Time, Symbol, Story

Blending of different beliefs – inspiration, appropriation, exploitation, recreation?

First, a bit about Stories

I love stories. Not like. Not enjoy. Love love love them beyond all measure. A well told story, of course, even a goodly told one. Give me more, More MORE!!! I hope that’s clear. I’ve listened, read, watched any manner of performances, from various traditions, in translation, in their original language (foreign to me), and have come to appreciate them all, as much as I was able to penetrate it. After all this, there are two in which I do better: dancing and writing.

Recently, a number of Mouthpieces for the Flabby Devil made light of cultural appropriation while standing in the middle of continent-wide living example of it. This has brought the issue back to public discourse, which is great, except I don’t know how much the public debate has done to change anyone’s original opinion.

Back in the 1990s, I was touring the then Museum of Civilization, viewing Haida carvings, masks, boxes, canoes when the tour guide first introduced me to the idea of a potlach. He mentioned a previous tour where he had a Haida man in the tour, and when he saw a particular mask, it inspired him to tell a story he knew about it. The guide then explained that the story was sacred, and the storyteller had to give someone permission to retell it. This lesson stuck with me. There are stories that are mine to tell, and there are those that aren’t. I do my best not to speak for other people, other than as advocate.

I had studied literature, and by far my favourite course was 20th Century British Fiction, in particular the postmodern and metafictional elements. Postmodernism has received more criticism than praise as far as any references to it persist at all, but it was an essential step. What I found most interesting were the challenges to convention.  In Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds he has three openings (why just one?), the characters drug the author (why do they have to be true to type?), etc. BS Johnson used the physical book, scattering words around the page like scattered thoughts, cutting holes between pages as a sort of physical foreshadowing, or maybe a metaphor for quantum entanglement. Either way. It was eye opening. So many creative approaches to the simple idea of writing a story.

When I read Tomson Highway, Thomas King, Eden Robinson, and a number of other Indigenous authors, I marvelled at how people from what had been an oral culture had so mastered the novel form. My personal favourite (it changes daily) is Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King. If I could write a fraction as well as him, I’d be blessed.

At some point, I became intrigued by the Tree of Life, and found examples of it many cultures, one of which is the Jewish Kabbala, and the other described by Black Elk. I’m pretty curious by nature, so as I read and thought about symbols, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, psychology, mythology, I used the idea of time as the central binding theme. It’s what got me looking at calendars. They are a culture’s expression of their idea of time. The result is this symbol:


the Inspiration

Here are the principle elements that I combined into the symbol above.


Ensou of Zen Bhuddism

The open circle. Think of this as the shape in which we gather as groups. The opening keeps our thoughts on those unable to attend, and allows others to join, provided room is made to keep the circle open. It’s more flexible, expansive, and inclusive than the closed circle.


the Taijitu of taoism

A simple image that informs a sophisticated belief in the way to live within natural rhythms. The two elements, yin and Yang are complements, which is a quality that can not be overstated. The two represent idealized extremes such as pure light and pure darkness between which we experience the life of shadows, colours, pigments, arts, and so on.


Anishnaabeg Medicine Wheel

Cultures all across the world have symbol systems founded on the four cardinal directions (N, E, S, W), some include the centre, up, and down. It’s a foundation on which to build a better understanding of oneself, one’s relationship with family, community, and creation.


Jewish Tree of Life

A search for the Tree of Life brought this to my attention. This structure is deeply sophisticated and complex, such that I gave up after butting up against how much there was to learn. The spheres and paths incorporate a rich belief system, but also the letters of the Hebrew language. There is a further belief that there are four of these, overlapping one over the other, referred to as Jacob’s Ladder. The one symbol I took from the original was the central one. called תפארת, Tiferet (Spirituality, Balance, Integration, Beauty, Miracles, Compassion).


Circle of Days from Scientific Astronomy

The 365 days of the year, shaded to represent the change in position of the Sun in the Sky throughout the year.

Syncretic Symbol

So with the above ideas, they came together somewhere in my subconscious and came out all done. Here’s part of the process. I was pondering on the Tree of Life above, considering Tefiret as the centre, and the four overlapping Trees. How would that look if it were radial, instead of hierarchical? How would that work?


Here we depart completely from the Kabbalah and enter into exploration. If we took the central point and the structure above it, we get the image above. Now, four of those would look like:


If we take those four and overlap the central twelve circles, we get:


Add some colour for the four directions and taoist black and white:


blue = North, for the blue blue sky in Winter
green = East, for the new buds and growth in Spring
yellow = South, for the blooming flowers of Summer
red = West, for the leaves of Autumn
white = up, into the blinding light
black = down, into the impenetrable dark

What about the Days and the Open Circle?

I decided on the 13 month model for a calendar, but it revealed so many more symmetries than I could have imagined. The essential bit is that 13 months works out to 364 days with one day left over. Each month is exactly 28 days, with 1 day left over outside of any month, 2 in a leap year. 28 days works out to 4 weeks. Some proposals suggest that the one extra day not be a weekday, so that the rest of the calendar remains perpetual. However, there has been consistent protest of messing with it. So, when I refer to weeks, I mean 7-day periods of time, and not the Saturday to Friday weekdays.

364 days of the Year, divided into Quarters. Solstices top and bottom, Equinoxes left and right (not exactly, but they’re close enough for the moment). Each quarter is 91 days long, which works out to 13 weeks.


364 days of the Year, where the lines above point to the days that fall at the middle of each quarter (Feb 5, May 7, Aug 6, Nov 5). The Wheel of the Year made these same observations. It also divides the Year into four periods with interesting qualities. From Nov 5 to Feb 5, the days are noticeably darker for longer, and the rate of change in daylight slows down to imperceptible around the Solstice. Then, Feb 5 to May 7, the rate of change accelerates to a maximum through the Equinox, then it slows. May 7 to Aug 6 is the bright season, where the rate of change slows to an equivalent as the period of darkness. Aug 6 to Nov 5, the days shorten, the rate of change accelerates through the Equinox, and the on into the darkness.


This is the essence of almost every story. Along with the same pattern visible in the waxing and waning of the moon, as well as the spinning of our globe.

wheel of the year

The Syncretic Wheel of the Year

the Calendar and the Thing


So here are the 364 days of the year arranged as 13 months for the Northern Hemisphere. A couple of things. Regardless of where you live in the world, this calendar synchs us up with the Sun’s relative motion, as we experience it in our various environments. Furthermore, whichever weekday begins the year, begins every week, every month, every quarter, and both halves of that year. It creates a regular beat by which to set the rhythm of our lives.

A poster at theAbysmal suggested I put the central month in the centre, like so:


Notice anything familiar?


One Last Thing

Remember those 4 days midway through each quarter, Feb 5, May 7, Aug 6, Nov 5?


If we remove those the same way we removed Dec 21 for the New Year, it gives us 360 days.


Several calendars use 360 days, but the 5 are kept to the end of the Year.  Here we have the Solstice, and the four midquarter days that are skipped. This gives us a huge number of factors by which to divide the days. These are referred to as market weeks. There are cultures that observe market weeks of different lengths, not just the seven weekdays we’re all familiar with, and sadly our diversity of calendars is dying out along with our diversity of everything else.

This syncretic calendar can be made of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 20 day weeks, and certainly longer measures. The full possible even divisions of the 360- and the 364-day year look like this:


So here we are.