Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Dec 27th, 2002 - Jan 2nd,  2003

New Year's Dragons

Columns Archive

Gaia and her suitor Uranos

Gaia and her suitor Uranos

   Time is a circle. We know every point on the circle is equidistant to the center, and that every point can be an end, or a beginning.

   Greek mythology teaches us that Time (Saturn/Kronos) is the product of the union of Heaven (Uranos) and Earth (Gaia). The question is, at what point do you cut the circle in order to establish the beginning and the end of the year, and which circle do you use? We know days are measured by the Earth rotating once on the circle of its own axis. The year is determined by the rotation of the Earth once around the circle of the Sun. But in this circuit of the year, where do we put the metaphorical sword, lance, or arrow so that the proper cut can be made? We long ago learned these are slightly flattened circles, more accurately called ellipses, but after all this is myth, not math.

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice
John Ross MacKimmie

   In the West, we use what is called a tropical zodiac. It's bottom line is the seasons, marked by the Sun's entry into the four quarters of the year: spring, summer, fall, and winter. The vernal equinox marks spring and the start of our agricultural year, yet our own calendar's foundation stone commences with the Winter Solstice, and the beginning of the Sun's reascension north in the heavens. Our morning star begins to climb higher in the sky, marking the return of warmth, light, and life for all creation. We give the Sun a one week cushion from the time of it's rebirth to bring in the new calendar, and so mark it by January 1st.

   The Chinese wait a little longer to mark the start of their year in February, looking for the New Moon of Aquarius. They remember and have preserved in tradition the role of the dragon, with which we are familiar. Pagan traditions which looked to the birth of the Sun memorialize the circle of life by burning the Yule Log, part of the ancient Tree of Life found throughout the pre-Christian cultures. It has come to be symbolized by the Christmas Tree. At root, this is the same tree from which Heracles sought the golden apples and Jason took the Golden Fleece, which is known in Norse mythology as Yggdrasil the World Ash, or can be found in the Bible as the Tree in the Garden of Eden. The first three all have dragons in association with them, while in Judaic myth, the image is the more familiar serpent.


The Egyptian Great Serpent Apophis
Note the tree in the background

   Many of the calendars of the Middle East continue to mark their year by the Vernal Equinox, such as the Iranian Lunar Hegira and the Borji. The Hebrews celebrate a New Year with Passover, marking the Full Moon following the Vernal Equinox, as well as at Rosh Hashana following the Autumnal Equinox. Celtic cultures remembered the dragon and New Year's as being celebrated on May Day, but also start their year with Halloween. Even the Egyptians were part of this New Year's weave, which is remembered as a curse on the Pharaoh's enemies. The King's enemies "...shall be like the snake Apophis on New Year's morning." For each of these cultures saw creation spinning around Draco, the pole star of antiquity, here metaphorically stabbing the enemies of Pharaoh 'through the middle' so that the precise circle of the calendar, society's timetable and glue, can be established for the New Year, establishing order out of chaos.

   The circle spins around and around, throughout the year, with different cultures picking various times to say, "Here it begins."

   And so it begins again. Happy New Year.