John Major Jenkins
Today is 1 Monkey 15 Flaying
7 Wind provides a format for teaching about the workings of the Mesoamerican Sacred Calendar. Because the ancient calendar tradition is still alive in the highlands of Guatemala, the details related here correspond with the practices of the present day Quiché Maya. As such, this booklet is an educational calendar. It serves as a focus for sharing the many related aspects of the Quiché world, and offers the chance to track the sacred count of days, in solidarity with the Quiché Maya.
The Quiché Maya
Two large groups of Mayan people survive, one in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and one in the cool, tropical mountains of Western Guatemala. Which of these offers the clearest survival of the ancient calendar tradition? Without doubt, the highlands of Guatemala, due to their remoteness, have preserved the ancient traditions in their purest form. The calendar tradition in the Yucatan has suffered many adjustments and alterations since the conquest and, although the traditions there provide other valuable ethnographic material, any field work data from the Yucatan must take into account the post-conquest distortions. So the search unmistakably points to the Quiché Maya. A brief introduction to Quiché history and culture will help put into context the specific calendar practices discussed in the remaining sections of 7 Wind.
The present-day Quiché Maya are the descendants of a once wealthy pre-hispanic kingdom. The Quiché forefathers came from an ancient homeland called Tulan Zuyua. This was an area along the gulf coast in the Mexican state of Tabasco. Toltec dynasties arose there after the fall of Tula in central Mexico, when migrations to the Yucatan cities of Chichen Itza and Uxmal took place around the year 1000 A.D. Strategically situated on established migration and trade routes between the old Toltec cities of Central Mexico and the Classic Maya cities of the Yucatan, Tulan Zuyua was also near the mouth of the Usamacinta river, which leads inland through Chiapas and into the highlands of Guatemala. Quiché documents relate that 13 separate groups of Toltec priest-warriors migrated to the highlands around the year 1200 A.D. The Quiché people arose and eventually grew to dominate the other Mayan groups of the area - the Cakchiquel, Ixil, Mam, and the Tzutuhil. Quiché civilization reached its apex just before the conquest, circa 1450, but ultimately fell to the conquistador Pedro Alvarado in 1524. During the conquest, the Cakchiquel leaders Nine Dog and Three Deer were executed and the Tzutuhil chief Tecun Uman is said to have been killed in a hand to hand duel with Alvarado on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The last Quiché capital was at K'umarcaaj, near Santa Cruz del Quiché. The ruins are now known as Utatlan, and are still the focus of shrine ceremonies and rituals.
People who speak Quiché (numbering close to 1,000,000) and share Quiché traditions are located in various towns throughout the highlands. Some of these towns are: Momostenango, Santa Cruz del Quiché, Totonicapan, El Palmar, and Chichicastenango. The neighboring Tzutuhiles populate the shores of Lake Atitlan, while the Ixil Maya share areas of the highlands with the Quiché in towns such as Nebaj, Todos Santos and Huehuetenango. Momostenango will be of particular interest to us, because that area seems to have enjoyed a certain autonomy over the centuries, as well as a seeming immunity from ongoing attempts to destroy native culture. The major reason for this goes back to the conquest, when Quiché patrilineage leaders were given priviledged positions in the local Momostecan community. Since then, a continuous experiment of shared government between the Quiché and the Spaniards has taken place, along with a blending of Christian and Indigenous symbology, enabling the essential ancient traditions to survive. This is not to say that the process has been without oppression and revolt. Indeed, periodic "development programs" by Catholic catequistas and, more recently, the Evangelicals have threatened the continuity of the calendar traditions. But for various reasons Momostenango has survived the worst, even emerging from the genocidal government tactics of the 1980's relatively unscathed. As a result of this autonomy, and setting it apart from the many other Mayan towns in the highlands, Momostenango retains a complex practice of visiting local earth-shrines on specific days in the sacred count. These practices have been recorded in the excellent book Time and the Highland Maya, by Barbara Tedlock. Provided with this valuable information, we can explore the meaning of Mayan time and earth-worship. What a wonderful place Momostenango must be - where calendar-priests of all kinds, from different towns even, climb the sacred mountains to burn copal and pray to Day-Gods, the Year-Bearer, and to Nantat, the ancestors. It seems that the entire geography surrounding Momostenango has been made sacred, by regular ceremonies at family, community, and regional earth-shrines. Indeed, Momostenango is a Nahuatl term meaning "place of the shrines." It is also the place where the most famous indigenous festival timed by the tzolkin calendar is held: the 8 Monkey festival.
So it seems that the Quiché people can be traced back to the Toltecs - the builders of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. And along the way other influences were absorbed, those of the Yucatec Maya and the Nahuatl, many of whom came from Tlaxcala with Pedro Alvarado. And even before the conquest, trade routes were well established with the major parts of Mesoamerica. Going back further in time, who were the people that the migrating Toltec warriors encountered in the highlands, with whom blood alliances were inevitably established? Perhaps they were descendants of the Olmecs, who are known to have had towns in Guatemala - giant Olmec heads can still be found in the central park of El Baul on the pacific slopes. Some of this we can only speculate about, but one thing is for certain: The ancient tzolkin count has survived in the mountains of Guatemala.
