From The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Volume XII. No. 10: May 13, 1915; pp. 253-269.
THE DISCOVERY OF TIME
BY J. T. SHOTWELL
III. THE SUPERNATURAL CALENDAR
THE practical needs of farming have, therefore, taken us a little distance toward astronomy; but yet not far. It is doubtful if that alone would have ever produced the mathematical calendar, for a day more or less one way or another is seldom a matter of much importance in such operations. But there was another element in the situation, more important than practical needs or the homely observation of nature, that of religion. For the early farmer was surrounded by more than merely natural phenomena. Spirits, presences, gods and demons, shared his world with him on rather more than equal terms; and his luck in farming — as in everything else — depended upon keeping on good terms with them. Hence his anxiety (the Romans called it religio or religion) to know exactly what to do and when to do it. For evidently the gods of the harvest are about when the grain is ripening; mildew and frost, rain and drought, are due to the spirits of soil and weather, and one never can tell what may happen. One must, then, placate the gods; that is as much a business as to plough or fight; and the gods will not be placated unless one sacrifices to them in seemly fashion, taking a day off, now and then, to do it. They are not satisfied with casual attentions; they insist that the whole society, family, village, city, or state, shall worship at one and the same time.1 It does not do to worship when you feel like it; to arrange the ceremonies to suit your own convenience. You must suit the convenience of the gods. They have, themselves, indicated in some way or other what times should be devoted to them.2 And they are exceedingly particular and liable 254 to take offense. One need not care whether the grain is sown on the afternoon of one day or on the morning of the next so far as mere farming goes. But if the morrow be a Sabbath, pagan, Jew, or Christian is likely to suffer the consequences of some divine displeasure. And so, in a world inhabited jointly, even worked in common, by men and supernatural beings, it was necessary for the junior partners to adjust themselves to the ways of their uncanny, but powerful colleagues. It was, therefore, not by chance that the formal reckoning of time3 grew up in the hands of those first specialists of the great science of living, the priests.
Religion, then, combined with the observation of nature, presided over the origins of the calendar. The simple lore of the weather remained, as we have seen, like a persistent vernacular alongside the formal arrangements of priestcraft; but the anxiety to be in right relations with the uncanny powers which dispense the good and bad things of life was bound to force a more careful observation of the calendar than the return of the cuckoo or the rising of the Pleiades. So the calendar began everywhere, the world over, as a cycle of religious feasts. It was the gods, not men, for whom and by whom the days to count were first marked out. A part of the time became definitely the property of the gods. It was henceforth a violation of divine law to work or transact business on the days thus set apart. Holidays were at first genuinely holy days, and the calendar grew up around them. They were and are — taboo; not to observe them with proper ceremonies was to bring down upon one the power of the curse which is the awe-inspiring element in the early idea of the sacred. One needs no stimulus to the imagination from anthropology to realize the force of this, for out of the background of our minds there are few of us who can not still, by slightly straining our ears, hear the thunders of Sinai if we play a game of golf on Sunday. If that is the case in this highly secularized twentieth century, we can imagine what the taboo on time meant — and means — to those whose world had been so largely shared with these mysterious presences. It was necessary to find some way by which the festival, the dies nefastus, or the day on which business was sacrilege,4 should not be violated. It had to be kept track of in order to insure that the proper festival should be celebrated upon it. Hence the elaboration of that succession of religious feasts and fasts, such as still persists in our church calendar. The idea would not naturally occur to one that 255 the lists of saint’s days and holy days which preface our liturgies are the historic remnants of the first definite marking of time.
This is carrying us a long way back; but there are other traces which open up even dimmer antiquities. For in the practically universal superstitions about planting crops, gathering herbs, or doing almost anything in the dark or the full of the moon, we have a clue to something infinitely older than any sacred date commemorating miracles, that first vague fear of the uncanny and sense of its possibilities for good or ill out of which theologies as well as calendars have been born. The key-note to the whole story lies in the word “luck.” To us, now, rather colorless and incidental, a thing to joke about, “luck” stands throughout the ages as the unsolved in the stern problem of life, the element which lies beyond control. It is no trifling matter; life and death depend upon it, the life and death of nations as well as of individuals.5 It plays even athwart the will of gods, and so, paradoxically, justifies their ways to men by offering an explanation of their failures. Elusive, never fully revealing its presence until the damage or the benefit has been wrought, it yet stimulates the mind to be up and after it, to apprehend it beforehand, if possible; and the response to that stimulus has led to the larger part of the evolution of the human intellect. For the apprehension6 passes from nerves and sense to the processes of observation which lead to intelligence, or else concentrates in the emotions and so opens up the responses of fear and awe. On the one hand lies science; on the other, religion.
