The history and mystery of the Silver Circle Moon calendar,
how it came into being, and more about the 13th moon.
“Witchcraft 2000, Part 4” Wiccan Rede volume 18 nr. 1 * Spring 1997 by Merlin Sythove
The Silver Circle Moon Calendar Once More Available!
(From our antiquities department)
Research on this calendar started in 1982, and in the Autumn of 1984 this resulted in the creation of the artwork that is by now known all over the world as ‘The Silver Circle Moon Calendar’…
This is how the advert started for the full colour reproduction of the Silver Circle Moon Calendar, in Wiccan Rede, Autumn 1995. Although the advert may have been tongue-in-cheek, the calendar itself really is an old system. Over the years many people have asked me where it came from and what the meaning is of the individual moons. This article will highlight some of the history of the calendar and its creation. It will also present some ideas on the function of a moon calendar and what it means to us, embedded as we are in our highly technological society, on the brink of the 21st century.
The mists of time
My interest in a moon calendar grew out of my involvement in Modern Witchcraft, where we celebrate the nights of the Full Moon, as everyone knows full well. I started wondering if there was anything in those full moons, if they were all the same or maybe all different. One thing led to another, and I started collecting magazine articles and books that were somehow relevant to this subject. I came across quite a few moon calendars in the process. However, most of those somehow didn’t feel right. One such example is the American system of using the current calendar months, which almost always will contain one full moon each. Sometimes a thirteenth full moon is present because a calendar month contains two full moons, and the second is then called a ‘Blue Moon’.
As happens so often, your intuition is years ahead of you, and it is only much later that I came to realise why most of the other moon calendars didn’t feel right to me. More about that later.
However, there was one calendar that did appeal to me. It was only a small article in a magazine, and much of the detail is now, literally, lost in the mist of time. Although we have extensive archives, and I spent a lot of time in 1995 trying to reconstruct all the sources I used in 1982-84, the relevant material so far hasn’t surfaced… Maybe this is as it should be. Quite often you find that during a research project information literally ‘falls into your lap’ just when you need it. Maybe the reverse is true as well: when you don’t need it anymore, the magazines and books just ‘vanish’…
The mysterious source
The article that I mentioned above appeared in an English magazine in 1982, and briefly outlined the moon calendar that I used as a basis for my artwork. It did not give much more than the names for each moon, and it certainly did not give any kind of ‘system’ as to how the moons should be linked to the solar year and when and why the Ice Moon should be inserted. The only information it gave was about the Ice Moon as being the thirteenth moon. For one reason or another though, this moon calendar connected with something inside myself; it felt right. And consequently I decided to use that cycle of moons as the basis for my artwork.
Art and inspiration
The Silver Circle Moon Calendar started out as a piece of art. It was never intended to be a system, it was never intended to be an intellectual exercise, it was not even intended to come with a voluminous book full of information, correspondences, rituals and other paraphernalia. It was intended to be what it still is today: a work of art. When the calendar with first published, in 1984, in its original black and white A3 size, it came with a single sheet of information on how to use it. The calendar was printed on heavy parchment paper, and you were supposed to colour it in yourself, cut out the inner circle and use it as a perpetual moon calendar.
Whilst I was working on the calendar, my mind wandered off and I explored the cycles of the moon herself. Inspired by other artists, such as Brian Froud, who did the artwork for Jim Henson’s film “The Dark Crystal”, as well as being inspired by the mechanics of time, the solar year and the lunar rhythms, the drawing grew into something that on the one hand represented the ‘machinery’ of time, and on the other hand included definite breaks, or mistakes, in this machinery, to highlight the fact that the moon will not let herself be shackled to the solar year properly.
The word ‘sinister’ means ‘left-handed’, which most people will recognise when they realise that ‘dexter’ means ‘right-handed’, ‘ambi-dextrous’ means that you can use both hands, and ‘dexterity’ means skilful, physically or mentally. People have commented on the anti-clockwise direction of the calendar artwork. There is nothing sinister (in the normal sense) here though. I was accustomed to visualise the cycle of the year anti-clockwise. I have done so as long as I can remember, from early childhood on. As an astrologer I was accustomed to drawing horoscopes, and there too the signs of the zodiac are drawn anti-clockwise. This is because the Earth spins anti-clockwise when you’re facing South (which you are when you draw a horoscope), which is the same as saying that the Sun moves clockwise, and which results in the next sign of the zodiac rising on the Eastern horizon. So drawing the calendar anti-clockwise was ‘natural’ to me.
