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Toward an English Pagan Liturgical Calendar

Gary Stanfield, 2019-January-01

Why A Solunar Calendar


This article builds on previous works by Robert Stone (1997) and Richard Sermon We know the Pagan English used a
(2001). It begins with a brief discussion of the notion of a solunar calendar. There solunar calendar because we have
follows discussion of the practical and philosophical considerations behind using documentary evidence. In addition,
lunar months starting on the first crescent. Next comes a refinement of our notions there would have been five compel-
of the English’ rules for determining which years have an extra month. Finally, ling reasons for a culture to use a
there is some discussion of what holy days would have appeared in each month. solunar calendar. (1) Strictly solar
calendars such as those of the May-
ans, Egyptians, or Romans require
Solar Year, Lunar Months long written matrices of days. In
The ancient English, and probably most pre-industrial cultures, used a solunar turn, this requires durable written
calendar. A solar year with lunar months cannot complete all the months that start records. (2) Both lunar and solar
in the solar year. The English calendar of the Heathen era starts 12 lunar months phases are important, and (3) a
most years and is occasionally adjusted to start 13 months based on an observation strictly lunar calendar does not track
of a solstice or equinox in relation one of the lunar cycles. I write of “starting” solar years accurately. Also, (4) it is
lunar months instead of “including” them because a series of lunar months never practical for a society that is techno-
corresponds exactly to a solar cycle. The following sections discuss the details of logically close to nature to work
their solunar system. (See also the sidebar, “Why a Solunar Calendar”. An earlier with a solunar calendar. The lunar
study of this matter is in Lord et al, n. d.).) cycles are relatively easily observed
if the night-time sky is clear for a
The observations and inferences indicated below are probably relevant for other large part of the month. The series of
Teutonic nations and some other pre-Christian cultures. The holidays might differ, lunar months can be corrected as
but the general scheme of solunar events would still hold. needed with no more than one pre-
cise solar-phase measurement per
year. A solar phase check would
Months require a piece of outdoor equipment
The first crescent starts the month. Robert Stone (1997) contends that a new month impervious to (or protected from)
started on the first crescent of the waxing moon, not on the full moon as many rain, wind, flood, fire, animals, plant
suppose (for example, see Lord, 1998). The first-crescent hypothesis is quite overgrowth, and vandalism. Not
plausible on two points. (1) It is the most practical of the lunar signs to use for a every village or temple could have
new month, and (2) it is reasonably consistent with Teutonic Pagan philosophy. such equipment, but maintaining a
solunar calendar would require only
infrequent communication and very
P C
RACTICAL ONSIDERATIONS few staff. Probably any culture at
Mr. Stone's argument is that most cultures that used lunar months used the first least as technically advanced as
sliver of the new moon to start the new month. He argues specifically that the Neolithic could use such a calendar
Moslems (Arabs), Babylonians, and Hebrews used the first sliver of the waxing for both religious and secular pur-
moon. He adds that if the day begins at sunset, then by analogy the month would poses. Lastly (5) people tend to
begin on the first sliver of the waxing moon. prefer that their religion have a
strong archaic flavor. We who would
We can figure out why most cultures using lunar months might rely on the new reconstruct ancient ways are not
crescent. However, data in this paper are not sufficient to verify nor to deny that alone in this tendency, for most new
most cultures using lunar months started the month on the first sliver of the new religions that become widely adopt-
moon. The way to test that hypothesis is to count of all cultures using lunar months ed present themselves as returns to
and then count of all cultures using the first crescent as a sign of a new month. Such ancient traditions. Therefore, Eng-
data may or may not be available somewhere. lish Pagans would not have revised
their calendars when they had the
The new moon is the most practical clue to use because it is the most objective means to precisely calculate days.
indication. The moon looks full or new for about three days at a time, so with a little overcast there could be disputes over
what day started the month. The quarters and half-moons are not objective except for very skilled observers. The last of the
old moon is not known for sure to many observers until the new moon "appears" (or rather disappears -- it reflects practically

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no light). The first crescent is easier for the less skilled to discern, and those who are very perceptive about these things could
tell whether the moon was at first crescent after a period of overcast.