There is no sure way of dealing with luck. That fact lies in its very nature. But one thing is agreed the world over: it is associated with the uncanny, the queer, the unaccountable, the un-understood. Things that force themselves upon one’s attention and yet remain unexplained or unappropriated, are especially known to be full of the mysterious potency. If things are weird and awesome, they will “get you” if you don’t watch out. If they are fair and seem promising — like a waxing moon — they will likely bring good luck. But there is no logic in the matter. It is a jumble of outlandish beliefs, intermixed with some genuine observation of nature. However, the very obscurity of the lines of thought upon which these magical-religious ideas rest furnishes us with one clue for their apprehension. The things of luck are not closely defined and distinct; they fuse together. One thing passes along its luck to another. This is what 256 anthropologists call the principle of contagion.7 On a night when the moon is in eclipse, the dangerous power is there — dangerous if you deal with it the wrong way. The primitive can not quite tell you whether the power is in the moon or in the shadow or in the night; but on that night he knows that it is there. And so a time when such weird, unaccountable phenomena occur is so closely associated with the phenomena as to absorb into itself the very luck of the things with which it was connected. The principle involved in this is capable of the widest application. Give a day a name, and, like a man, it absorbs the luck of the name. Since certain numbers are as lucky as names, if not more so, numbered days are just as subject to the contagion. Hence we find that, quite apart from festivals to the gods, days differ in their virtues. The belief is, we surmise, as old as the discovery of time; it still persists, hardly yet degraded to the rank of superstition, in the attitude toward Friday and the thirteenth.
This excursion into primitive psychology has really, then, brought us into the heart of our subject. For we have the calendar now opening up before us.8 Time was not discovered by counting days, like knots on a string, but by observing their virtues. We have already seen this in the practical farming calendar, where the signs of the seasons are observed to make sure that the right thing shall be done in its time, that the vintage be begun under the star that is associated with it, and the like. To plough out of the ploughing season is to invite failure; the very fact that one talks of the “ploughing season” shows that time is described rather than counted. The same is true, much more obviously, of the calendar of luck and of mythology. Days differ in their virtues so much that one of the main problems of life is to find out which is which. The old belief runs like a persistent theme through the Old Testament, and perhaps never had a fuller statement than in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” Here, however, we run over from the waywardness of luck as chance into the iron grasp of Fate9 — a transition not difficult to make.257
Now, if there is a time for everything; if some days are lucky and some are unlucky, it is highly important to keep track of them, and there is only one way to do so, — by watching the heavens. Sun, moon, and stars, by their recurring movements, furnished a basis for reckoning, indeed the only basis either for primitive or civilized; for the most perfect of mechanical chronometers to-day must be continually verified by the sun. But we must be careful in our survey of the origins of the calendar not to put the cart before the horse. Sun, moon, and stars were invested with the miracle of luck untold millenniums before their cycles were reckoned into calendars. The step between the observation of nature, stimulated by supernatural fears, and the development of mathematics is one which only a relatively small portion of the race has been able to take until the very present. The stars that shone over Babylon, in all the brilliance of the oriental night, offered themselves first to the imagination of the ancient Chaldaeans as objects of superstition, as the living counterpart of living things below, and not as a procession of units in a mathematical table. But, fortunately for the future history of the race — for civilization rests largely upon the fact — this was one part of religion where the supernatural was calculable.10 The gods of rivers or storms and all the variable phenomena of nature leave man always uncertain of their caprice. The same is true of the gods or demons of disease or health, of property and the like. Primitive theology tends to become less sure of its efficacy the more it deals with such wilful Powers. But the gods of the sky are in another class. They come and go on surely; their motions, once observed, are so exact as to furnish the mind with its one real picture of regularity in a universe where everything else is in a jumble and seems to be run utterly haphazard. The stars of Babylon are still shining.
Hence here, and here alone, in the history of religion, there opened up before men’s eyes the prospect of actually penetrating the mysteries of the future with purely human intellect. The god would come again, the cycles would be repeated, and the luck which would be discharged upon the earth from their astral bodies would be what it had been when experienced before. So superstition developed the rudiments of astronomy, and the study of astronomy strengthened the superstition. The “virtue” in the stars started people counting their revolutions or measuring their positions; in short, “religion” called out science. It was to be many a century before science had matured sufficiently to assume that cold, ungrateful attitude toward its progenitor which led it to deny the very existence of the “virtue,” and ridicule the attempt to learn that part of time which the stars were first supposed especially to reveal — the future.258
Astrology, the parent of astronomy, was more a religion than a science. It was a science of priestcraft; its principles were worked out by a great cooperative effort directed for the service of religion. Mathematics was largely begun under its auspices, and so appropriated to the mysteries that the astrologers were ordinarily known in Roman law simply as “the mathematicians.” Mapping the universe with the care of professional observers, they tried to measure not only the position of the stars — and so to tell the time by the clock of the universe — but also the force of that mysterious power of luck which the stars cast, stronger than their rays, upon the earth. Like Newtons of the pre-scientific world, they dealt with a force of attraction which bound the stars together — spiritually. This is more than a chapter from the history of delusion. The best, rather than the poorest, minds of antiquity were adherents of astrology, and in its lap was nursed that genuine science which at last enabled men to measure accurately both space and time, and so to pass from the rude guesses of trial and error to the settled conquest of our whole environment. Egypt and Babylon offered Greece the basis of its reckoning, and the science of measurement — not of motion, but of things at rest — was the fundamental intellectual contribution of antiquity. If the stars had not been worshipped and their virtues regarded as decisive in the realm of Fate, all this could hardly have been.