The importance of this cannot be understated. Contrary to what many think, the Maya have not been conquered. In remote villages in the mountains of Guatemala, their culture lives on, though forever changed by the European invasion. Amazingly, and as a testimony to its universal appeal, the Sacred Calendar has survived for some 3000 years. The passage of days has been followed unbroken all that time, from before the Buddha, through all of Western History and on down to the present. The Maya have admittedly undergone many changes migrations, invasions and wars have come and gone in the vast expanse of time since the Sacred Count first emerged. And now we find ourselves nearing the end of a Great Cycle of time as conceived by the ancient Maya. Perhaps it is time that we sat down to counsel with the Quiché Maya "the last holders of the torch."
When we study the Sacred Calendar presented within, we soon discover that it is an incredible mind-boggling method of tracking time. The Maya combined a year cycle of 365 days with a sacred cycle of 260 days. The year cycle was called a haab, and the sacred cycle was called the tzolkin. The term tzolkin is derived from the Quiché phrase Ch'ol Q'ij - count of days. The tzolkin and haab synchronize every 52 haab (just under 52 years). This large period of time was called the Calendar Round. The framework of days created by combining the tzolkin and haab serves many purposes, and this is why it is incredible. The problem with our calendar, the Gregorian calendar, is that it is only used to track time! The Mayan tzolkin/haab system was used to track astronomical cycles, as well as agricultural and human cycles. Because of this, it provides a model in which human life is mirrored by the celestial cycles of Moon, Venus, Mars and certain stars. As they say in the Far East, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. This principle became a distinguishing feature of the philosophies of the Far East, as well as in the religions of Native America. Throughout the various aspects of Quiché culture, we find this unifying principle in operation. It indicates an attitude of "learning from nature," which in turn leads to an understanding of human nature. And what is it to be human? The skywatchers of ancient Central America may have asked themselves that same question many times. And it is difficult to reconcile this paradox, however true it rings: that we come from stars and spring from the earth, and the greatest gifts of life are simply a mystery.
As mentioned, the tzolkin/haab encodes an expanded, more comprehensive conception of time, one in which astronomical, agricultural, meteorological, cultural and human cycles are all interrelated. In following the Sacred Count of Days along with the Quiché Maya, we may begin to understand more deeply their profound conception of the earth as a living, spiritual being.
The many interlocking cycles of Mayan time suggest the inner meaning of the Mayan world view. A good analogy for the Mayan cosmo-conception, encoded in their calendric number philosophy, is the jungle. The jungle is a place of incredible variety, a multitude of organic forms competing for sunlight, yet all participating in a dynamic and delicately balanced drama of life and death. Likewise, the component cycles of the Mayan calendar combine in varying degrees of harmony and dissonance.
The "key constant" of the Mayan time system is the 260-day cycle, which corresponds to the 9-moon cycle of human gestation. The world-view thus springing from the tzolkin "key" is profoundly organic. Strangely, its uses in predicting astronomical cycles are just as profound. And this is the heart of the mystery of the tzolkin. It provides a calendric framework which describes the cycles in the microcosm of nature as well as the cycles of the macrocosm. As such, it provides a metaphysical model for understanding the interface of subjective and objective reality. In light of our present environmental crisis, which springs from an incomplete understanding of the relationship of mind to nature, the Mayan sacred calendar offers a much needed new paradigm. (Actually, it is only "new" to us.) When we look at all of its multiple meanings, we discover that it is much more than a calendar.
One may think that because the haab uses a 365-day approximation of the solar year, without any leap-years, that the Mayan calendar is less accurate and therefore inferior to our Gregorian system. It is a mistake to think of the sacred calendar in this way. As just explored, the framework of days provided by the tzolkin/haab is a mytho-computer more comprehensive in its scope than our Gregorian. In addition, the ancient Maya were quite aware of the true solar year of 365.2422 days. This is evident for two reasons. First, they knew that 1507 true solar years was equal to 1508 haab. Second, with their Long Count calendar they could calculate solstice and equinox positions for many thousands of years into the future. This explains how they could have placed the end date of the Long Count Great Cycle exactly on the winter solstice of 2012 A.D. This is truly phenomenal considering that the Long Count was conceived around 300 B.C.!
The Maya chose to retain the "no leap-year" tzolkin/haab framework because they recognized and used its phenomenal multidimensional implications. One of these was that it structures the cycle of Venus. Early on in the development of Mayan culture, the skywatchers discovered that a period of 2 Calendar Rounds delineates when the Venus cycle synchronizes with the tzolkin/haab. This 2 Calendar Round period is called a Venus Round. The beginning of the Venus cycle was figured to be when it emerges as morningstar. This occurs about every 584 days. This 584-day cycle meshes with the 260-day tzolkin in such a way that Venus always emerges on 5 possible day-signs. Mythologies developed around these five day-signs. One of the day-signs was the most significant, because it indicated the Venus morningstar appearance which synchronized all three cycles of tzolkin, haab and Venus, to begin a new Venus Round period. This day was 1 Ahau, the Sacred Day of Venus.