Another consideration is the need for a clue that the new day is the start of a new month. The ancient Anglo-Saxon day
started at sunset. The full moon rises in the east at sunset and is an excellent indicator except for that problem of its looking
the same for three days. The new moon is not visible even in the most cloud-free sky. However, the first crescent of the new
moon is visible in the western sky at sunset on clear days and is conveniently alongside
the setting sun and well above the horizon — visible over trees and hills. The full A Little Help from My Friends
moon can be seen rising in the east but is not well above the horizon until well after The principle inspiration for this
sunset. It can also be seen well above the horizon in the west an hour or two after article is a work by Robert Stone
dawn, but by that time the day is more than half over. cited here. I am quite critical of
some of his conclusions but
could not have done this work
without his paper. The most
P HILOSOPHICAL ONSIDERATIONSC important primary source is the
A philosophical reason to start each month on the sighting of the first crescent is that Venerable Bede’s famous chapter
this practice gives each month a life cycle of growth, prime, and decline. This provides “De Mensibus Anglorum”, cited
an analogy to human and other life cycles and can be used to help people anticipate and in the text under the editor’s
accept transitions in their own lives. Also, it just seems natural that a month would name (Jones, 1943). I was assist-
have a life cycle. ed in understanding this chapter
― which is published in the ori-
There are also clues in Teutonic religious philosophy, which emphasizes that Nothing ginal Medieval Church Latin ―
comes before Something. Consider the myth that tells us that Darkness is the mother of by an anonymous translation
Light. The story is told in the Deluding of Gylfi, and it is alluded to in stanza 25 of provided by Gárman Lord (1998
Vafthrudnir's Sayings and in Skaldskaparmal. There is a very dark giantess named – supplemented by personal
Night. In one of her marriages was to Shining One. Day was Night's only offspring in correspondence). Also important
this marriage. Day was "bright and beautiful", favoring His father's side. The All- was assistance by She-Wolf,
Father (Oðin) put Night and Day into the sky and gave them each a horse and a whose translation is less
vehicle. Day's horse has a mane bright enough to light up half the world at a time. It is paraphrased than is the
the job of this mother and son to circle around the world every twenty-four hours with anonymous work. She deserves
the mother in the lead. (By the way, mother and son are giants, not deities). Consider credit for behind-the-scenes
also that the Teutonic cosmogony beings with a Yawning Gap in which ice and fire work, for she has been an
meet to get things started. Consider that the Old English Rune Poem's strophe “Nyd” important friend to me, to others,
tells us that lack can turn into help and salvation. (Faulkes, 1987: 90, 137; Larrington, and to the Pagan community in
1996: 43-44; Stanfield, 2000a; Stanfield, 2001a; Young, 1954: 37-38). the Kansas City area for years.

These clues from Teutonic religion imply that as lack precedes have, as night precedes day, so invisible moon precedes
visible moon. Therefore, we would expect that each month would begin on the new moon or just after the last of the old
moon. This hurts the argument presented here, for starting the new month at the first crescent of the new moon is like starting
the day at sunrise and violates the principle we just saw in Teutonic religion.

Use of the first-crescent clue can be explained as a compromise for sake of practicality. We have seen that there are practical
problems with using the new moon as a clue, and Teutonic Pagans were practical people.

Determining Which Years are Þriliði


Bede says that the Pagan English used to add an extra Liða month when they needed 13 lunar months to keep their months
aligned with the seasons. When a third Liða was added, the year was traditionally called Þriliði (Jones, 1943).

In what follows, we first infer the name of the extra month. The next question is “how do we know which annual cycles
require 13 months?” To begin solving this problem, we have to be clear about when the solar year begins and ends from the
Pagan English point of view, so the next section is “Determining the Annual Cycle”.

