Federico González

Almanac, Germany s. XV
Germany s. XV

The symbolism of calendars

"So thus Eternity is in God, the cosmos is in Eternity, time is in the cosmos, becoming is in time. And while Eternity stands still in Gods presence, the cosmos is in motion in Eternity, time passes in the cosmos and becoming comes to be in time." 
Hermes Trismegistus. Poimandres XI, 2
Calendars nowadays are mere tools of a plain and linear time whose elements, called days, indefinitely and uninterruptedly succeed one another in the span of one year (that processionally follows a second being continued by a third, and so forth), and come in groupings named weeks and months, arranged in a supposedly conventional manner in holidays and workdays. The calendar has come to be an item commonly used by traders, clerks, workers, students, housewives, and so on, extremely practical to reckon commitments, vacations and holidays. Actually, if one reflects upon the use calendars are made of, one can understand they have nothing to do with time in itself as a constitutive element of the psycho physical reality, but have to do, instead, with the computable shade of time's elapsing or, rather, vanishing into an indefinite space held to be mechanic and entirely utilitarian. 

Those who originally "devised" calendars, indeed, did so with other criteria in mind, according to which the space-time equation is not dissoluble at all and shapes the whole existence into an harmonious order whose parts keep obvious correspondences with one another; just so the cosmos in action calendars stand for -a comprehensive conception and a redeeming key, a true tool of Knowledge. 

As it can be seen, the two points of view oppose to such an extent that they are inverted with each other; nonetheless, calendars in themselves are not altered by that, nor are they otherwise affected; it is simply a matter of both impoverishment and a certain degeneration of modern men's vision going hand in hand with the obvious degradation of our culture and environment, and thus of ourselves being identified as we are with the social. This fall concerns the entire universal collective and is the contemporary seal or stigma whereby a flat and profane conception of life and time makes calendars simple and practical devices, as diaries and almanacs show, and no suspicion arises as to where they come from nor as to what they stand for. If the general public were to know that among many other meanings, calendars also have a theurgic significance, they would pay them some respect, or would feel disquiet at least about them, in a superstitious way perhaps, more suitable, anyway, to the inner nature of calendars than the deodorized and aseptic, contemporary indifference. 

On account of all the above, little is the importance modern men attach to calendars (from calendas = the first day of every month), and just as numbers, calendars are now employed as mere taken-for-granted tools, with hardly anyone bothering about their historic origin, let alone about their contents as a synthetic expression of a way of thinking which, being they the mediators as an image of the cosmogony in motion, gave rise to the development of great civilizations as well as to the general cultural order. We shall add that, in the West at least, they have today also lost their religious feature, which is obvious in Christianism as soon as one realizes that the still persisting holiday organization is ritual, and is intimately related to the Archetypal Christ's life, that is, to the image of Christ as the savior and time's regenerator, and the paradigm of the cosmogonic, initiatory process whose significance he himself integrates into his own unity and whose manifestation is the calendrical cycle, a rhythmic and ritual tool, charged with countless energies that permanently actualize, and relate to the sacred history: birth, life, death and resurrection of the year or the cycle, an image of that process where time is a living protagonist, within a space not formless, but as much meaningful as significant, that time permanently circumscribes and thus shapes; whereby, being time's ordered expression in the flow of becoming, by fixing and expressing the cosmogonic process calendars make time sacred and regenerate it, or re-create it, and thus structure a space in the chaos of the formless . 