But the present day Maya no longer follow the Venus Calendar, and only vaguely recognize the Calendar Round period. Yet the Mayan Venus Round calendar was very important to the pre-conquest Maya. If we choose to, we can resurrect it, adjust for accumulated discrepencies, and begin following it again in honor of the ancient Maya. And, in accordance with what we already suspect about Mayan calendars, it is more than simply a predictive calendar; mythologies are interwoven with the movements of Venus. The ancient Popol Vuh of the Quiché Maya relates the adventures of the Hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque as they battle with the Lords of Xibalba. Their adventures are actually metaphors for the movement of Venus through 5 cycles. And the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl journeys through the underworld and ultimately ascends to become the morningstar Venus.
In my recent book Tzolkin, I have shown that the Venus Calendar system of the ancient Maya still works. I also demonstrate how it is that the next Sacred Day of Venus occurs on the Venus rising of April 3rd, 2001 - which is 1 Ahau. At any rate, we will limit this introduction to the tzolkin/haab calendar, which the surviving Maya of Guatemala still follow. Everything related to the Venus Calendar can, without alteration, fall into the tzolkin/haab framework. We'll discuss this a bit more in the "Implications" chapter.
Tzolkin: 13 and 20
The 260-day tzolkin arises from 20 day-signs combined with a number from 1 to 13. The progression of days and numbers is different than our system of months and numbers. In our year system, July 3rd is followed by July 4th, July 5th and so on. In the tzolkin, 1 Tooth is followed by 2 Staff, 3 Jaguar, 4 Eagle and so on. In other words, the numbers and day-signs both click off simultaneously.
Twenty is a key number in Mayan mathematics. It is based on the 10 fingers and 10 toes. The twenty day-signs are glyphic representations of important themes in Mayan life. As a whole, the meanings behind the 20 day-signs suggest a journey of unfolding from first to last. To give each day-sign a one word translation is somewhat misleading. When a daykeeper casts a reading for a client, he or she intends to answer questions or resolve a crisis by using the tzolkin as an oracle. In such a practice, the multiple interpretations of the day-signs are considered in determining the reading. The expanded meanings are derived through linguistic associations - through word puns and rhymes. So the one-word translations that follow are only sketches of the full meanings of the day-signs, as understood by the Quiché:
Alternative meanings: Earth - Alligator; House - Night; Rain - Water; Tooth
- Road; Staff - Caneplant; Quake - Thought; Knife - Flint; Birth - Lord.
These are similar to the Classic Maya meanings. Strangely, the geomantic journey implied from this sequence ends with the day-sign Ahau, which I have translated as birth. The reason for supposing that Ahau can be equated with birth is because 1 Ahau, as the Sacred Day of Venus, designates the conjunction of the three cycles of Venus, haab and tzolkin, and the beginning of a new Venus Round period of 104 haab. Needless to say, beginnings are related to birth. The image gains graphic support when we realize that Venus emerges as morningstar on this date, being visibly "shot forth" or "born" from the morning sun. Also, the Yucatec Maya translation of Ahau is "marksman" or "blowgunner." That the 20-day sequence ends with Birth refers to the Mayan concept of time as not only cyclic, but as leading to something new. Mayan time encodes an unfolding type of cycle, a spiral growth of human and cosmic proportions - something beyond the scope of circular "clock" time.
The 13 numbers have at least two meanings in Quiché thought. As Barbara Tedlock points out in her wonderful book Time and the Highland Maya, the Quiché Maya recognize 13 phases of the moon from new to full. At first thought this may seem questionable, but anyone watching the waxing of the moon will discover that this is quite accurate. The lunar month equals 29.6 days. The moon is not visible at new moon, as it is too close to the sun to be observed after sunset. On the second day it is usually visible as a sliver in the west right around sunset. Counting forward, the moon increases in phase for 13 days. Each day represents a distinct phase during the moon's growth to fullness. By day 13, for all apparent purposes, it is full - the moon actually appears to be full for 2 to 3 days. In this way 13 symbolizes the growth of the moon from new to full. Furthermore, the phases actually indicate the three-way relationship between the earth, sun and moon, something that is not immediately apparent. In a similar way, the 365-day "solar" cycle is in fact the "earth" cycle of the earth around the sun. If we think through the apparently obvious from different perspectives, the paradoxical secrets of nature are revealed.
The Quiché Maya of Momostenango retain another interpretation of the meaning of the 13 numbers. The geography around Momostenango is mountainous, and there are many shrines for miles around which need to be visited on specific tzolkin days. The sites closer to town, the ones at a lower elevation, are visited on tzolkin days with a lower number (for example: 3 Quake). Shrines on the high distant mountains are visited on days with a high number, for example: 11 Wind or 13 Staff. So the 13 numbers also represent verticality in Quiché thought.
Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding the tzolkin count is its origins. Why 260? Some say that the 260 day-cycle arose to structure planting and harvesting dates. It does happen to correspond with the time between planting and harvesting of certain types of corn in highland Guatemala. Yet it is generally thought that the Sacred Calendar originated among the lowland Olmec, sometime around 700 B.C. The earliest tzolkin date known was found at an Olmec site and corresponds with 679 B.C. Another explanation is that the 260-day cycle is derived from early attempts to track the movements of Venus and the sun. One explanation given among contemporary Quiché daykeepers is that it corresponds to the 260-day period of human gestation. This equals approximately nine months, and is therefore one reason for calling the tzolkin a "lunar" calendar. The origins of the sacred calendar are ultimately shrouded in mystery. In my studies I have been mainly concerned with searching for the essence of its incredible qualities. Above all, the tzolkin has many different uses, or what I call "multiple meanings." This very fact may be why the number 260 was considered to be sacred.
The Gregorian Calendar
Just to clarify, the calendar system which is now used virtually around the globe is called the Gregorian calendar. It is a highly accurate calendar, a perfection of the Julian Calendar, and came into use in the year 1582. It utilizes a leap year every four years. And to adjust for a further discrepency, it ignores leap years if the year is divisible by 100 but not by 400. Thus the years 1600 and 2000 are leap years, but 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2100 are not.
The haab (pronounced "hob") is the yearly cycle of 365 days, and the term means "cycle of rains." It consists of 18 months of 20 days each, with a 5 day extra month at the end. The Mayan word for these 20-day months is uinal. The haab count proceeds like our own month and days. For example: 3 Bird Days is followed by 4 Bird Days, 5 Bird Days and so on. Unlike the Classic Period Maya, who started their months with 0, the Quiché count month-days from 1 to 20. The Quiché still use the haab count, though it doesn't seem to have as much importance as the tzolkin count. It just may be that the intervention of the Gregorian calendar replaced the haab as a useful "civil" calendar. The difference is that the haab doesn't recognize leap years, and therefore preserves a repeating count of 365 days. This is important so that its mythological relationship to the tzolkin stays consistent. Also, the New Years Day of the haab is not January 1st. The New Years Day celebrated by the Quiché presently falls on Feb 26th. Many ceremonies occur in preparation for this event. Because the haab does not count leap-years, New Years Day falls back one day every four years. The eighteen months are named as follows:
Translation: / Quiché Term:
1) First Lord / Nabe Mam
2) Second Lord / U Cab Mam
3) Soft Earth / Liquin Ca
4) Second Soft Earth / U Cab Liquin Ca
5) First Moss / Nabe Pach
6) Second Moss / U Cab Pach
7) Tender Shoots / Tz'izil Lacam
8) Bird Days / Tz'iquin Q'ih
9) Red Clouds / Cakam
10) Jaguar / Balam
11) First Flower / Nabe Zih
12) Second Flower / U Cab Zih
13) Third Flower / R Ox Zih
14) Trees / Chee
15) Flaying / Tequexepual
16) Painted Mat / Tz'iba Pop
17) Fire / Kak
18) Arrow / Ch'ab
The 19th month of 5 days is called "Extra Days". This is a time when people
stay at home, abstain from sex and eat little. They are preparing for the entering
of the next year bearer. The month names may not be explicitely recollected
at the beginning of each uinal. Nevertheless, the first day of each uinal is
celebrated as an echo of the year bearer.
Each year is named according to the tzolkin day which falls on New Years Day. The 260-day and 365-day cycle mesh in such a way that the first day of the haab (New Years Day) can fall on 4 possible day-signs. This is because 20 goes into 365 days eighteen times with 5 left over. Thus, every year the day-sign falling on New Years Day increases by five. Five goes into twenty 4 times, and so there are four possible year bearers. The year bearers represent the 4 directions, and correspond with the 4 sacred mountains around Momostenango. The 5 days of the "Extra Days" month leading up to the entering of the new year bearer are filled with anxious expectation, councils and talk of the qualities of the coming year bearer. The 4 year bearers of the Quiché Maya are: Wind, Deer, Tooth, and Quake. The numbers associated with each year bearer increase by one every year (13 goes into 365 twenty-eight times with 1 left over). In this way, the year which begins on Feb. 26th, 1993 is 7 Wind. Wind is known as a very bravo year bearer, bringing violent rainstorms or else windstorms without rain. On 1, 6 and 8 Wind days during a Wind year, daykeepers ask that lightning, earthquakes and floods do not destroy their homes. They also ask that negative emotions do not attack themselves, their family, or their clients. The following year, beginning on Feb 26th, 1994 is called 8 Deer. 8 Deer is a special day for the Quiché, and it will be interesting to learn whether the entering of this year bearer in '94 will entail any special ceremonies.