People have also commented on the inverted pentagram that can be seen in the lower left hand corner. Again, this is a ‘sinister’ interpretation of what is meant to be a piece of art. If you look closely at the four elemental circles in the four corners, you may notice that the so-called magical sigils are all upright, but the underlying elemental tools, such as the cup, the wand, the Athame and the pentacle, point towards the centre of the Circle. So the pentacle points to the centre of the Circle, and so too does the top of the upright pentagram on it.
The source revealed?
Years after I had made the moon calendar, I came across another moon calendar that used the exact same names and alignment to the year that I used. Even though the actual system of alignment was different to mine, the end result was the same: the Ice Moon appeared in the same years, etc. Interestingly enough, the two moon names that I had changed (I had altered Barley Moon to Harvest Moon, and Wort Moon to Hunter’s Moon) were changed in his calendar too.
Naturally I was very curious, and I tried to reconstruct all the source material that I had used, in order to see if I had actually copied this system inadvertently. Alas, to no avail: some of the crucial documents seemed lost forever.
A few years after that, once again I came across this moon calendar that so much resembled my own, and I finally decided to write to the person who published it. And so I did. I outlined how my own calendar came into being, and that I had found the cycle of names in a magazine that was lost by now. I explained that I did not want to lay any ‘claim’ to a cycle that I had found in a magazine, and that, although my artistic interpretation was obviously my own, I would be very happy to give credit to this person if he could show me that it was his moon calendar that I used in my drawing. However, I received no reply.
In a sense I felt sad about this. The moon calendar that I found was a very ancient British traditional cycle, and the person who published this calendar so similar to the one I found belonged to a very ancient family, which has worked with trees and wood, fairies and deva’s for centuries.
Full circle: the facts
In the course of working on this article, some of the missing documents surfaced once again. The original article that sparked off my interest was titled “The Thirteen Moons” by Peter Larkworthy, and appeared in The Wiccan (now Pagan Dawn, published by the Pagan Federation), May 1982. The addition to this article, the list of moon names and their dates for 1981 and 1982 appeared in The Wiccan, August 1982. There is no reference to the source of these names, although the title ‘Traditionalist Moon-names’ implies that the names would be traditional. The names Peter Larkworthy gave are Ice, Snow, Death, Awakening, Grass, Planting, Rose, Lightning, Barley, Wort, Blood, Tree and Long Night Moon.
As I explained above, I changed the Barley Moon to Harvest Moon, and the Wort Moon to Hunter’s Moon. It is of course possible that I changed these names using names I found in other books or articles – that part of the story is still missing. Dusty Miller, whose calendar is so similar to mine and who uses the names Harvest and Hunter’s Moon as well, was publishing articles and giving lectures at this time. For example, in “The New Celtic Review”, Beltane 1983, there is an article by Dusty Miller and Son, on Practical Tree Magic, in which he outlined his work with trees, dryads and the wood items he creates.
In the magazine Ophir, seven years later (1989 and 1990) a series of articles appeared, written by one F.P., which explored the mystery-side of the lunar cycles, using Dusty Miller’s calendar: “… I shall use a widely available lunar calendar published by Dusty Miller and expanded upon by traditional lore.” Reprints of these articles appeared in The Cauldron in 1993.
The origins of the system
The ‘system’ of aligning the thirteen moons to the solar year, as given by Peter Larkworthy, and also used by Dusty Miller, takes the Winter Solstice as its central point. Although Peter Larkworthy did not explain how you align the moons, Dusty Miller did explain his system to me in a private conversation in 1995: the first new moon after Midwinter will be the Snow Moon. In some years, there will be a full moon between Midwinter and the Snow (new) Moon, and this will be the Ice Moon. Although you might think that the Ice Moon could occur anywhere between December 21st and January 6, in practice this is not true: the Ice (full) Moon usually falls in early January.
