Updated: Jan 26
I recently made a post about calendars and the new year which used to be aligned to the seasons and astrology but became out of sync with nature during the Roman times.
The same was also true with time-keeping! Interestingly, our first hour used to begin at dawn originally, rather than in the middle of the night and this was all changed in medieval times.
Systems of time-keeping by the movement of the sun were used in Mesopotamia and Egypt and time was divided into 12-hour cycles. For the Romans, the day was originally divided up into twelve hours from sunrise to sunset and therefore an hour was defined as being 1/12th of the time which elapsed between the rising and setting of the sun and the night was divided into four 'watches' of 12 hours in total. This meant that the length of hour would change through the seasons with shorter hours in winter and longer hours in summer. This was later changed and became our modern 12-hour clock of two periods, with the first beginning at midnight and known as 12 a.m. (ante meridiem, before noon) and the second starting at 12 p.m. (post meridiem, after noon.)
Life Before Minutes
The transition from relative hours is thought to have happened in the 13th-14th centuries when the control of time-keeping passed from the church to the merchant classes and there became a desire for more accurate time-keeping for employees and business arrangements for economic purposes. By this time other clock forms were in use which were not dependent on the sun like sundials - the first fully mechanical clocks appeared in Europe in the 1300's. It wasn't until 1577 that clock-maker Jost Burgi invented the minute hand for more precise time-keeping and in the UK, it wasn't until 1680 that the minute hand was added to clocks.
Systems of Balance
Please take in these words with an open mind - this is not to say that I am advocating for a complete system change regarding time, but it is good to keep it in mind for its esoteric value and we may wish to remember it when called, to keep that sense of deep connection to the cosmos and nature. Being aware about this system may ignite deeper ancestral memory and a deeper connection with time and space.
At the moment, it could be argued that our system of hours is very influenced by the 'left hemisphere' of the brain which is associated with logic, language, maths and analysis - it is orderly and organised and helps us to plan. Whereas the old system was more influenced by the 'right hemisphere' of the brain which is nonverbal, intuitive and creative - that system was fluid and changed in alignment with nature. Moving forwards, we may envision a more evolved system which is balanced and brings in aspects of the fluidity and vitality of the non-linear 'right hemisphere.' We may or may not be ready collectively for these conceptions, but it is interesting to contemplate.
The Roman horae (hours) and vigilae (watches) for the equinoxes and solstices of the year 8 AD. The night was divided into four 'watches' of 12 hours in total with the first known as vigilia prima or 'first watch.' The horae (hours) were longest during the time of the summer solstice and the vigilae (night watches) were longest during the winter solstice.
Although the hours began at sunrise, the Roman civil day began from midnight until the following midnight (media nox.) The first hour (dawn) began between 4.30 a.m. and 7.30 a.m. depending on the season and latitude.
Time in the Bible
This kind of hour is known as a 'relative hour' and in old Jewish tradition the day was also split into 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night which changed according to the movement of the sun, with the first hour beginning at dawn. This old system can be seen throughout passages in the bible such as Matthew 20 where it was described that people were standing idle in the marketplace in the 'third hour' of the morning (which would be around 9 a.m.) and later at the 'eleventh hour' (around 5 p.m.) they were still stood at the marketplace, having been idle all day:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day? They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’" Matthew 20:1-7
The old Roman system of the relative hour can be seen lingering throughout various cultures. The Spanish word siesta is derived from the Latin words hora sexta or sixth hour which was about 12 p.m. in our time.
The canonical hours (times of prayer) of the Catholic church are based on this old Roman clock with prayers performed at times including prime (first hour at dawn or 6 a.m.,) terce (third hour or 9 a.m.,) sext (sixth hour or noon,) nones (ninth hour or 3 p.m.) and vespers (sunset.)
Our English word noon comes from the Latin words nona hora or 9th hour and was originally associated with our 3 p.m. The shift to 12 p.m. happened in the 12th century:
"The sense shift from "3 p.m." to "12 p.m." began during 12c., and various reasons are given for it, such as unreliability of medieval time-keeping devices and the seasonal elasticity of the hours of daylight in northern regions. In monasteries and on holy days, fasting ended at nones, which perhaps offered another incentive to nudge it up the clock. Or perhaps the sense shift was based on an advance in the customary time of the (secular) midday meal. Whatever the cause, the meaning change from "ninth hour" to "sixth hour" seems to have been complete by 14c. (the same evolution is in Dutch noen)." From etymonline.com
A very ancient Chinese timekeeping system of the Han-era also followed the position of the sun - the old Huainanzi text outlined 15 hours during daylight with the first hour starting at dawn.
