Monday, January 5, 2009

Time, timelessness and the void

Fewer than five centuries ago, Pope Gregory placed the Gregorian Calendar's mathematical model on our concept of time. Lillius and Calvius and dozens of Vatican mathematicians worked endless hours to figure out how to adjust for what the stars and sun and moon counted out, which they calculated was drifting a bit from the Julian Calendar, the previous model. A model for measuring time that is linear and narrow and focused entirely on one point in time is a totally Western idea. Other cultures besides the Judeo-Christian one, might measure time differently and might impose entirely different frameworks, but these are not taught in our schools.

The very idea that one could look at time in other ways than as a linear string of events goes counter to our own individual experiences. We are born, age and die. We are all "Button Benjamin," and not the other way around. Anyone with children, and then grandchildren, etc., knows this in their very flesh and blood.

Yet some civilizations, some human intellects, could comprehend this concept. In fact, their calendars are more predictive and more accurate than our own. Most interesting to me is the Meso-American system, which incorporates cycles of the moon, in addition to numerous eclipse and comet cycles, and counts back some 3,111 years before the year one on the Gregorian Calendar to the beginning of the cycle it was made to measure.

The initial date, the year one of the Olmec and other Middle American Natives, refers to an ancient beginning, a change that these peoples, (who may have been predated by ancestors who lived through such a transformation,) considered just as real as the birth of Christ. These peoples counted accurately and studied the stars and their cycles and concluded that time was not linear. They believed that just as the sun and moon and stars revolved through repetitious cycles, (the entire galaxy, indeed the universe,) passed through an enormous cycle, known as "The Long Count."

To accept that thought is more than most Westerners can feel comfortable with. Not that time could not go back thousands and forward thousands of years, but that what looks like a straight line could, just beyond our vision, curve subtly and curl back around like a great serpent with its tail in its mouth. To get past the myth and look up at the Milky Way Galaxy and see what was studied for thousands of years, perhaps to understand an event so cosmic that their ancestors could not explain, takes an enormous leap of the imagination.

I am not certain that my mind can make this leap, but part of me can stay open to the idea. Watching the effect of solar wind and cosmic dust that always has and always will touch us unseen. Trying to understand what might motivate a civilization to adopt such beliefs and evolve such elaborate mythologies, completely outside of my own, interests me. My curiosity is piqued. I can picture myself back in the jungles of the Mayans, that canopy of stars whirling overhead. I can almost hear the high priest explaining the Serpents turning and how, when the complete cuircuit is made, the planets will align, The Long Count will "click" like a giant clock, be completed, like a giant bell at midnight striking, and the cycle will turn completely over to begin once again.

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