IV. FROM LUCK TO MATHEMATICS
Months, Weeks, and Years11
When we come to look with scientific eyes, however, at the data of the heavens which were gathered for the service of religion, we see how poor and insufficient they must have been. The recurring heavens are an almost inextricable tangle. There are no satisfactory units. The day, the most obvious astronomical measurement, is too short to serve as anything but the counter for longer periods. It has to be fitted into a calendar instead of furnishing one.12 The solar year 259 and its accompanying stars may supply a framework for the calendar, but, as we have pointed out, their intervals are, on the other hand, too long to be of much service in actually reckoning or dating events. The moon seems at first to meet the situation, and this is the setting for its prodigious rˆle in the history of both religion and the reckoning of Time. Waxing and waning in periods not too long for even low-grade intelligences to follow, sufficiently later each night to mark its new position, and sufficiently changed in form in the course of a short interval to show a different aspect, dominating the sky when full, and mysteriously, but faintly shining in its last phase, after the sun has effaced the stars, the moon attracts attention above all else in the heavens. There is a fund of primitive philosophy in the claim of the old negro, in the story of the debate as to which was the more important, the sun or the moon, that the moon was the more important because it shone by night when it was needed, while the sun came only in the daylight. The prominence of the moon was further enhanced by its relatively common practise to enter into an eclipse. All these practises seemed to witness to an unusual amount of uncanny power in it, or associated with it. Whatever god or goddess it might be termed, it was par excellence the dispenser of luck. Its very motions made a “luck calendar” which has lasted from prehistoric ages till to-day.
The month, then, as the most natural, was the most important unit of time for religious observance, and the importance of religion made it the dominant factor in the antique reckoning of time. But, as we remarked at the opening of our study, it is a unit which fits nothing else; neither days nor years coincide with its cycles. When we try to divide it up, we find that the astronomical (synodical) months contain 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, 2.9 seconds, — which is 53059/100000 of a day more than the even 29 days.13 When we try to fit the lunar year with the solar cycle, upon which the practical business of settled life depends, we find the same ragged fraction of time that will not fit; for the lunar year is 354 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes, and 36 seconds. So that if we follow the moon we go astray in both days and years. There could hardly be a better proof of the power of religion in the pre-scientific world than in the fact that this 260 inadequate lunar period held its own as the unit of time-reckoning down to the climax of antique culture; for the festivals of the gods, based upon it, were more vital than the business affairs of men.
As for the measure of time within the month, no one but an astronomer would think of any unit but the day — which has, of course, nothing to do with the moon. The period between moonrise and moonset is unknown to most of us even now. It is an item to be looked up in an almanac, not a fact of practical experience. Yet the days and nights need not be counted straight through the month, from one new moon to another. For the phases of the moon offer an easy means of division. The full moon on the fifteenth is as important as the new moon on the first, in some ways more so. There are festivals to be kept on both dates, the world over. Moreover the first half of the month, while the moon is waxing, occupies a different place in the dynamics of luck from that of the last half, while the moon is on the wane. It stands to reason — primitive reason — that the luck of the moon is good while the moon is growing, bad while it is losing its strength and size. For if the moon can impart its virtue, it must impart the kind of virtue which it itself possesses at the time. Moreover, this idea links itself up with all those vague, but convincing analogies and ideas of contagion which underlie the practises of what we call sympathetic magic. Similar things are associated with similar results; things once in contact with other things absorb their qualities, and the like. In this way the moon — or rather the potency in it — practically dictates the time for enterprises. Bad luck, sickness, sterility, and the like, attend the waning moon; one must not plant crops or undertake business at such an unpropitious time. It is doubtful if mankind has ever had any other single belief, according to which it adjusts its action, so widespread and so ancient as this old superstition of the moon. To judge from anthropology, it is rooted in an antiquity so vast as to make the years between Babylon and now seem like a day; and it is as firmly held by many a farmer in our enlightened twentieth century as it was by the savage whom he has replaced.
