Many thanks to Mark Jones – creator of The Druidcraft Calendar ~ The Perpetual Pagan Ritual Calendar – for the following guest blog piece…
In this article we will explore the ancient practice of parapegmatism, and how it can be used today to attune with the rhythms of the seasons, sun and moon using the Druidcraft Calendar.
Throughout the ancient world from the earliest of times, civilisations have measured the movements of the sun and moon in order to track the passage of time.
For one reason or another, these astronomical observations are not always easy to make. Sometime the weather would prevent observations, and sometimes certain stars and planets would be below the horizon or in the sky during the daylight hours.
To overcome this, humans devised systems of boards and pegs that could be moved each day to keep track of the cycles of the sun and moon, even when they were not visible to the naked eye. These systems are known as parapegmata (or parapegma singular), and can be found all over the ancient world.
Early parapegmata were carved on stone with small holes drilled in and textual labels next to each hole. One very old example is the famous calendar stone at Knowth in Ireland. This stone very likely would have been used with some form of marker to indicate the current day and phase of the moon.
Ancient parapegmata can be placed into a few simple categories. They tended to be concerned with meteorology, astrology, astronomy or more often a combination of these. Parapegmata can also come in several forms. In addition to simple board and peg systems, they can have accompanying textual guides, or they can be entirely literary composition containing lists and tables.
Astrological Parapegmata were primarily used for the prediction of events or choosing the correct moment to perform rites and rituals. Ensuring that the correct beneficiary energies are at work to maximise success.
Meteorological Parapegmata were concerned with understanding weather patterns usually for agricultural practices, or navigation and travel. Knowing when to plant or harvest, or when the seas would be calm for safe crossing and trade has been important to humanity for millennia.
Astronomical Parapegmata were usually concerned with the timing of celestial events such as the rising of certain stars, annual meteor showers, eclipses or the movements of the sun, moon and planets.
In the second century AD the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy published a parapegma work known as “phases of fixed stars and collection of weather changes”. It included dates of seasonal weather changes along with the first appearance of stars at sun rise and sun set as well as other astronomical phenomena such as meteor showers and the solstices.
Ptolemy believed the movement of the stars and planets caused the weather changes here on earth, and so predicting the weather was a form of astrology. The subjects of meteorology, astronomy and astrology were all seen to be interconnected, if not the same subject. The earliest astronomical records we have, the Babylonian MUL.APIN also contains weather predictions and omens. Though it is not a parapegma as it has no holes the interconnected subject matter is clear.
Of particular interest to those seeking to understand what calendar the ancient druids may have used is the Coligny Calendar. This 5 year calendar discovered near Coligny in France features a hole for each day. A peg would have been moved to mark the current date making this calendar a parapegma too.
It is even believed that stonehenge contains a parapegma. Around the outside of the monument is a ring of 56 pits known at the Aubery holes. The theory is that these pits could have contained posts that were moved each day to track of the position of the sun and moon. Doing so would have enabled the prediction of solar and lunar eclipses.
In our fast-paced world of digital clocks, computers and instant information there seems to be little room today for parapegmata and the parapegmatists that use them. Instead modern pagans can look up the exact time of a solstice, equinox or full moon relying on complex algorithms that calculate the exact positions of the celestial bodies in the sky. Yet, in doing it this way we lose an important connection with the world around us.
We no longer actively engage in the observation of these cycles, watching them unfold for ourselves while recording what we see and pondering the wider meanings behind such things. Instead we connect with these cycles only briefly at important moments such as at solstices or full moons, and we do this only when we are told these events are coming by computers. We often do not really understand the relationship of the sun and the moon. By using a paramegma and practising parapegmatism we observe and connect with these cycles ourselves in a practical daily way.
The Druids, Priests, Shaman and other spiritual leaders of the ancient world had no such computers to aid them in calculating these events. It was their responsibility to understand and predict these important phenomena. As they were the authority on these subjects, a command of this knowledge was an important part of their spiritual studies. Practising parapegmatism was a simple and easy way to gather the necessary understanding of the heavens in order to make such predictions, just as it can be today.
The Druidcraft Calendar has been devised for this very purpose. It is a tool for modern pagans that whilst being a calendar system also helps deepen your relationship with and attune to the rhythms of the seasons and the sky.
Capturing the movement of the heavens as a parapegma is a challenge in itself, as it first requires a deep understanding of the celestial cycles and patterns. Over the ages there have been many attempts at luni-solar calendar systems, each with their own degree of accuracy.
Today we have the advantage that any system that is created can be verified using computer algorithms and programs, or indeed the parapegma can be rendered as a computer application just as the Druidcraft Calendar is today at www.druidcraftcalendar.co.uk/calendar.
The Druidcraft Calendar has 2 major influences. The luni-solar system that the calendar is based on is known as the Metonic system or Enneadecaeteris (from the ancient Greek words meaning “19 years”). This 19-year cycle has been known about since the most ancient of times and is the basis for most luni-solar calendar systems. It was first recorded by the Babylonians, but evidence of its knowledge can also be found in the stone monuments of Europe, and there are several suggestions it was known to the Druids.
The second influence is the ring of 56 pits at Stonehence known as the Aubery holes. It is believed these pits were used to track the position of the sun and the moon in the sky in order to predict eclipses. And so this system is used on the Druidcraft Calendar.
By combining these 2 systems as a “wheel of the year” the Druidcraft Calendar offers an impressive number of uses. Everything from predicting eclipses, blue moons, and local tides to simply marking the eight sabbats and the current moon phase.
The calendar is available to buy for the Northern Hemisphere from the Druidcraft Calendar website with Southern Hemisphere edition with be available later this year. The website also provides all the information you need to be able to create your own version of the calendar. Many people already have, so if you need inspiration, have a look at the community gallery.