The Year Bearer is also the Month Bearer
The eighteen haab months each have 20 days. Because of this, each haab month necessarily begins on the year bearer day-sign. The number, however, will change from month to month. So the year bearer also is the haab month bearer, and the year bearer is honored on these days - the first day of each haab month. The twenty-day month wheels in 7 Wind all begin on Wind, and designate the 18 haab months. Because Wind is regarded as a particularly violent year-bearer, it is only observed on a few of the uinals, ones which begin with 1 Wind, 6 Wind and 8 Wind. These regular celebrations typically involve fireworks, alcohol and shrine ceremonies.
New Years Day
Why February 26th? One can only speculate on this matter. Throughout Mayan history, calendric shifts usually involved the year-bearer system used and New Years Day. It is important to note that the sacred 260-day cycle itself always remained unbroken. Perhaps when the Quiché and Ixil people migrated to the highlands of Guatemala around the year 1200 A.D., they implemented a shift to coordinate New Years Day with the fall equinox. Since then, New Years Day has fallen back over 200 days, so that in 1993 it occurs on February 26th. Or perhaps they made a change to coordinate New Years Day with a Venus rising - to synchronize the Calendar Round beginning with the Venus Round beginning. At any rate, the Quiché New Years Day no doubt originated from the Classic Maya New Years Day (300 A.D. - 900 A.D.), which, although no longer followed by any Mayan group, occurs 40 days after the Quiché New Year's. It won't be until the year 2217 that the Quiché New Year's corresponds with January 1st.
The Little New Year
Now, let's remember that the tzolkin cycle has 260 days. Because of this, the year bearer which entered in February will return in November! For example, 7 Wind enters as the year bearer on Feb 26th, 1993. This is the first day of the first haab month, First Lord. The first day of the second haab month (Second Lord) falls on 1 Wind, and the next on 8 Wind, 2 Wind, 9 Wind, and so on. After 13 haab months are passed through, 7 Wind returns to initiate the 14th haab month (Trees) on November 13th. This is recognized by the Quiché as a "little New Year."
The Four Sacred Mountains
The four year bearers are said to "enter" on four of the many sacred mountains which surround Momostenango. Each year bearer corresponds with a specific mountain and direction, as follows:
Mountain: Direction: Year-Bearer: Socop West Wind Quilaja East Deer Tamancu South Tooth Joyan Southwest Quake
There are two additional day-signs known as "secretaries" which help the year bearers enter. Eagle enters on the sacred mountain of the north, Pipil, and Lizard enters on Joyan. But there's no need to unnecessarily complicate the picture. Suffice it to say that the Quiché went to great pains to create a rich field of mythological symbols. Wind will enter on the sacred mountain of west, Socop, on February 26th, 1993. The 5 days leading up to the entering of this year bearer are the 5 "unlucky" days, as the 6 Quake year leaves. Activity is curtailed, people stay at home and eat little. They especially abstain from sex and green vegetables. On the day before the year bearer enters, what we would call New Years Eve, the daykeepers prepare for the impending celebration with prayers to the earth-god Mundo and the new year bearer, which is called by the Ixil Maya the mam. And the culture at large prepares for festivities and fireworks, usually beginning at midnight. But even after sunset on New Years Eve, it is recognized that the old year bearer has now left, and the new year bearer begins to stir. Exactly at what point the day-sign's influence begins is a matter of contention, even among the daykeepers themselves. Some say it begins at sunrise, while others insist it begins at midnight. An argument could be made for the first stirrings of a day-sign at sunset of the previous day, or even after the sun passes its zenith on the previous day. And yet a day is generally considered over when the sun sets (the word Q'ij means both day and sun). At any rate, the modern Quiché seem to time at least some of their celebrations as the clock strikes 12, so to speak.
The Calendar Round
The combination of tzolkin and haab create a large cycle of 52 haab, known as a Calendar Round. It equals just 13 days less than 52 solar years. It consists of 18,980 days, or 73 tzolkin cycles and 52 haab cycles. The math:
73 x 260 = 52 x 365 = 18,980 days.