When we pass from such general principles, however, to definite days, from rude observation to accurate counting, and try to reduce the periods of the moon’s phases to so many days and nights, we come upon something more curious and less explicable than the religious beliefs about the moon or stars. For the numbers by which the days are counted are themselves charged with luck! Just why, no one knows; but this, too, is a fact the world over. Primitive man does not count with mere units; the numbers vary in power or prominence; some are unimportant, some are sacred, 261 charged with that same pervading, mysterious luck, which we have seen to reside in every peculiar, uncanny, or striking phenomenon of nature.14 The sacred numbers differ in different parts of the world; yet, the same general principles seem to apply everywhere. The Australians have a world in which even human relationships, such as the classifications for marriage relationships, are largely dominated by the simple parallel in two, in which connection one should recall that the Romans went to the extreme of regarding all even numbers as unlucky, with the result that their calendar is unusually hard to straighten out. The number three may owe its sacred qualities to some such suggestion of completeness as one gets from the idea of beginning, middle and end, or perhaps, to the vaguer suggestiveness of finality in rhythm. In any case the triads of the gods, as in Egypt and Babylon, long precede the development of the Christian Trinity. The number four, which lost its religious potency in the Christian world, — possibly because of its place between three and seven, in which it was obscured by the latter, — was the object of a wider primitive cult than any other. It was the number of the four directions and as such one sees traces of its mysterious power in the all but universal sign of the cross.15 Moreover, as the symbol of the dimensions of space, it was accepted by the Pythagoreans as the most perfect number, and so exerted its spell upon that mystic trend of thought which passed from Greek philosophy along the borderline of medieval magic. But no other number has had such a tremendous history in European civilization as the sacred number seven,16 sacred or accursed, as 262 in early Babylon, for the curse and the blessing are all in one category for untrained minds. To it is due the whole Sabbatical system of Jewish and Christian law, into which we have had to fit the mechanism of our civilization. The week of seven days cast its shadow backwards as well, along Jewish history, and in the hands of priestly theologians it became the basis for the framework of the story of creation as recorded in Genesis. The work of the Creator was assigned six days and thus was secured an ultimate authority, in the revised mythology, for the Sabbath of the seventh — henceforth devoted to Jahve.
The week of seven days, although falling within the month, had, therefore, another origin than as a mere division of it, corresponding to the phases of the moon.17 In the first place it does not correspond. The four weeks are out at the end of the fourth phase, or last “quarter” of the moon, by a day and a half. The luck of numbers, which seems to us so fanciful and unreal, was strong enough to give the seven-day period an existence of its own, making a purely conventional cycle which cuts its way through years as well as months and corresponds with nothing in the whole range of nature. Perhaps its very singularity had something to do in securing for it the acceptance of those credulous civilizations of antiquity to whom we owe both our mathematics and our reckoning of time; but whatever justification we can find for it in primitive psychology, it rather complicated than helped the development of a rational calendar.
The week does not owe all of its vitality, however, to the mystic power of a sacred number. It has been, as well, a cycle of religious feasts in which each day is dedicated to a deity.18 This was already the case in Babylon, where each day was linked with the worship of the major divinities of the astral religion — the sun, moon, and the five planets. The order of their succession seems to have varied in the records of the Babylonians,19 but after the later paganism 263 had properly translated the deities into the Greco-Roman pantheon,20 a Christian world finally accepted Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn as the proper names in the proper order.21 Thus the week remains in form, though not in substance, the most perfect remnant of the ancient, religious cycles. The use of names for days, instead of numbers, has proved too useful a device ever to be discarded by a race that still finds arithmetic less interesting than description.
The only people of antiquity who numbered the days of the 264 week, instead of naming them, was the Jews.22 The “Sabbath,” sacred to Jahve, was the one day with a name, the rest were reckoned up to it.23 The week was a cycle concentrated upon its closing day. The Bible is full of the precepts of law and prophets concerning it, and the whole national life and thought were deeply colored by it, as we have intimated above. But modern criticism is inclined to state that this coloring was a relatively late operation, the work of the Jahve priests after the captivity. The natural conclusion, then, would seem to be that the Jews took the seven-day week from Babylon, and such is the statement generally to be found in popular treatments of the subjects. But careful scholarship is not so sure; for, so far, in all the cuneiform inscriptions there is no trace of a Babylonian week, which, like that of the Jews, cut its way as a cycle completely independent of the moon, undisturbed by the boundaries of months or years.24 Wherever and whatever its origin, however, the Jews were mainly responsible for its adoption by the western world, though we have taken it over in a perverted form in which the first, instead of the seventh, day becomes the pivot upon which the cycle turns. The law of Constantine which definitely established the “Day of the Victorious Sun” as the religious holiday, while opening the door for the ever-living influence of Babylon by way of the Persian sun-god, allowed the Christians 265 the chance to appropriate for the church a cycle which harmonized with its own. For from early days the Christian festival, the Day of the Lord (Dies Dominicus),25 had been the first day of the week. The day of Mithra and of Jesus was henceforth to outshine new moons. The sacred number seven, crowned with myth and historic associations, carried the day over the luck of monthly periods; orthodoxy triumphed over superstition!
