To give a history of Egyptian, Greek, Aztec, Roman, Masonic, French Revolutionary, Chinese, Muslim, Gregorian, Positivist or any other calendars, would be beyond the scope of this book. The nub of the matter is that mankind has tried to establish points of reference in relation to the regular recurrence of observable natural phenomena as time fled ever before them. Thus the first calendars were lunar, since the phases of the Moon are shorter and easier to observe than the solar cycle.
To compile a calendar is something reassuring, organizing time in the same way as dykes are built to control the flow of rivers. They convey the feeling of mastering what cannot be escaped. Calendars offer the means of recording the stages of one’s own inner or external development and of being able to celebrate at fixed times human intercourse either with the gods, with the universe or "ath the dead. Looking at the calendar conveys the suggestion of a perpetual fresh start. The calendar is the symbol of death and resurrection, as well as the comprehensible order which rules the passing of time. It regulates this movement, as these examples show.
The Egyptian calendar ‘was undoubtedly the calendar best suited to its environment’. It comprised a year of 365 days, divided into twelve months each of thirty days with five epagomenal or extra days at the end of each year. It perfectly suited a country which has no Spring, since the months formed three seasons, each of four months, ‘flood-time, Winter and Summer’. Months were subdivided into three ‘decads’, each of ten days, the first day being a holiday in honour of the dead.
There was, however, no leap year, hence a gradual retardation on the solar year. Day and night were split into twenty-four hours, which astronomers in the Hellenistic age were to subdivide into sixty minutes, according to a sexagesimal system which originated in Ancient Babylon (POSD p. 34). The rising of Sothis (Sirius), sacred to Isis, marked the start of the civil year, ‘Sothis being regarded as the ruler of the 36 constellations which successively governed 36 decads’ (PIED p. 520).
The earliest Jewish calendar - copied from the one used by the Phoenicians - was lunar, Yerah (month) being derived from Yereah (Moon). The calendar used during Old Testament times was solar. We know (1 Kings 4: 7) that Solomon had at his command twelve officials who had each to undertake one month’s service. Although the solar calendar was used before their Exile, during their Captivity the Jews would have become familiar with the Chaldean solar-lunar calendar.
The Maya used two calendars, a solar calendar for a civil year of 365 days (haab), and another for the religious year of 260 days (tzolkin), that is thirteen months each of twenty days. The god thirteen - a sacred number - was the god of time, of birth and death. The latter calendar, based upon folk beliefs, recorded birthdays and the major events of life. The civil calendar comprised eighteen months, each of twenty days, plus an extra month of five days. These five days were considered most inauspicious. They were the bridge between or the staircase rising from the old to the new year. With two calendars running parallel, dates calculated on two planes of existence, the secular and religious, had to be made to tally. Cycles were composed based on the correspondences between the two calendars and were so complex and so accurate that the same date or juxtaposition could only recur once in 374,440 years, symbol both of the immutable and of the eternal homecoming.