Calendars and Footnotes

Last week sometime, I had one of those minorly interesting things come up. Someone elsewhere asked for advice on how to celebrate a particular festival.

Now, the festival name this person gave was not one that appears in the surviving temple festival calendars (I have all that data pulled out into a spreadsheet as part of my own calendric ruminations), which meant a lot of people responded with variants on “What are you talking about?” (It was kind of a generic name, so one of the variants was “Well, which ancestor festival?”)

Eventually, more information happened: a Gregorian calendar date.

Now, as folks who have wrestled with the Egyptian calendar at any length will know and whine about, there is no standard Gregorian calendar date for any-damn-thing in ancient sources. (I mean, setting aside the fact that the damn thing was established in 1582.) Even with the non-fluxing civil calendar, which did eventually pick up a lot of festivals, there were just 365 days until the Romans decided they weren’t down with that nonsense, so every four years the date would slip one notch further away.

And that’s assuming that there’s agreement on when the year would start, which … there isn’t.

But there is no shortage of various people who have pinned calendars to particular Gregorian dates. Hell, the current calendar I use is one of them, for the most part.

If you have multiple websites saying that such-and-such Egyptian festival falls on such-and-so date, therefore, the odds are really damn good that what you’ve got are those multiple websites all ripping off the same source of material – someone who pinned the calendar down to a particular set of dates, with their own New Year value, their own way of eliding the lunar cycles, and so on. Odds are also good that those websites will not source whose work they’re stealing, which means that if – as in this case – someone has changed the name or done some sort of allusive reference, well, who the fuck knows?

Now, about two months ago I picked up a few books that seemed interesting and potentially useful. One of them was a neopagan exploration of some mythologies – a bit too archetypical and psychological for my general tastes, but I like to have a variety of resources available to me. I had noticed at the back that it had a calendar of holidays, pinned to particular Gregorian dates. (Further, it had footnotes saying whose work it was reprinting.)

So I went and dug up that book, and flipped to the back, and lo, upon the given Gregorian date, there was a festival with the name being asked about. It was actually situated within the Egyptian year, with Egyptian month names listed, which meant that I could easily go back to my reference notes for the Egyptian year and say “Okay, if you’re looking for information put forward by Kemetics, this is the festival you want to plug into your search engine. The calendars you are looking at were put together by the Church of the Eternal Source.”

Footnotes generated. Mission accomplished?

But this is one of the things that drives me nuts. “We celebrate this at this time!” Who says so? What is the basis for that statement? What sources back it up? Where is the information? This isn’t something that people actually talk about – it’s all take it on faith stuff.

Which works fine within an organisation where people have committed to trusting the decisions of the people who did the work – those organisations will not only have a calendar, but have made decisions about how to celebrate the holidays they’ve located in the calendar. But those calendars have a tendency to escape into the wild and become separated from the information that the organisations have, and maybe even from the fact that they were put together by an organisation in the first place.

I don’t think that this is a good idea.

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