THE NAME OF THE THIRTEENTH MONTH


What was the traditional name for the extra month? Bede tells us that the English called all three months “Liða”, but we
know from other sources that the usual two Liðas were called Ærra Liða and Æftera Liða. We do not know exactly what they
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called the Liða added to make a thirteen-month series. However, we Mr. Stone is probably right to infer Ærra Geola and
Æftera Geola – and Ærra Liða and Æftera Liða - were intended to “bracket the solstices like bookends.” Thus, the names of
the other Liða months imply that the extra Liða month very probably came between the other Liðas. Therefore, a reasonable
practice would be to refer to the extra Liða as “Midd Liða” (the Liða amidst) to clarify which month we mean to indicate.

DETERMINING THE ANNUAL CYCLE


Just what is the annual cycle in question? Bede tells us that the year was figured Confusing Solar & Calendar Years
from Mothers' Night to the next Mother's Night ― that is from sundown Mr. Stone proposes three rules. First
December 24 through sundown on the next December 24. Thus, there is an easy rule: If Æfter Liða occurs before or on
answer for anyone with access to a modern conventional (Gregorian) calendar the 11th evening after the evening of
that shows lunar phases. Since the first crescent appears on the second day after the summer solstice, the next month is
the new-moon sign on the calendar, you can count up the number of month Third Liða. The 11th evening after the
startups during the period from one Christmas Eve to the next. summer solstice is July 4. Second
rule: if Æfter Liða starts before the
However, it is not likely that the Pagan English had always pegged Mothers’ summer solstice evening, the next
Night to a date on the Julian calendar. Before adopting the Julian calendar, they month is Third Liða. Third rule: if
most likely pegged their solar year on the winter solstices. For a solunar calendar, Æfter Geola starts between Mothers'
this means a calendar year extending from the first lunar crescent after one winter Night and 4 January (the 11th day
solstice until the next lunar crescent after a winter solstice. Another way to word after the New Year), the year gets a
this is that their year extended from the lunar crescent marking the start of one third Liða.
Æftera Geola month until the eve of the next Æftera Geola month.
The use of these rules produces errors.
Therefore, the rules described below assume that the year in question is defined For example, in the year 2000 CE he
by winter solstices, not by the modern conventional calendar. (See also the has Ærra Geola starting well after the
sidebar, “Confusing Solar and Calendar Years”). Winter Solstice ― on 27 December.
This is because his first rule requires
an extra lunar month for the period 25
THE GUIDELINES FOR A ÞRÍLILIÞI YEAR December 1999 through 24 December
The ancient English certainly would have used a set of simple mathematical rules 2000, but there are only 12 lunar cy-
to determine in advance which years would have to be adjusted with a Midd Liða cles during that period. Likewise, for
in order to keep Ærra Geola starting before and Æftera Geola starting on or after the period 25 December 1991-24 De-
the next winter solstice. More than one rule would be needed, since we cannot cember 1992 the application of his
depend on always having clear daytime skies at any one equinox or solstice. first rule produces error. In addition,
the year 25 December 1993-24 De-
The rules used would have involved observing how long a solstice or equinox cember 1994 has 13 lunar cycles but is
occurred before the next new-moon crescent. The ancient English did not have to not þriliði under his first rule. This is
count the number of month startups in a solar-year matrix and produce a matrix because of an error in the cycle of
of days such as we commonly do with our modern calendars. They did not months carried over from the previous
number their years, so they would not have assigned certain years in the 19-year year. During the conventional year
lunar cycle to be Þríliði. (For example, the Jews add a lunar month to the 3rd, 6th, 1993, he shows Ærra Liða starting on
8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of a nineteen-year lunar cycle – see Boorstin, 22 June (one day after the Summer
1985: 11). Incidentally, the Pagan English did not number either their years nor Solstice), but Ærra Liða should start
the days of their months. before the summer solstice. I tried Mr.
Stone's second and third rules, and
The following three rules keep Ærra Geola starting before the winter solstice, and they cause similar errors.
Æftera Geola starting on or after the winter solstice, consistent with Bede’s
explanation of the names of the Yule-months. They also keep Ærra Liða starting One reason for these errors seems to
before the summer solstice and Æfterra Liða starting after the summer solstice. be that Mr. Stone is using conven-
The testing of calendric calculations here used a table of data provided by Robert tional or Pagan calendar years as the
Stone in his (1997) article. criterion period instead of using
periods between winter solstices.
I stopped at three rules, but you can calculate the fourth for yourself.

