An observational lunisolar liturgical calendar

“Ategninum oinan māteran, berte·yo yemnou. Poteros esāt melinodubus ac rāte wo sowonon, eti poteros esāt blāros ac cārde tre argyon?” I know one mother, who bore twin sons. Which one was swarthy and ran under the sun, and which was pale and walked through snow?

That the inhabitants of pre-Roman Britain had a cycle of religious and ritual observances governed by the passage of time- that is, a calendar of festivals, a ritual year- is undeniable. The ritual year of modern Britain and Ireland can even provide some scanty pieces of evidence of what that cycle was like. This basic proposition, of course, leads us to the question of what exactly governed the occurrence of these festivals. Was it simply a matter of the local priests or nobles deciding that the time was right? Or was the beginning of a natural event the trigger for a festival: did the first thunderstorm of spring signal the beginning of a festival of planting? Classical authors make much of the Celtic interest in astrology and astronomy. Following this, the ancient Celts also undoubtedly marked the passage of time. The Roman author Pliny remarks that the Gauls measured their months and years by the moon, grouping them into saeculi of thirty years: that they had formal calendars is fairly indisputable. It is therefore logical to assume that these calendars were the organising principle behind any annual cycle of festivals. However, the only pre-Christian native Celtic calendar which survives is that discovered at Coligny in 1897. Could this then serve as the basis of a ritual calendar for use in Brythonic reconstructionism? Yes, it could. However, the Coligny calendar was used by tribes living in the Jura Mountains of south-eastern France. It is highly unlikely that it was a pan-Celtic calendar: only one of the months of the Coligny calendar finds a cognate elsewhere in the Celtic lands. It is rather more likely that, like the Greeks, calendars were localised. So, while “authentically Celtic”, the Coligny calendar is hardly “authentically Brythonic”. For that matter, what’s wrong with using the Gregorian calendar anyway? For one thing, it does have the benefit (if you choose to see it that way), of aligning our annual festivals with those of the wider neopagan community. However, we have enough evidence from comparative and internal sources to suggest that recurring religious observences were not only played out on an annual scale, but that there was also a cycle of observances based on the lunar month. Reconciling this cycle with an annual festival cycle seems both logical and elegant. Therefore, I humbly propose the following calendar. Taking the attested Celtic calendar of Coligny as its basic reference, this calendar is lunisolar and observational, meaning that it follows the phases of the moon more closely than the Gregorian calendar does. It uses attested Celtic and (where possible) Brythonic terminology and organisational patterns, while also taking the comparative evidence into account. In what follows, we shall first

explore the background information which informs the calendar, and then discuss the operation and organisation of the calendar itself.

The Coligny Calendar
The Coligny Calendar was engraved onto a large bronze tablet, written in Gaulish using elegant Roman inscriptional capitals. Excellent and detailed descriptions of the calendar can be readily found elsewhere, so in what follows I’m going to limit myself to outlining only a few of the more salient characteristics. The Calendar of Coligny is a lunisolar calendar, which attempts to reconcile the solar year with the lunar month. As a lunar year of twelve lunar months only totals 354 or 355 days, a relatively elaborate system of intercalation was used to bring this back in line with the length of the solar year: every two and a half years an extra month was inserted into the calendar, giving a basic intercalary cycle of five years. The year was divided into two halves, a winter half beginning with the month of and a summer half beginning with the month of

Interestingly, the placement of the

intercalary month varied within the five year cycle: the first intercalary month was placed at the beginning of the first year, before the beginning of the winter half at SAMON . The second was placed in the third year of the cycle, at the beginning of the summer half of the year before GIAMON. Like the year as a whole, the month was also divided into halves. The first half was always fifteen days, the second half either fourteen days or fifteen depending on the length of the month. Months of thirty days were identified as MAT, and those of twenty-nine as ANM, which are conventionally translated as “lucky” and “unlucky” respectively. Days themselves could be accompanied by abbreviations including D, MD, NNSDS, the interpretation of which remains controversial. These daily markings, as well as other equally obscure markings such as PRINNI LOUDET, PRINNI LAGET , AMB and IVO have been the subject of great scholarly debate, and the interpretation of them forms much of the academic literature written about the calendarnotably Garret Olmsted’s works. As well as this, scholars have also argued about when the months began (full moon, dark moon, quarter or new moon?) and when the year itself began: most favouring the equation of SAMON with the Irish Samhain and a consequent autumn start to the year, but a considerable minority claim that the calendar began in spring or at midsummer. A rather smaller portion of the academic literature attempts to correlate the calendar to astronomical phenomena, such as the precession of the equinoxes or as a predictor of eclipses. This aspect has been seized upon with rather more enthusiasm by groups of eager neopagans, claiming the calendar’s more perplexing markings as indications of a complex