When searching into or going over some of the themes related to the symbolism of calendars, to their true and concrete significance, any kind of notions of chronometry, the way it is now conceived, has therefore to be left aside; we mean chronometry as a linear recording where fractions or consecutive spaces of time are registered, which owe their continuity to the addition of the independent parts of an indefinite used as a basis either for an hypothesis or a superstructure as rigid as imaginary in whose bosom time, on one hand, progresses historiographically and is measured on the other by inexorable clocks that stubbornly store useless pieces of information. The opposite occurs with those societies that devised the calendars from which we inherited ours; they held time to be recurrent and most of all to be an essential part of the Universal Creation (macrocosm) - thus integrating man's being (microcosm) - which is not outside (and can be objectively enounced or measured, as a category of being), but is the Being itself, the In Its Self, in all the universal power contained in the selfsame idea of Time as a symbol in motion of the Eternal and the Motionless, which the original miracle of Memory and the correspondences all beings, things and events in general keep among themselves and make them both different and meaningful, interdependent and not excluding, tell about. According to a traditional perspective, Time is the vital breath, the Great Coherer of all things created1 and it is absolutely natural that a circumference2 is its graphic expression which in limiting a space gives shape to a circle, a prime plane figure of both an original space and the cycle in which the former is experienced or revivified by the spontaneous action of time, the permanent generator of both motion and its ruling laws, in complete correspondence with its own origin, and its raison d'être, with Time's Being as the underlying assumption of the whole creation, the way it could not fail to be. This only fact would be quite enough to immediately link the foregoing conceptions to the idea of the sacred and the divine, which is obvious in this concept of the origin and the cosmic structure, and many are indeed the gods fundamental to all pantheons linked to time's passage and speed, to memory and oblivion, to the vital breath, anima mundi, rhythm, cycle, and so forth. 

It therefore stands to reason that if time is most sacred to a traditional society, so too is the calendar, a cosmos miniature and image, a fixation of becoming, a revelation of a timeless knowledge that takes movement as the spatial projection of time by combining the two into one or whole continuum. Then, being calendars sacred tools, revealers or mediators of that Knowledge they themselves bear within their structure, which is to say, being epiphanies permanently available to transform the mutable into the immutable, the visible into the invisible, chaos into order, the indefinite projection into a true ontology, into Time's Being as the vital breath of the Cosmos' being we do consider their study most pertinent. 

As we already mentioned elsewhere referring to Mesoamerican calendars3 and enouncing concepts analogous to the ones here: "Time is always actual; it is not anything generated in the beginnings and now subsisting as an abstract constituent of the psycho physic reality; on the contrary, it is right now signifying this very reality being one of its condition, an ever present element without which life would not be possible. Time's quality is, then, a constituent part of the cosmos, and the way it manifests itself, which can be quantitatively measured in space, is the way through which the cosmos expresses itself, then a key to the comprehension of the cosmos' essence, and a module valid for the whole creation. From this point of view, the celestial body revolutions and the stars in the firmament are to acquire a remarkable importance, which, being stable with regard to the Earth's rapid motion are to serve as guide and reference points to establish the whole's general patterns -the harmony of that which Pythagoras named "the music of the spheres", being attained through the interaction of all individual motions, Earth's included, and in perfect coincidence with that which is born on it, beginning with man." 

As a matter of fact, the (apparent) movement of the Sun in the day or, rather, the binary form through which the day expresses itself (morning-night or light-darkness) is the first division the cosmic structure goes through -the birth and death of the Sun, life's perpetual source, and its subsequent resurrection from night's bosom, announced by the awakening of a new dawn. 

To the traditional man this is a clear, visible sign of the binary mode being found in everything that surrounds him as well as in that which he bears within himself. For one thing, there is the Sun's rising to its apogee, then its inexorable decline and extinction; by analogy, it is not at all difficult to equate this fact with man's life and the life of every existent thing, and come to the conclusion that a pair of opposites are dealt with, that combine together for regeneration and then life be ceaselessly propagated giving continuity to creation. Hence, a divine plan takes shape which is inexorably carried out and which the human being partakes in. 

On the other hand, when the Sun dies and begins its journey into the underworld semicircle, countless signs, lights and stars, being headed by the Moon (the Sun's spouse or sister)4 appear, which also set clear patterns, rhythms and proportions to the universal whole. 