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The Winter Solstice (or Æftera Geola) Rule
The coming year is þriliði if Æftera Geola starts on or before the eleventh day after the winter solstice. If the winter solstice
occurs on 21 December in the modern conventional calendar, the eve of the solstice day is sundown on 20 December. If we
use the Gregorian calendar for a guide, then the next liturgical year would be þriliði if there were first-sliver moon at a
sundown during the period 20-31 December. A solar year spans 365.25 days. Since there are 29.5 days in a lunar month, there
are 354 days in twelve lunar months. This means that the series of lunar months would have to start at least 11 days after the
solstice of Ærra Geola to end on or after the eve of next winter solstice.

This rule can be tested by counting lunar cycles for solar years during the conventional years 1991-2002 (using the table in
Robert Stone’s article). For example, a first-crescent moon appeared in the sky on 25 December 1992, and the inter-winter-
solstice year 1992-1993 had thirteen lunar-month startups. There follow a couple of 12-lunar-month cycles. Then a lunar
month starts on 23 December 1995, and there were thirteen first-sliver moons before the next winter solstice (1995-1996).
The next solar year required only 12 lunar months. Then a lunar month started on 31 December 1997, and there were 13 lunar
months started before the next winter solstice (1997-1998). A lunar month started on 27 December 2000, and the Gregorian
year 2002 will have to see a Midd Liða if the Pagan English calendar is to stretch to the next winter solstice. During the
twelve years under examination here, no period between winter solstices required a third Liða except in accordance with this
rule.

The Fall Equinox (or Winterfylleþ) Rule


If a lunar month starts on or before the 14th day after the fall equinox, the next year will be þriliði. In terms of the modern
conventional calendar, this means that if Winterfylleþ starts on or before 8 October, the next year will get three Liðas. There
are 88.5 days in three lunar months. The minimum time needed to avoid a third Liða is a solar quarter of about 91 plus an
additional 11 days, for a total of 102. Therefore, if the three-month period of Winterfylleþ through Ærra Geola is to end at
least 11 days after the winter solstice, it needs a two-week head start.

The Summer Solstice (or Æftera Liða) Rule


If Æftera Liða starts on or before the 17th day after the summer solstice, the next year is þriliði. In the modern conventional
calendar, the threshold would be 7 July. There are 182.75 days in a solar quarter plus 11 days to avoid a third Liða, for a total
of 194 days. Subtract the 177 days that are in three lunar months and the difference is 17 days. Therefore, 13 lunar months
will be required for the following year if the lunar month on or following the summer solstice does not start at least 17 days
after the solstice.

Holidays
The liturgical schedule would be based on the months with seasonal holidays occurring in the same month each year. Since a
first-crescent lunar month has a life cycle of growth, prime, and decline, most major holidays would probably have occurred
about the same day each month ― in the prime of the month. There might have been some variation depending on the nature
of the holiday. In general, though, it would have been a comfortable cycle for most months to have an emotional and physical
buildup, then the excitement and power of a major ceremony, and finally a clean-up and rest period.

WHICH HOLIDAYS WERE OBSERVED?


Although our knowledge of Germanic Heathen holidays is sketchy, some brief discussion can be useful. The Pagan English
probably had at least one holy day per month, but as yet we do not know what all of them would have been. The individual
holidays and the annual schedule are discussed in detail in other sources, although more definitive studies of English customs
are still to be done. (For examples see Gundarsson, 1993a, 1993d, 1993e; Gundarsson et al, 1993b; other chapters in Our
Troth; Pennick, 1989: Chapter 7; Thorsson, 1992: 40-44). Sermon (2001) suggests that the Pagan English (and all the other
Germanic Pagan peoples) observed all the equinoxes, solstices, and cross-quarter days. However, I am suggesting that such
observances were based on lunar events that approximated the solar events. I make this suggestion partly because the goal of
keeping lunar-month holy days in synch with the seasons would have motivated the discovery of rules for making Þríliði
years, even more than agricultural or commercial concerns would have motivated such discoveries.

