This is the first in a series of posts looking forward to the Equinox in just a few days. It’s setting the stage, as it were, for what I think is a big idea. Even if you decide that it’s a fool’s errand, it’s worth the mental exercise in thinking it through because it sheds light on the dominant paradigm in which most of us live.
You see, we live by narrative, and narrative is about change. Change is the basis for time — the rate of change. Like so many fundamental elements of our existence time is something that everyone ‘gets’ but no one really understands, but understanding time is not really my concern today. Here at the full moon I am more concerned about history.
Many people presume that history is the course of events, i.e. what has actually happened, but this is a misconception. History is the story we tell about what has happened in order to understand who we are now. This is why prehistory is not the time before humanity but rather the time before written records. Understood in this way, history is really a kind of myth as myth is properly just a tale told across multiple generations. To some this might seem like devaluing history, but actually what it does is force a redefinition of history that allows mythology a greater degree of authenticity without having to prove that a given event actually happened.
When we think of history today we think of the dreaded “names and dates” that we were forced to memorize in school whether it was the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, or Columbus and his sailboat in 1492. If you’re thinking “wow, this guy’s idea of history is the classic dead-white-men paradigm,” such was my intent. I am illustrating that our term “history” is informed by a massive cultural package that lies below the surface of our popular notions.
Often we respond to this cultural package in well-meaning but ill-conceived ways, none more so than the adoption of Common Era and Before the Common Era as an attempt to erase the religious foundation in modern dating.
Here’s what happened.
In the Roman Empire, events were dated from the foundation of Rome, but with the advent of Christianity, Christians adopted a new point of origin for their history: the incarnation of God as Jesus. After some five hundred years, the dating of events from the birth of the Nazarene had become a matter of course in the Christian West, the standard notation being “in the Xth year of the lord.” This gave us A.D. from Anno Domini meaning ‘in the year of the lord.’ B.C. came much later from ‘Before Christ,’ the Latin version being A.M. from Anno Mundi, ‘in the Year of the World.’ Christianity sees history moving from the creation of the world to the incarnation, and from the incarnation to the apocalypse when God will remake the world. Dating thus counted from the creation of the world (Anno Mundi) and from the birth of the Nazarene (Anno Domini). It was only in the Early Modern period that historians began dating backward from the incarnation for B.C.
In the sixteenth century at the very moment when Europe was on the brink of descending into three hundred years of political and religious warfare, Catholic leaders revised their system of calculating the year to be more accurate to the solstices and equinoxes so that the seasons would always occur at the same time every year. This new year was adopted in 1582 during the papacy of Gregory the 13th, which is why the current calculation of the year is called the Gregorian Calendar. Of course, non-Catholic countries were resistant to adopting the Gregorian calendar because of its religious connotations, and England didn’t take it on until 1752. By then pressure was building in the scientific communities to have a global system of measuring time, and since Christianity had hopes of being the religion of the world it made sense to use the Gregorian calendar.
One of the things that did not occur to anyone was that an overtly religious calendar would lead to an overtly religious basis for history. You see, since the eighth century A.D. Christian monks had been taking different histories and synchronizing them to the birth of the Nazarene. By 1752 it was just accepted that these synchronisms were history and the numbers for events were fixed in time. By now, we’ve so accepted the system of dating from the Nazarene’s birth that we find it hard to imagine a different way of doing things.
Here’s an example.
The problem of dating things comes from the need to establish a fixed point in time from which you can count towards any event. Currently, the only fixed point in time is Jesus’ birth, but it doesn’t have to be. Certain scientists in the eighteenth century saw God as a divine watchmaker because the natural world is so regular in its revolutions that it’s like it was built by … well, a watchmaker. They weren’t wrong. Venus and the Earth come close to one another five times every eight years, a rhythm that defines the Golden Ratio and in a geocentric model creates a perfect pentagram.
This regularity shows up elsewhere, and in the Roman world conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter were known as Great Conjunctions. These happen every 18–20 years as Saturn’s 30-year orbit combines with Jupiter’s 12-year orbit. Saturn is the god of beginnings and endings, while Jupiter (a name formed from Deus–Pater, the father-god) is the god of political authority, so their conjunctions were seen as important moments of soci0-historical significance, particularly when these conjunctions moved from one element to another — but that takes a little more explanation to understand.
