the al-manakh of life

By Samah Hijawi

One of the possible origins for the word almanac is in Arabic, as the first two letters, al-, etymologically point to the Arabic language. Al-mānākh means the weather, as in the environment, climate, or general phenomenon of meteorological patterns. The word is also used when talking about the general conditions in a given situation – a bit like checkin’ the weather. The invitation to contribute to the artists’ almanac took me down a rabbit-hole to discover that historically, the almanac – as a way of marking the seasons and months of the year – was always connected with astrology. This is because the observation of the cyclical movement of celestial bodies and constellations in the night sky gave clues to a more nuanced breakdown of time, which was the starting point for creating the temporal system we use today. Around the Mediterranean, calendars based on the cycles of the Moon and Sun were starting points for the construction of an annual calendar. Finally, once the complete orbit of the Sun around the Earth was determined (thanks to ancient Egyptians’ astronomical technologies), humans created the detailed system of measuring time that we use today, partitioned into the hour, day, month and full solar year cycle. In fact, the exact time of a year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 mins and 6 seconds – hence a leap year, which compensates for the difference of time, taking one day out of February every 4 years so that the number of days coincides with the exact full cycle of the Sun!

From ancient Mesopotamia, we have inherited some of the oldest objects documenting astrology in cuneiform on clay tablets. Continuing westward from there, and all the way across the globe to the Central Americas, people connected stars in the sky to map out constellations that were assigned names, and people monitored them as they rotated in the sky. From their observations, people also noticed recurring events that correlated with the appearance of a planet or star/constellation. These were given names and assigned god-like roles depending on their power and influence. As people moved across the globe, over land and sea, they exchanged knowledge and stories of Gods. Each culture gave their gods different names, and today’s version of Western astrology is based on Greek astro-mythology, which was developed from the Egyptians, who in turn developed it from the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia.

Ultimately, calendars and almanacs were a way for understanding time, seasons, and timing – which is very important in farming. Getting the time right for seeding and harvesting can help people avoid famine. Without food, there is no life. So, any forecast information of major events that could have assisted or deterred a harvest or affected business deals, people wanted to know.


Drawing: Samah Hijawi


I began reading astrology when I was fourteen, but in the eighties, it was a ridiculed form of knowledge because the rigidity of Saturn or the spirituality of Pisces could not be ‘scientifically’ proven. Today, as we are confronted with suffocating systems of power, we find ourselves in need of making space for feeling rather than (logical) thinking; or intuiting rather than measuring-tools for making sense of our individual experiences, and our presence on Earth with other kin. Astrology gives us a larger and more nuanced way of connecting.

On the personal level of a birth chart, a reading can tell you a lot about the subtle vibration of energies that come together to form the whole of you. You can think of it as the planetary family you were born with – and that you have to learn to live with! At the same time, your constellation can be thought of as a toolbox: a team of energies you can actively work with. You can cultivate a sensitivity for the subtle yet powerful vibrations of the energies of planets in your chart, and you can learn to recognise their activities as they are triggered in your life. You can slowly learn to accept yourself and actively use your skills and challenges with more fluidity. You come closer to understanding what drives your artistic work and how you support the fluctuations in between, while knowing that we all have challenges that we try to overcome.

My contribution to the almanac began with the suggestion that we start with the beginning of the zodiac calendar – in March, with Aries, the sign that symbolises spring, birth and new beginnings. It is also the time of the Persian new year of Nowruz – Happy new year, everyone! By following a different calendar, we can think of a year that begins and ends in relation to other seasonal markers, and we can ask ourselves:

What other calendars have humans created to mark time? And what is our own personal almanac that may not operate precisely as capitalism likes?