Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of December 14th, - December 20th, 2007

The Circle Game

Columns Archive

  "We're captive on the carousel of time.
We can't return, we can only look behind
from where we came,
and go round and round and round
in the circle game,"
            -Joni Mitchell


Celtic Tree of Life

  Time and the New Year are the goal of the Circle Game. Last week we speculated about the use of living trees long ago as markers to calibrate the passage of time. Echos of this distant memory are heard in tales of the 'Tree of Life', a mysterious enigma whose image pops up over and over again in various references throughout antiquity.

  This week the calendar page turns and another New Year is peeled away. While Draco and the North Celestial Pole were a standard calibration to determine the center of a slowly moving circle (it takes precession over 25,000 years to complete just one cycle), different civilizations have 'cut' our circle in different places to determine just where "New Year's" should begin and end.

  Just when people first began to observe the cycles of the sky and coordinate them to conditions here on Earth is lost in the mists of the past. Just where on the circle time should be cut is the 'New Year' question. Myth remembers this 'cut' in the story of Cronos, the King of the Titans and archetype for Father Time. He is the old man with a sash, long white beard and a sickle who appears every December 31st, only to pass his sickle onto... himself as a child in a diaper eager with the expectations of the New Year ahead. Both are Father Time. One is dying and the other is just being born, just as the year is dying as another is being born.

Aphrodite born from the sea foam

Aphrodite being formed from the sea foam
around the severed testicles of Uranos

  The Greek myth of the birth of time speaks of Uranos (the starry sky) coming down to lie with Gaia (Earth) every night. Gaia complained to her youngest child and supplied him with a sickle in an effort to overthrown his father's wild ways. Cronos (Time) took the sickle and hid behind a large stone and waited for Uranos to appear as was his custom. As the stars came out, Cronos watched for his Dad to appear. When at last he did, and as he preoccupied himself with Gaia, Cronos leapt out from behind the stone and castrated his Dad, causing him to leap back in pain and surprise. Ever since that time Starry Sky and Earth have been separated, with Time rules the cadence between the two. The stone Cronos hid behind is a distant memory of when megalithic markers were used to calibrate the Circle of Time from Stonehenge and other ancient rock rings, constructed to better understand the passage of days, months and years.

  But while the constellation Draco marked the center of the circle (and is therefore often tied up with ancient culture in New Year's Day rituals, no matter when that might be) New Year's can be marked at any point on the circle as long as it remains consistent. Many ancient agrarian societies started their New Year with the return of Spring, when Nature would once again put on fresh, new robes for the year. The Hebrews do this, splitting the year in half, with New Year in both the Spring and Fall. The Celts also split the year in two in Spring, beginning on May Day and Halloween. The Egyptians were one of the first to truly go to a solar cycle, and marked the start of the New Year after the Winter Solstice, when the power of the Sun started to increase with the lengthening daylight. The Chinese use the New Moon in February. They are all part of the Circle Game, together with which point in time we choose to honor the start of the New Year.


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