TABLE OF CONTENTS
5) I. Birch
6) II. Rowan
7) III. Ash
8) IV. Alder
10) VI. Willow
A FIRST WORD ABOUT THE CALENDAR
In the early l980s, I spent a lot of time reading and writing, mainly a book about the tragic death of Dorothy Stratten. While working on this for over three years, one of the first matters I wanted to solve was the meaning of the Unicorn. The beast had become an issue of some depth between Dorothy and me. In February of 1980, not long before her 20th birthday, we had been sitting on the carpet by a lovely fire in the fireplace at the living room of my home in Bel Air. For some unknown reason, looking at Dorothy, who was shockingly beautiful, in that very warm, flickering light, I was impelled to say, “You look like a unicorn.” She asked me, “What’s a unicorn?” I raised my right index figure to indicate “one moment, please,” stood up and loped into my nearby office. The very week before, I had been down at Venice Beach with my young daughters and had bought, again I don’t know why, a small, white, plastic unicorn’s head; it was in the top drawer of my desk. I showed it to Dorothy. “Oh, yes, I’ve seen those, but I didn’t know what they were called. Did unicorns ever exist?”
I had no idea. Was there an animal like that and had it become extinct? Or was it a zoological mythic beast. At the time, I said, “Probably. In some form. Nothing is ever really made up.” I wasn’t quite sure what I exactly meant by that, but Dorothy seemed satisfied. I added that I would try to find out for her the true story of the Unicorn.
At the end of March, Dorothy, or D. R., as I was calling her by then (after her first and middle name, Ruth), arrived in New York City to act in a movie I was to direct in Manhattan with Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, and John Ritter, called They All Laughed. By then Dorothy and I were madly in love with each other, though she was very unhappily married. She had checked into the now-gone Wyndym Hotel on West 58th Street near Fifth, but after the first night only, she would spend all the rest of her nights in my suite at the Plaza Hotel across the street.
On the morning of her third day in the City, I took her to a then very well known (now gone) breakfast restaurant on 59th Street called Rumplemeyer’s. They had for sale a small but ultra-select choice of stuffed animals, and as we were about to leave I pointed out to D.R. that directly behind her to the left was a beautiful foot-long stuffed white unicorn with a golden horn. Naturally, she left Rumplemeyer’s with the unicorn tucked tightly under her arm. She promptly named the animal Sashy, after my younger daughter, who was pushing ten at the time. Eventually, Dorothy presented me with a slightly smaller stuffed white unicorn of my own, also with a golden horn. She told me mine was named Toni, after my older daughter, then pushing thirteen. In the movie we made, Dorothy can be seen in one brief scene holding the Sashy-unicorn under her arm and looking out a window.
When the picture wrapped in mid-July, D.R. gave me an end-of-picture gift: a foot-high rearing brass unicorn on a brass island-pedestal with a lovely inscription ending with “Forever, Dorothy.” It was her Oscar to me. A month later, back in Los Angeles, she was brutally raped and murdered by her estranged husband, who then killed himself. She died without knowing what the unicorn we cherished as a love object between us represented, so it somehow became vastly more important for me to find out precisely the history of the Unicorn. How I did and how this led to my publishing for eight years in the 1990s an ancient Celtic Irish calendar—what could be called the original calendar, one elaborated by women over 3600 years ago—is explained in the opening Foreword to this Book-long (213-page) blog we are beginning over here at Blogdanovich on IndieWire, pretty much the same as the way it appeared in the Overlook Press editions for eight years (1991-98). Ironically, for five of those years, the National Calendar Awards honored us with their (very appropriately named) prize as Most Original Calendar. We called it A YEAR
I became so fascinated by the calendar itself, and its multiple reverberations, that through most of the 1980s and 1990s, if someone got me talking, I would never speak about movies, and invariably instead turn the conversation to this calendar-system, which is so much easier and more natural than our current complicated and arbitrary one. In fact, when in 1993 I did a guest appearance as myself on the popular TV series “Northern Exposure,” one entire scene with John Corbett had me talking about the original unicorn calendar. Recently, an NPR news show called me about the calendar, and got me going again. So I’ve decided, in addition to our movie blogs, we’re going to blog the entire calendar (designed and calibrated for A.D. 2012) right here for whoever is interested. (If you should want a hard copy, out-of print editions are rare and sell for as much as $150.) When the first editions came out, we received some notable endorsements, from Gore Vidal to Gloria Steinem, and a number, like Katharine Hepburn’s, entirely unsolicited. She wrote me, by pen, “An absolutely fascinating book—full of all sorts of information—what fun!”
The essential meanings of the calendar are so much more important to me than virtually any movie, and that’s one of the reasons why the wise leaders of this publication have encouraged me to blog whatever is of great value to me personally; this calendar I think is so revealing of where we’ve been in ancient times and of what we have lost along the way. Knowing its beautiful calendar, we keep the Unicorn alive.
The Original Calendar: Celtic Irish Version
(circa 1600 B.C.-1600 A.D.)
Adapted from the works of
In particular “The White Goddess”
And Other Historical Sources
Compiled and Edited, with a Foreword, by
The Day of Wisdom
“…For he loves to hear that unicorns
may be betrayed with trees…”
–Wm. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
(II, i; 1598-9)
Putting together this calendar began with a search for the unicorn. In February, 1980–six months before she was killed–the actress Dorothy Stratten asked me if I thought the unicorn was real. I didn’t know. Was it an extinct zoological beast from the golden age? Did it live somewhere far away, like Tibet? Was it biblical? Or was it some bizarre mythic creation out of prehistory? The question of the unicorn, for various personal reasons, became a matter of special importance between Dorothy and me, and so after her death, it felt somehow even more necessary to uncover the answer.
