Cernunnos, the antlered diety on the Gundestrap Cauldron, is holding a snake
Designs by Mark Butervaugh
When a new millennium is dawning and a gyre of time rapidly comes to an end, we either search for new means of measuring time or turn in our need to improve our understanding of time to rediscover ancient calendars. One such ancient calendar is The Sequani Calendar discovered by a group of researchers almost by fate. The researchers, a Celtic Studies group based in the mountains of West Virginia, were in fact in search of an eclectic learning experience when they discovered the ancient text.
The group, now known as the Sequani Celtic Studies Group, got together in the basement of the local college library to enhance their understanding of Celtic Studies by combining disciplines. They felt that the compartmentalizing of disciplines in the modern world had not offered what they termed an eclectic or broader based knowledge of the natural world because it narrowed experience and did not mirror the complex systems of Nature. The group was interested in Celtic Studies because the ancient system of learning proposed by the Druids was a model for them. The Druids combined natural studies, poetry, astronomy, religion and other disciplines to form groups of experts from each field, thus enhancing the picture of the universe to be studied as a whole.
The group embarked on an unknown path of discovery when they received a copy of the Coligny Calendar as it was printed for the Royal Irish Academy in 1926 by a linguist named Eoin MacNeill. MacNeill reconstructed the original bronze tablets that were discovered in a vineyard near Coligny, France at the turn of the last millennium. The tablets contained vital information for measuring the moon, the stars and the sun, but they were written in a Gaulish tongue that MacNeill could not translate. MacNeill was limited because he approached the calendar from a linguistic point of view and not from an eclectic or Druid standpoint.
With the combined knowledge of several scholars who by now had become trusted companions, the journey of discovery began. The group consisted of Clay and Barbara Carter, an astronomer and astrologer, respectively; Eadhmonn Ua Cuinn, a Celticist and sculptor; Helen Benigni, a writer and mythologer; Mark Butervaugh, a Naturalist and artist; and Tim Krantz, a printmaker. Their first insight, that the calendar was discovered at a vineyard near Coligny, France in the territory of the ancient Druids, gave the group its insight and direction.
A rapid series of discoveries followed. The group discovered that the calendar followed the lunar cycles of the year with amazing accuracy. The names of twelve lunar cycles are listed on the calendar as: Samonios, Dumannios, Rivros, Anagantios, Ogronios, Cutios, Giamonios, Simivisonnios, Equos, Elembivios, Edrinios, and Cantlos. As Barbara began to count lunar returns over 100 years and Clay began to count lunar cycles over longer periods of time, they discovered that for every two years and six moons, the calendar reveals an Intercalary Moon, making the Sequani Calendar more accurate than the Julian. This Intercalary Moon is marked on the calendar as an untitled thirteenth moon and might have been used as a holiday for the people; the function of the Intercalary Moon is to keep the lunar and the solar cycles in sync.
To expand the accuracy of the Sequani Calendar further, every 55 years the calendar starts a lunar cycle on one of the four major phases of the moon, returning to its original phase every 220 years. The extra days that the calendar would naturally experience when moving from one phase of the moon to another in 55 year cycles make the Intercalary Moon a longer holiday every 55 years. The calendar begins the lunar cycle on the new moon in the present cycle and marks the first quarter moon as the beginning of the cycle that starts on the Winter Solstice in 2001. Moreover, the Sequani Calendar coincides with other ancient monuments such as Machu Picchu, the Pyramids, and Stonehenge which base their astronomical orientation to the Winter Solstice, a knowledge passed down from the Neolithic peoples.
The Sequani Calendar marks the Winter Solstice or Samonios as the New Year and the beginning of the light half of the year and Summer Solstice or Giamonios as the beginning of the dark half of the year. Each of these Holy Months are significant holidays designated by two facts. First, the word "Samonios" means the beginning of light and the word "Giamonios" means the beginning of darkness. Second, the holidays are accurately marked in Celtic stone monuments such as Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, and Stonehenge to coincide with the Sequani Calendar's markings of the Solstices, the Equinoxes, and the lunar cycles.
The Sequani Calendar is therefore an integral part of Celtic culture, and perhaps like other knowledge of astronomy that was passed to the Druids from the Neolithic peoples, the calendar may represent a cornerstone of human achievement which took thousands of years to quantify. Martin Brennan, in his text The Stones of Time ( Inner Traditions 1994), has discovered two Neolithic calendrical engravings, one on Knowth in Ireland and one on Pola de Alande in Spain, that represent the same cycles on which the Sequani calendar is based. The fact that the Celtic world which spanned Europe and the British Isles shortly before the turn of the last millennium might have inherited this ancient calendar is not far fetched.
The group's astronomer and astrologer then made the exciting discovery that the beginning of each month of the Sequani Calendar was designated with the appearance of a star of first magnitude, marked PRIN on the calendar, that appears on the Eastern Horizon shortly after sunset. At sunrise, these stars are beginning to set on the Western Horizon. Time is therefore measured at night by the journey of the stars in conjunction with the orbit of the moon. The calendar also looks ahead by marking the next month's star of primary magnitude as it appears in the sky and approaches the beginning of the following month.