The question of when this period begins depends upon which year bearer is considered to be the "senior" year bearer. When the number 1 rolls around to join with the senior year bearer, Calendar Round celebrations took place. Unfortunately, the present day Quiché have little interest in this large cycle, although they still vaguely acknowledge it. We can reconstruct the Quiché Calendar Round based upon the fact that Deer is the senior year bearer of the Quiché (as well as for the Ixil Maya). A list of year bearers will help us locate when 1 Deer occurs as the year bearer:
1993: 7 Wind
1994: 8 Deer
1995: 9 Tooth
1996: 10 Quake
1997: 11 Wind
1998: 12 Deer
1999: 13 Tooth
2000: 1 Quake
2001: 2 Wind
2002: 3 Deer
2003: 4 Tooth
2004: 5 Quake
2005: 6 Wind
2006: 7 Deer
2007: 8 Tooth
2008: 9 Quake
2009: 10 Wind
2010: 11 Deer
2011: 12 Tooth
2012: 13 Quake
2013: 1 Wind
2014: 2 Deer
2015: 3 Tooth
2016: 4 Quake
2017: 5 Wind
2018: 6 Deer
2019: 7 Tooth
2020: 8 Quake
2021: 9 Wind
2022: 10 Deer
2023: 11 Tooth
2024: 12 Quake
2025: 13 Wind
2026: 1 Deer
The next Quiché Calendar Round begins on February 18th in the year 2026. This
means that the present Calendar Round began on March 3rd, 1974. The Calendar
Round cycle is useful when we begin to explore the larger planetary and eclipse
cycles, and how the tzolkin/haab was originally intended to structure them.
For instance, the ancient Venus Round calendar is comprised of 2 consecutive
Calendar Rounds. Twenty of these Venus Rounds equal thirteen conjunctions of
Uranus and Neptune (there's that 20:13). Another example: The astronomical eclipse
half-year is 173.3 days. This period of time indicates the interval between
when eclipses can be expected to occur. It just so happens that three of these
eclipse half-years equal two tzolkins: 173.3 x 3 = 260 x 2 = 520 days. This
is an aspect of the calendar that one rediscovers in ones studies, although
it is not directly applicable to the present day Quiché Maya.
The 8 Monkey Festival
Many tzolkin days have special meaning to the Quiché. The most famous festival timed by the tzolkin calendar falls on 8 Batz. Travellers who happen to be in Momostenango on 8 Batz are surprised to see daykeepers and visitors from many other Quiché towns flooding into Momostenango. What is the meaning behind this special day? 8 Batz means 8 Monkey. This is the tzolkin day on which prospective new daykeepers are initiated at specific earth-shrines near town. The event is actually the culmination of months of preparation, in which the novice and his or her teacher practice counting the sacred days, and make offerings at local shrines. The teacher-daykeeper also begins to model for the novice, to demonstrate how to cast readings with tz'ite beans according to the sacred count of days. The preparatory "permission" days, leading to 8 Batz, are observed as follows:
New Daykeeper Permission Days:
Washing for the mixing point:
1 Deer, 1 Birth, 8 Deer, 1 Staff, 8 Birth, 1 Death, 8 Staff, 1 Storm, 8 Death, 1 Road.
Washing for the work service:
1 Storm, 1 Road, 8 Storm, 1 Serpent, 8 Road, 1 Knife, 8 Serpent, 1 Monkey, 8 Knife, 1 Lizard.
Notice that 1 Storm and 1 Road are shared by both services.
During the 7 Wind year, 8 Batz occurs on September 23rd. So the series of permission
days just related occur between May 22nd (1 Deer) and September 16th (1 Lizard).
Yet this is not all. There are four levels of daykeepers among the Quiché people.
First there are the common apprentices, whom we have been discussing and who
for all practical purposes are in training. There are upwards of 10,000 of these
common daykeepers among the Maya. Next, there are perhaps 300 "patrilineage"
priest-shamans, who speak and do readings for their own extended family or lineage.
At the third level, there are the "canton" priest-shamans. They represent the
14 or so civil districts around Momostenango. Finally, two or three mother-fathers
at the highest level are respected daykeepers, well versed in local myth and
calendar lore. These highest calendar-priests are experienced elders, male or
female, and speak for the entire region. The amazing thing I am getting at is
that initiation events for each of these levels are timed alongside the permission
days related above. A three-tiered hierarchy is demonstrated; and each level
is not mutually exclusive, but intricately interwoven. For example, the permission
days related above pertain to the novice level. It consists of two separate
phases, which also interlap. 1 Deer through 1 Road are called "washing for the
mixing point." And 1 Storm through 1 Lizard are called "Washing for the work
service." And 8 Batz occurs 7 days after the last of these days, 1 Lizard. The
day before 8 Batz and the day after are also considered part of the ceremony.
So these are the permission days of the novice daykeeper, consisting of two
different types of shrine ritual, and the two interlap. To complicate the matter,
the second and third levels of calendar-priests, serving lineage and canton,
observe a series of shrine rituals alongside this framework. Some of the days
are shared by both tiers, while some are observed by only the novice daykeepers
and others are observed by only the lineage and canton keepers.