Half a year later, I found the creature fully explained in Robert Graves’ study of poetic myth, The White Goddess, among the most extraordinary and influential books of the 20thcentury. “That’s not a book,” Gore Vidal once remarked to me about it with awe and affection, “that’s an encyclopedia.”
The unicorn actually never took breath, and, I was surprised to find, was originally the symbol for an ancient calendar-system that differs sharply from our present one; and variations of which were in use throughout the civilized world. This calendar–its months all named after trees–had first evolved in matriarchal agricultural European countries, civilizations in which the principle deity was known (under countless names) as the White Goddess. The version Graves explores most completely in his book is Celtic Irish, the Druids’ secret calendar.
So, like the phoenix or the sphinx, the unicorn turns out to be what’s called a “calendar-beast”: The combination of several different real animals–each representing a different annual season–into a mythic creation that stands for a particular way of dividing up the 365.25 days of a year, which comprises one complete journey of the sun. For example, the Babylonian four-season calendar-beast was made up of Lion, Serpent, Eagle and Bull; the Chimaera (which means “Flying she-goat”) of the Carians’ three-season year was Lion, Goat, Serpent.
Similarly, the unicorn was originally a composite of five beasts: Horse, Deer (or Goat), Lion, Rhinoceros (or Narwhal) and Elephant–to represent the two Solstices, the two Equinoxes and the first day of the New Year. This agricultural tree-calendar based on nature’s cycles, and consisting of thirteen 28-day months and one extra day, gave birth to the ancient phrase “a year and a day.”
Since, like the majority of us these days, I’ve been a city dweller most of my life, this antique calendar was a particular revelation to me when I first read about it in great detail in Graves’ book. It opened an entirely new world to me that I hadn’t known existed, and one that I found strangely reassuring: once upon a time, things made sense. From then on, I began to keep track of its dates alongside our current Gregorian calendar and found the older one far more in rhythm with the changing seasons. Actually, a rhythm–even to the weeks and the days–began to be apparent to me where there really never had been one before.
This personal discovery coincided with a difficult, complicated mourning period in my life, during which I became passionately interested in answers to very basic questions, refusing to take anything for granted ever again. Start with simple everyday things, such as the meaning behind the names of the days of the week, or the months of the year. Take Wednesday–I thought: Apart from representing the central day of the work-week, and being usually mispronounced “Wendsday,” what did that word mean?
Again, I was led to the answers through Graves’ book. Wednesday’s spelling, I found, is deceptive: originally it would have been written “Wodensday,” since the day was once perceived as sacred to Woden (or Odin, or Wotan), who was the All-Father of Norse mythology–Odinism being the religious doctrine of ancient Norway, Sweden and Denmark (collectively known as Scandinavia) before the advent of Christianity. Well, you might wonder, is there some reason why we still honor this forgotten god with his own day?
But there’s more to the story: it seems that Woden’s “magic steed” was the great Ash-tree (known as the tree of sea-power), once much used in rainmaking ceremonies. Going back further, we find what really happened is that the believers in Woden, or Odin, had through force of arms taken control of the sacred Ash-tree from the Three Norns–the Scandinavian version of the Three female Fates–who dispensed justice from under the great Ash, called the “Tree of the Universe.” The Fates are the parthenogenous daughters of the Goddess and also were known to control the wind.
In late Norse myth–and therefore metaphorical of the rulers in late Norse prehistory–Woden’s wife is Freia, or Frigga, or Frigg, after whom our Friday is named. (Who would have guessed that?) But then again Frigga was originally, it develops, Woden’s mother and lover–the White Goddess Freia, or Freya. It was during the Iron Age (c. 1000 B.C.-A.D. 100) that Woden, claiming fatherhood of the universe, had taken over her lands and people and magical powers. Afterward, he also claimed to be a god of Wisdom corresponding to the Roman god Mercury, after whom the planet of communication is now called–in France our “Woden’s day” is named after this Roman god and known as Mercredi.
However, in the earliest Greek myth–the earliest Western prehistory–over 2,000 years before Woden, and long before Mercury too, the deity sacred to the central day of the seven-day week (and of that same planet now called Mercury) was Metis, “the immortal Titaness” whose name means “counsel.” As Graves writes in his (literally) encyclopedic The Greek Myths (a standard in Penguin paperbacks), Metis “presided over all wisdom and knowledge” until the representatives of the male god Zeus forcibly took over her powers and attributes–after centuries of conflict–and, in mythic terms, “swallowed” her. Woden’s attributes are identifiable with Zeus’s–it is virtually the same story: Matriarchal civilizations were conquered and overturned by patriarchal ones. Today we call it the Battle of the Sexes.
In the original myth–and again, therefore, a metaphor on this piece of the earliest Pelasgian-Greek religious belief and custom: for every one of the seven days, the goddess Eurynome (“Wide Rule”) had paired a Titan with each Titaness, Graves writes, “as a means of safeguarding the goddess’s interests.” One day each represented the Sun, the Moon and the five known planets–as our week still does. Next to Metis–for the planet Mercury and the central day–she had placed the Titan Coeus, meaning “intelligence.” The only known “immemorial power” attributed to that planet, and therefore to that day, is Wisdom, and so the word’s earliest definition would have been: “female counsel protected by male intelligence.” Finally, Wednesday would first have been known as Metis/Coeus day, or Metisday for short, meaning Wisdom’s day. Again, I found all this comforting because it helped to explain how we got to where we are now.
As Graves explains, the main problem in solving these sorts of complex mythological–therefore pre-historical–connections is that:
Conquering gods their titles take
From the foes they captive make.
Many of Robert Graves’ books have illuminated the darkness into which myths have fallen, finding the hidden prehistory in them, as surely as archaeologists like Arthur Evans or Heinrich Schliemann uncovered some of the truths behind the so-called “myths” of Troy and Minoan Crete. Both of these men had been led to those ancient sites by reading the Greek myths, then following their geographic descriptions until finally unearthing what had come to be thought of as fanciful, fictional civilizations–until Evans and Schliemann conclusively proved otherwise.