As an aside, I’ve tried to use Dusty Miller’s system, and it does give more or less the same results as the ‘system’ which I discovered by myself, provided that you do not use the exact point of Midwinter as the pivot, but about 5 days later, which is when the Sun would actually be visibly moving further South again at sunrise.
When I designed my calendar however, I only had Peter Larkworthy’s statement about Midwinter, without any ‘system’. I looked further, and came across an article by Colin Murray in a beautifully hand-written magazine (yep! Some magazines were hand-written in those days!) from May 1979: the “Newsletter for the Golden Section Order Society and the Bardic Chairs of Caer Llyndain, Caer Wydr, Caerleon-yr-Wysyg, Caer Alba and Caer Gvernicon.” Murray, in his article “Tree Alphabet Divination”, stated that “It is likely that in Cymric Britain, the Fire Festival of Samhain (Hallowe’en); started the ‘dark half’ of the year, which culminated in fertile May Day – the 7th Oak centre of the 13 month ‘year’.” Extensive correspondence tables in the same article outlined how Murray aligned the Ogham alphabet to the year, starting with Beth and Hallowe’en, and thus aligning the Oak, Dur, with Beltane. All these trees were not my cup of tea at the time, but aligning a moon calendar to the cross quarter days such as Samhain, rather than the minor solar festivals like Midwinter, definitely seemed logical. After all, the agricultural festivals pre-date the solar festivals, just as moon calendars pre-date solar ones.
Jump-starting the next sections then, my ‘system’ such as it was, was to align the Snow Moon to Imbolc, and the Blood Moon to Samhain, so that these would be as close as possible to the actual cross-quarter festivals. To avoid these moons getting too far out of step with the actual dates, the thirteenth moon, the Ice Moon, needed inserting every two to three years. As it turned out, this insertion cycle followed an 18-year pattern.
Sundry philosophical notes on the system
Since I had not found a specific ‘system’ that appealed to me, I had to think about one for myself. It seemed logical to start with the fact that lunar calendars predate solar calendars. From there, it follows that you can not define the moon calendar by using the solar calendar (which of course is still non-existent at that moment). So any mathematical link with Midwinter for example can not be used. This brings one back to the simple fact that the moon calendar must have been linked with the cross-quarter-days, the agricultural festivals: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. None of these festivals were fixed to the (non-existent) solar calendar; they were governed by the Moon, and they were probably celebrated when it was Full Moon.
So the moon calendar was defined ‘in itself’ so to speak, and adjusted when nature indicated that it was out of step. The Celts started their year with Samhain or the Blood Moon, and I assume that, depending on the Blood Moon being early or late with respect to what was happening in nature, the priest or priestess would insert the thirteenth moon, the Ice Moon, in the middle of Winter, in order to align the moons again with the start of the next cycle: Imbolc, birth. In this way, the normal people could use the cycle to keep track of past, present and future.
Some people may find the above reasoning a bit contrived. And it is – to us, in the twentieth century. We have lost all contact with nature, and our lives are governed by the clock and the atomic calendar. However, it was different at the time that lunar calendars were in use. The moon governs life, and is a good indicator of what is going on in nature. A lunar calendar was probably all that was necessary to keep track of what was happening in nature, and to predict from one month to the next what could be expected. To those people, a solar calendar, with its mathematical precision that doesn’t take frost or snow, nor germination or mating into account, must have felt far more contrived! People who live close to nature will experience the moon as a regular and dependable rhythm, growing from new to full and then waning again, as an example of what the flocks or the corn would do over a few seasons.
Why would the thirteenth moon be the Ice Moon?
Of course, you can insert a thirteenth moon at any point in the cycle to keep the moons in step with the seasons. It might feel ‘logical’ to add a thirteenth moon if some other time span, such as a solar year, is not ‘full’ yet. However, if you assume that there is no solar calendar, such a rule of course can not apply.
If you have a moon calendar that is only defined within the processes of life as they happen on the planet, then the thirteenth moon will be governed by some archetypal ‘rule’, rather than an intellectual one.
