How this whole thing got started.
Think of the world without any quantification of time. Where you are right now, standing, sitting, lying down, whatever. Imagine no seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. No generations. No moments, just a seamless flow of now-ness, of timey-whimey.
How did we come up with such disparate and imaginative definitions of time out of this undifferentiated experience? How do we define it now? What do you think about when you think about what time means?
My way of exploring this question was through calendars. In retrospect, they interested me because of how tied they were to particular cultures, which informed both so much more. I learned more about Chinese culture by discovering how their calendar is devised, how it is used and how widespread it is. The investigation took me through the history of different parts of the world of course, but also belief systems and cultures, failed reforms and clever proposals, psychology, symbolism, mythology, storytelling, chronobiology, seasons, tides, plant, fungi, animal life. If you see life as an interconnected whole, you can find any of it through any other part. It’s the path that changes.
I can’t recall when I first heard about the calendar of the Maya, but the first book I read on the subject was Jose Arguelles‘ “Mayan Factor”. At the time, I had a background in literature, the only civilization I’d studied outside of Europe was that of the Inca, so the material was all new, and I found much of it confusing.
What I got out of it was the mathematical basis of certain parts of the Maya’s calendar, and how intricately the calendar’s cycles drew on their mythology, history, daily lives, and sacred events. Then I compared it to the Gregorian calendar, and found it lacked much of these features.
Jose Arguelles proposed a 13-month calendar in combination with certain modifications of parts of the Maya’s calendar. I’d always taken our calendar for granted, and had never been asked to consider alternatives. How many others were there?
I began with the Gregorian calendar, and how we ended up with January 1st to December 31st, Saturday to Friday, and a leap year?
This research began pre-Wikipedia, so I spent a lot of time in the library. Most of what I found dealt with Roman holidays, and I derived what I could from references to months and time of the year. Like any story, it’s long and meandering with unanswered questions, however, I’m simplifying it here to the elements I found most significant, and which parallel the development of other calendars.
- Origins out of Myth: Romulus, the son of Mars, the Roman god of War/Vitality/Maleness, raised by wolves with his twin brother Remus, founded the city of Rome. They used a 10-month lunar calendar.
- Kingdom out of Legend: King Numa added the months of Ianudarius (January) and Februarius (February).
- Empire out of History: Pontifex Maximus Julius Caesar reformed the calendar to account for errors that had accumulated through misapplication of calendar rules.
- The dating system of AD and BC were implemented at different times.
- Pope Gregory XIII tweaks the leap year rule.
That’s where the Gregorian Calendar – a Roman and Roman Catholic timepiece.
What Else is There?
Lots as it turns out. Lunar calendars abound, and I hope to populate a database with names of the moons in as many languages as possible.
There are calendars, or components of calendars, that follow strict rules (leap year day every 4 years), others that follow observed phenomena (crescent moon, sunrise). Some follow the moon, some the sun, some both, some neither. Some periods were named like months and weekdays, others numbered like years. But not all people named and numbered things in the same way.
Hijra, the Islamic Calendar, follows 12 lunar months per calendar year without exception. This calendar does not align itself with the solar year. It begins 11 days earlier on the Gregorian calendar every new year.
Hebrew, Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, and plenty of others are solilunar – they observe the cycles of the moon, and tie them to the solar year – 12 or 13 lunar months per year.
the Gregorian, Julian, Coptic/Ethiopean, Persian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian calendars, among others, divide up the solar year without the lunar month.
the Pawukon Indonesia or the long count of the Maya are tied to neither the moon nor the sun, and run according to other cultural norms.
There are fictitious calendars, reformed version of existing calendars, proposed replacements of existing calendars, and speculative calendars (martian calendar). How can such a diversity of ways of framing the day ever come to a consensus?
I’d settled on the 13-month calendar model as the basis for the one I was making. And I just kept finding new ways it could be used.
I drew it late one night in 2005, and have spent the last decade trying to figure out what the drawing was about.
I set up this blog in 2006 as a place to keep track of the information I was gathering – from library books, online articles, blogs, websites, etc.
I launched the calendar on Dec 21 2012, and here we are. And in case you were wondering, here is the part of the calendar that I drew in 2005 that I’m still figuring out.