What the late eminent archaeologist Dr. Marija Gimbutas concluded after more than twenty years of neolithic (the earliest civilizations) excavations–and published in her amazing final books, The Language of the Goddess and The Civilization of the Goddess–coincides with Graves’ mythic/poetic conclusions of nearly fifty years earlier. She told me in 1992 how greatly she had been inspired fifteen or twenty years before when she first read The White Goddess.
Gimbutas’ life and work, like Graves’, was mainly involved with searching out the truth; with, as Graves used to say, getting it right! Because the more we can understand humanity’s buried past, the better we can deal with the profoundly confusing and troubled present. Knowing the political, religious, or humanist reverberations and implications behind the daily conventions we live with, may help us to better understand ourselves and our society. The work we’ve all done here is dedicated toward that goal; and toward keeping alive the spirit of the unicorn.
This is the earliest known calendar-system that is still functional and practical today; and is, actually, a far simpler and more useful measure of days than the current one. Our Gregorian calendar has only been in use for about 250 years, though it is virtually identical to the Julian calendar which Julius Caesar proscribed in Rome in 44 b.c. Before that, and up to now, there have been numerous ways of breaking up the 365 days (plus about 6 hours) that make up an annual cycle of the sun. But as much as three thousand years before the Julian, one system had been in use over most of the Old World. The calendar explained and elaborated in these pages is the original Celtic Irish version, circa 1600 b.c.
Our current system’s monthly breakdown of days “takes some attention to remember,” as the Encyclopedia Brittanica understated it (see below). But the original, by contrast, is extremely easy to live with: Thirteen months, each named after trees; twenty-eight days each (13 x 28 = 364), plus one extra day to begin the year, for the usual total of 365; except in a leap-year like 2012 when two extra days are added at the start.
The number twenty-eight–besides being the average visual length of a lunation–is, most significantly, the average length of the female cycle; its multiple, 280, is the normal period of human gestation–simply, ten Tree-months, rather than nine variable Gregorian-months. Pinpointing not only women’s menses, but conception and birth, therefore, becomes immensely easier (see below). As Robert Graves explains in his encyclopedic The White Goddess*:
“The ancient common-law month in Britain, according to Blackstone’s Commentaries (2, IX, 142) is 28 days long…and a lunar month is still popularly so reckoned… The pre-Christian calendar of thirteen four-week months, with one day over, was superseded by the Julian calendar… Ancient calendar-makers seem to have interposed the day which has no month, and was not therefore counted as part of the year, between the first and last of their artificial 28-day months: so that the farmer’s year lasted, from the calendar-maker’s point of view, literally a year and a day…”
The memory of the thirteen-month year was kept alive in the pagan English countryside until at least the fourteenth century. The Ballad of Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar begins:
How many merry monthes be in the yeare?
There are thirteen, I say…
The Celtic Irish calendar sequence elaborated here, the only one to have survived (or been deciphered) whole–was used by Irish Druids (literally, Oakmen), and variations continued to be in fairly wide use by agricultural societies and communities, sometimes in secret; it seems to have been entirely swept away by the Puritan Revolution of the 17thcentury.
Robert Graves first came across an ancient Irish tree-alphabet, and recognized it also as a tree-calendar, in a book (Ogygia) by the seventeenth-century antiquarian Roderick O’Flaherty; it is there presented, as Graves explains in The White Goddess, as: “a genuine relic of [Celtic Irish] Druidism orally transmitted down the centuries. It is said to have been latterly used for divination only…Each letter is named after the tree or shrub of which it is the initial…I noticed almost at once that the consonants of this alphabet form a calendar of seasonal tree-magic, and that all the trees figure prominently in European folklore.”
The natural habitats of the trees suggested to Graves that this particular sequence may have originated along the Pontian or the Paphlagonian stretch of the southern Black Sea in an ancient country of Asia Minor, then known as Phrygia (c. 1200 b.c.-550 b.c.), now central Turkey. But, he writes: “…the calendar may have originated in the Aegeanor Phoeniciaor Libyawith a somewhat different canon of Trees…The calendar may have been introduced [into Britain] in the late third millennium b.c. by the New Stone Age people who were in close touch with the Aegean civilization.”
Robert Graves and The Battle of the Trees
Certainly one of the small handful of real poets in the twentieth century, Robert Graves (1895-1985) was also among the world’s most brilliant historians, classical scholars, and social commentators, publishing over 150 books in his lifetime, including such renowned and popular classics as I, Claudius and Goodbye to All That. The definitive Oxford English Dictionary recognized his importance in 1972, when their first Supplement in forty years included the new adjective Gravesian: Resembling in matter, style, or quality the work or manner of Robert Graves, writer, poet, and scholar. His studies in ancient poetry, myth and religion led him toward an essential realization that “we must retrace our steps or perish.”
In a talk (given at New York’s Y.M.H.A.)* describing how he came to write The White Goddess, which first detailed the poetic and religious symbolism inherent in this antique “Year And A Day” calendar-(and alphabet-) system, Graves further explained that, while trying to unscramble the meanings of an ancient Welsh poem, he “…stumbled on the central secret of Neolithic and Bronze Age religious faith [10,000-1000 b.c.], which makes sense of many otherwise inexplicable myths and religious customs.”
