By Chelsea Rose Odhner
A Circular Orientation to Time
It was the Western New Year, so it was time to buy another wall calendar. Did I want dogs or vistas or family photos? Giving some thought to my annual purchase (which, I will say, I find useful and enjoyable in its own way) brought me up against a deficiency in my relationship to time that I’ve begun to sense more and more as the years go by. This year, though, I was compelled to do something about it. Inspired by what I learned from the PBS program Native America about the ancient custom of tracking the sun’s rising and setting throughout the year in order to orient buildings and rituals on a perfect east-west axis, I had the idea of trying to map the year in the shape of a circle as a new way of orienting myself to the passage of time.
After doing a bit of research, I came to realize that I was literally reinventing the wheel, as this is one of the earliest ways people drew calendars. It’s no coincidence that a circle has nearly the same number of degrees as there are days in a year. Circles and time go together.
There also seems to be an inherent transcendence to circles. Early geometry and its insight into the mathematical nature of circles originated with making precise circular altars for religious rituals around the globe, and sacred mandalas are an enduring cross-cultural element of spirituality today. Circles and spirit go together.
Through circles, it seems, the spiritual and earthly—the timeless and time-bound—levels of our minds can meet and can talk to each other. But how best to facilitate this conversation?
Time as a Vessel for Spiritual Truth
In the Creation story in the Bible, the fourth day gives us the sun, moon, and stars, and God says, “Let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). But later, Moses warns the children of Israel, “When you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them” (Deuteronomy 4:19).
So how much are we meant to focus on time? Is there a way to lean into it without getting so hyper-focused that we lose touch with spiritual realities? According to Swedenborg, knowledge about things of the natural world is designed to function as a vessel for spiritual ideas.
Knowledge is what opens up a line of sight to heavenly and spiritual entities. Knowledge opens a path leading from the inner self to the outer, which contains receiving vessels. . . . Heavenly things flow into these concepts as their proper vessels. (Secrets of Heaven §1458:5)
But this design is not without pitfalls. It’s possible to get so consumed with studying the natural world that we inhibit the inflow of spiritual and heavenly truth, which is why we get that warning from Moses. However, when we use this earthly knowledge to ground spiritual truth—using the sun, moon, and stars for signs and seasons, as God gave them to us—it is “good,” as God saw it to be (Genesis 1:18).
I think we’re capable of intuiting this binary through our own experience. The relentless march of time seems to breed fear and negative predictions when not faced with a higher perspective. In contrast, when our understanding of time is coupled with spiritual truth, it becomes a meaningful journey and an amazing cycle to witness and appreciate. By placing time within the context of spiritual reality, knowledge of the sun, moon, and stars can serve us on our terrestrial sojourn.
With my newfound intention to rejuvenate my connection to time, I got to work and used a bowl to trace a big circle on the largest piece of drawing paper I could find. Then I drew the solstices and equinoxes where I thought they would line up best with the cardinal directions, placing the December solstice at the top with the North. As I looked up the dates for the solstices and equinoxes, I started drawing in the new and full moon dates for 2019. Unlike the ancient North and South American tribes or the ancient Babylonians, I have access to several websites that have calculated exactly when every celestial event has happened or will happen.
Here is the result of my efforts:
Seeing the year as a circle immediately had a calming effect on my mind, while the relationship between its parts drew me in: Look at how winter is an essential part of the whole; it has its place and serves a purpose. There are three full moons in every season. And look, the first moon cycle of next year lands nearly half a cycle earlier than does this year’s first cycle. Since the solar and lunar calendars are not the same length, their overlap shifts from year to year. In this way, the passage of time becomes an endlessly variegated spiral rather than an endless flip of pages. Each year is unique.
One particular feature of 2019 is that the March equinox and the full moon land on the same day, occurring within four hours of each other, an event that happens on average only about once every forty years.
Swedenborg writes that “times are states in origin” (Heaven and Hell §168:3). The circle calendar, I’ve found, reflects several of the layers of correspondences that exist between time and its spiritual world equivalent, changes of state.
In the other life there are no compass directions, just as there are no times and seasons, but only the conditions symbolized by directions and time periods. The state of our ability to understand things resembles conditions at different times of day and seasons of the year and also in different quarters of the globe. A day goes through the stages of evening, night, morning, and midday; a year goes through those of fall, winter, spring, and summer; and conditions in the four quarters are those of the sun in the west, north, east, and south. Similar to these conditions are the states of our ability to understand. (Secrets of Heaven §1458)
When drawn in a circle, the year displays how all of these elements line up with each other. In terms of the cardinal directions and seasons of the year, the quarter of the circle from the North to the East lines up with winter, or the December solstice to the March equinox. The quarter from the East to the South lines up with spring, or the March equinox to the June solstice. The quarter from the South to the West lines up with summer, which is the June solstice to the September equinox, and the one from the West to the North lines up with fall, which is the September equinox to the December solstice. There are twelve moon cycles over the course of the year; or, counting the new and full moons together, there are twenty-four moons in total. If you further divide the circle according to a twenty-four hour day, beginning with midnight at the December solstice, then winter runs from midnight to 6 am (the depth of night), spring from 6 am to noon, summer from noon to 6 pm, and fall from 6 pm to midnight.
Relating to time in a circular rather than linear way gives a sense of wholeness and providence to the year. You can personalize it, too, with important dates or events. You could color it in as a mandala, contemplating your connection to each season. You can even come back to it throughout the year in order to anchor and orient yourself, as a mirror for your life. I’ve done two workshops on making these calendars, and participants have expressed a sense of security and tranquility about seeing the entire year in one circular space, saying that it makes them feel more balanced and complete.
Swedenborg writes that “divinity is in all time, nontemporally” (Divine Love and Wisdom§73). The circle calendar helps me emulate the Divine’s example. It serves as a means for me to ground myself in time and its corresponding phases of earthly life, while not losing my center. I can honor my soul’s true nature by participating in the design of embodiment. Through the circle, the cycles of time are given a way to communicate to us their wisdom about the timeless quality of our spiritual journey.
Chelsea Rose Odhner is the production manager and a writer for the Swedenborg & Lifeshow on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.
 Geoff Stray, The Mayan and Other Ancient Calendars (NY: Walker & Company, 2007).
 A. Seidenberg, “The Ritual Origin of the Circle and Square,” in Archive for History of Exact Sciences 25:4 (1981): 269–327.
 This is based on my vantage point as a resident of the Northern Hemisphere. For an Australian friend of mine at one of the workshops I gave on circle calendars, aligning the December solstice with the North and with winter did not carry meaning for her. So she made adjustments to her calendar in order to have it better reflect her experience.
 Many lunisolar calendars use the Metonic cycle in which a thirteenth intercalary lunar month is added to certain years over a nineteen-year cycle in order to catch up with the length of the solar year.
 The 2019 March equinox will happen on Wednesday, March 20, at 5:58 pm EDT, and the full moon will be at 9:43 pm EDT on that same day.