The Moon and its cycles, in particular, are obviously found among the first ruling parameters in use to establish relations of any kind, manifest the cosmogony resulting from various heavenly bodies' interaction - the Earth included - and fix it in the calendar which is but the projection of the cosmos' and Time's Being revelation. Many cultures have preserved the lunar phases in their structure as a referential point of first magnitude. In other instances, the still extant calendars preserve an alternate lunisolar point of view, as may be seen in Christianism and its ritual cycles. All cultures have inevitably taken the night luminary and its cycles as one of the fundamental measures of cosmogony and its rhythms; and these highly significant patterns associate with countless, known or experienced terms, as much on a physical as on a psychological level.5 

If Earth's motion around the Sun in one day gives rise to the first unitary and recurrent cycle, lunar phases give shape to weeks and months, that is, to longer periods of time, and then to vaster cycles; yet, the two planets must be considered jointly being the Moon the Earth's satellite. 

To the day and the month, the year cycle - the Sun's zodiacal journey - is to be added, which encompasses them both. These are the measurements registered by calendars, to which the Great Year of 26.000 years, (25.920) - or its half 13.000, in "round" numbers6 - fundamental to every great civilization and corresponding to the precession of the equinoxes ( we shall point out that this is a retrograde motion) must also be added together with other measurements related to planets and stars (the Polar Star, the Pleiades and the "fixed" stars in general, as well as Venus' and other stars' motion, e.g. lunar eclipses). 

All this makes calendars the proper expression of the cosmic cycles and rhythms, hence of the knowledge of those sciences which convey them and find in calendars their truest expression. 

Therefore, three major landmarks or ways to see the whole creation are found, being marked primarily by a motion corresponding to the Earth's (rotation), and including the Moon with its phases as a precise measure and meter of this reiterated motion; secondly, by the translation which is the motion that, having the Sun as its visible axis, the Earth effects in one year in its course throughout the zodiacal stations and that has the sun both as its main protagonist and as a measure of the cosmic whole, a motion identified as one day of the Sun; finally, the spinning-top-like motion the Earth produces while rotating around its axis, and which is envisioned as one "year" of the Sun (or its half), identical with the Great Year of those archaic civilizations which are known to have made use of calendars; this last motion, which has already been said to be polar and visible inasmuch it defines a grade on the circumference every 72 years (25.920 = 360 x 72), is both observable and symbolic for those peoples heedful of cosmogony's sacred and determinant value, especially taking into account the value traditional societies held to be revealed and fundamental.7 

Three, then, are the basic measurements calendars refer to and that we wish to reiterate here because they are not arbitrary, but perfectly correspond to the natural order of the universal creation, as they take as a reference: 1º) the Earth and its rotation (the apparent motion of the Sun around the Earth) as a manifestation of the day (the first time unit) to which its satellite's (the Moon's) phases reckoning months, and eventually their division into weeks, must be added, although the Moon is to be reckoned together with the Earth; 2º) the Sun in its yearly course (a motion generating a more complete measure unit, the year), and 3º) the precession of the equinoxes (or its half), a huge retrograde revolution of the Earth around its axis -which in the Western culture has been studied by Hipparchus of Nicaea - known by all and every people who passed down a calendar, and constituting the greatest "measure", or the widest "proportion" holding an intelligible meaning for the human being. 

Harmonia Macrocosmica, by Andrea Cellarius. Amsterdam 1678
Andrea Cellarius, Harmonia Macrocosmica
Amsterdam 1678
As it can be seen, all these measurements are taken from a geocentric or, rather, an anthropocentric perspective,8 which is a very significant fact to underlined, and equally so is the fact that the points of view under consideration become broader and broader and more universal as one goes back to and enlarges the scale, which, on the other hand, coincides - not arbitrarily either - with a "deceleration" or "slowing down" of Time being therefore considered not only as an anecdotal, more or less consumable sequence, but from a different dimension far more in agreement with time's real meaning and true majesty, a dimension that might be thus paradoxically enounced as a timelessness of the temporal, which includes a valuation, a significance, that subsequently establishes an order, a series of complementary and articulated structures leading to the Cosmogony (or cosmovision if preferred) peculiar to each culture according to the attributes different human beings have singled out from the various beings or celestial phenomena, yet identical with any traditional cosmogony as to its essential forms, inasmuch as the model these structures refer to is the very same in spite of different focusing perspectives.9 