This poem, called The Battle of the Trees, proved to be a veiled, scrambled description of “…a struggle between two rival priesthoods in Celtic Britain for control of the national learning. You see, I had found out that the word trees means “learning” in all the Celtic languages; and since the alphabet is the basis of all learning, and since…the Druidic alphabet was a jealously guarded secret in Gaul and Britain–indeed, its…letter-names were not divulged for nearly a thousand years–the possession of this secret must have been something worth struggling about. I had also found out that the alphabet in Caesar’s day [100-44 b.c.] was called the Boibel-Loth, because it began with the letters B.L.; and that as a result of the Battle of the Trees, the [B.L. alphabet] had displaced an earlier, very similar, and equally secret Celtic alphabet, the [B.L.N. or] Beth-Luis-Nion, whose…letters were explained as referring to a sequence of forest trees… This sequence, I found, served a dual purpose; as an alphabet and as a sacred calendar–the tree-consonants standing for the months of which their trees were characteristic; the tree-vowels standing for the quarterly stations of the Sun, its equinoxes and solstices. [Italics ours] It is a calendar which can be proved, by a study of the festal use of trees throughout Europe, to have been observed in the Bronze Age (and earlier) from Palestine to Ireland, and to have been associated everywhere with the worship of the pre-Aryan Triple Moon-goddess–sometimes called Leucothea, the White Goddess.”
This original, secret Celtic tree calendar-alphabet, which Graves elaborates in complex detail in The White Goddess is here distilled for the first time into a functional calendar (with the Gregorian days and months running concurrently). It may be of interest for practical use because it’s a far more natural and accurate time-keeper of the seasons and their changes than the Gregorian, but it may be of particular interest to students of various languages, histories, cultures and religions. In his book, Graves shows that this Celtic Irish tree-sequence had counterparts among the Greek Orphics–whose alphabet preceded the Classical Greek of 500 b.c. and was “associated with moving trees”–as well as among the ancient Scots, Welsh, Greeks, French, Italians, and Scandinavians. It corresponded, too, with the Pelasgian Greek (c. 3500 b.c.) and the Latin alphabets; and, Graves notes, based on a famous Egyptian myth, the Osirian year–when the goddess Iris ruled–seems also to have run 13 months and one day.
Calculating Menses, Conception And Birth
In her meticulously detailed Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets*, Barbara G. Walker discusses how calendar consciousness developed first in women: “…because of their natural menstrual body calendar, correlated with observations of the moon’s phases, Chinese women established a lunar calendar 3000 years ago, dividing the celestial sphere into 28 stellar “mansions” through which the moon passed. Among the Maya of Central America, every woman knew “the great Maya calendar had first been based on her menstrual cycles.” Romans called the calculation of time menstruation, i.e., knowledge of the menses. Gaelic words for “menstruation” and “calculation” are the same: miosach and miosachan.”
Using A Year And A Day Calendar, in fact, the majority of women will find it extremely easy to calculate their menstrual cycle: Simply note the Tree-date of onset, then mark exactly the same Tree-date on the following month. Oak 1 and Holly 1, for instance, are 28 days apart, and for the entire year the first of every Tree-month will fall on the same day of the week (Sundays in 2012). Calculation for a pregnancy too becomes infinitely quicker and more accurate by using the 280-day, or 40-week, or 10-Tree-month, rule of thumb. If, for example, conception can be ascertained as having occurred on or about Oak 1 (Jun 10), the baby may then be expected on or about Alder 1 (Mar 18). Working in reverse, once you have decided under which tree you would like your child born, you can quickly jump backward to conception and see if the signs are fruitful for children conceived under that tree (see below).
The significance of conception-dates is de-emphasized in current times, particularly by comparison to birth-dates, since conception is more difficult to establish, especially in contemporary calendars, without going through a careful counting of weeks. Yet knowledge of both dates is essential to a better understanding of an individual’s character and personality. As Graves explains in The White Goddess, a mythic or religious figure’s birth and conception both play crucial roles in defining the deity’s position and the attendant theology. In the religious theory of Minoan Crete (c. 1900 b.c.), for example, where “worship of the Divine Child was first established in Europe,” the birth of the Sun-god Zeus (“Bright Sky”) in the cave of his Moon-goddess mother Rhea (“Earth”) occurred each year at the Winter Solstice–around Dec. 21-23.
To confirm this date, Graves goes to another aspect of the myth–that Zeus was the son of Cronos–and, having identified the Greek Cronos with the ancient Anglo-Irish Sun-god Fearn, or Bran, who is herein associated with the Alder Tree-month, he reckons back from the Winter Solstice 280 days, or ten Tree-months, and comes to the first of Alder (Mar. 18), known in Irish as Fearn. One could conclude, therefore, that Zeus was conceived under the Tree of Fire and the Tree of Foundations–the first homes in Europe were founded beside lakes on Alder piles–and born under the self-propagating Silver Fir, Tree of Birth, and Mistletoe, a symbol of virility.
Among later Sun-gods also purportedly born at the Winter Solstice–therefore conceived in Alder–are the Greek Hercules, Dionysus and Apollo; the Persian Mithras, and the Irish Cuchulain. It was for this reason, as Graves points out, that “the Christian Church first fixed the Nativity feast of Jesus Christ at the same season,” a date not chosen until a.d. 273. A hundred years after that, St. Chrysostom explained the Church’s intention as having been that “…while the heathen were busied with their profane rites the Christians might perform their holy ones without disturbance…” but he justified the suitability of the date, since Jesus was “the Sun of Righteousness.” Revivals of the Old Religion in more recent times, like the Merrie England cult that centered on the 14th-century outlaw Robin Hood, also identified their deity with the seasonal Sun-god who was annually born and killed and re-born.
