Lunar Calendars

The Ba-Ila Lunar calendar
The Lunar Calendar of the Banks Islands
Ian's Lunar Calendar

The moon seems to have been the earliest measurement of time. The word "moon" probably comes from a sanskrit word meaning "measurer" The Greeks personified time as Chronos*, who wielded a crescent sickle or scythe. The Egyptian god of time was Thoth, who was also a moon god. Thoth was represented either with the head of a baboon or an ibis**.

Later on, astronomers and astrologers found themselves with the headache of trying to reconcile the lunar calendar with a solar calendar. This was not easy because the number of lunar months in a solar year is not a whole number, and full moons do not fall on the same dates each year, so complicated mathematics was required. Patrick Moore [3] believes that it was a mistake to measure time by the moon at all, and the ancients would have been better off if they had used a purely solar calendar from the start. A purely solar calendar would simply measure time by the number of days since the winter solstice. It would have no months. For a clearer definition of the different types of calendar, see the link below (Types of calendar).

Our own calendar (The Gregorian calendar) has "months" of 28, 30 or 31 days, which divide up the year from one winter solstice to the next. The timing of the months is not influenced by the phases of the moon, so it is to all intents and purposes, a solar calendar. The only remnant of lunar time (to my knowledge), is Easter, the date of which depends on the full moon (more on this later). The reason for this is that the bible states that the crucifiction of Christ took place shortly after the Jewish festival of Passover, the date of which is determined by the moon. Easter is named after the Saxon moon goddess Eostre.

The Dead sea scrolls reveal that the community at Qumran used a lunar calendar.

The Moslem religious calendar, is based solely on the moon. The month of Ramaddan begins on the ninth new moon. The calendar takes no account of the solar year, so Ramaddan can occur in any season.

The calendars which I have reproduced below (and the Dakota calendar which I have linked to) are technically known as observation based calendars. They are not written down and require no complicated calculations, They take account of the solar year, in so far as it can be deduced from the flowering of plants, the weather etc., but they do not precisely record the equinoxes and solstices as a solar calendar would. This is an important distinction, because the timing of natural phenomena is sometimes influenced by the moon, as well as by the season of the solar year:
For example, the mating of the palolo worms is (or was) a key event in the Banks Islanders' year. It occurs at three full moons in late summer. Similarly, many people around the world have (rightly or wrongly) planted each crop at a certain phase of a particular moon. The date of Easter may be a remnant of this practice. There is some evidence that wheat grows fastest at the Easter full moon. The weather may also be influenced by the phase of the moon, and the tides certainly are. (see the Lunar gardening page for more on this). Needless to say, these calendars are not very precise.

If anyone knows more about other calendars, please leave a message in the guestbook

The Polynesian Lunar Calendar deals with days of the month, rather than months of the year, so I have not included it here. My information is aproximately 70-100 years out of date, so by now these people may have abandoned their traditional ways of life and scrapped their lunar/nature based calendars for something more scientific and less poetic. If you know any more about these cultures, please leave a message in the guestbook. [top]

The Ba-Ila lunar calendar

The Ba-Ila live in Northern Zimbabwe. They live by a combination of farming and hunting. They tell stories about
Hare the trickster, which are remarkably similar to the stories told by Uncle Remus about Brer rabbit. Their year is divided into three seasons: Chidimo, the cultivation period, or Spring; Mainza, the rainy season; and Mweto or winter. The transitions between the seasons are known as kungosoka, or change of season. The names of the lunar months within these seasons are given below, along with their aproximate translations:


Kauhumbi kashonto - The time of new grass and leaves
Iuhumbi ikando - The time of full grass and leaves
Shimwenje - When the rains are fully developed


Kukazhi - The womens month, i.e. when they are busy weeding
Kuyoba - The time of continued rain - also known as:
Kulumi - The men's month, i.e when the men are out hunting
Itaano - "Pass here" i.e. "come and get food, there is plenty!"
Chisangule - The time of change i.e. rains are lessening - also known as:
Chibuantimba - The time of little rain
Inkombolabulezhi - The breaking of the pleiades


Ikonaula masanga - The breaking of the long grass
Kazhalakonze - When the hartebeeste calves - also known as:
Kaabanino - Change in the season, beginning to get warm - or:
Kapukupuku - Time of much wind
Katente kashonto - The time of the first veld fires
Kasangabimbe -When the first bimbe bird appears
Katu - The shooting of the first leaves [4] [top]

The Lunar Calendar of the Banks Islands

The Banks Islands are part of Melanesia. The islanders live by growing vegetables such as yams and by fishing, esteeming very highly the palolo or "un", a marine annelid worm which masses on their beaches at full moon in late summer. The Islanders refer to the months by the work which they perform in that month, or the changes occuring in nature. There are about 30 names of months, so one month may be known by several names. Some of these months overlap each other. I suppose different names of months could be used in different years, depending on the timing of the full moons relative to natural phenomena. The calendar begins with the April moon.

