all the time in the worldRSS

A Month of Sundays

By Allan Eastman

Go back to Page 2

Into the Mists of Time

Astronomical Clock, Prague

The sun, moon, earth, and sky are represented in time-measuring instruments such as the Prague Astronomical Clock, which has features that depict these natural elements.

©iStockphoto.com/tudorish

We must go back to the pre-literate unrecorded Ages that precede our first civilizations. Homo Sapiens is leaving the hunter gatherer existence that characterized Human and pre Human life for millions of years before.

Agriculture has begun and because of that, people are settling into fixed communities for the first time. Recognizable towns are beginning to appear and with them, due to the surpluses being produced by organized food production, new hierarchies are emerging. The Master Hunter is becoming a Warrior Chief and then a King. The tribal Shaman is becoming a Priest.

In this era, Human beings exist in a World and a Cosmos inhabited by a multitude of perceived Gods. The Spiritual World is Reality. That tree over there is not just a tree, it is the dwelling of a God or a God itself. The wind on your face is the breath of a God. All of life is imbued with the human relationship with the Gods.

Everyone believes that the Gods shape and control everything, including every aspect of a Human’s life.

With the added free time that civilization is beginning to provide, the new Priestly Class is starting to define, name and order the Gods and is trying to divine their intentions in order to explain what these Deities are up to in a way that can give meaning to the Human experience.

When they look around, they can see a World that seems permanent and immovable, full of living things. The most fundamental measurement they can discern is the Day. The awesome Sun rises, moves across the Sky bringing Light and Heat but then it sets. Night falls, bringing a stunning profusion of incredible sights – the Moon, mysterious and luminous and somehow continually changing shape, a multitude of stars wheeling across the heavens in a progression of combinations and some brighter objects as well – glowing discs that can be seen over time to change their positions in the sky according to some mysterious but surely, magical pattern.

Advertising

In this world composed of Gods, these Sky Creatures are without question the most striking so they come to be worshipped as the highest of the high – the Great life giving Sun God, the beguiling Moon God which is most often perceived as female because of her radiant beauty, and the other bright heavenly discs – in reality, the 5 planets that can be seen with the naked eye from Earth.

They are fleet Mercury, lovely Venus, angry red Mars and the mighty incandescent gas Giants, Jupiter and Saturn. (Uranus can be seen as well but wasn’t recognized as a planet until much later).

Note the number of Sky Gods – Seven – it is the first of our magical numbers that will affect how we tell Time. The number of the Gods is the reason why Seven was considered a lucky number then and it remains to be so to this day in Western cultures.

The other natural phenomenon that seems to have great meaning to these early Priests is the progression of the Seasons. The World appears to burst forth into new life at a certain point, plants thrusting up out of the ground and new animals being born. This is followed by a cycle of growth and rich abundance. Then comes a period of decay and decline as plants wither and die and finally a period of stagnation and death. Then the miracle of rebirth returns again. These cycles repeat themselves over and over endlessly so are thought to be the Natural Cycle of Life as designed by the Gods and so they become the key measurement of Time.

At some point, someone gets around to noticing that more or less the same number of sunrises and sunsets pass for the same conditions of the seasons to repeat themselves, about 360 or so.

So, we now have our key elements for the definition of Time – a Day and a Year.

Much, much later on in the Human story, Scientists will dethrone Earth from its position at the centre of Creation and define these recurring phenomena in terms of the astronomical reality that is really causing them. A Day turns out to be one rotation of the Planet on its axis. A Year is the journey of the Planet in one full orbit around the Star at the centre of our Solar System, the Sun.

There is another motion that affects the Seasons as well, the tilting of the Earth on its own axis so that the objects we see in the Sky seem to move further North or South in another repeating cycle over the course of a Year. This will become an important element in the measurement of Time as well. You remember how the French Revolutionaries started their Calendar Year on September 22? Well, that marks the Autumnal Equinox, the point when the Sun’s apparent position is directly above the equator.

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 & Comments