system of “Druidic astronomy”. Personally, I take the more mundane view that these markings are probably more likely to resemble the markings on Roman fasti, which served to indicate times which were appropriate and/or auspicious for legal or religious dealings. In my opinion, the Coligny calendar bears striking resemblences in structure to the preJulian calendar of Rome, as well as several instances of similarity to the Hindu and Hellenic calendars. This could be explained as borrowing the basic calendrical system from a common source (it is assumed that the Roman calendar is derived from those of Greekspeaking southern Italy, which are in turn derived ultimately from Babylonian models), or it could be explained as common Indo-European inheritance- or perhaps a mixture of both. While it would almost certainly be preposterous to suggest that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had a sophisticated common calendar, it is not unreasonable to assume that they too marked the passage of time by lunar months: one of the Proto-Indo-European terms for moon is clearly related to the verbal root meaning to measure. Similarly, a few early hymns in the Rig Veda allude to a lunisolar calendar with intercalary months. It is perhaps worth noting that the Roman, Hindu and Hellenic calendars, in common with the calendar of Coligny, divide the month into two halves, with the full moon standing at the dividing point between the two. This division is absent from the Babylonian calendar and its closest lunar derivatives.

Modern Celtic Timekeeping
Since their conversion to Christianity at least, the modern Celtic-speaking peoples have used various forms of the Roman calendar: first the Julian and subsequently the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar in common use throughout the world today. While they adopted the reckoning of the Roman calendar wholesale, with its ties to the solar year, the curious lengths of its month and its complex system of intercalation; some few traces of native calendar traditions remain. This is most apparent in the names given to the months of the year, which frequently are not simply borrowed from the Latin. In the table below, the names of the months in all six modern Celtic languages are given. Those names with Latin etyma have been identified by small caps, while native Celtic names are given in boldface:

Welsh January February March April May June July August September October November December IONAWR CHWEFROR MAWRTH EBRELL MAI Mehefin Gorffennaf AUST Medi Hydref Tachwedd Rhagfyr

Cornish GENVER WHEVREL MERTH EBREL ME Metheven Gortheren EST Gwyngala Hedra Du Kevardhu

Breton GENVER C’HWEVRER MEURZH EBREL MAE Mezheven Gouere EOST Gwengolo Here Du Kerzu

Irish EANÁIR FEABHRA MÁRTA AIBRÉAN Bealtaine Meitheamh IÚL Lúnasa Meán Fómhair Deireadh Fómhair Samhain NOLLAIG

Scottish Gaelic Faoilleach Gearran MÀRT Giblean Cèitean Ogmhìos IUCHAR Lùnasdal Sultain Dàmhair Samhain Dùbhlachd

Manx Jerrey geuree Toshiaght arree MAYRNT AVERIL Boaldyn Mean souree Jerrey souree Luanistyn Mean fouyir Jerrey fouyir Mee Houney MEE NY NOLLICK

Table 1: Names of the months in the modern Celtic Languages

At first glance, there appears to be little commonality across the entire family (save that all languages have borrowed the Latin name for March), let alone among the individual branches. From this table, one cannot reconstruct a proto-Goidelic or a proto-Brythonic list of month-names, much less anything which goes further back than that. Nevertheless, let us examine the names of June more closely: aside from Gaelic’s Ogmhìos, all of the names here are cognate, going back to something like *medio-sam- “mid-summer”. On the Brythonic side, we also have the names for July, which all etymologically mean “end of summer”. An older native term for May exists in Welsh: Cyntefin, which is cognate to the Gaelic Cèitean- both meaning “first [month] of summer”. The Manx names for January, February, June, July, September and October are all in origin phrases indicating either “middle” or “end” plus the name of the season, as do the Irish names for September and October. We can determine from this then a common Insular Celtic pattern of naming the months after their position in the season. Furthermore, we can also see that the seasons were considered to begin not with the solstices and equinoxes but with what are commonly referred to as the “cross-quarters”: were this not the case we would expect the Manx toshiaght arree “beginning of spring” to correspond to April, not February. Perhaps unfortunately, the names of the months of the Coligny Calendar do not appear to have any etymological correspondence with the Insular names, beyond the SAMON -Samhain connection

already mentioned: this may serve to underscore the point that it was highly unlike that there was a “common Celtic” calendar.

The Calendar
While not claiming to be an authentic reconstruction of any pre-Christian Celtic calendar, I believe that it is not unlikely that the pre-Roman Brythons, in common with other early Indo-European peoples, would have made use of a lunisolar calendar wherein the month is keyed to the phases of the moon, but would have also been linked to the seasons, neccessitating the periodic correction of an intercalary month. The evidence for this, in my opinion, can be found in the Calendar of Coligny (for the structure), and in the native month-names preserved in the modern Celtic languages. Working our way upwards, unit by unit, we begin with the day. As in the Athenian and Jewish calendars, there is ample evidence from the classical authors that the Celts considered days to end and begin at sunset. The Moriconion Calendar therefore considers the day to begin at sunset, a fact which should be recalled when giving correspondences to Gregorian dates. A statement such as “the current year begins on the 27th of October” should be understood as “after the sunset of the 27th of October”. The month is considered to begin with the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon, which generally occurs one or two days after the “astronomical” new moon. This first day of the month is referred to as centulugrā first crescent. The month itself is divided into two halves, a light half lasting from the beginning of the month to the full moon, and a dark half lasting from the full moon to the following new moon. Months are grouped into amsterās trimesters, comprising three months each. These trimesters correspond to the four seasons, to which we give the names giamos winter, wesantēnos spring, samos summer and messus autumn. Only this last presents difficulties: it is not possible to reconstruct a Proto-Celtic term for “autumn”: the Brythonic languages largely use words meaning “harvest”, while the Goidelic languages derive their word from *uφo-giyamo- “before winter”. In lieu of a readily reconstructable term for the season, the Moriconion Calendar uses the verbal noun of metet to reap, which also gives Welsh medi “harvest, autumn, September”. Each month is named according to whether it is the first, middle or final month of its trimester. The trimesters are further grouped together into two rātā or semesters, which therefore comprise six months each. The first semester, giamorāton, covers winter and spring while the second, samorāton, covers summer and autumn. The full regular year, then, is made up of two semesters, four trimesters and twelve lunar months. The full structure of a year is shown in the table below:



month centugiamos first of winter middle of winter end of winter first of spring middle of spring end of spring first of summer middle of summer end of summer first of autumn middle of autumn end of autumn



medyogiamos worpennogiamos


winter half wesantēnos spring

centus wesantēnī medyos wesantēnī worpennon wesantēnī centusamū samos summer medyosamū worpennosamū centumessus messus autumn medyomessus worpennomessus
Table 2: The structure of the year


summer half

The beginning of each semester is to be the second new moon after an equinox. In normal years, this means that the first month of one semester should follow the final month of the preceding semester. However, given that the lunar year and the solar year do not match up, in some years the final month of a semester will begin on an equinox full moon, leaving a full lunar month between the end of one semester and the beginning of the next. These “extra” months are counted as intercalary months belonging to the following semester, but do not affect the naming of the months in that semester (they are in the semester, but not of it). The name given to the intercalary month is ambantaronos (ambantaronos wo samon where it occurs before samorāton and wo giamon where it occurs before giamorāton), a name taken from the Coligny Calendar. These embolismic semesters (those including an intercalary month) occur roughly every two and a half years, the systematisation of which reoccurrence forms the basis of the Coligny Calendar.

Tables of correspondence
In the two table below, the start dates of each month between 2010 and 2020 are shown, along with the presence or otherwise of intercalary months.

2009-10 ambantaronos centugiamos medyogiamos worpennogiamos centus wesantēnī medyos wesantēnī worpennon wesantēnī ambantaronos centusamū medyosamū worpennosamū centumessus medyomessus worpennomessus 18.11.09 17.12.09 16.01.10 15.02.10 16.03.10 15.04.10 15.05.10 13.06.10 12.07.10 11.08.10 09.09.10 08.10.10

2010-11 07.11.10 06.12.10 05.01.11 04.02.11 05.03.11 04.04.11 04.05.11 02.06.11 01.07.11 31.07.11 30.08.11 28.09.11

2011-12 27.10.11 26.11.11 25.12.11 23.01.12 22.02.12 22.03.12 22.04.12 21.05.12 20.06.12 20.07.12 18.08.12 17.09.12

2012-13 16.10.12 14.11.12 14.12.12 12.01.13 11.02.13 11.03.13 11.04.13 11.05.13 09.06.13 09.07.13 07.08.13 06.09.13 06.10.13

2013-14 04.11.13 04.12.13 02.01.14 01.02.14 02.03.14 31.03.14 30.04.14 29.05.14 28.06.14 27.07.14 26.08.14 25.09.14

Table 3a: 2009-2014

2014-15 ambantaronos centugiamos medyogiamos worpennogiamos centus wesantēnī medyos wesantēnī worpennon wesantēnī ambantaronos centusamū medyosamū worpennosamū centumessus medyomessus worpennomessus 24.10.14 23.11.14 23.12.14 21.01.15 19.02.15 21.03.15 19.04.15 19.05.15 17.06.15 17.07.15 15.08.15 14.09.15

2015-16 14.10.15 11.11.15 12.12.15 11.01.16 09.02.16 10.03.16 08.04.16 08.05.16 06.06.16 05.07.16 03.08.16 02.09.16 02.10.16

2016-17 31.10.16 30.11.16 30.12.16 29.01.17 27.02.17 29.03.17 27.04.17 27.05.17 25.06.17 24.07.17 22.08.17 21.09.17

2017-18 20.10.17 19.11.17 19.12.17 17.01.18 16.02.18 18.03.18 17.04.18 16.05.18 14.06.18 15.07.18 12.08.18 10.09.18 10.10.18

2018-19 08.11.18 08.12.18 07.01.19 05.02.19 07.03.19 06.04.19 06.05.19 04.06.19 03.07.19 02.08.19 31.08.19 29.09.19

Table 3b: 2014-2019

Appendix 1 - Coligny and Moriconion
In the following table, the months of the Moriconion Calendar are given with their Coligny correspondents:
Coligny 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Moriconion centugiamos medyogiamos worpennogiamos centus wesantēnī medyos wesantēnī worpennon wesantēnī centusamū medyosamū worpennosamū centumessus medyomessus worpennomessus

Table 4: Coligny and Moriconion month names

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