In Ptolemy's cosmogony ( a reflection of the platonic and the traditional thinking in general, having stemmed from Gnostic Alexandria and governed one way or the other the West's fates up to the Renaissance), which has established the distinct calendars we still make use of, the image is projected on the plane of a vertical and spatial scheme making conspicuous the presence of ten worlds or "spheres", which superimpose on one another in relation to an ideal axis. This axis has the Sun as its center, the Primum mobile (equated with the North Pole) as its highest peak, and the Earth as its lowest point (the South Pole). In the axis, the orbits of the traditional planets superimpose, with the Moon, Mercury and Venus lying inside the ecliptic, and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn lying outside.10 

Other "spheres" are occupied by the "fixed" stars, or the Zodiac and the empyrean, though slight differences are to be found as for details in analogous versions.  

Much the same occurs in the diagram of the cabalistic Tree of Life and, since time and space are held to be one whole in both cases - and in others still - calendars happen to register in time and to actualize in succession the cosmic spatial scheme which they but fix in its permanent, rhythmic and cyclic motion. 

All the above is clearly reflected in the sacred architecture where buildings are laid out following the space directions for one thing, and projecting for the other time's path, or heavens' form and their harmonious motions.11 

In fact, the observation and study of the course patterns of the celestial bodies and stars define different proportions that convert into numbers within a scale, and are in relation to geometrical figures and modules bearing at the same time a musical content, since heaven's symphony, or Apollo's lyre is audible or perceivable by means of intuition, which also establishes a time-music relation; indeed, if the movements testified by calendars fix time's spatial projection, music is by analogy the spatial projection of the Word. 

These patterns, of course, are paradigmatic and then ever actual. Calendars express these patterns' actuality in the known cycles they refer to: the daily cycle, the Moon cycle, the yearly cycle of the Sun and that of the precession of the equinoxes (or others, such as the "century", Venus' "eccentric" revolutions, the lunar "nodes", and so on), with the underlying assumption, already stated, of other movements that are even considered to be linked to the former. It might be pointed out that the Cabala also establishes its symbolic scheme of the Sephirotic Tree as being articulated around a polar axis or column which includes, in an ascending order, the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the first mover, at the summit, identified with the unity, named Kether (Crown). 12 

As a matter of fact, the correspondences to be found among distinct cultures, these analogous ideas, and space-time relations, should be hardly surprising. There even is unanimity as to identifying the macrocosm with the microcosm, and as much is man a little Universe as the Cosmos is the Universal Man: "so above so below" says a passage in the Emerald Table, and the Hindu tradition locates the energy centers in man (microcosm) along the spinal column (chakras),13 just as American Hopis do. Let us quote the Treaty of the Fire and the Salt by Blaise de Vigenère: "Thus, as God made the Sun, the Moon and the stars to mark in the great world, not only the day, the night and the seasons, but also the changing of times, and many signs that are to appear on Earth, so It also made evident certain features and lines in man, the little world, that stand for the stars and the heavenly bodies, through which knowledge may be attained of great secrets, by no means vulgar, nor understood by anybody." 

Time is the Word made into flesh, the breath of the Spirit creating the Soul of the World. Time must be taken as a psycho-physical, living expression of reality whose laws and fates are registered by calendars as they properly reflect the cosmic cycles and rhythms, so that Knowledge finds in them its genuine expression. 

Calendars are moreover the first notation, the underlying assumption of writing; as said before, they really constitute the breath of the incarnated Word; these archetypal descriptions of cosmogony also are the first rudiments to give rise to certain recordings (genealogies, symbolic and magical facts) that will later become human being's annals: man's conception of History, and his immersion in a successive time. Calendars also are the articulation of a system, a play of correspondences and analogies, a ranking structure and a source of revelation which likewise rules human beings' lives. In conclusion, Time's being is in itself the spatial development of Time, its vital motion, and the generation of that which time bears in its becoming; it is, indeed, the "being" of the verb "to be", namely, the reiterative patterns of a cadenced and cyclic discourse and the possibility of seizing Time's essence, by Time being the mediator, and by taking certain junctures in time's course (the "holy days") as a support with the purpose of transcending Time or, rather, of experiencing other, more unmanifested levels of knowledge of the Universal Being, basically on the plane of the sense world and all this of course within the cosmogonic order, that it gives shape to. 