In order to quickly determine the date of conception for a normal birth, there are three easy steps to follow. (Allowances for premature births must be calculated on an individual basis, with each too-soon Gregorian-month counting as one Tree-month plus approximately half a week.)
a) If the birthday of a full-term child is, like Robert Graves’, July 24, find the Tree-month containing that date on Chart 2, where July 24 is shown as falling within Holly (Jul 8-Aug 4). On the same chart, the corresponding Conception-tree is also listed: normal births under Holly (or Holly-Oak) were conceived during the month of Ivy (Sep 30-Oct 27).
b) Turn to the monthly spread on Holly (to come), where July 24 is identified as Holly 17, which automatically means that the normal conception-date is Ivy 17.
c) To get the exact Gregorian date corresponding to Ivy 17, turn to the monthly spread on Ivy (to come), where it is identified as October 16.
How can this be interpreted? A reading of the texts on Holly and Ivy would enable us to conclude that Graves, the soldier-poet-historian, was born during the flowering season of the warrior’s tree. Holly, or Holly-Oak, which rules the second half of the year, having been conceived in Ivy, the spiraling Tree of Resurrection. This is especially apt since Graves was believed, by Army doctors, to have died of wounds suffered during a battle in World War I; his death was announced and published, and only then was he found to have been in a death-like coma from which he quickly recovered. Also, his life’s work merged these two tree principals into a consuming struggle to resurrect the truths behind ancient history and poetic myth.
Conception dates of historical figures might prove equally revealing (but regularity of births would have to be ascertained to be accurate.) For instance, Mozart’s birthday is Jan. 27 (St. Chrysostom’s Feast Day), the 7th of Rowan, which is the Tree of Life and Quickening. He would have been conceived, therefore, around the 7th of Willow/Blackthorn (April 21), Trees of Enchantment and of Strife; both elements filled his glorious, tragic life. His divine works continue to provide the powers of quickening to all, and to the art of music itself. That both Mozart and Graves died under the same tree–Mozart on Dec. 5 (1791), Graves on Dec. 7 (1985)–is poetically apt too; this is the blossoming time of the Elder, the Tree of Doom, but the Elder’s flowers and inner bark are well known for their therapeutic qualities and, as Graves once described Mozart’s music in one word as “healing,” so Graves’ work has a different but similarly profound effect.
The True Length of Civilization
In China, the year 2012 is known to the people as 4709-10; for the Hebrews, it is 5773-74; for the Muslims, 1432-33. In Japan, although the Japanese follow our Western calendar, historically they refer to the reigning era, which in 2012 is Hei Sei 24 (referring to the reign of Akihito, who succeeded Hirohito in 1989). Each of these systems, then, obviously began counting at a very specific yet different time–just as in the West, we formally call it a.d. 2012, meaning literally the 2,012thyear since the year of the birth of Jesus (Anno Domini); any preceding dates are given as b.c., before Christ (which literally means before “the King”). Consequently, because we largely grow up with a.d. dates, a profound misconception is developed about the true duration of civilization, the beginnings of which are now dated at approximately 10,000 b.c. around the Mediterranean (8000 b.c. in other areas) and marked by the start of Agriculture.
Known as the Holocene (or Most Recent) Epoch–the first since the last Ice Age–this Neolithic period of the Stone Age was followed by the Bronze Age (c. 3500-1000 b.c.) and the Iron Age (c. 1000 b.c.-a.d. 100), eras which collectively cover (among others) the civilizations of Sumeria, Crete, Phrygia, Phoenicia, Babylonia and Egypt; the Pelasgian, Helladic, Hellenic, and Classical Greek periods; as well as the Rise, and the beginnings of the Decline, of the Roman Empire. All these and a great many others are omitted in a.d. calculations–in themselves inaccurate since modern historians have proven that Jesus was actually born in 4 or 5 b.c. Therefore, in truth, 2012 is not really 2,012 years since the birth of Jesus, but rather 2,016 or 2,017 years; which also means that the true Christian millennium–2,000 years since Jesus’ birth–arrived either in 2,004 or 2,005.
One relatively simple alternative to this now universal error (combined with the other shortcomings of Christian, Hebrew, Muslim, Japanese, and Chinese time-reckoning) might be to change our annual notations by adding to the inaccurate number of years a.d. the 10,000 years of extraordinary b.c. cultures: thus 2012 would become 12,012 s.a.–Since Agriculture. To convert dates following 10,000 b.c., subtract the given b.c. date from 10,000 and you have the number of years since the first agricultural Stone Age civilizations: for example, Pelasgiana Greece was at its peak in 3500 b.c., which would be 6500 s.a. (Dates before 10,000 b.c. could perhaps be known as b.a.–Before Agriculture–and calculated by subtracting 10,000 from the given date: 25,000 b.c. becomes 15,000 b.a.) Some confusion at first and then a little addition or subtraction might provide not only greater accuracy but a sharper perspective from which to evaluate the actual length and breadth of humanity’s various attempts at civilization.
The Yearly Odyssey Of Moon And Sun
According to Graves, “English poetic education should, really, begin not with the Canterbury Tales, nor with the Odyssey, nor even with Genesis, but with the Song of Amergin, an ancient Celtic calendar-alphabet, found in several purposely garbled Irish and Welsh variants, which briefly summarizes the prime poetic myth,” dealing with the journey of the Moon-goddess’s Sun-god in his annual passage from birth to death to re-birth. Each line of the poem stands for a different month or station of the calendar year (as well as for a different letter in the alphabet) and a different aspect of the god’s and the goddess’s yearly odyssey, not unlike the original tree-cult hero of the original Zodiac. In The White Goddess, Graves restored the Amergin text this way:
I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,*
I am a wonder: among the flowers
I am a wizard: who but I Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?
I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool
I am a lure: from paradise,*
I am a hill: where poets walk.
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?
I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.
Some of the seasonal references contained in this calendar-poem are explained throughout A Year And A Day Calendar; for example, information on the first line, “I am a stag: of seven tines,” can be found under Birch (Dec 24-Jan 20; because it is an allusion to that time of the year. A breakdown of all the lines and their corresponding trees can be found as part of Charts 2 and 3. For the lines’ complicated mythical and religious significance, consult The White Goddess, as well as the festal, calendar and time-reckoning references in Graves’ The Greek Myths.
