Marching Forth - the Real New Year
Updated: Jan 8
Astrologically and seasonally, a new cycle begins with the first astrological sign of Aries in March who brings the spring and beginning of growth and new life. Fiery Aries is the first sign in astrology and leads the way. Interestingly, this ancient knowledge was hidden in our old calendars before they were modified, which, it could be argued, have been putting us out of sync with nature. In astrology, the sine wave begins at 0° in Aries where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator - this point is known as the March equinox (spring or Vernal equinox.)
Sine wave of the ecliptic beginning with Aries.
March was named after Mars (the planetary ruler of Aries) and in the early Roman calendar, Martius (March) was in fact the first month of the year. This was changed in 153 BC to the 1st of January and this continued under the Julian calendar in 45 BC and the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory who slightly modified the calendar regarding leap years.
Tunisian mosaic depicting the month of Martias (Martius) first, 3rd century A.D.
More ancient calendars such as the Babylonian calendar began in spring with the first new moon after the March equinox, signifying the return of the goddess Inanna from the underworld and the ritual re-enactment of her marriage to Tammuz (Dummuzi.) Araḫ Nisānu was known as the 'month of beginning' and corresponded with Agru or Aries. Their 12th and last month was associated with Pisces or Zibbātu and they also had an intercalary (leap) month. The Mesopotamian culture is one of our oldest studied civilisations and much astrological knowledge and archetypal wisdom stemmed from this culture.
The Indian national calendar (Saka calendar) also follows this system with the first month beginning with the March equinox. This calendar is still used in official documents and the news alongside the Gregorian calendar. The Balinese Saka calendar starts on the day of Nyepi (day of silence) which usually falls in March although the dates change each year and it is based on the phases of the moon. The Persian calendars which have been used for over 2 millennia in Iran, begin the new year at midnight closest to the spring equinox in March. This means that their calendar can change and is based on astronomical calculations, whereas the Gregorian calendar is rule-based.
Back to March
During the Middle Ages, the start of the year changed again for many European countries under the influence of the Catholic church, with some beginning on 25 December (Christmas,) some on 25th March (Annunciation) and Russia began its new year on the 1st of March until 1492 when this was changed to the 1st of September. In the UK, from the 12th century until 1751, the legal year began on the 25th March - the day known as Lady Day when the Feast of the Annunciation was celebrated to commemorate the moment when archangel Gabriel came to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of Christ. This means that records for January and February exist during that time with different years e.g. the execution of Charles I was recorded as happening on the 30th of January 1648 since their year did not finish until the 24th March, whereas historians record this as 1649 to correlate with our Gregorian calendar.
Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 and adopted its new year on the 1st of January instead - 11 days were subsequently 'lost' in September in order to align the calendar with Europe. Most of Europe had already adopted this calendar in the 1500s.
A medieval calendar in a Psalter, from the 13th century, showing the two fish of Pisces.
But where did 1st of January come from?
The Roman calendar had a different numbering system and the days were not numbered separately. The Ides of a month represented one of three fixed points of a month from which the days could be calculated and the ides usually fell on the 13th day of a month - originally it was thought that the ides represented the full moon, signifying lunar origins to their calendar. A lunar calendar will focus on the moon's cycles and phases whereas a solar calendar will reflect the annual cycle of the sun. Our Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar which evolved from a lunar calendar.
In 153 B.C. the new year was moved from the Ides of March to the Kalends or 1st of January so that newly elected consuls could assume their office. The Kalends represented the first day of each month.
This is when the calendar became out of sync with nature it could be argued. Wintry January is the time of Capricorn, ruled by Saturn and is connected with themes of the father, time, work, systems and government, so this is interesting that the year was changed to January for governmental reasons - the government energy became out of balance. But this energy needs to be in harmony with the earth and honour the true power of mother nature - it needs to honour the cycles and rhythms of nature and not put work or government first over nature and the people. When the people are not in sync with nature they are not as powerful and are easier to control. Finding the natural rhythms is key for returning to our power and the divine weaving of the cosmos.
In nature, January is a time of hibernation for many animals including bats, hedgehogs and dormice in the UK. The animals respect the cycles of nature and conserve their energy in the cold and 'inward' months. Plants also experience periods of dormancy.
Dormouse by Zoë Helene Kindermann (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Nowadays, many people put a lot of energy into new year celebrations with parties, alcohol and huge firework displays, yet this is going against the grain of nature. People may put a lot of time, money and energy into their outfits, tickets, alcohol and taxi for a night out but this energy will dissipate and it can leave us feeling drained, hung-over or we may have faked the 'fun' we had. Our festivities in winter may bring us warmth and fire but we should be careful about how much energy we expend outwardly and conserve it if we can. Many animals are also disturbed by firework displays as well - they can be put into a state of panic and may wish to flee the area.
