Neomēniá and the Three-Fold Calendar: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Feb 8, 2021

An ancient parapegmata used pegs to track days of the week, the Sun in the zodiac, and the days of the lunar cycle.

This week 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, the Moon will be alone in the West for a week before it catches up with Mars at first quarter.