The Trees, Letters, Birds, Colors, Number
A Year And A Day Calendar is, overall, comprised of twenty-two trees (plus a number of alternates from differing countries); the names of these trees form the ancient Celtic Irish alphabet too, just as the names of the letters in the modern Irish alphabet also are those of trees. The original order (with some variants) of these letters (and trees) is:
A, B, L, N, O, F, S, Z, H, D, U, T, C, Q, M, E, G, P (or Ng or Gn), R, I, Y (or J)
The thirteen 28-day tree-months–though two months share two trees each for a total of 15 trees–are listed on Chart 2, along with their corresponding Old Irish names and consonants as well as the dates they cover in the Gregorian system. (The Gregorian dates and the Tree-dates nearly converge–one day off–only in September and October, though numerologically they are the same for several periods.) The two months that share two trees each are:
Willow (Apr. 15 – May 12) and
Hazel (Aug. 5 – Sept. 1)
These can be paired two different ways:
a) Willow with Blackthorn; Hazel with Apple
b) Willow with Apple; Hazel with Blackthorn.
Graves points out the poetic differences and advantages of both in The White Goddess, and we have chosen the first (a) and more traditional, reasoning that, since the Blackthorn-tree carries an implicit warning of strife, the earlier the warning is given the better. As discussed earlier, the poetic implications and factual details of the differing trees have much the same kind of symbolic and actual meaning as the Zodiac signs, though in far more basic, tangible and consistent form (see below).
Each month also features the birds and colors appropriate to that Tree (see Chart 2) as found with the Bird-ogham and Color-ogham from the Irish Book of Ballymote–in Irish, the first letter of the words for both bird and color corresponds to the ancient Tree-month letters–and their significance is explained at the end of each monthly entry. On Charts 2 and 3 are the names of the sacred Hebrew jewels of each month, along with their tribes, deduced by Graves from the Old Testament (see The White Goddess pp. 269-71), and explained very briefly at the end of each month’s entry.
Listed too are the numerical values assigned by the Greek Dactyls and by the Irish bards to the consonants and to the vowels (see Chart 2 for consonants; Chart 3 for vowels). The Greek system is the first known form of numerology, the Irish being a considerably later variant. The Dactyls inspired Pythagoras, an adept in the Old Religion, but his numerology cut their amount of numbers in half. Since ancient agricultural rituals included sacred love-making, the Dactyls numerology counted ten for the woman’s fingers, ten for the man’s, for a total of twenty. Pythagoras, as Graves points out, was content to speculate only with his own ten fingers.
The Five Stations And The Four Cross-Quarter Days
Chart 3 lists both the four annual Cross-Quarter Days and the Five Stations of the year. These were all major pagan (meaning “country,” because agricultural) religious holidays.
- The New Year’s Extra Day (12,2012 s.a.) of the Winter Solstice, Dec. 23, 2012, is the day following the “shortest day” of the year (see no. 5 below) as the daylight hours begin to increase.
- The Spring Equinox, Mar 20 (Alder 3), marks the moment when the sun crosses the equator, and days and nights therefore are of equal length but the daylight hours are still increasing.
- The Summer Solstice, Jun 20 (Oak 11) marks the moment when the sun is farthest north of the equator, resulting in the longest amount of daylight in the year, but the nighttime hours now are increasing.
- The Autumn Equinox, Sep 22 (Vine 21), marks the moment when the sun again crosses the equator, and days and nights therefore are again of equal length, though the daylight hours are continuing to diminish.
- The Winter Solstice, Dec 22 (Elder 28), is the day when the sun is farthest south of the equator, resulting in the shortest amount of daylight in the year, and marks the end of the cycle.
These are represented by five (plus two) other trees. The five vowels (and two semi-vowels) they represent, along with their dates (and alternate trees) are also specified in Chart 3. The five metals with which they correspond are listed too. Each of these stations is also represented by an animal that symbolizes the season: one part of the anatomy of each of these five animals goes to make up the original composite calendar-beast called the Unicorn (see Foreword, and below).
The four Cross-Quarter Days were festivals which, along with these Solstices and Equinoxes, divided the year into eighths (8 is the number of increase) and were considered key times of change in nature’s cycles and honored therefore in order to maintain harmony and peace in the world. The celebrations took place on the eve of what now are often corresponding Christian “saint’s days,” because the country calendar reckoned the days from noon to noon rather than from midnight to midnight. The Irish Celts marked these four Cross-Quarter days with “fire-feasts,” and they are sometimes called “Witches’ Sabbaths”:
- Candlemas (Imbolg), Feb 2 (Rowan 12), marks the Quickening of the Year now celebrated as St. Brigit’s Day (Ire) or Groundhog Day (U.S).
- May Eve (Belthaine), Apr 30 (Willow-Blackthorn 16). Fertility rite now celebrated on May 1 as May Day.
- Lammas (Lughomass or Lugh-mass), Aug 2 (Holly 26), Feast or Mass in memory of the sacrificed Sun-god, or Oak-king, who died yearly on June 24 (now St. John’s Day) and was reborn at the Winter Solstice.
- All Hallow E’en (Samhain), Oct 31 (Reed 4). Better known as Halloween, was originally a wake or ceremony in honor of the spirits of dead heroes, now celebrated with different deities, as All Saints’ Day (Nov 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2).
The five animals of the Unicorn, which in ancient times was the symbol for this calendar-system, represent the passage of the Sun through its five annual seasons (see Chart 3):
- For the New Year’s Extra Day (Dec 23, 2012), the body of a Horse–the animal most sacred to the goddess of childbirth (see Silver Fir/Mistletoe).