The week of seven days was an invention of the Semites. The Egyptians used a “decade” of ten days, and, owing to their early adoption of the solar year, they made no effort to fit it to a lunar month, but counted 36 weeks one year and 37 the next to round out a two-year period of 365 days each. The Greeks, also, used the period of ten days as the basis of their “week,” but tried as well to fit it to the month which, of course, could not be done, since their alternate months were 30 and 29 days. The result was that the last decade of a “hollow” or short month was a bothersome irregularity.26 The Romans used, upon the whole, the most complicated 266 and difficult calendar with which history deals. “Every school boy” is supposed to know its devious turnings and its ungrammatical grammar. But however much one learns it, only the teacher is likely to remember it beyond next day’s recitation. The month was divided in the middle by the Idus, which fell on the fifteenth or the thirteenth day, and then the time between it and the first of the month (the Calends) was divided by the Nones, which thus fell on the seventh day of a thirty-one day month and on the fifth of the others. This back-handed way of counting was complicated by the twisted arithmetic which always seemed a day out in its reckoning. Only some mystery of the religion of luck,27 can account for such a calendar.267
Looking back over the path we have just been following, we can see, as perhaps in no other way, what a prodigious role has been played by the moon in the origins of society. No wonder that its magical power lasts in the modern world, when it so largely ruled the fate and regulated the actions of mankind for untold millenniums. Try to imagine what primitive mankind would have done had there been no moon to mark the time! The moon supplied more than luck to early societies; it made possible cooperative effort and homogeneous action by enabling men to calculate for a given time and plan ahead so as to bring in line, for common purposes, such as hunt or war, the divergent interests of individuals.28 But what was a blessing to the primitive became a handicap as society developed. For the moon, as we have pointed out, does not fit with anything else in the heavens and a month based upon it was bound to run foul of any other system of time-reckoning. We have already seen how the weeks — probably at first just fractions of the month based on a loose reckoning of the moon’s phases — broke loose and ran away, as it were, setting up a career for themselves on the luck of the number. But that was a relatively slight matter. The lunar month still remained as important as before; the very Semites who invented the week being the strongest supporters of the cycle of the moon. The real trouble with the month was not so much to fit the days into it as to fit it into the year. When we come upon this problem, and realize that it is insoluble — at least without the aid of higher mathematics — that moon periods and sun periods do not coincide and that, therefore, we must choose between them, we realize how the moon became a bother rather than a help, by retarding the use of solar time. For, after all, in spite of our negro logic quoted above, the sun is more important than the moon! And it, too, has its cycle, that of the seasons, or the year. We have already seen how the primitive farmer tried to fit his work within this cycle, without actually counting the days or at best counting them in a vague, uncertain fashion. The nomad can gauge his time — and even his distances — by the moon, for he is not planning a sowing-time in order to reap “in due season.” His future is as vague as the horizons of the plains over which he wanders. This is especially true of the desert-dwellers of hot countries, like Arabia, who ordinarily move around and do much of their work by night, in order to avoid the heat of the day; so, as might be expected, we find that even to this day the Bedouins reckon time 268 by the moon, and the Mohammedan calendars29 bear still this reflex of the desert origins of the thought of the Prophet — to their own disadvantage. The moon is an adequate guide so long as the society has not progressed beyond the pastoral and stock-breeding stage.30 But, when the nomad settles down, and ploughs and sows for the future he must turn to the sun. His society reflects his environment; his social and political arrangements must also in course of time fit the sun as well. And then the moon, which is the outward and visible sign of that inward and invisible Luck of his primitive universe bars the way! It barred it through all antiquity. Even the keen, bold temper of the Greek was halted here, thwarted by the weight of superstition and of antique custom. So that it was not until the days of Julius Cæsar that the great reform was put through for the Mediterranean world and the moon definitely dismissed from its official position as [chonometer text has this ? If should be Chronometer?]. From the standpoint of its own history, this reform was also a desecration, as most reforms are. But it was just the final chapter in a process begun when settled life succeeded to that of the ancient hunters, and routine, urged by need, wore through the haze of memory a sense of the extent of the solar cycle. Between a sense of its extent and the exact measurement lay practically the whole history of civilization, for the most learned astronomers of antiquity never knew it exactly; and Cæsar less. Even to-day only astronomers can tell its precise length. Nevertheless, the adoption of the solar year was a part of that great process of secularization which is the major theme of social evolution, that process of the development of rational control in which time, like space, is being won over from the realm of imagination and feeling into that of intelligence — by way of use.
