(Time and Again . . . )
For example, Pope Gregory XIII’s aspiration to keep Easter from slipping into Winter was motivated by more than a simple desire for accuracy. Easter was prescribed by ecclesiastical law to happen shortly after the Vernal Equinox. We might suppose this date was just innocently selected to celebrate the Resurrection since Spring is naturally associated with renewal. Upon closer examination we find that Spring was a significant time for other religions as well. It was the time the Jewish people celebrated the Passover commemorating release from Egyptian bondage. But in the new scriptures of the Christians, Jesus is seen as the new Lamb of God, and in his Resurrection, the new Passover. Thus, one religious holiday was substituted for other.
Some historians believe there was another unspoken motive. The pesky Pagans also held the Vernal Equinox in reverence. For them it was also a season of great celebration. Celebrations occur-ring at the same time appear in competi-tion. So, if you can use a calendar and plan your religious holidays to fall on those of your competition, you appear to gain an advantage. From then on, efforts promoting your calendar serve also to promote your religion. And vice versa.
In trying to satisfy these hidden agendas our calendar became a hodgepodge of precise astronomical calculations combined with arbitrary fudge factors that establish religious holidays on dates as prescribed by ecclesiastical authority. Tied to religious agendas, a calendar must keep step with astronomical cycles without stepping on the religious toes of its creators. Today we have extremely accurate methods of keeping time by counting oscillations within atomic structures. A second is defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 cycles of a particular hyperfine structure transition in the ground state of Cesium-133. The use of such precision strikes as much fear in my heart today as the threat of ex-communication did in the 16th century. Probably, the intent is identical. We have reached a time where the splitting of temporal hairs is done in a realm of diminishing returns. With accuracy becoming more a matter of definition than available technology, I strongly advocate that we seize the opportunity to address an entirely different set of issues.
Calendars galore There are many calendars in use around the world, maybe as many as three dozen. Some are only known to small, isolated communities. Others have long histories and keep track of the religious holidays and important celebrations for populations spanning national boundaries. The Chinese have one that goes back millennia, but repeats in cycles of 60 years. Living by a cyclical pattern that approximates a single life span can bestow a subtle appreciation for the need of sustainability. The message: Relax. This isn’t the end all. We’ve seen this before. We’ll see it again.
In the Moslem calendar we have an example that is purely lunar. The year is made of lunar months. The beginning of each month is determined by the appearance of the crescent moon. Simple. Elegant. And because the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, a Muslim holiday flows through the seasons as the years pass by. For example, Ramadan, their celebration of Allah’s gift of the Holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, can appear in any season.
Such a simple migration of dates has far reaching implications. How different would our culture be if Christmas was celebrated at different times, in different seasons? If we celebrated it in July, could that put an end to the Macy’s Day Parade? What would happen if all the Santa Clauses died of heat stroke?
The ancient calendar of the Mayans continues in active use by indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. As descendants of the Lords of Teotihuacan, they use a calendar that takes the long view. What the Mayans call the “Great Cycle” of the “Long Count” equals 5125.36 years. It’s fascinating they chose such a long period of time. But even more fascinating is that the present Great Cycle ends on December 21st, 2012 A.D. That’s a Winter Solstice. It’s not fully understood how the Mayans were able to do such intricate calculations necessary to predict a Solstice 2000 years in the future. This mystery, and many others, has attracted much attention from archeologists, astronomers, and small groups of people searching for archaic wisdom to help navigate uncertain times.