Holidays, namely, the meaningful spaces where the ordinary time can be abolished, are symbolic juncture points within a monotonous and insignificant time that point out in the succession of the year what Time in Itself is by valuing and re-integrating it into an original space; in other words, Time, its Being, would be nothing at all without the holidays or spaces especially marked by time's projection or breath - the motion - to understand it or invoke it. In the "stations" the movement makes, time restores itself, and is in turn restored by the human rite, to its Archetypal Origin. And there is no greater synthesis achievement than experiencing Time as being Space, only one and absolute, empty space; if the movement that calendars testify is the spatial projection of time, the absorption of movement into the timeless is then similar to "ending a discourse without having moved the tongue", as the Zen-Buddhist text says. 

For all peoples, two have always been the fundamental stations where the Sun seems to stop in its yearly course, which mark two extreme points in the circumference; we are referring to the solstices - a word in whose etymology this "station", this "halting", this invariable and periodic mark lies implicit - that divide the year into two sections, and subsequently into four, by means of the equinoxes as intermediate points, thus stabilizing and framing the year, and then structuring all the following feasts. 

The Earth's revolution around itself, the Moon's around the Earth, the Earth's around the Sun (annual and zodiacal) and that of the precession of the equinoxes (the Sun's year) give us the fundamental, anthropocentric units by which the Universe can be understood along with existence's indefinite flowing; days, months, years and great years set up the frame where human life, that is, its organization and fixation in the amorphous space, is made possible. Stars' revolutions, constellations, and their conjunctions as well as the sometimes eccentric courses of the planets must be added, especially Venus', Mars' and Mercury's. Needless to say all planets are gods and "sanctify" - make sacred - the passing of time, which is even obvious from the meaning of the names of the week days, that repeat indefinitely under the same permanent patronage also marking out the market days, essential to communication and social life and, in vaster periods, the months and certain reiterative dates related to the agricultural activities (also sacred) of sowing and harvesting, crucial to the life of peoples. 

On the other hand, it is within Time's discourse where revelation takes place and it is through time and its succession, as well as through the haltings or pauses that characterize it, that the simultaneity of a single creative gesture is understood, whose waves expand within an indefinite space, bringing the worlds into existence and permanently generating new possibilities. 

For this reason, origins are always understood and experienced as that which lies "behind" and constitutes the past; yet, this past is not chronological, but meta-historical; it is not, indeed, linear, but vertical, essentially mythical, and thus belonging to "another" time and to "another" space, intimately linked to "reminiscence", namely, to Memory as being both Time's Heart and the introducer to a different world or level of the Universal being. 

Because of this, calendars reveal the cosmic rite and the corresponding cycles, the manifestation of eternity and the simultaneity in the temporal motion of the universal multitude. 

Because of this, also, astronomy ought to be a powerful initiation aid for the one who has penetrated into the celestial mechanics, and so ought to be both the calendar - Art and Science of the Cosmic Memory, Science of the Cycles and Rhythms - and the Judicial Astronomy, or Astrology, linking the Universe to the Microcosm. 

All the above is characterized by three levels that lie within the human being and relate to the initiation path; the first corresponds to the profane, psycho-physical, coarsest state; the last two stand for the solar and polar initiation respectively and are subtler and subtler and more "formless", more timeless and "slowed down".14 On the other hand, as already observed, initiation takes place in Time; furthermore, it is a working with Time, if we may say so. 

According to many initiation disciplines, the knowledge of the cosmic law and its different levels of reality, that is, cosmogony, is the previous step to the acknowledgment of being in the world, the relation between the individual being and the Universal Being, and its incarnation, and therefore to the Knowledge of Being in itself, that is, to ontology as both an integration of that which is ordered by the law and a support for metaphysics (that which is beyond the cosmic law), which is felt at any of the before mentioned levels since what is so perceived is that which gives shape to the Manifestation made evident in the model of the Tree of Life through which the Muses, emissaries and also daughters of Apollo's lyre, descend. 

