On Ancient Greek Calendars, Including One You Can Buy!
November 5, 2014 2 Comments
As some of my readers know, I organize my offerings to the Greek gods, goddesses, and heroes according to a calendar of my own creation, the lunar grammatomantic calendar (lunisolar, really, but that doesn’t really matter when it comes to monthly offerings, so whatever). By associating each letter of the Greek alphabet with one of the days of the 29-day/30-day lunar month, I not only have a regular cycle to do my letter meditations on, but I also have a way to schedule offerings to the theoi according to what their letter associations are. For instance, the 13th day of the lunar month is assigned to the Greek letter Lambda, and Lambda is associated with the astrological sign of Virgo according to the rules of stoicheia. Cornelius Agrippa, based on classical sources, associates the sign of Virgo with the Olympian goddess Demeter (book II, chapter 14). Thus, I give the 13th day of the lunar month to Demeter, performing offerings and sacrifices to her by reserving that day for her and her closely-associated mythological and divine people.
Now, I admit wholly and fully that this is not a traditional Greek/Hellenic calendar; it’s something I developed on my own for my own use, going back before the invention of mathesis but definitely playing a part in mathetic ritual timing. I strongly doubt that this sort of calendar was ever used, much less thought of, in ancient times, and I’m okay with that; I never claimed to be a Hellenist to begin with. Hellenists, i.e. those who follow Greek reconstructionist paganism or Greek neopaganism, typically arrange their monthly rituals and dates according to an actual ancient Greek calendar, specifically the one that we have the most knowledge about, the Attic or Athenian calendar. Hellenion uses it, and I believe most other Hellenists do, too, especially since this is the one that has the most work done on it to keep it modern and updated. Now, I don’t live in Athens ancient or modern, and I don’t practice all the same festivals or maintain Athenian practices, and I prefer the completeness of my grammatomantic calendar, so I personally get more out of my own calendar, and the theoi seem to be okay with that. Your mileage may vary, of course.
It’s convenient to use the Attic calendar, of course, but it’s certainly not representative of all of ancient Greek practice. Consider the following, at least for my US-based readers: how much would you trust an all-pervading knowledge of different regional customs, local celebrations, and the like of all of the United States of America five hundred years from now based on only the records that survive from Boston? While you may have plenty to go on for that area of the US, you might not know as clearly what’s done in southern Virginia, Alaska, Texas, Hawai’i, or Puerto Rico. That’s what it’s like for what we know about everything from ancient Greece; of all the native knowledge, i.e. information on ancient Greece written by ancient Greeks, the vast majority of information and records we have comes from a single city-state, Athens. We have some records here and there from other major city-states, but when we talk about “ancient Greek culture”, we generally mean “ancient Athenian culture” because nearly all of what we know comes from Athens about Athens written by Athenians for Athenians. Thus, while we know some about Theban, Spartan, Boeotian, Delphian, Cretan, and other cultures within the broad geographic region known as ancient Greece including all her far-flung colonies across the Aegean and across the Mediterranean, it’s generally scant or written through an Athenian lens.
To learn more about other cultures, specifically their calendrical practices, you could do worse than browse the six-volume work Origines Kalendariæ Hellenicæ by Edward Greswell from the 1860s (volumes one, two, three, four, five, and six), but this is a massive undertaking and quite boring, useful only if you want to know some of the specific legislation, customs, and timing of festivals and rituals among really niche groups. It’s detailed but dense and hard to read, and there hasn’t been a work like it since it was published. Instead, I’d like to suggest you check out the fantastic blog of Ruadhán J McElroy, Of Thespiae, a long-time Hellenist who notably doesn’t use the Attic calendar. Instead, he uses a modernized version of the classical Boeotian calendar, which is notably different from the Athenian calendar in many respects. In addition, Ruadhán sells PDF copies of the calendar for your easy and convenient reference on his paganism-focused Etsy shop for only US$4.00! You should totally buy a copy, since this is dirt cheap for a lot of heavy work put into formatting and planning all the Boeotian monthly and yearly festivals for 2015. I bought a copy, and I’m pleased with what I found.
Why is this important? Because “ancient Greece” was much, much bigger and much, much more diverse than what our common knowledge would indicate. As I already mentioned, most of what we know of ancient Greece comes from Athens about Athens and written by Athenians for Athenians, from the dramas to the histories and everything in-between, so having an alternative view from a practitioner about things done a different, yet still reconstructionally valid and legitimate way, is extraordinarily valuable for the growth and further understanding of Hellenic classical religion and modern practice. Just knowing Athenian religion and making that the default can stymie further research and opportunities for exploration within Hellenic paganism, and as Edward Butler said on Twitter, “regional [traditions] are valuable…Hopefully in the years to come we’ll see more of these regional [traditions], which require high research skills. Good to support them.” As Ruadhán is one of these very few people competently researching and practicing alternative and regional traditions within the framework and boundaries of ancient Greece, it’s crucially important for him to be able to continue this research, and what better way than buying what he produces?
So, dear reader, what are you waiting for? Go buy a copy of Ruadhán’s Boeotian calendar PDF today!