Our oldest clocks were sundials - sun dials - they indicated the time by the position of the sun and its shadow cast by a gnomon over a dial. It is thought that the earliest sundials were used in around 1500 B.C in Egypt and Babylonian culture. The Greeks adopted them and then the Romans. The Roman writer Pliny described that the first sundial was erected 11 years before the Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC) and another sundial from Sicily was erected in public during the First Punic War (264–241 BC.) In the following text he described the sundial from Sicily and the transition towards a water-clock and more accurate time-keeping of 12 equally spaced hours which would have varied in length depending on the season:
"The lines of this sundial did not agree with the hours, but all the same they followed it for 99 years, till Quintus Marcius Philippus who was censor with Lucius Paulus (164 BC) placed a more carefully designed one next to it, and this gift was received as one of the most welcome of the censor's undertakings. Even then however the hours were uncertain in cloudy weather, until the next lustrum, when Scipio Nasica the colleague of Laenas instituted the first water-clock dividing the hours of the nights and the days equally, and dedicated this timepiece in a roofed building. For so long a period the divisions of daylight had not been marked for the Roman public." From Pliny's Natural History.
Sundials became popular in the medieval era, particularly across Europe.
World's oldest sundial from Egypt (c.1500 B.C.)
An ancient system known as the planetary hours was also used in which the seven classical 'planets' (sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) were assigned to different hours throughout the days of the week since it was believed that these heavenly bodies influenced the hours in a repeating cycle. It is thought that this system may have been used in Babylonian times and was written about by the Greeks, Romans as well as the English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer, in the 14th century.
The days of the week were also named after the planets. In this system, the first hour of Saturday (Saturn-day) begins at sunrise with Saturn, the following hour will be governed by Jupiter, the next by Mars and the remaining hours will be governed by the sun, Venus, Mercury, the moon and then back to Saturn again in a repeating sequence. Sunday begins with the sun and is followed by Venus in the same sequence order as mentioned. Monday begins with the moon. Tuesday begins with Mars (Tuesday was named after the similar god Tiw, the god of combat in Norse mythology.) Wednesday begins with Mercury (Wednesday was named after the Norse god Woden who was connected with Mercury - Mercredi in French.) Thursday begins with Jupiter (Thursday was named after the Norse god Thor, who was connected with Jupiter.) Friday begins with Venus (Friday was named after the Germanic goddess Frigg who was associated with Venus.) For those interested in this system, you can discover the planetary hours for each day on this website.
Astrology and Time
The old time-keeping system of starting the first hour with the dawn rather than in the middle of the night was also aligned with astrology - the time of dawn is associated, by some astrologers, with the first astrological sign Aries who begins the sine wave at 0° when the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator. The sun rises at exactly 6 a.m. on the Spring equinox when the sun enters Aries and will set and set at around 6 p.m
The ecliptic is the pathway of the sun, as seen from earth - this imaginary line appears as a wave due to the tilt of the earth's orbit (the earth's axis is tilted at around 23.4°.) It is due to this tilt that we get our seasons since different areas of the earth receive varying amounts of sunlight across the hemispheres. The angle of light we receive denotes a certain frequency or vibration which effects us in different ways throughout the seasons and creates differing energies and cycles (such as growth or decay) - the zodiac is the mirror of these processes.
In the above diagram, Aries ♈︎ begins each image, demonstrating the zodiac sine wave within time, the seasons, anatomy and the precession of the equinoxes which gradually shifts in a cycle of around 24,000 years.
Astrology in Time
Astrologically, the 24-hour day can be divided into 12 sections of two hours which correlate to the different energies of the zodiac.
6-8 am (or first hour of the day at dawn) ♈︎
The sun rises at exactly 6 a.m. on the Spring equinox when the sun enters Aries. Aries is a fire sign and the hours of dawn (around 6-8 am) are a great time to build on this sacred fire energy with meditation practises to begin the day on a good foot - this time could include activities such as kundalini, breath-work, yoga or qi gong to attune with fiery Aries and receive its yang energy.