The first holiday of the annual cycle would have been Mother’s Night, and it would have begun at sundown on the first day
of Æftera Geola. Bede tells us that the ancients reckoned their calendric year as starting on Mothers’ Night, which he pegged
as eight days before 1 January, the same day as Christmas eve. However, it is likely that before adopting the Julian calendar
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Mothers’ Night was a day that would have been predictable and detectable in the solunar calendar described in this article.
Moreover, Bede says that the first month of the new year was a Geola. Bede tells us that the holiday was celebrated with an
all-night ritual.

The second holy day was in Solmónaþ. Bede tells us that the ancients offered cakes to their deities. However, cake as we
know it is made with abundant refined sugar. It is possible that the ancients used breads. Wiccans often celebrate the High
Holy Day of Brigid, or Candlemas, on 2 February. In February some Asatrúists celebrate Charming of the Plow. Both groups
seem to feel that this is a time for welcoming the breaking of frost and coming of the warm growing season. However, other
than our knowledge that the weather in England during Pagan times was much warmer than nowadays, we do not know much
about what they did during this month. However, a planting ritual would have been timed to occur on the waxing moon, most
likely at the very beginning of this month. In Missouri, late January or early February is too cold for planting these days, but
the Julius Work Calendar indicates that the Pagan English might have been planting early in Solmónaþ. In Sweden, the
holiday observed around the time when Solmónaþ would have been starting is Disting Day, an honoring of personal and
familial spirits (Idises or Dísir). Most likely, a major ceremony in Solmónaþ would have been on the full moon in part to keep
it out of the way of early planting. Religious planting rituals would have been brief affairs conducted the day before plowing
began. Perhaps the full moon of Solmónaþ would have been the time to celebrate Lent. (See Gundarsson, 1993a and 1993d;
Lacy and Danziger, 1999; Sermon, 2001; Starhawk, 1979).

The third Holy Day would have been dedicated to Hreða. Bede tells us that there were sacrifices to Her, but she is otherwise
forgotten. However, Bede also tells us that the ancient English divided the year into two six-month seasons (winter and
summer) and that the winter season started during Winterfylleþ. This implies that the summer season would have started in
the third moon, or Hréða’s Month. Such a holiday suggests timing at the first of the month to catch the young moon’s power,
but if this celebration mirrors that of Winterfylleþ, the holy day would have been on the full moon. As Winterfylleþ is not a
harvest ritual, this is not likely to have been a fertility or planting ritual. Instead, it would have focused on deeper
psychological matters, as implied by our modern Halloween customs relating vaguely to the dead.

Easter’s holiday has been discussed at length (Stanfield, 2001b). It is a low holy day in the Wiccan system, but very popular
nonetheless. One interesting point can be added: the new or full moon of Easter’s Month is the first after the vernal equinox.
You cannot count on the equinox falling in Hréða’s or in Easter’s Month, but you always know that that first full moon after
the equinox will occur in Eastermónaþ. Therefore, this would be the month for a vernal equinox celebration on a solunar
calendar. As winter officially began on a full moon, so the summer also would have been begun in mid-month.

It is quite possible that during the full moon of Þrímilici the English observed a holiday something like Beltane or Walpurgis-
nacht, called May Eve or May Day. Since the month was named in observance of a need to milk cattle three times per day,
this would be a time to celebrate seasonal prosperity. Winifred Hodge (2000) has discussed this celebration at length, and she
is probably right that this was a major Pagan celebration with different versions in different places. Based on relatively recent
observances, the ancient English seem to have celebrated in day-time and to have emphasized sexuality, freedom, renewal,
(adult) youth, and joy. For the Scandinavians, this might have been the welcoming of spring-time, but the weather in the
British Isles would have been warmer in Teutonic Pagan times than now, and springtime would be well under way in
England. Probably, in those days neither the celebrations of Þrímilici nor Hreðmónaþ nor of Eastermónaþ would by itself
have signaled springtime. Indeed, Solmónaþ would have been the initial welcoming of Spring.