- For Spring (celebrated at Equinox, Mar 20, Alder 3), the feet of an Elephant as Mother Earth’s extraordinary power revives (see Furze).
- For Summer (celebrated at Solstice, Jun 20, Oak 11), the tail of the Lion–the animal most sacred to the goddess of love (see Heather).
- For Autumn (celebrated at Equinox, Sep 22, Vine 21), the horn of the Rhinoceros–for power (see White Poplar).
- For Winter (celebrated at Solstice, Dec 22, Elder 28), the head of the Deer, or the goat–once hunted only in this death season (see Yew).
The earliest known Greek mention of the Unicorn is by the fifth-century b.c. historian and doctor Ctesias, who described its spiral horn as being red, white and black. These colors–and animals and plants of these colors combined–are the ones most sacred to the ancient European Great Goddess: white for innocence, red for death, black for wisdom. And five was her sacred number, symbolized by the five-pointed star, emblem of inception, birth, life, death, resurrection (see Willow/Blackthorn, and Hazel/Apple).
CHART THREE — THE FIVE STATIONS OF THE YEAR AND FOUR CROSS-QUARTER DAYS
*The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth was originally published in 1948; the book’s Amended and Enlarged 1966 edition has never gone out of print (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY; Faber and Faber, London). The majority of Graves quotes in this work are taken from The White Goddess; a few are from other books by Graves, and all of these are listed in the Selected Bibliography.
*Published in Graves’s 5 Pens in Hand, Doubleday & Co., NY 1958; and in Steps, Cassell, London, 1958. A shorter version of the same material appears as the final chapter, called “Postscript 1960,” of The White Goddess (see footnote above).
*Published in 1983 by Harper & Row, San Francisco. (See Selected Bibliography). Reprinted by permission.
*These two lines can be interchangeable, depending on the arrangement of the two moveable months referred to in the next section.
Adoration of the Christmas tree at this time of year began long before Jesus, who was not actually born at the same time as the festivals of the Old Religion, but the date was chosen so Christians could worship undisturbed, and perhaps gain converts by adorning the same tree–the Silver Fir. Mistletoe, however, was forbidden by the church and still is.
In Greek mythology, Silver Fir was the tree most sacred to Artemis, the Moon-goddess who presided over childbirth. She named the tree with a title of hers, Elate, “the lofty one;” elate in Greek means fir, in English to feel elated is to feel loftier in spirit.
Silver Fir is, as Gravesput it succinctly, “the prime birth-tree of Northern Europe, familiar in the Nativity context.” The station of the Silver Fir is the New Year’s Extra Day of the Winter Solstice (December 23)–as the daylight hours begin to lengthen again–in the alphabet, represents the birth-vowel, A For Ailm, Old Irish for both Silver Fir and Palm. It is the Day in the phrase “A Year And A Day.”
Silver Fir is a female tree, its needles are evergreen, it bears male and female cones, and is named for its bark of silver-grey and for the silvery whiteness under its leaves.
The Palm, which is evergreen, is the birth tree of Egypt, Arabia, and Babylonia, with about 2500 species in its Family in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. It gave its botanical name phoenix (“bloody”) to Phoenicia–a country that once covered the entire Eastern Mediterranean–and to that mythic bird of resurrection, the Phoenix, whose birth and rebirth always happened in a Palm-tree. The Phoenix, like the Unicorn, was a calendar-beast, expressive of that small portion of each year that used to be left out of the calculations and which eventually added up to a full year; this became obsolete with the Julian and Gregorian calendar-revisions. In the Babylonian Garden of Eden story, the Palm is the Tree of Life, and in Hebrew the Palm is called Tamar, who was “the Hebrew equivalent of the Great Goddess Ishtar or Ashtoreth.”
Yet the Silver Fir, native to Central and Southern Europe as well as to some parts of Asia and North America, is as old a symbol of birth as the Palm. It too thrives in sandy soil and sea breezes. In many Western mythologies, the Divine Child, or the God of the Waxing Year, was born at the Winter Solstice under a Fir-tree: Adonis, Tammuz, Dionysus, Hercules, and Osiris, the Egyptian god of vegetation, as well as his predecessor and prototype, the god of Byblos. The floors of the temples Solomon raised in honor of the Trinity were of Fir-planking. The Trojan Horse, a bogus peace-offering to the goddess Athene, was made of Silver Fir, The Gallic Fir-goddess, Druantia, was called “Queen of the Druids” and was, as Graves writes, “mother of the whole tree-calendar.”
Mistletoe is the other sacred tree of the New Year, though actually it is not a tree growing in the earth, but one which subsists on other trees, such as the Poplar, Apple and Oak–all these being sacred in this calendar system. To the Celtic Druids, Mistletoe was “the most important of all trees,” its berries prized “as an all-heal and as an aphrodisiac.” The 1st-century A.D. Roman historian Pliny records that Mistletoe was involved in the Druid’s main religious rite: “…their ritual emasculation of the sacred oak by the lopping of the mistletoe, the procreative principle, with a golden sickle,” Graves explains, “typifying the emasculation of the old king by his successor–the Mistletoe being a prime phallic emblem…” Remains of mistletoe with oak-branches have been found in a Bronze Age tree-coffin. The Church, though now allowing into Christmas decorations the once-banned Holly and Ivy, still forbids the Mistletoe as pagan; and yet, as Graves points out, “mistletoe cannot be ousted from its sovereignty of Midwinter, and the exchange of kisses forbidden at all other seasons is still permitted under its bough, if it has berries on it.”
