On the Draenei and timekeeping…
Though time itself is a linear dimension (in real-world physics, anyway, and if you disregard the philosophical discourse regarding how we experience time), the ways in which different peoples measure its passage varies considerably. Even people who inhabit the same planet may employ separate methods for timekeeping. On Earth, there are lunar calendars, the Gregorian Calendar, the Julian Calendar, and many others. Our system of measuring days as 24 hours long, each hour as 60 minutes long, and each minute as 60 seconds long, traces its origins to the Babylonian system – unsurprisingly, a civilization which used a base-12 numbering system rather than the standard modern base-10. There are, of course, variables. The leap-year, calculated because a full revolution of the earth around the sun actually takes 365 ¼ days, so every four years an extra day is added to account for the fraction. The fact that a synodian day/month/year is actually a measurement of the Earth beyond one rotation or revolution, because if you use the sun as a marker, the rotation of a day will be 364 degrees rather than 360.
All of this leads me to begin theorizing about how various races on Azeroth might measure time. The fact that Azeroth has not one but two moons adds an interesting dimension to the idea of a lunar calendar – are there groups of people who mark time by the phases of the White Lady, and others by the Blue Child? Night elves, due to the religious significance of the moon, may use a lunar calendar (likely based on the White Lady’s phases) rather than a solar one. Diurnal races like humans may mark the passage of growing seasons rather than the phases of the moon. Naga may measure time according to high- and low-tides, or the variance of ocean currents (which is another fascinating thing to think about, relating back to the two moons. Azerothian tidal systems must be complex).
Think beyond Azeroth, though. The eredar (before the split) likely had a method for marking the passage of time when they lived on Argus. As a long-lived race, they may have placed more significance on major life events (births, marriages, deaths) than on the revolution of the planet around its star, but it is impossible to know for sure since this is one of those minute details that isn’t addressed in lore sources. It is possible that, consider the eredar’s advanced civilization and crystal technology, they have something akin to atomic or quartz time-keeping – perhaps with a magical twist. The timed decay of arcane-charged particles? Perhaps. But this is still a society bound to a single world, a world which has a presumably regular rotation around an axis and a relatively consistent orbit around a star (or stars). A day on Argus may have some miniscule variables, but it is when Velen and his followers take to the stars that things get really interesting.
It is entirely possible that, in the early days of the exodus, the draenei continued to mark time using their familiar Argan calendar. As their distance (both physical and temporal) from Argus grew, however, new methods of timekeeping may have arisen.
It is extremely unlikely that every single world the draenei inhabited over 25,000+ years had identical size, rotational speed, and orbit. Therefore, a “year” on Argus does not necessarily equal a “year” on Draenor, Azeroth, or any of the other planets the spacefarers visited. Consider another real-world example. Mars and Earth, though relatively similar in size, have varying orbital lengths. Though they both have a roughly 24-hour day, a single year on Mars is 687 days long, almost twice as long as a year on Earth. It is not unreasonable to assume that a year on Draenor or Azeroth would be a different length.
As space-faring became more and more a part of the draenei cultural identity, new challenges to the measurement of time might have arisen. For example, how does one measure a day aboard a spacecraft? By using the arbitrary measurements of your original world, or by figuring out the ideal sleeping/waking cycles of your people and adjusting your measurements accordingly? A single (equatorial) day on Earth is based on 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, but a human adult functions best at 8-9 hours of sleep. If you take for granted that an Argan day is 24 hours long, once you remove planetary rotation from the equation, would it make more sense to measure time in the physically ideal sleeping/waking cycle of the draenei people? 12 hours awake followed by 8 hours asleep would shorten your day to 20 hours. If you utilize a rotating “watch” schedule, you might choose to have a day that consists of three 6-hour watches. 6 hours for sleeping, and 12 for activity. Or, if you wish to keep the 24-hour day, 8 hours of sleep and 16 for activity. The point I’m trying to make here is that aboard a spaceship, there is no naturally-occurring night/day cycle. Any measurement of time becomes artificial.
Considering the level of technology and the references to the eredar as an advanced civilization, I think it is likely that when the draenei are living on a planet, they use a sidereal calendar rather than a solar one. “Sidereal time, time as measured by the apparent motion about the Earth of the distant, so-called fixed, stars, as distinguished from solar time, which corresponds to the apparent motion of the Sun. The primary unit of sidereal time is the sidereal day, which is subdivided into 24 sidereal hours, 1,440 sidereal minutes, and 86,400 sidereal seconds. Astronomers rely on sidereal clocks because any given star will transit the same meridian at the same sidereal time throughout the year. The sidereal day is almost 4 minutes shorter than the mean solar day of 24 of the hours shown by ordinary timepieces” (Britannica Academic).
If you measure a day from noon to noon (from the sun’s zenith to the next zenith), you are actually measuring more than a single rotation of the planet. With sidereal timekeeping, astronomers measure rotation and orbit based on an extremely distant stellar object. When you consider the draenei and their 25,000-year exile, this method becomes both practical and poetic. Practical, because it allows for some variance in the length of a day on different planets. Poetic, because the stellar object by which they measure the position of their current world may very well be Argus (or more likely, Argus’ sun). Though we suspect that Argus itself may now be part of the Twisting Nether (or a contact point between the two planes), its sun may still be visible. It seems appropriate to me that the draenei, a people whose very name defines them as exiles, would find a way to keep Argus, or the memory of it, alive in small ways.
The measurement of years (i.e. 2017) generally begins from a significant date in history. Whatever method the eredar had for marking the passage of years, it is likely that the draenei started counting over from zero starting with the day they fled Argus ahead of the Burning Legion. The problem then becomes measuring “years” in space. Does a draenei year refer to the original length of a year on Argus? Or would they simply count the days between worlds – which again raises the question of how days are measured when you have no planetary rotation as reference. Even the idea of sidereal timekeeping requires that the person recording the time be situated on a planet with both rotation and orbit.
Draenei roleplayers have the opportunity for incredible creativity when it comes to minute cultural details. Until Warlords of Draenor, practically nothing was known about the draenei except the major events of their very early and very recent history – the flight from Argus, the genocide on Draenor, the crash-landing on Azeroth. While human, orc, and night elf cultures have significantly more detail regarding religious practices, gender roles and family structure, holidays, burial practices, etc, the draenei had little of that. It falls to the player to fill in major gaps in the lore. Warlords introduced more draenei lore than we’ve had since the Burning Crusade, but there are still many questions left unanswered.
Thanks for reading this long and convoluted headcanon/lorecrafting regarding draenei timekeeping. I welcome discussion, since that’s one of my favorite things about lore interpretation.
“Sidereal time.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 19 Sep. 2016. academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/67638. Accessed 2 Feb. 2017.