The summer solstice was very probably celebrated, but we cannot be sure in what month. If an analogy to Yule-tide holds,
then the main ceremony would have been on the first day of Æftera Liða. The month during which the summer solstice
would occur would depend on whether the current year was a twelve- or thirteen-month cycle. However, the thirteen-month
cycles were probably considered something special and some kind of Midd Liþa ceremony took place. We do not know just
what the ancients did, however, so we have to do the best we can.

Bede tells us that “Halegmonath mensis sacrorum.” This could mean either that the month was filled with frequent social
rites or that there were no public rituals and private meditations or devotional ceremonies were the norm. Most likely, there
were many public and private rituals. Practice of many rituals implies variety, so we may reasonably infer that this was a time
of honoring the entire pantheon, or at least all the deities who had cults. A harvest celebration during this month would
roughly correspond to an equinox but would not necessarily occur on the full moon. If the work or harvesting was timed on
the full moon, a harvest celebration would have to be timed not to interfere. Incidentally, although the fall equinox would
always occur during Halígmónaþ, the full moon of this month is sometimes prior to and sometimes after the equinox. For
example, in 1991-1992 and in 1999-2002, the full moon of Halígmónaþ fell on 15 September. During 1992-1993 (a 13-month
year), Halígmónaþ began on 18 September, and its full moon was well after the equinox. In 12-month years, the full moon
just after the equinox would be observed in Winterfylleþ.
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The Winter Full Moon observance would have fallen in Winterfylleþ, perhaps explaining the name of the month. We do not
know how this was observed in a fully Pagan system, but this would probably be related to the more recent All-Hallows Day
or Halloween – and the Celtic Samhain. Also, full moon focus and night-time ritual seem to go together. This corresponds to
a high holy day in Wicca (where many European traditions relating to this holiday are observed), and even Christian or non-
religious people enjoy vestiges of this famous Pagan occasion. It speaks deeply to the soul, as does Easter’s celebration.

Blótmónaþ was the month of sacrifices. In order to economize on livestock feed, many farmers of ancient times slaughtered
livestock before the deepest cold arrived. Also, candles and soap were made from byproducts of livestock slaughter and
required working near hot fires ― and therefore relatively cool weather. What might seem remarkable about this month’s
sacrifices is the sharing with the deities without eating a substantial proportion of the meat, for much of the meat would have
been dried and stored. The major focus of the moment might have been preparing for the future, militating against hardship
and laying aside resources for planting, cleaning, building, or breeding early next year.

TIMING OF THE HOLIDAYS


The following matrix summarizes much of the discussion in this article.

New Moon on or Lunar Month Starts on This Date in the Solar Holidays
after Year 2001-2002
Winter
Solstice
1 Æftera Geola 27 December 2001 Mothers’ Night, the Pagan New Year’s Eve
2 Solmónað 26 January 2002 Offering of breads to deities.
3 Hréðmónað 25 February 2002 Sacrifices to Hréða. “Summer” starts.
4 Eastermónað 27 March 2002 Celebration of Easter, patron of children
5 Þrimilici 25 April 2002 Celebration of renewal, vigor, and fertility.
6 Ærra Liða 25 May 2002 (Usually) Summer Solstice
6a Midd Liða 23 June 2002 (In Þrimilíci) Summer solstice.
7 Æftera Liða 22 July 2002
8 Weodmónað 21 August 2002
9 Halígmónaþ 20 September 2002 Many sacred rites honoring many deities.
10 Winterfylleð 18 October 2002 Winter Full Moon. “Winter” starts.
11 Blótmónaþ 17 November 2002 Consecration and slaughter of animals.
12 Ærra Geola 16 December 2002

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