The Hebrew equivalent of the Mistletoe was the Wild Caper, also known as the Hyssop, “which grows green in walls and crannies and in old tree-fissures,” or the holy Loranthus which grows on desert tamarisks and on oaks, is found in Eastern, not Western, Europe, has flame-colored leaves,and was probably the original “burning bush” in which Moses saw Jehovah: it is “the prime lustral tree in Hebrew use,” Graves notes. In I Kings, Solomon speaks of trees: “…from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that is upon the wall…” And this is reference to the Sun’s course from its Winter-Solstice infancy (Hyssop) in its Summer-Solstice prime (Cedar; see Heather). The Hyssop or the Loranthus is also the tree of the tribe of Benjamin, “Son of My Right Hand”–meaning “Ruler of the South”–the sun reaching its most southern point here at Midwinter. The biblical jewel is Amber, which is fossilized Pine-trees, and Silver Fir is a member of the Pine Family. The prophet Ezekial in the 6th-century B.C. made Amber “the color of the upper half of Jehovah’s body; the lower half being fire.”
From The Song of Amergin: “I am the womb: of every holt,” again refers to the Moon-goddess of childbirth; the other relevant line, “I am an infant; who but I peeps from the unhewn dolman arch?” is another reference to the birth of the God of the Waxing Year. The dolmen arch (as seen at Stonehengeor Avebury) was used in the Old Religion both as a tomb and as a “womb of earth.” The metal is Silver in honor of the Moon which dominates the sky in the winter months and in the Old Religion took precedence over the Sun. The Bird is the Lapwing (Aidhircleog) who keeps danger away from her nest by “deception and equivocation,” as the secrets of the original alphabet and calendar were to be kept. The color is Piebald (Alad) in the Midwinter season, the chimneys black with soot inside, white with snow out, and the Goddess’s prophetic bird is the magpie, which is piebald.
The body of the unicorn is a Horse, because it is the animal most sacred to the Moon and to the goddess of childbirth. It has often been pictured either with a Deer’s head or a Goat’s head, or with a Horse’s head and a Goat’s beard. The Deer or Goat were representative of the Winter, or Death, Season, the only one in which either the goat or deer were allowed to be hunted, both being sacred animals and taboo–on pain of death–to harm at any other time of the year. Consequently, the fact that Capricorn, the Goat, is the Zodiacal symbol for this period and that some astrologers assign his place to the unicorn is not a coincidence, just a confusion.
The Tree of Inception
DECEMBER 24, 2011-JANUARY 20, 2012
Sun in Capricorn the Goat,
or the Unicorn,
Dec 22 – Jan 20
Letter: B for Birch-tree in Irish Beth
Bird: Pheasant (Besan)
Color: White (Ban)
Numbers: (Greek) 2 / (Irish) 5
Birch–sometimes called Lady Birch, Silver Birch or White Birch–is among forest trees, the earliest (except for the Elder) to put out new leaves–around the beginning of April–which in England starts the financial year. In Scandinavia, farmers use its leafing-time to start sowing their spring wheat, thus beginning the agricultural year. In Pembrokeshire, Wales, as a sign of encouragement, a girl might give a would-be lover a piece of Birch-wood, meaning “You may begin.”
A sturdy, self-propagating northern forest-tree with slender branches and smooth, tough bark that peels away in paper layers, Birch is common in Europe, grows from Mt. Etnato Ireland, from Greenlandto Kamchatka; about twenty species are native to North America.
The Birch’s tiny, greenish male and female flowers (both on the same plant) sometimes bloom before the leaves; its wood is traditional for the expulsion of evil spirits and therefore often used for the making of cradles. Birch-water–sap obtained from birch trees in the Spring–is used to make Birch wine. Throughout Europe, Birch twigs, which toughen late in the year, are used in the marking of boundaries and in the flogging of delinquents. In rustic ritual, Birch rods are used to drive out the Spirit of the Old Year–a metaphor for the practical use of Birch twigs which, bound in bundles, make the best brooms, including the Witch’s broom (or besom), which has an Ash stake and Willow binding.
The Birch month starts just after the Winter Solstice, when the days begin to lengthen again. The first week is part of the legendary annual fourteen Halcyon days–the first seven right before the Winter Solstice, the second seven right after–proverbially, the most peaceful days of the year. At this time in ancient Rome, the Lectors carried Birch-rods for the installation of their Consuls, twelve Lectors to every Consul, for Companies of thirteen each. In ancient Irish law, Birch is the first of the sacred Seven Noble Trees, with severe fines for its unwarranted felling. In myth and legend, Birch-trees are said to grow at the entrance to Paradise.
From The Song of Amergin (see Introduction): “I am a stag: of seven tines” (or its variant, “I am an ox: of seven fights”) refers to the white Hercules Stag (or white ox or wild bull) which begins the solar year. The seven antler-tines (or seven fights) are a reference to this calendar: Birch is the seventh moon/tree-month after Oak, and the seventh moon/tree from Birch is Oak again, Oak being the central and cardinal tree of this calendar system. The 1st-century A.D. Greek historian Plutarch describes (in Isis and Osiris) how at the Winter Solstice, the golden cow of Isis, covered in black cloth, is carried seven times around the shrine of Osiris–identified with Dionysus by Plutarch (in Graves’ translation): “The circuit is called “The Seeking for Osiris,” for in Winter the Goddess longs for the water of the Sun. And she goes around seven times because he completes his passing from the winter to the summer solstice in the seventh month.” Graves goes on to point out that Plutarch clearly was calculating in 28-day (not 30-day) months, otherwise the journey could be completed in six months.
Since it is the month of the Stag–and venison was considered the finest meat that runs–so the Pheasant (Besan) was the finest that flies, and the color of this Stag, Bull and Pheasant is White (Ban). A sacred bird in Greece, the White, or “Bohemian,” Pheasant, is often found among pheasants of ordinary coloring. The biblical jewel is the Red Sard, or Carnelian (Odem), “placed in the first month in Edomite connections.” The words “Adam,” “Edom” and “Odem” are all variants on the Hebrew word for “rusty-red.”