But the adoption of the solar year was not the work of any single epoch. The solar year was not a sudden innovation like the age of steam; nor was it a purely secular period winning its way over the lunar, merely in order to sow wheat on time. It was also a religious cycle, with its festivals of the seasons as well as its dates for ploughing, and the gods and their grace held men to the almanac here as in the case of the moon. We have already spoken of these in dealing 269 with the farmer’s calendar; but the fact is too important for us to pass it by in this connection, — since, to emphasize solely the practical advantages of the solar year over the lunar as the reason for its adoption would be an unhistorical injection of the modern point of view into antiquity. We must never forget that luck is the most practical thing in the world — if one believes in it. Hence the reckoning of solar years was also largely a religious matter. The one advantage it had was that it coincided as well with the laws of work as with those of belief.
The one country which led all the others in the adoption of the solar year was Egypt. And it was incomparably in the lead. Already in the fourth or fifth [millenium has is spelled this way instead of milennium] B.C. the year in Egypt consisted of 365 days, and the months ceased to correspond with the movements of the moon and became divisions of solar time — or what the Egyptians imagined was solar time. Twelve months of thirty days each, with five days added at the end, made up the year. Some traces of the old moon cults were left in the calendar, as, for example, the festival on the first and the fifteenth, which apparently corresponded with the old, new, and full-moon festivals. But these indications of the universal primitive outlook were in Egypt quite overshadowed by the cycle of the great Sun-god, the king of heaven, known to the Egyptians as Re, Atum or Horus, with whom the Rivergod-, the life-giving Osiris, was indissolubly bound by the tangle of mythology. But the supernatural calendar really depended, in the most transparent way, upon the natural.31
(To be continued.)
JAMES T. SHOTWELL.
1 A singular indication of the social origin of religious belief. Cf. H. Hubert, “La Representation du Temps” in ”Mélanges d’Histoire des Religions” by H. Hubert and M. Mauss (1909) pages 219 ft.
2 The best example of this ”revealed” character of the religious calendar is, of course, in the Mosaic code.
3 Or, to be more exact, of times.
4 The Romans, characteristically viewing things from the practical point of view, had the terms inverted: the dies fasti were those on which business was permitted. Business, not religion, was the criterion.
5 Cf. Polybius or Cæsar or any other antique observer of the power of Τύχη or Fortuna.
6 The word “apprehension” fortunately has both these meanings.
7 Of course this applies to the whole sphere of religion, more especially to the sacramental or sacrificial aspects. Robertson Smith’s phrase “the contagion of holiness” seemed to many sacrilegious thirty years ago. It is a commonplace now in comparative religion.
8 The calendar is thus obviously rather an expression of the variety and value of times than a mere counting of units.
9 Fate may be regarded as the luck in essentials, i. e., in matters of life and death; it can not be escaped, and so we are impressed mainly with its irrevocable character, but in essence it is like the luck of lesser happenings, which may be avoided and so seem wayward, chance, as uncertain as fate is certain.
10 So here the data of religion become also the data of science.
11 Perhaps the best single survey of the various calendars of different peoples is the article “Calendar” in Hastings’s Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics.
12 It is possible that in what follows, as we trace the growth of the larger time — framework of months, years, centuries, etc., we may lose sight of this fundamental importance of the day, which after all is the main time unit. In this connection the story of Creation, as told in Genesis, keeps recurring to our memory as we move along this border-land of poetry and religion: “Evening came and morning came, a first day.” The separation of light from darkness marked the first act of creation: and the result was — Time! Such is the common impression of the implications of that text. Behind it lay eternity, which was sometime different. As a matter of fact, all that happened was the appearance of a time-schedule. The clock of the universe was set going.
13 The tropical month, i. e., the mean period taken by the moon in passing through 360[°] longitude, as from one vernal equinox to another, is 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, 4.7 seconds, which is 6.8 seconds less than the sidereal month, the difference being due to the precession of the equinox.
14 This opens up a field as yet but little explored, that of the mystical, religious, pre-history of mathematics. A short, but most suggestive survey of the field is given by W. J. McGee in his article on “Primitive Numbers” in the Nineteenth Annual Report of the American Bureau of Ethnology, II., 821852 (J 900). Cf. also J. H. Graf, “Ueber Zahlenaberglauben.”
15 This question of orientation, as for example, in the placing of the temples of antiquity — or for that matter any definite boundaries — is a wide and alluring field. It corresponds, relative to space, with the questions treated here, relative to Time. The starting point for research in the antique field still remains the old work of Heinrich Nissen, Das Templum (1869).
16 The sacred power of seven is recognized all over the world. Everyone knows of the uncanny power of the seventh son. In China we are told that the emperor was wont to sacrifice on seven altars to seven groups of spirits; that he was placed in his coffin on the seventh day after death, and was buried in the seventh month. In India and Persia, in early Teutonic and Celtic religions, the system of seven constantly occurs, as also in Greece and Rome, where the seven hills form an obviously artificial grouping on a religious basis. There were in reality more or less than seven hills in Rome; it all depended on how one wished to count them. Such references are compactly grouped by O. Zöckler, in the article Siebezahl in Hauch-Herzog, Realenencyclopädie. (Abbreviated but with good bibliography in the new Schaff-Herzog, Encyclopædia of Religious Knowledge, article “Seven”). Cf. also the article Zahlen (Kautsch) for Biblical citations of sacred numbers. The Sumerian word for seven was translated by the Semitic Babylonians by a word meaning completeness, which carries ns back beyond all Babylonian history.
