Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Novel: The Wolves of Ragnarök: Monandaeg - First Cycle (2)

[This is a fragment from the draft novel, "The Wolves of Ragnarök".  

It forms the concluding parts of the chapter: Monandaeg - First Cycle in The Wolves of Ragnarök.

It roughly follows earlier extracts and is set around the fires which damaged Nowra on the South Coast of New South Wales, immediately before the Canberra firestorm, 2003.  No wolves are mentioned in this extract, which is a survey of our understanding of the calendar and the limits of the law.]

Hati c. Indya 2014

We are creatures of habit – clinging to order and stability. He turned to her and spoke.

The division of our week into seven days reflects the ancient observation about the number of heavenly bodies that traveled in an ecliptic path. 

In the names of our days we still use the names of the old gods –  Dies Solics (sun’s day), Monandaeg (moon’s day), Tyr’s day, Wodan’s day, Thor’s day, and Freyja’s day. 

At the mention of the goddess Freyja he paused and bowed slightly to her. 

Alone, Saturn’s day offers the real clue to the provenance of the names – for the pagans copied these names and the ordering of the week, from the Romans, who had in turn taken them from Egypt and the East. 

The old Catholic church calendar was replete with feast days to remember the heroes of the church.  But the church’s attempt to replace the older pagan celebrations based on the passage of the seasons did not survive the fall of Constantinople and the industrial revolution. 

We continue to use basic divisions of time that date from before modern days – some so old we cannot identify their origins with certainty.

There are some clues in the old stories.  Tyr was an ancient god of the steppes – sometimes the god of war and, during peace, the god of law. 

He is older even than Wodan – and, in the old stories, is destined to die after killing the guardian of hell at Ragnarök.  Wodan is the allfather, husband of Frigg, father of Thor – but again at Ragnarök “then shall Frigg’s sweet friend fall”.  But we know little of these pagan gods – just their names, like the husks off corn, remain.

He pauses, remembering corn husks tied to pillars of elegant New England homes, or dressed in effigy and staked in front yards. 

She looks at him – and from the memory of her fishermen, continues:

Corn husks are used here to celebrate the feast day of Saint Stephen – or Yuletide. 

She pauses.

But Saint Stephen was simply a cipher for the pagan god Freyr (the brother of Friday’s goddess), and the church men could not end his sway. 

Poor Freyr (“no maid he makes to weep”) is destined to die at Ragnarök. 

A tear forms in her eye.  She said, ‘Sturluson told me: Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsi, he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men.’

He will be killed by the same sword of the gods of the slain, which he bargained away in order to marry his beloved.

While not openly worshipped, men and women still name girls Ingrid in his favor, and you celebrate the bountiful harvest with corn husks.

The persistence of these names and celebrations, long after state or religious sanction was given to them, and sometimes in the teeth of strong state or religious opposition, deserves reflection. 

We all eat a Christmas ham at Christmas. 

She yawns, disinterested by these recollections.

He continued:

I once wondered whether this just another limit of the power of law?  Would any attempt to change the names of the days or the months really work? 

‘Don’t try to reorder my world’, she interrupted sleepily, ‘You will change it back, when I require’.

He continued:

All children know of the futility of trying to legislate to stop the tide from coming in – and slowing the passage of the earth’s progress around the sun to a more convenient metric seems presently outside our capability. 

She opens her eyes and smiles the smile of power.

‘Well mine, at least’, he stammers.

Changes in the English calendar for similar aesthetic or religious purposes have been unsuccessful since the Romans renamed Quintilis as Iulius (July) in 44 BC to honor Julius Caesar and Sextilis as Augustus (August) in 8 BC to honour Augustus (Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus). 

More recent attempts have failed.  The most recent spectacular failure occurred during the French revolution.  The people’s revolution made a brave attempt to give each day its own special name – a failure now long forgotton. 

The French attempt follows in the footsteps of the failure of Emperor Commodus’s attempt to rename all twelve months after his own adopted names (Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, Pius, Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, and Exsuperatorius).  Nero’s attempt to change Aprilis to Neroneus similarly failed to catch the common imagination. 

To be fair, Charlemagne’s renamed months lasted in Germany until the 15th Century, possibly because of the immense utility to the Germans of knowing when to do things (Brachmnoth (June) – plowing month, Wonnemanoth (May) – love making month).

Despite these setbacks, we have a record of successful reforms to improve the accuracy of each of the calendars in common use – the Western (Julian/Gregorian), Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic. 

The Julian reform introduced in 46BC by Julius Caesar on the advice of Sosigenes of Alexandria formalized a solar calendar with months at fixed lengths.  Each year had 365 days, 12 months and every 4th year was a leap year with 366 days. This reform fixed in place the structure of our calendar.  There was a cost - the Romans had to endure a 46BC with 445 days. 

Late in his life, Augustus fiddled with the number of days in August (to make it equal in length to Julius’s July), establishing the legal pattern of days we still use for each month to this day. 

However, the Julian reform slowly moved out of synch with the earth’s rotation.  Every 134 years it gained an extra day by reference to the tropical year. 

This inconvenient result was remedied on the basis of legal policy advice (deriving from the first official council of the Christian Churches in 325 AD, at Nicaea) which held it desirable that the vernal equinox occurs on 21 March each year.  In 1582, Pope Gregorius XIII declared that the day after 4 October 1582 should be 15 October 1582. 

At the same time, the rule for leap years (which said that years divisible with 4 should be leap years) was changed so that years, at the end of the century, should be leap years only if they were divisible with 400 (e.g. 1600, 2000, 2400 etc.).  The Gregorian reform was belated picked up throughout the Western world (with the exception of the Orthodox Russian church).

Against the soft monotony of his voice, she seemed to sleep.  He continued, his eyes now searching for an exit.

A number of years ago, the Commonwealth of Australia accidentally repealed the old Calendar Act – the legislative device by which the Gregorian calendar was adopted into the British Empire.  At that time, law makers were blissfully unaware of the consequences of this error.

As a result the Australian Capital Territory reverted for about 20 years - from 1984 until 2005 - back to the Julian system (by that stage about 13 days into the future of the Gregorian calendar). 

No one noticed :)  

The error was corrected when all jurisdictions made a fractional change to the atomic standard of time - In the Australian Capital Territory 's case, a fraction of a second and 13 days.

Silently he rose, and ran out of the room bathed in moon-light, into…

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