Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield contest the characterisation of the week as being linked to celestial movements. Instead they note that the week is contingent upon social norms and contexts, which are distinct from the rhythms and revolutions of the planets.
The week does not have a basis in the motions of the heavens. As Michael Yong, Director of the Institute of Community Studies in London, put it: ‘The Sun has not been the only master. Humans can create their own cycles without having to rely on the ready-made ones. No other creature has demonstrated so much independence from astronomy. No other creatures has the week.’ The week probably arose from the practical need for societies to have a time unit smaller than a month but longer than a day. Communities run more smoothly when there are regular opportunities for laundry, worship and holidays. Ancient Colombia used to have a three-day week. The ancient Greeks favoured ten-day weeks while some primitive tribes today prefer a week of only four days. The seven-day week derived from the Babylonians who in turn influenced the Jews (though the former ended it with an ‘evil day’ rather than a Sabbath, when taboos were enforced to appease the gods – perhaps the origin of the restrictions on Sunday activities). Its popularity has defeated a number of attempts at change. The French tried to decimalise it after the Revolution but their ten-day week was scrapped by Napoleon. In 1929 the Soviets attempted to introduce a few-day week and in 1932 extended it to six, but by 1940 the seven-day week had returned. Just as the week ignores astronomy, so does the modern technology of timekeeping (Coveney and Highfield 1990, 43).
Coveney, Peter, and Highfield, Roger. 1990. The arrow of time: A voyage through science to solve time’s greatest mystery. London: Flamingo.
David Miller interviews Pagan teacher and author Waverly Fitzgerald, who says that natural time in her book is a reference to a time that can be touched. Conversely, artificial time is characterised as a temporality that is abstracted into homogenous, identical parts. Fitzgerald notes that the rhythms of natural time intersect with Pagan spirituality.
[Miller] You make a distinction in your book between what you call “natural time” and “artificial time.” Isn’t time really an abstraction? So how can it be natural?
- [Fitzgerald] That was my quest (in writing the book), to answer that question. What is natural about time? And the answer had to do with looking at different time intervals and noticing that some of them you can actually see, touch and smell. You can tell when it’s day and when it’s night. You can observe the moon in the sky and after a few days of observing it you can know whether it’s waxing or waning. You can know what season it is by walking outside. These are all, for me, examples of natural time. What I noticed about all of those cycles was that they were, in fact, cycles. They had, if you will, an “on” and “off” position, or a maximum and a minimum. And then they had a slow gradual progression to and from that state. That’s really different than when you look at a calendar, a schedule or a clock, where everything is completely regular and all times are presumed to be exactly the same. There are blank spaces on the calendar, and you can put the same amount of activity into each of them. There is this sort of unnatural — that’s why I call it artificial — aspect to them, which I think gets us in a lot of trouble because we think, “Oh, we can do this thing in this amount of time,” when really all of these other factors play into it that are not under our control.
You’re not suggesting we throw out our calendars and clocks, are you?
- No. There are really good reasons why those tools were developed to synchronize activities. But I think as biological beings we also need to be aware of our natural rhythms, including the need for rest. I think many people believe that when you sit down at your desk you should be working flat out at the top of your productivity for the maximum amount of time. At least that’s the ideal. But there something called the ultradian rhythm, a biological cycle where there is an arousal period, a period of waking up and becoming alert, and then a period of getting restless or bored or unfocused and then a time of rest. If you start to observe that cycle in your life, it allows you to have a more relaxed and effective approach to your daily tasks…
How and why do religion or spirituality and slow time intersect, do you think?
- Most of the major religions have a seasonal liturgy, even though it may be sort of buried. If you look at Christianity, with the Easter cycle and the Christmas birth, there is this lovely use of the seasons to tell a story, and the same is true in the Jewish religion. And, of course, the pagan religion really works with this notion of the seasons and the cycle. So there is a very deep connection between this notion of cyclical time and spirituality. And there is a message of hope that things will come around again, that we may feel despair but spring will come again. It is a pretty profound metaphor that is imbedded in our lives (Miller 2008).
Miller, David. 2008. “Pagan teacher and author of “Slow Time, Waverly Fitzgerald talks about rethinking her relationship to time.” SFGATE. January 28, 2008. https://www.sfgate .com/living/article/Pagan-teacher-and-author-of-Slow-Time-Waverly-2525444.php
Robin Parry notes that whilst the eternity of God transcends the natural temporality of the created world, natural time governs the seasons. Seasons in the Torah refer to religious and sacred festivals. In this impression, natural rhythms, including the periodic emergence of the full moon, are believed to regulate the temporalities of collective rituals.
The cultic association of the sun, moon, and stars – that they are the lamps in God’s cosmic temple – brings attention to a central focus of the author: “Let them be for signs (‘otot) and for seasons (mô’adîm), and for days and years.” The word translated here as seasons (mô’adîm) is always used in the Torah to refer to religious festivals, sacred seasons, and not merely the natural seasons of the year. The sun and the moon are given important assignments vis-à-vis Israel’s cultic festivals. It may be that the sun and moon are assigned roles over two kinds of time: sacred time (signs and festivals) and ordinary time (days and years).
With regard to natural time we may note that the stars were used to predict the seasons. They were also used to tell the time at night (when sun dials are not much help) and allowed an accurate prediction of when sunrise would happen. So they functioned somewhat akin to calendars and clocks.
With regard to sacred time we should note that ancient Israel used a lunar calendar and that its “appointed festivals” (mô’adîm) were regulated by this calendar. Thus Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Tabernacles all occur on a full moon. The “new moon” (hodes), the first day of the month, was also celebrated as a religious festival. What is fascinating about the creation of the sun, moon, and stars in Genesis 1 is that part of the reason that God made them was to regulate the rhythms of Israel’s worship – natural time and sacred time were linked (Parry 2014, 114-15).
Parry, Robin. 2014. The biblical cosmos: A pilgrim’s guide to the weird and wonderful world of the bible. Eugene: Cascade Books.