17 Hehn, Siebezahl und Sabbat in Leipziger Semitische Studien, II., 1907, attributes it to the phases of the moon, while refuting its derivation from the seven planets. Against his view, see Ed. Meyer’s Geschichte des Altertums, pp. 578-88, Meyer holds that the sacredness of seven is due to its being prime and difficult to reckon.
18 Except, of course, in the Jewish religion, where monotheism concentrated its taboos upon the Sabbath.
19 Cf. Ginzel, “Handbuch,” I., pages 120, 121.
20 The week was adopted in the Roman Empire largely through the influence of the Persian religion of the sun-god Mithras, in which there was a special liturgy for each day’s star, as in the case of the Chaldaeans. Cf. Cumont, “Astrology,” page 164. There are few more interesting sources in this connection than the eighteenth chapter of the thirty-seventh book of Dio Cassius, in which he attempts to enlighten his age on the origin of the names of the days of the week. It is a good example of the misinformation of an antique rationalizer. He attributes their origin to the Egyptians, who, so far as we know, did not have the seven-day period, except as they may have been familiar with the astrological lore of Babylonia. Then he has two theories to advance, one of which suffices here: “If one apply the so-called principle of the tetrachord (i. e., skipping two stars in the count every time one goes over the list), — which is believed to constitute the bases of music, — to these stars in order (of their distance from the earth) . . . and beginning at the outer orbit assigned to Saturn, then, omitting the next two, name the master of the fourth, and after him, passing over two others, reach the seventh, and so on the return . . . in this same way, calling them by the names of the days, one will find all the days to be in a kind of musical connection with the arrangement of the heavens.” . . . The other account of Dio need not be taken any more seriously than this one. One sees, however, the artistic possibilities of the world of time.
21 For the transmission of this astralization of the gods from Babylon to Hellas see the short, clear account in Cumont’s “Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans,” Lec. II. In Homer the planets are named from their qualities. “Herald of the Dawn” (Venus), “Twinkling Star” (Mercury), “Fiery Star” (Mars), “Luminous Star” (Jupiter), “Brilliant Star” (Saturn). After the fourth century these became Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, Zeus, Kronos, corresponding both to their qualities and to the Babylonian parallels of Ishtar, Nebo, Nergal, Marduk, and Ninib. “Thus the names of the planets we employ to-day, are an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of a Babylonian nomenclature.” French and Italian perpetuate the Roman day-names: Lune-di or Lundi, Marte-di or Mardi, Mercole-di or Mercredi, Giove-di or Jeudi, Vener-di or Vendredi. In Sabbato and Samedi, however, the Jewish Sabbath triumphed over Saturn, just as Domenica or Dimanche is the purely Christian Dies Dominicus or Lord’s day. Of the Teutonic counterparts, “Tiu” seems to have been a somewhat obscure parallel of Mars, as the nominative form is not found and the genitive “Tiues” is found only in the name of the day. Woden, Thor, and Freja are, of course, recognizable. Thor’s day seems to have been the most important day in the Scandinavian world, as it was upon that day that the assemblies met.
22 To-day perhaps the only religious sect to protest against the pagan days of our calendar is that of the Friends, or Quakers, but from a different motive from that of the Jew. For the Quaker makes it a rule of faith to deny that one day is more sacred than another, and to carry this theory over into practise goes to “meeting” on “Fourth Day” as well as “First Day.”
23 To be sure, in one sense, the naming of the Sabbath named the other days as well. They were parts of the Sabbatical cycle.
24 The origin of the week of seven days has been generally ascribed to Babylon. The Hebrew “Sabbath” has been held to connect with the Babylonian “sabattu,” which was used to denote days of penitence. But no inscription so far has revealed the use of “sabattu” for the seventh day, although the number seven was a sacred — or fateful — number. The seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of the month were “evil days,” — a fact apparently connected with the four quarters of the moon. But that is quite a different thing from a week which breaks through the months altogether and continues’its way undisturbed by phases of the moon. Of this there is as yet no trace in Babylonian inscriptions. Moreover, the fifteenth, the full moon, seems as well to have been “sabattu.” This leads to a recent conjecture that “Sabbath” is to be derived rather from sabbat, to be complete, i. e., the day when the moon has completed its phase and is full. The transference of the periods from lunar to purely numerical would have been the work of the priesthood after the return from the captivity. The rôle of the Israelites in the adoption and spread of the week is beyond question, but that they invented it instead of working it over from Babylon, is a point as yet unsettled. On all this see the summary in Ginzel, L, 118 ff., 5 ff., and authorities there cited.