The group's mythologer, Helen, correlated the names of the stars and the constellations in which they appear with the goddesses and gods of Celtic mythology. Two months which were undeniably linked to myth served as her basis for exploration into the yearly cycle of Celtic myth and ritual. In the month of Equos, the month celebrating the horse-goddess Epona, Pegasus is clearly visible in the sky, and in the month of Edrinios, the month of sacred passage, the constellation of Eridanus or the River in the Sky is clearly visible. Many of the other months fell into a contextual whole as research is available to correlate the eight major holidays in Celtic religion with the stars.
The next piece to the puzzle fell into place when the folklore or people's holidays still celebrated in parts of the British Isles today became a vital source of information. The Oenachs, or holidays of importance still celebrated today by many cultures, are clearly marked in the full moon on the calendar and celebrated over a week's time, followed in the same month with observation of the new moon phase designated as Holy Nights or Druid nights, where the Druids worshipped and the people observed a staying-home time. The Oenachs of the Sequani Calendar are devoted to the worship of solar deities as they follow the pattern of the sun's orbit through the year.
The four Oenachs are the Winter Solstice, the Vernal Equinox, the Summer Solstice, and the Autumnal Equinox. On the circle of Neolithic stones, they are North, East, South and West, respectively. In the Neolithic monuments of the Bru na Boinne in Ireland, Knowth is aligned East-West for the Equinox celebrations of the Oenachs, Dowth is aligned South-West for the sunset of Winter Solstice, and Newgrange is aligned South-East for the Winter Solstice sunrise Oenach. In Britain, Stonehenge is also aligned to the Winter Solstice Oenach when the rays of the sun rise over the heel stone.
The Druid's Holy Nights or stay-home times marked on the Sequani Calendar are discovered in the third quarter phase of the moon and marked in each month as ATENOVX. This is when the Holy Nights begin. In the waning of the new moon phase, the Holy Nights are celebrated. These are fifty and forty-five days from the Oenachs and show their dates to be February 12th, May 12th , and October 12th. (Note that Gregory XIII took ten days out of the Julian Calendar in 1582 calling October 5th , October 15th.)
The Holy Nights form a rectangle outside the circle of Oenachs. Celebrated near or on the new moon, these Holy Nights are Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasad, and Samhuin, respectively. Again, certain Neolithic monuments have sacred paths marking the entrance to the circle on a particular Holy Night. These nights are often extended over a seven night period marked on the calendar as such. The calendar also marks these important nights to carry in two observances each devoted to an aspect of the Holy Night. For example, Samhuin is observed as the Warrior's Samhuin from November 4th to November 12th in Edrinios and the Holy Nights in the new moon of the following the month of Cantlos from December 4th to December 11th.
The group was well on its way to decoding the other markings on the Sequani Calendar as they realized that the lunar cycles, the solar cycles, and the Holy Nights are all decorated by the constellations in a varied and highly accurate picture of celestial meanderings charted meticulously on the calendar. For example, in the Winter Constellations at the peak time of the Winter Solstice in the month of Samonios, there are nine constellations visible, a spectacular setting for the TRINOSAM SINDIV on January 7th . Likewise, in the Summer Constellations, the Summer Triangle formed by the stars of primary magnitude of the two months leading up to the Summer Solstice in the month of Giamonios, are highly visible for the Holy Night of Midsummer. On the calendar, TIO stars in patterns of three six and nine most probably forming triangles, sacred patterns of three, are also clearly marked.
When the Sequani Celtic Studies Group realized that this knowledge should have some practical application and use for the public, their three artists, Mark, Eadhmonn, and Tim began plans to silk screen a working calendar incorporating the astronomy, astrology and mythology into the twelve lunar cycles of Samonios, Dumannios, Rivros, Anagantios, Ogronios, Cutios, Giamonios, Simivisonnios, Equos, Elembivios, Edrinios, Cantlos and the Intercalary Moon. The relevance of the Sequani Calendar became more and more evident as the artists began to visualize the natural symbols that would represent each lunar cycle. The mythology easily matched occurrences in the agricultural cycles, the natural cycles of plants and animals, and in the familiar spiritual cycles and holidays of European cultures. For instance, the agricultural cycles of Lugnasad and the Harvest Festivals on the Sequani Calendar coincide with the harvest festivals already celebrated in many parts of the British Isles and the Continent. The Sacred Snake days of Rivros coincide with St. Patrick's day and the harvesting of the mistletoe coincides with mid-summer Holy Nights. Most importantly, the holidays of Anagantios and Ogronios coincide with the sacrifice and resurrection of the Christian Easter.
This ancient text is a familiar pattern re-visited. Its accuracy is astounding and its wealth of detail far outweighs our present calendars. It elevates our understanding of time into what the Druids expressed in their script on the ancient monuments in spirals and triskeles, shapes that reflect the eternal patterns of Nature. It lifts us out of the flat two-dimensional perception of time as arbitrary markings on a rectangular surface to a three-dimensional vision of time which spirals to infinity. The Sequani Calendar does this by incorporating the solar, lunar, stellar and natural patterns with the human cycle. With this comes a deeper spiritual vision of our relation to the natural world. It is our opportunity to reach for the stars and use what is within and without.
- © Helen Benigni, 1999