Two different types of service are also observed by this second tier, called "Backpack" and "Washing the shrine." Both tiers culminate around the 8 Batz festival. The fourth level of calendar-priests fill the third tier in the shrine-rite hierarchy. They are the 2 or 3 mother-fathers, and have been through all of this already many times. The initiation rites into this highest level of calendar practice take place right after 8 Batz, on the sacred tzolkin days 9 Road, 10 Staff, and 11 Jaguar. The following chart sums up this multi-leveled initiation which culminates on the 8 Batz festival: Chart showing multi-leveled daykeeper service days, culminating in the famous 8 Monkey festival:
This inclusive system, forming the infrastructure of local government, is a highly sophisticated form of social organization. It serves the religious as well as the civil needs of the local people, and is termed a "civil-religious hierarchy." And it should be remembered that this hierarchy is not one of mutual exclusion (the type we in the West may be most familar with), but of mutual understanding supported by an interwoven and shared worship, many times even at the same outdoor earth shrine. So this practice really gives us a picture of the progressive and complex social systems of the Quiché Maya, which honor the many different levels of reality. Furthermore, it is inherent in the Quiché world-view that these different facets of life are not seen as irreconcilable, but as sharing the same space, as adaptable and flexible symbols which, if altered, do not threaten the underlying foundation of worship.
High level Quiché daykeepers climb to the mountain shrine Nima Sabal on a series of tzolkin days to track the moon against the background of stars. This skywatching period occurs twice during a tzolkin cycle and each period extends over 82. The first runs between 9 Deer and 13 Rain and the second runs between 9 Monkey and 13 Staff. Again, this separate service runs concurrent with the other shrine visits just discussed. During the 7 Wind year, it takes place between July 21st (9 Deer) and October 11th (13 Rain), and between November 2nd (9 Monkey) and January 23rd 1994 (13 Staff). Barbara Tedlock points out that 82 days equals 3 sidereal lunar months of 27.3 days each. This has to do with the position of the moon against the background of stars, and is apparently used by the Quiché daykeepers to adjust their trackings for slight discrepencies. On the first day of their 82-day service, they climb to the top of the sacred mountain Nima Sabal. During the night they may, as an example, observe a 4-day old moon just to the left of the Pleiades. They return in intervals of 13 or 4 days and finally, after 3 sidereal lunar cycles (82 days) the moon will again be near the Pleiades. Since the phase-cycle month (the synodic month) is slightly longer than the sidereal month, the phase will be slightly different. Needless to say, the ancient Maya penchant for stargazing is still alive among their descendants in Guatemala.
Another important festival timed by the tzolkin occurs on 8 Deer. In many towns this gathering approaches the 8 Batz festival in attendence and popularity. It is interesting to note that 8 Deer occurs at the midpoint of the "permission days" period between 1 Rain and 1 Lizard. In the "service day" table given above, we can see that three services are observed on 8 Deer; 8 Deer occurs 7 days after 1 Ahau and 13 days after 1 Deer, the ancient Calendar Round beginning date. Also, the year bearer in 1994 is 8 Deer - it will be interesting to observe how the traditional 8 Deer festival is coordinated with 8 Deer as the year bearer. Three Deer was the name of a famous Cakchiquel Lord, who was killed during the conquest.
Your Guide: Using the Uinal Wheels
Let me explain how to use the circular month calendars provided here for the 7 wind year. It is very simple to learn to track the tzolkin/haab calendar, yet the understanding of its profound meaning grows with continued use. Each 20-day wheel represents a 20-day haab month. The term for "month" in Yucatec Maya is "uinal" (wee-noll), thus I call these circular month charts "Uinal Wheels."
The Quiché year 7 Wind begins on February 26th, 1993.
Because the year bearer for '93 is 7 Wind, each haab month begins at the top
on the day Wind. The period of time covered in our Gregorian Calendar is given
near each uinal wheel. Space is allotted for notes and observations. The tzolkin
number is given below the day-sign glyph by way of the "dot and bar" system
of the ancient Maya. This combination of dot, bar and glyph is how tzolkin dates
are recorded in the archeological inscriptions one finds among the many ruins
of Guatemala. The concept is simple: a bar equals 5 and a dot equals one. For
example, 7, 11, and 2 are written:
All 13 numbers are represented in this way. Counting clockwise from Wind, we can track the sequence of sacred tzolkin dates as they correspond with our Gregorian system. The ancient Maya are also credited with discovering the concept of zero independently of Old World mathematicians. It was represented with a stylized shell:
The inner wheel gives the name of the haab month represented, and the day of the haab follows below each tzolkin date. So these month wheels provide the tzolkin/haab designation for each day in the 7 Wind year, Feb. 26th 1993 to Feb 25th 1994. Using the first uinal of the 7 Wind year, which is portrayed on the front cover of this book, we find that the name of this haab month is Nabe Mam, or First Lord. It runs from Feb 26th to March 17th, and begins at the top with the year bearer, 7 Wind. Counting around the wheel we find that March 3rd occurs on 12 Deer 6 First Lord, and March 14th occurs on 10 Knife 17 First Lord. Since this booklet is to be made available on January 1st, 1993, I have included two uinal wheels for the time period just prior to the 7 Wind year. This allows the reader to begin tracking the tzolkin/haab with the last two uinals of the 6 Quake year, as of January 12th, 1993 (1 Quake 1 Fire).