25 The origins of the Christian’s celebration of the first day are obscure. They were apparently observing it already in the time of Justin Martyr by the middle of the second century. Perhaps it was partly due to the observance of the day of the resurrection. Cf. I. Cor. xvi, 12; Acts xx., 7; John xx., 26. But there is no command to observe the Lord’s day in apostolic literature. The Didache emphasizes the significance of “The Lord’s day of the Lord” by an unconscious pleonasm, but makes Wednesdays and Fridays memorial days as well as fast days in commemoration of the betrayal and crucifixion (c. viii.). Ignatus, however, shows the distinct advance. Sunday is to him “the festival, the queen and the chief of all the days of the week” (Magn. IX.). The earliest apologies, therefore, seek to explain that the first-day is to be substituted for the seventh of the old dispensation; Cf. Epistle of Barnabes, XV. Justin is the first to mention it as “the day called Sunday” (Apol I., 67). Two centuries later Sunday legislation begins by the constitution of Constantine of the year 321. The distinction it draws between the practical and the religious calendar is curious. “All judges and city folk and all craftsmen shall rest on the venerated day of the sun. But country folk may freely . . . attend to the cultivation of their land, since it often happens that no other day is so opportune for sowing the grain in the furrows or setting out the vines in the ditches; so that the advantage of a favorable moment granted by providence may not be lost.” Cod. Just. III., tit. 12, 1, 3. Cf. M. A. Huttmann, “The Establishment of Christianity,” etc, page 158. This was the old Roman customary treatment of agricultural work on holidays; cf. Vergil, Georg. I., 268 ff., Cato, De Re Rustica, c. 2. A long series of imperial constitutions followed, most of them gathered up in this same title (De Feriis) of the Code of Justinian.
26 This is, of course, for business and state purposes. The month was also observed in the farmer’s calendar, and it had its lucky and unlucky days, just as in Babylon — or any place else the world over. Hesiod’s farming calendar ends with a list of them. The luckiest time is about the eleventh and twelfth, just as the moon is reaching the full; the second half of the month, including the fifteenth, is, upon the whole, unpropitious, although with some peculiar exceptions. This, however, was rather folk-lore than calendar. Mr. Mair, in his edition of Hesiod, has arranged the month ”according to what appears the most probable interpretation,“ as follows:
1. A holy day.
4. A holy day. Propitious for marriage, for commencing to build ships; a day on which sorrow is to be avoided.
5. An unpropitious day. On this day the Erinyes attended the birth of Oath (Horkos), whom Strife bare to punish perjurers.
6. Unpropitious for the birth of females; propitious for the birth of males: only such a child will be prone to mockery and lies and crooked words and secret talk; propitious for gelding kids and lambs and for penning sheep.
7. A holy day. Birthday of Apollo.
8. Geld boar and bull.
9. Altogether propitious: to beget or to be born, for man or woman.
10. Propitious for the birth of males.
11 and 12. Most excellent for mortal works: for reaping and for shearing sheep. Yet the twelfth is even better than the eleventh. On the twelfth, when the spider spins its web in full day, and the ant gathers her store, a woman should set up her loom and begin her work. On the twelfth also geld mules.
13. Bad day for sowing: good for planting.
14. Good for the birth of females, for taming sheep, cattle, mules, dog. This day broach the cask. Above all a holy day.
16. Bad day for planting: good for birth of males: not good for girl to be born or to marry.
17. Good for threshing and for cutting timber.
19. Better in the afternoon.
20. On the Great 20th at noon is propitious for birth of a wise man.
24. Best in the morning, worse toward afternoon. A day on which to avoid sorrow.
27 and 27. On one of these [edd. differ as to which] broach cask; horses; launch ship.
30. Inspect works and distribute rations to servants.
27 That of the Idus is clear. The word itself may be connected with the Sanscrit indu “the moon,” or the root idh, ”to lighten.”
28 It also enabled the savage to reckon distance with the primitive counterpart of the modern time-table. The land of the traveler lies so many “moons” away — a form of expression used by nomads in wide range.
29 Mohammed definitely ordained the lunar unit of time-measurement in the Koran, Sura II., 214. “Concerning the phases of the moon shall they ask thee, so tell them they serve to mark out time to men and the pilgrimage to Mecca.” Sura X., 5: “God has set the sun to shine by day and the moon by night, and his ordinances have so arranged it that you by this can know the number of the year and the reckoning of time.”
30 Easter, for instance, seems to have developed out of a nomadic feast at the time of the birth of the lambs.
31 Cf. J. H. Breasted, “The Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt,” (1912), Lecture I. This was the first attempt to apply the Pyramid Texts to the understanding of Egyptian religion.