The Different Calendars Heathenry Uses
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen basics, Heathen worldview, Heathen worship
It’s easy for new Heathens to get confused when one of the Holy Tides (Yule, The beginning of Summer, Midsummer, and Winter Night(s)) approaches. One reason is that each one can have several names, depending upon the tradition the Heathen is from. Another reason, and dare I say the main reason, is that each can have different dates, separated by as much as a month and a half! It is this last reason that I wish to focus on in this blog post.
The majority of Heathens use one of two Calendars (or a variation of one of them). These two are the Solar Calendar and the Lunisolar Calendar. A third option for Anglo-Saxon Heathens is my reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar, which is based upon the only attested pre-Christian Heathen Calendar, which was described by Bede. The reconstructed calendar is the one that I personally use.
Before I go into the modern calendars used, however, I want to discuss Historical Heathen Calendars. You can feel free to skip that section if you want, though.
Historical Heathen Calendars
The First Century C.E. Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his book The Germania that the Germanic peoples used lunar months. He doesn’t give us any more details than that on their calendar though.
In 725 C.E., the Venerable Bede describes the Anglo-Saxon calendar briefly in his The Reckoning of Time. It is based on his description that I developed my reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar.
To my knowledge, this is the only historically attested pre-Christian Germanic calendar. When the last remnants of Heathenry was converted to Christianity, we lost all record of how any other Germanic people kept time.
The Heathen Solar Calendar
When Heathenry first began to be revived in the USA and Europe in about 1970, Wicca was the only pagan movement in the public eye. Wicca uses a solar calendar known as the Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year revolves around the Solstices and Equinoxes and the midpoints between them. The early Asatru placed the four holy tides on the Solstices and Equinoxes (although some place Winters Nights at Samhain, the midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice).
The main advantage of this calendar is that the dates vary by less than a couple days from year to year. Midsummer, for example, is almost always on June 21 or June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere.
Midsummer is on the Summer Solstice. Winter Nights is either on the fall equinox or on Samhain. Yule is on the Winter Solstice. The beginning of Summer is on the spring equinox.
The Heathen Lunisolar Calendar
The Heathen Lunisolar Calendar tries to be a bit more authentic to the original Heathen calendars. We know from Bede that the Anglo-Saxon calendar was a lunisolar calendar, meaning that it used lunar months but added an extra month ever few years to keep it in line with the solar year. That way the planting and harvesting would always take place in the correct months.
While the modern Heathen Lunisolar Calendar isn’t truly lunisolar (Wikipedia states that a lunisolar calendar keeps track of the lunar months, whereas this one doesn’t), it does take into account both the lunar phases and the solar events (Solstices and Equinoxes) in determining the dates for the holy tides. It places each of them on the full moon that follows the first new moon after the appropriate Solstice or equinox. That places this year’s Yule, for example, on January 10, 2020.
The main advantage of the Heathen Lunisolar Calendar is that for a lot of people, it feels like the holy tides are more “in season” than the Solar Calendar does. For many people, January is colder and has more severe weather than December does. So Yule feels more like midwinter to them in mid January than it does in late December.
Of course, every locale is different. So, some Heathens come up with their own Calendar that feels more in season to them. There are a million different ways one can do this, but a simple example would be to find out which day is, on average, the coldest day of the year. Call that Yule, and then space the holy tides about three months apart.
For my city, the coldest day of the year is January 29. So I could make January 29 Yule, April 29 would be Ēastre (beginning of Summer), July 29 would be Midsummer, and October 29 could be Winterfylleþ (beginning of Winter). I found this date out by googling coldest day of the year in [city], [state].
This is just an example. This is not the calendar that I actually use.
Which Calendar is the right one?
One of my favourite Heathen podcasts (no longer being produced, but it was called Heathen Talk) used to say there was no one right way to do Heathenry (though there are ways to do it wrong). I’ve mentioned four different ways in this post to align the holy tides (solar, lunisolar, local, and my reconstructed calendar). I don’t think any of them are wrong, and I don’t think any of them is the only right way either.
As with so many things in Heathenry, the right Calendar is the one that works for you.