Neomēniá and the Three-Fold Calendar

On Thursday, February 11, we arrive at the time of the New Moon, or the “Neomēniá,” which is a term used to describe both the festival of the Moon or simply the beginning of the lunar month.

Neomēniá comes from the ancient Greek, and since this week’s New Moon instigates the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and since February is the month in 1582 that Gregory XIII reformed the way we keep time, I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects: the calendar.

In the attic peninsula region of ancient Greece there was a fascinating three-fold calendar system that was based on the independent rhythms of Moon, Sun, and stars. The lunar calendar was used to determine the festival days; the solar calendar was used for establishing civic days; and the star-based calendar, which was rooted in the rising and setting of fixed celestial points, allowed for aligning with the seasons in the agricultural cycle.

This wonderful mechanism allowed for articulating life in three distinct spheres in the ancient Greek world: in the cultural sphere through the festivals; in the life of rights and governance, rooted in the rhythmic steadiness of the Sun; and in the economic sphere, which had to do with agricultural resources that were universally needed, just as humanity universally experiences the stars.

Later, in ancient Rome, the new month that started with New Moon was called the “kalends,” which was when announcement would be made from the sacred site of lunar observance, about the number of days until the next New Moon. All debts had to be paid at kalends, and the transactions were recorded in a kind of accounting book called a “kalendaria,” from which the word “calendar” ultimately derives.

After it’s New on the 11th, the Moon will be alone in the West for a week before it catches up with Mars at first quarter.

The image of the parapegmata above is based on an ancient calendar system of moving pegs on a hanging clay tablet that had inscribed in it the divine beings that governed each day, the sign that the Sun inhabited in the zodiac each month, and the number of days passed in the lunar cycle.

Thanks for dropping in!


ps you can hear this episode on my podcast The Storyteller’s Night Sky, and on Monday mornings on Interlochen Public Radio.