As seen from Earth, these Great Conjunctions occur within one of the twelve zodiacal signs. Now each sign of the zodiac is associated with an element: fire, earth, air, and water. Because the orbits of the planets proceed regularly so do their conjunctions, and it so happens that consecutive Great Conjunctions occur in signs sharing the same element, thereby forming giant 60° triangles which precess from one element to the next in an equally regular if slightly more complicated way. (More on that below.)
Let’s call the time between Great Conjunctions a chronognomon, a word I’ve coined from chronos meaning ‘time’ and gnomon meaning ‘a knower’ or ‘measurer’ — the spike whose shadow marks the time on a sundial is a gnomon — then a chronognomon will be either 18, 19, or 20 years depending on the actual time of any two Great Conjunctions. A chronognomon is characterized by the element of the Great Conjunction that began it, and several chronognomons together form an elemental age. This will be clearer if I show you an elemental age as a sample.
You’ll notice that the second chronognomon is in the element of fire. That’s because the preceding set of chronognomons were characterized by fire.
The basic progression from elemental age to elemental age is fire, earth, air, water and back to fire again.
This is not to say that every age is of equal length. You will notice that the first one above (1802–1981 A.D.) is about 179 years while the one just above (actually the earlier of the two) is pretty much 200 years. There are actually three different configurations of ages: regular, full, and long. Each depends on how many chronognomons make them up. The Earth Age above of 179 years contains nine chronognomons, while the Fire Age above contains ten. The Fire Age that began on July 23rd of 769 A.D. and ended on November 8th of 1007 A.D. contained twelve chronognomons lasting some 240 years!
The point is that every Great Conjunction can be dated precisely using modern calculation. We know exactly when these conjunctions take place and can calculate thousands of years backwards and forwards with astonishing precision. For example, we know scientifically that on the 4th of September, 3263 B.C., there was a Great Conjunction in Leo that kicked off a Long Age of Fire. To put this in perspective, the Bronze Age was just beginning when this age began. Stonehenge was moving from its first to second phase of construction. The Indus Valley civilization was forming, writing was just beginning to be devised, Brú na Bóinne was being built, and the Mayan Long Count started within 150 years.
Great Conjunctions can be our fixed points in time around which we can build our histories.
It gets even better, though!
We can take a full cycle of ages — fire, earth, air and water — and call this an era. Depending on the length of these ages, an era can last anywhere from 775 to 853 years. This may seem erratic, but the entirety of human history is contained in only seven eras. I have named them (out of convenience) as follows:
B1: First Bronze Era (794 yrs: -3263 to -2469)
B2: Second Bronze Era (795 yrs: -2469 to -1674)
B3: Third Bronze Era (853 yrs: -1674 to -821)
A1: First Axial Era (775 yrs: -821 to -26)
A2: Second Axial Era (822 yrs: -26–796)
A3: Third Axial Era (796 yrs: 769 to 1603)
Mod: Modern Era (735 yrs: 1603 to 2338)
Naturally the negatives stand for years before the Nazarene’s birth (BC by the Christian reckoning) while positives stand for years after (or AD).
If you’ve made it this far then you’ll see that this system I’ve outlined has enormous and wide ranging ramifications — too many in fact to continue here, but that is what I plan to expand on over the three days of the Equinox. I had thought to prepare this idea as an article and send it in to Pomegranate before posting it here, but I would rather voice it here and see if there is any reaction to it. The strength of this system is that the Grand Conjunctions are fixed points in time despite being slightly irregular from a common viewpoint, so that you can either date things precisely to how far from any one Conjunction it is or more generally into periods of varying length from 20 years to eight hundred! To illustrate this, I will break down my equinox posts into the following:
- Pagan History: the Eagle’s Eye View
In this post, I will sketch out the picture of human history from a traditional pagan perspective, using this system of dating outlined here.
- Pagan Time: Ritual of the Gods
On the high feast of the Equinox I will publish a post on how time and narrative is conceived by traditional paganism. This is where things can get a little weird, so I am going to try and keep it grounded.
- Pagan Dreamtime, Pagan Life
My final post for the Equinox will then look at how the ideas presented in the previous two posts can interact with our current societies and practices saturated by digital media as they are.