8-10 am ♉︎
The second sign of Taurus rules the next two hours (8-10 am) - this sign is associated with mother nature and the physical side of mothering including looking after the body with washing, dressing and having breakfast. I recently wrote about the connection between Taurus and the planet Ceres - Ceres (or Demeter) in Greek and Roman mythology was a nature goddess and from her name we get the word cereal! Taurus is also associated with abundance and manifestation so this is a good time to set intentions for the day.
10-12 am ♊︎
The next sign Gemini, ruled by Mercury, governs the next two hours. Gemini is associated with the 'lower mind' (the more playful aspect of the mind) and is associated with language, creativity, trade and communication. This would be a good time to start communications with people, send out emails, make phone-calls and do the trading, networking or shopping for the day.
12-2 pm ♋︎
The next two hours are governed by Cancer, ruled by the moon. Cancer represents the emotional and psychological aspects of mothering - it is a nurturing time to check in with yourself - to have lunch, rest and go into your thoughts and feelings regarding the day. Cancer is the realm of intuition and human emotion and is very watery so you may feel to go 'with the flow' and see where your intuition guides you.
2-4 pm ♌︎
Leo, ruled by the sun, governs the next two hours. This is a fire sign and can bring in a lot of energy to this part of the day - during this time comes a second burst of energy to get some activities done, to do some socialising or networking, to step into leadership in some aspect or to get outdoors and use the energy productively.
4-6 pm ♍︎
The next two hours are governed by Virgo which is an earth sign of the harvest season associated with health, organisation, purity and analysis. This would be a good time to draw the activities to an end, to tidy up, sort things out, tally up, put things away, travel home or analyse the day.
6-8 pm ♎︎
Libra, ruled by Venus, governs the next two hours of the day. This air sign is associated with the arts, beauty, justice, relationships and romance. This is a good time to socialise with friends, family and loved ones - to catch up over dinner or to enjoy an evening connecting with the arts, reading a book, watching a film, hearing some music or heading out to meet some friends at an event.
8-10 pm ♏︎
The next two hours are governed by the water sign Scorpio, ruled by the king of the underworld, Pluto. This is a time of depth - to get absorbed in a film, discussion, conversation or experience intimacy with a loved one. Scorpio rules sex, death and transformation so this may also be a revealing time of the day where you may find yourself relaxing, reflecting in the bath or receiving clarity about something.
10-12 pm ♐︎
Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, governs the next two hours of the evening. Sagittarius is a fire sign so here we may find some creative inspiration as we sit by the fire. We may feel to write or draw something before going to bed. Sagittarius is associated with the 'higher mind' - the realm of philosophy, ethics and astrology so now would be a good time to connect with the stars, meditate and send out prayers.
12-2 am ♑︎
The next two hours are governed by Capricorn, ruled by Saturn. This earth sign is associated with the father, systems, government and work. During this time, most people are asleep and the energies of the day are ordered into systems within the subconscious. This is a time of integration, rest and grounding the body. Capricorn rules the 'mid-night' so it's interesting that the systems of time changed from the first hour starting at dawn (aligned with the sun and nature) to begin in this Capricorn section of the night instead. Again there is something here to contemplate regarding Capricorn, Saturn and our governing systems and whether they are bringing the people into harmony and sync with nature. It may interest you to know that the American term 'military time' is used as a synonym of the 24-hour clock. The celestial movements of sun and earth are not separate from spacetime.
2-4 am ♒︎
Aquarius, ruled by Uranus, governs the next two hours of the day. This air sign is the 'water carrier' - it carries our intention and frequency - this is the time of brain waves and sinking deeper. Aquarius is associated with freedom, truth and thinking differently - this suits the spacious freedom and quirkiness of the dream-time realm which is hard for our rational minds to make sense of.
4-6 am ♓︎
The next two hours are governed by Pisces, ruled by Neptune. This water sign is associated with dreams, visions, mysticism and an interconnectedness with all of life. It's the perfect energy for this time in particular since many people dream in the morning and some of the dreams that we remember occur in the morning hours. Any dreams that we recall may have a message for us regarding our subconscious patterns - there may be something we need to learn, heal, manifest or focus upon.