Magoto qaro - The month of fresh grass - also known as:
Uma - The month of clearing garden ground
Magoto rango - The month of withered grass - also known as:
Vule taratara - The month of clearing trees
Nago rara - The month in which the rara or Erythrina, a common wild plant, begins to flower (around July)
Vule vutvut - The month of planting yams overlapping with
Tur rara - The month in which the rara is in full flower - also known as:
Gaviga - The month when the Malay apple flowers - or:
Gauna - The month of the south east wind
Kere rara - The month in which the rara stops flowering and puts out leaves
Taur - The month when the yam vines are trained up reeds
Ruqa - The month when the reeds are broken and bent over
Un rig - The little un. The full moon when the first few palolo's arrive on the beaches - also known as:
Un gogona - The bitter un
Tau matua - The month of the ripening of the yams, and maybe planting of a second crop - also known as:
Un lava - The great un. The full moon when palolos swarm on the beaches - or:
goro - The month of the yam harvest
Werei - Rump or last of the un. The full moon when the last of the palolos arrive
Uma (again!?) - clearing of gardens
Ganoi - Month of the west wind (november or december)
Togalau - Month of the north west wind. Hot weather.
Vule wotgoro - Month in which the reeds shoot up into flower.
Vusiaru Month in which the wind beats the Casuarina trees on the cliff tops
Telemavaru - Month of the hurricane
Lamasag noro noro - The month of dry reeds
Rakasag - The month of piling up of brushwood ready for burning
[5] [top]

Ian's Lunar Calendar

These calendars are all very well for people whose lives revolve around the seasons in the savannah, or the mating of the Palolo, but they have very little relevance to people in the western world at the start of the twenty first century. For this reason I have devised this lunar calendar based around the seasonal activities which shape my life in Scotland. The year begins shortly after the festive season:

Oomi-frigin-ed The month following the great hangover. Half price sale at B&Q
Sqwurt-de-dubyoodee-forti The month of bicycle maintenance
Cud-fynda-yoos-fur-dat-sumday The month in which spring cleaning takes place. Dumpsters brim full with fascinating bric-a-brac. Imaginative new uses are found for broken furniture, bicycle frames, carpet and potentially hazardous electrical appliances.
Oomi-frigin-bak The month of vegetable planting
Digup-de-grownd-elda-an-kooch The month of weeding
Shed-dem-thermals The month in which the (relatively) warm weather begins
Tokum-trippi-weed The month of summer festivals
Wek-up-an-pass-de-sider The month of picnics and long siestas
Scoff-dem-sillysibins The month when the first mushrooms appear
S'allrite-iffyer-nokitbak-cwiq The month when the home-made wine is first tasted
Braaaaarp-scyoose-me The month of the turnip harvest. Also known as:
Mucho-flatyoolenss The month of the great wind
wizzboom-all-frigin-nite The month in which small children, in time honoured fashion, set light to mixtures of fertiliser, sugar and petrol and go on the rampage, intimidating adults and household pets, with their demands for money and sweets.
Bye-dis-bye-dat-ownli-twennti-shopin-dez-lef The month of consumerism leading up to the midwinter festival
:-) [

* Robert Graves suggests that "Chronos" may actually be derived from "Coronis" meaning raven[2]. [back]

**Perhaps the baboon head and the ibis head represented the full and crescent moons respectively (the Egyptian book of the dead talks about the head of Thoth becoming full) The Egyptians sometimes imagined the "face" in the moon (not to be confused with The Man in the moon) to be the face of Thoth [1]. The Egyptians also saw the moon as a boat, and identified the craters as a man, eye, hare, and possibly also as a donkey.[back]

Links to other sites on the web

The Dakota Lunar Calendar
William Morris Lunar Tree calendar
Types of calendar
The Goddess Lunar Calendar
A modern lunar calendar
The Daily Globe: Calendars
The dead sea scrolls calendar
and links to information about other calendars
The Chinese Calendar
Chinese Calendar Homepage
Convert dates between Chinese solar, Chinese Lunar and Gregorian calendars
Days of the moon
A middle english poem[top]

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