Imbolc is the festival of birth in nature, still very delicate: the lambing season, the first flowers. Samhain is the festival of death in nature: the final preparations for Winter. And between death and birth there is the Summerland – the magical and mystical Otherworld that people still remembered in the stories they told each other around the fire during the long winter nights, and in the festivals that they celebrated, such as the giving of presents which predates the Winter Solstice celebrations.
However, once the celebrations of Winter have passed, we enter a no-man’s land and anxiously await the first signs of the coming of Spring in order to celebrate our Imbolc festival and the rebirth of nature. And it is during this period in the cycle that the Ice Moon, the thirteenth moon, appears every two to three years. Again, the Ice Moon is not ‘just any moon’ that we humans decide to call Ice Moon, no, it is a phenomenon that is linked with nature, an integral part of the cycle which you can experience. When Winter seems to go on forever and Spring seems years away, the Ice Moon reminds us of the fact that the cycles of life are not fixed, and that they are actually not circles either, but a spiral. A spiral is a circle that is broken, because the beginning and the end will never meet. And in the gap, the point where rebirth is birth on a different plane of evolution, is where the Gods can leave their mark. In the life of plants, animals and man, this mark is left just before the actual birth. This is the time when the soul, or spirit, will link itself with the physical body. In the old fairy tales there were stories of fairy children, or changelings: children that seemed somehow different, often ugly. Of these children it was said that they were swapped with the real child immediately after birth, and that they were fairy children. Maybe we would call these children ‘handicapped’ in our current era, but the legend of the fairy children still applies, because these children live more in the world of fairy than they do on Earth.
There are other fairy tales that have a link with the thirteenth moon too – a few of those were discussed in Witchcraft 2000 part 2, Wiccan Rede Autumn 1996, albeit in a different context. The thirteenth fairy, the thirteenth element, the element of fate, of unpredictability, always occurs just before or at birth, just like the thirteenth moon, the Ice Moon, occurs unpredictably just before Imbolc. The number thirteen has to do with destiny.
You’ll be able to unearth plenty of examples for this principle yourself – just think of Arthur, or even the Last Supper, and of course the traditional Coven of 13 witches performing magic to shape people’s destiny.
A moon calendar: why bother?
What is the point of a moon calendar for us, today? It is obvious that we don’t need it to keep track of time. Solar calendars and atomic clocks are far better in doing that. And that is exactly the reason why we need one: we are ‘caught’ in time, in minutes, seconds and nanoseconds, and we have lost out sense of the processes that are going on around us.
Modern day humans are multi-tasking: they do a tiny bit of everything at the same time. Work whilst you commute, phone whilst you drive, eat whilst having a meeting, read whilst you walk. And at the end of the day we moan that we haven’t done anything, that we don’t seem to get anywhere, that nothing is finished and that there is always more work waiting to be done. Why? Because we won’t allow ourselves to carry one thing from inception to completion! We can’t see the processes anymore because we only see little bits at a time, and we only do little bits at a time. Efficiency dictates that people should be utilised as very simple machines that can only do one thing. And as soon as machines are clever enough to do this bit, the person becomes obsolete.
It is clear that we have lost something. We have lost contact with life. People are living beings, not clever machines, but unfortunately the economy has no use for living beings, only for machines and computers. And very slowly some people start to realise this as well. Computers are being made ‘user friendly’ which means in effect that they are far too complex for people to understand, so they must be made to look simple, like humans…
This is exactly where a moon calendar can become the tool to put us back on track. At first, we may still need the solar cycle or some other sort of ‘rule’ to keep the moons in step with the solar year. But only until we have re-established the link with the cycles of life once more. Then we can let go of the ‘rule’, and we are once again close enough to nature to feel when a particular moon governs nature. And the moons do actually influence nature and natural processes such as the weather or human relationships far more than we think!
I hope that the Silver Circle Moon Calendar can help in this process to re-discover our link with the cycles of life, and that instead of a book that may appeal to the intellectual side of our nature, the artwork will appeal to the magical and mystical side of our nature!
The Silver Circle Moon Calendar is © Merlin Sythove.