendar inserted the intercalary month every few years, suggesting that the Coligny calendar was also a lunisolar calendar. The names of the Coligny calendar months are below (along with the Gregorian equivalents):

Samonios (October to November)
Dvmannios (November to December)
Rivros (December to January)
Anagantios (January to February)
Ogronios (February to March)
Cvtios (March to April)
Giamonios (April to May)
Simivisonnos (May to June)
Eqvos (June to July)
Elembivios (July to August)
Edrinios (August to September)
Cantlos (September to October)

The Coligny calendar divided the year into two halves – Samonios began the dark half and Giamonios began the light half. We also know that the Celts counted the start of the day at sunset. The days went from sunset to sunrise (which is an amusing perspective for any pagan).

Another Celtic-based calendar is one found in The Apple Branch by Alexei Kondratiev, a well-known Celtic scholar. Like Graves’, this calendar has 13 months but each month varies between 27 to 29 days, so that there is no intercalary day. The calendar starts in October 30, on Samhain what is commonly known as the Celtic New Year. Because of the 13 months, this calendar operates much like Graves’ – you’ll get the 13 full moons or 13 new moons every few years.

Another calendar I looked at is a Lakota calendar from Earth Signs by Grey Wolf. This calendar is fairly straight forward and simple. There are 12 months and the year starts in March around the spring equinox. The moon cycle is then just tracked during the 12 months. According to the author, each month starts on the 11th of each Gregorian month (though I think he’s just making it simple for non-Lakota people).

With all these different calendars available to use, I decided to do a practical comparison. I set up a spreadsheet file (in Excel format) containing some of the calendars and a calendar I “created” using the Celtic tree months. My idea for the 13 months was to have Elder and Birch share their month except for when there is the 13th moon every few years. The calendar is somewhat fixed in that the winter solstice is always in the last month of Elder. Each month started on the new moon. I felt this worked better than another idea presented by faeriefaith.net which was to split up the month so that Elder and Birch each had their own month. However, that idea meant that often either Elder or Birch had a short month and that one will get the new moon while the other will get the full moon. That calendar fixed the winter solstice to Elder and Imbolc to Rowan. In comparison, I rather like Graves’ and Kondratiev’s calendar and I don’t see why this person rejected Graves’.

After filling my head up with all this stuff about calendars, I still am to celebrate 13 moons. I figure I can use my calendar or Graves’ – either way, the current moon is birch (new moon – December 30, 2005; full moon – January 14). One major reason to use Graves’ calendar instead of mine is that the 8 sabbats fall in the same tree month each year whereas it may vary with mine depending on where the moon is. I guess it really depends on whether one wants consistency or changeability when planning full moon rituals.

In relation to celebrating the full moons, I looked up full moon names and found some consistency though a variety of names for some full moons. I thought perhaps these moon names will provide some ideas of how to celebrate each full moon. I have yet to settle on moon names for each month that I find suitable to the cycle where I live. Some full moon names for each month can be found on the Excel file I’ve provided above. In addition, there is a chart for planetary hours for those people who like to plan down to the exact hour.

We are now in the birch “moonth” which represents beginnings and it seems to be fitting since this is the time of year where we begin new things even if it’s just thinking of them – conception of an idea is definitely something belonging to birch.

BB,
Cassandrah
Your local webmistress
Brigid’s Flame

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunisolar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_calendar
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0002076.html

About the Celtic tree calendar:

http://www.faeriefaith.net/treecal.html
http://www.the-tree.org.uk/Sacred%20Grove/treecalendar.htm

About the Coligny calendar:

http://www.livingmyths.com/Celticyear.htm
http://www.roman-britain.org/cycle.htm
http://www.roman-britain.org/coligny.htm

Sites with Full Moon Names:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_moon
http://www.angelfire.com/de2/newconcepts/wicca/moons2.html
http://www.farmersalmanac.com/astronomy/fullmoonnames.html
http://www.space.com/spacewatch/full_moon_names_2005.html
http://home.hiwaay.net/~krcool/Astro/moon/moonnames.htm