One of the first decisions a new druid must make in my opinion is to determine what tool will be used to mark time. Calendars abound and at first glance there appeared to be a great deal of incongruity between my resources. I am forced to live by the Gregorian calendar for example but I see great wisdom in the Lunar calendars and I’m drawn heavily to the Celtic Tree Calendar. I realized I must find a way to mark dates to important festivals, holidays and rituals.
At this point I have decided to use the Celtic Tree Calendar as my template. However instead of starting the New Year as the Celtic Tree Calendar suggests (the Full Moon closest to Oct 31st) my new year will begin during Samhuinn during the Gregorian dates on which some druid groups such as OBOD observe this holiday (Oct 31, Nov 1 and Nov 2) each year. So far as my attention to the Lunar Calendar is concerned, it will be focused on the lunar phases. I may yet attempt to include card readings on these full moon marks.
With all of this in mind I began some research about the Celtic Tree, Gregorian and Lunar calendars. Additionally I needed to research the Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year to ensure important holidays were included. As such I started down this rabbit hole of time and space and I soon learned how much I had forgotten about the history of keeping time and so did a bit of research on the internet.
Below are some notes that help me make sense of the four types of calendars that I must balance in my everyday life:
1) Gregorian Calendar
Introduced by its namesake, Pope Gregory XII on 24 February 1582 it is in widespread in use today and sometimes referred to as the “civil calendar”. The catholic church introduced this calendar largely because the current method of tracking dates (i.e. the Julian Calendar) was found to be inaccurate in calculating of the vernal equinox which is tied to the celebration of Easter. Essentially the inaccuracy created a drift of about 3 days every 400 years which was simply not acceptable to the church. It should be noted here that due to the Gregorian calendar’s (see “a.” and “b.” below) obvious connotations of Western Christianity, some replace the traditional era notations “AD” and “BC” (“Anno Domini” and “Before Christ”) with “CE” and “BCE” (“Common Era” and “Before Common Era”).
2) Lunar Calendar
The origin of the lunar calendar is based on the various cycles that can be seen while watching the moon. In the solar year there are 365 days, while in the lunar year there are nearly two weeks less, with 354 days. There are certain instances in which the lunar calendar is still put into place. This is usually done through various religions, such as Islam, where the lunar calendar is used to keep track of events within the religion.
3) The Eightfold Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals in contemporary Paganism. While not a calendar per say, the following is of note from “Druid Mysteries” by Philip Carr-Gomm who leads OBOD. Druidry recognizes eight particular times during the yearly cycle which are significant and which are marked by eight special festivals. Of these eight times, four are solar (the spring (vernal) and autumn equinoxes (see “c.” below) and the summer and winter solstices (see “d.” below) ) and four are lunar (see “e.” below) (Samhuinn, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasad) creating thereby a balanced scheme of interlocking masculine and feminine observances. The solar observances are the ones that most people associate with modern-day Druids – particularly the Summer Solstice ceremonies at Stonehenge.
4) The Celtic Tree Calendar
This calendar is based on a 13 month progression (with one day that is not a day October 31st) to most closely align with the lunar cycle. Each month is allocated a tree with special teachings, guides, totems and deities and each tree goes with a lunar cycle. Fifteen trees are represented, two of them (apple and blackthorn) sharing months with other trees. The 8 holidays from the Wheel of the Year above fold neatly into this calendar however because it’s a lunar based calendar, if one were to follow it to the letter it would not coincide with the Gregorian Calendar. For example the year begins with the full moon nearest October 31st (Samhain) if one is using the traditional methods. To make this even more convoluted, after the Norse began to influence the Celts they began to use the full moon nearest to Yule to mark the new year. While Yule fits a bit better into the Gregorian calendar so far as determining a “New Year” I will choose to remain with the original Celtic new year of Samhuinn.
a. The Gregorian calendar is a tropical solar calendar (vs. Sidereal solar calendar which recons with respect to the suns position with fixed stars) because the Vernal Equinox is defined as:
1. The point at which the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator, the
sun having a northerly motion.
2. The moment at which the sun passes through the vernal equinox,
about March 21, marking the beginning of spring.
b. The Gregorian calendar modified the Julian calendar’s regular cycle of leap years as follows:
Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 is not a leap year; the year 2000 is a leap year.
c. A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year tied to the Sun. It is the day that is either the longest day of the year (in summer) or the shortest day of the year (in winter) for any place outside of the tropics. A solstice occurs twice a year (around 20 June and 21 December.)
d. An equinox is an astronomical event that happens twice each year tied to the sun. The equinox is the date at which day and night are of equal length. An equinox occurs twice a year (around 20 March and 22 September), when the tilt of the Earth‘s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun,
e. It should be noted that Philip Carr-Gomm states above that Samhuinn, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasad are “lunar” based events yet the dates that OBOD druids celebrate them are based primarily on the timing of the equinoxes and solstices. This confused me at first and I wondered why he would refer to them as lunar until I found that traditionally these festivals were held by choosing to use the sixth day after the new or full moon closest to November 1st, February 1st, May 1st and August 1st, respectively.