January, ruled by the fatherly energy of Capricorn and Saturn is a time of hibernation, rest, reflection, letting go, gathering around the fire and sharing festivity, warmth and stories in the cold of winter - this is important for our well-being in the darkest months. It is perhaps not the time for putting pressure on ourselves with resolutions and goals which usually fail for people anyway since this month does not support that kind of energy expenditure.
This is a time to prepare for the purification of Aquarius in February and the visions, dreams and future goals of mystical Pisces in February and March. This would be the ideal time to set 'new year resolutions' towards the end of the mystical month of Pisces having received its visions for the new cycle of Aries and the seeds of growth. These resolutions may hold power since they are aligned with the energy of nature.
In March we begin a new cycle again with the beginning of spring and fiery Aries, as the first astrological sign, leads the way. This time is effortlessly joyful - we are surrounded by new flowers, seeds of life and skipping lambs. The fire of Aries can bring us fresh energy and motivation to pursue our goals or resolutions and plant new seeds.
The ram of Aries
For those in the southern hemisphere (south pole,) you are in the polar opposite season to the northern hemisphere meaning that the March equinox will mark the changing of seasons and the arrival of autumn. Understanding polarities is vital so that the seasons can be aligned with their correct astrological energies - for the March equinox this will be the polarity of Aries-Libra with a focus on Libra in the southern hemisphere. I wrote about polarities here for those who wish to explore this further. The September equinox with its Aries-Libra polarity will mark the beginning of a new cycle/year in the southern hemisphere.
'Zodiac man' from a 15th-century Welsh manuscript
The zodiac man appeared in ancient classical thought and medieval literature particularly in calendars or books on philosophy, astrology or medicine. In the zodiac man, parts of the body were assigned to a corresponding astrological sign. Aries started the body with the head. With Aries we 'head first.' We can go 'ahead.' Aries is 'heading forward' and marching in March. Aries represents new beginnings and new cycles.
Pisces is found at the end of the body - at the feet. It is the most mystical sign - the sign of interconnectedness with all life, visions and dreams. It is the sole - the soul. Interestingly, the feet are the most sensitive part of the body and some claim that each foot contains around 200,000 nerve endings. With Pisces, as mentioned, we may find the inspiration and visionary goals at the end of winter for our year 'ahead' with Aries, beginning our spring in March.
2) April, the second month, is thought to come from the Latin words aperire meaning 'to open' just as flowers open in the spring and the Romans called this month Aprilis.
3) May was named after the Greek goddess Maia, one of the 7 sister-nymphs of the Pleiades. In the Roman religion, on the 1st of May, sacrificial offerings were given to Maia as an earth goddess.
4) June was named after the Roman goddess Juno, queen of the gods and wife of Jupiter.
5/6) Before July and August were renamed after Roman emperors (Julius Caesar and emperor Augustus,) they were given the names Quintilis and Sextilis meaning the fifth and sixth months (following from March/Martius as the first month.)
The rest of the months, September, October, November and December were named after the numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10: septem = 7, octo = 8, novem = 9, decem = 10.
January was named after the god Janus who had two faces, giving him the ability to see forwards and backwards - this fits the theme of Capricorn's December and January as a time of reflection and quiet evaluation.
The Golden Fleece
February is thought to be named after a Roman festival of purification called Februa. This works well with the purifying energies of Aquarius as we release anything that no longer serves us. This prepares us for the visions and dreams of Pisces in later February and early March, before beginning the new cycle 'ahead' with fiery Aries, symbolised by the ram which is apt since spring is the season of lambs. It is interesting to note that March and April are the peak lambing months, meaning that many lambs are born in the sun sign of Aries – interestingly, for many breeds, the ewe is most fertile in April and it is usually in the months of March and April that our fields are full of skipping lambs reminding us of the excitement of life blooming at the start of spring.
This symbol of the ram came from Greek mythology in which Chrysomallus, the flying ram, rescued Helle and Phrixus and provided the golden fleece. Here we can recall the divine qualities of sheep – the lamb has often been recognised as sacred in its innocence and joy and associated with Christ as the ‘sacrificial lamb.’
When we think about a new cycle, would we not think about birth, babies, growth, and life emerging? It might be natural to experience some resistance to re-imagining the new year since we have already developed well-established neurological maps in our mind regarding January - but it is worth contemplating. With spring we can allow life to spring around us effortlessly - there is plenty of energy to begin new projects and sow the seeds and the vortexes of energy will support this outward force. Lambs and many wild animals are being born and birds are building their nests. Animals are often born in the springtime since during the winter, the parents may go through a stage of dormancy which extends the gestation period - this ensures that the young would not be born at a time when there is not enough food to support them. Finding our full power can be found in these cycles and rhythms and mother nature is always there to show us the way.