We wish, in conclusion, to reiterate that in the initiation's ascending path through the Tree of Life, the more a planet is high, the more is slow; for instance, Saturn and the old age as an expression of wisdom (even biological), whereas Mercury is quick, clever and impulsive. The more a movement is slow the more is timeless and, conversely, the quicker and faster, the more is submitted to the relativity of the instant. Indeed, any ascent (the ascent of a tower) is slow and hard; on the contrary, the descent (throwing oneself from that tower) is fast and progressively quicker to the point of ending in destruction, that is, death, the cyclic conclusion of every living organism.

Translator: Robert R. Barr

1 In this sense, Time is the image of the Divine Love permanently actualized to secure the Universal Life. 
2 This expression is square in some traditions. Both figures, nevertheless, are analogous and correspond to one another. 
4 Also brother in certain cosmologies.
5 "The way I understand it, sight certainly is the cause of our most important benefit, because no one of today's discourses upon the universe might have been made, never, if we did not have a sight of the celestial bodies, the sun or the sky. Indeed, the sight of the day and the night, of the months and the yearly periods, of the equinoxes and the astral paths, not only bring forth the number, but also gave us the knowledge of time and likewise the inquiry into the nature of the universe, from which philosophy is procured. To the human race, a divine gift greater than this never has come nor it will. For this reason, I state that this is the greatest good, the eyes'. And about the rest, of a lesser value, procuring that which someone not in love with wisdom would regret in vain if he had happened to have gone blind, what shall we praise? As far as we are concerned, we shall say that sight has been produced for the following purpose: god found out sight and made us a present in order for us to observe intelligence's revolutions in the sky and so be allowed to apply them to the revolutions of our understanding, which are kindred, as much as the convulsed are kindred to the imperturbable, so that we put order into our wandering revolutions by means of a profound understanding of the former, partaking of the natural correctness of their arithmetic, and imitating the thoroughly stable revolutions of god. " (Plato, Timeus 47). 
6 We refer to the period of 13,000 years, the Platonic Year, or magnus, in which the sun, the moon, and the five planets return exactly to their initial position. 
7 Every year, at one of the solstices (or the equinoxes) the sun appears later in relation to the year before. 
8 The earth is associated with the human body. 
9 Calendars are the faithful reflection of the cosmogony of those peoples who devised them, and the patterns they follow are the modules that engendered these peoples' civilizations; this also stands for all those cultures - for instance, those of nomadic peoples - that do not reckon vaster and more stable cycles and rhythms, (even due to a physical impossibility) but only those essential to their vital economy. 
10 The planets "inside" the ecliptic and the sun's influence (the Moon, Mercury, and Venus) and those "outside" (Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) are also hierarchically ranked; likewise, each of them shows two aspects, one "ascendant" and the other "descendant"; for instance, the vulgar Mercury and the Mercury of philosophers; the Pandemic Venus and the Uranian Venus, and so forth.
11 The pre-Columbian pyramids in general tell about this; among others we shall point out the so-called "Kukulkán's" in Chichén Itzá that is an image of the Pre-Columbian cosmogony - nine stages crowned by the Temple, with an inner crypt, and facing the four space directions - and calendar, simultaneously recording in its architecture, by means of an optical play (a play of lights and shadows), the descent of the feathered serpent along one of its walls, exactly at the vernal equinox dawn. For some of these surveys, we shall refer the readers to the quite interesting works of certain archaeastronomers; for instance, Anthony Aveni "Observadores del cielo en el México Antiguo". F. C. E. México, 1991. 
12 The earth and the celestial axes are here homologous; both are the images of the archetypal poles, and in the cabalistic Tree of Life, Malkhuth, the Sephirah corresponding to the Earth is the South Pole of the cosmogonic model. 
14 The lunary or sublunary are not initiations, properly speaking; yet, they do prepare or, rather, may prepare the path to Knowledge.