A list is provided here to compare Quiché month names with the better known Yucatec Maya month names:
Quiché: / Yucatec:
First Lord Kayab / Turtle
Second Lord Cumhu / Dark
Soft Earth Pop / Mat
Second Soft Earth Uo / Frog
First Moss Zip / Stag
Second Moss Zotz / Bat
Tender Shoots Zec / Skull
Bird Days Xul / End
Red Clouds Yaxkin / Green Days
Jaguar Mol / Gather
First Flower Chen / Well
Second Flower Yax / Green
Third Flower Sac / White
Trees Ceh / Deer
Flaying Mac / Cover
Painted Mat Kankin / Yellow Days
Fire Muan / Owl
Arrow Pax / Drum
The Gregorian calendar is given a secondary place in these calendars for a reason. In a sense, the Mayan haab and the Gregorian year serve the same purpose. They both refer to the civil or secular count of days - the obvious yearly cycle of the earth around the sun. The Maya preserved a 365-day approximation of the year, even after they realized a more accurate method for tracking the true solar year. They did an amazing thing by combining the haab count with a sacred count, the tzolkin, which symbolizes the mysterious inner dimension of reality. In this way, the two aspects of human experience, the sacred and the secular, the inner realm and the outer realm, are synthesized into one comprehensive cosmo-conception. The world view which thus follows is a complete acknowledgement of spirit in matter; one in which the processes of the microcosm and macrocosm mirror each other. By comparison, the Gregorian system, though mathematically more accurate, provides only a lifeless cosmos of clockwork drudgery, an endless ticking of the minutes, hours and days. The Maya recognized that our sense of time defines the depth of experience of a culture, and then endeavored to model the fantastic nature of the multidimensional cosmos that they perceived around them. If the tzolkin/haab becomes our primary time reference, only secondarily related to the Gregorian system (as a convenience), we may begin to embrace a more complete and mature attitude towards life on earth.
***Uinal Wheels example here***
A lot of the deeper implications of Mayan time philosophy have already been addressed. I would like to mention a few additional ideas, which suggest even more incredible properties. Many of these qualities relate to the sacred/secular theme spoken of elsewhere. A graphic illustration of this involves Venus.
The Venus Round Calendar
The cycles of tzolkin, haab and Venus mesh in such a way that all three synchronize every 2 Calendar Rounds. This period of 104 haab is called a Venus Round. The math:
146 x 260 = 104 x 365 = 65 x 584 = 37,960 days
Thus, the sacred/secular framework of the tzolkin and haab serve to mythologically and mathematically structure the observed cycle of Venus. And we've already discussed the relationship of the 260-day cycle to human gestation, as well as to the growing period of corn. In addition to this, Venus's visibility as morningstar approximately equals 260 days. We have here a Venus-corn-gestation partnership - a thread which ties together three different levels. Now here's the clincher - In the Quiché Popol Vuh, humans are said to be made out of corn dough! On a tree of life carving at Palenque, corn stalks bloom with human faces. One can see both sacred and secular concerns addressed in these ideas - united via the tzolkin. This multi-tiered interweaving mythology never fails to arose ones curiousity and admiration - the Maya were surely adept visionaries and myth-makers.
The entire Venus Round Calendar is based upon the fact that 8 years = 5 Venus cycles. This means that Venus traces a five-pointed star around the zodiac over a period of 8 years. The ancient Sumerians also recognized this, and the infamous pentagram probably has its roots in this profound truth. The 8:5 ratio relates to music theory and is the doorway through to the greater mystery of the Sacred Calendar. Fractal harmonics is removed from the realm of abstract theory and is recognized as an inherent ordering principle of the cosmos. In essence, many of the sacred Mayan numbers and ratios, as well as Mayan philosophy, point to the Golden Proportion as one source of the Sacred Calendar's incredible properties. The Golden Proportion is a unique ratio, explored by the ancient Greeks, and is the mathematical source for the spirals which manifest in seashells, pine cones, and other natural phenomena. It was known as PHI ( = 1.618), and was thought to represent the essential principles of fractal growth and harmonic resonance. Incredibly, the ratios 8/5 and 20/13 both approximate the Golden Proportion; PHI plays a key role in the numerical and philosophical dynamics of the tzolkin! As the mathematical center of the Sacred Calendar, it informs all levels of the Calendar's meanings - from human gestation up to planetary cycles. For more information on this, I would refer the interested reader to my recent book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies, available from Four Ahau Press.
The sacred day on which all of these cycles synchronize is 1 Ahau, which is known as the Sacred Day of Venus. This day-sign has been the subject of much myth and ceremony throughout Mayan history. The linguistic transformations are intriguing:
Ahau is pronounced "Ah-how." Hun is the Mayan word for one. Hunahpu is one of the hero twins in the Popol Vuh, who at the end of the story becomes the sun. The meanings of the day-sign Ahau are many: Lord, Sun, Flower, Marksman or Blowgunner. Hunab K'u, ultimately derived from One Ahau, is the highest Mayan God. As source and creatrix, this god/goddess above dualities is said to be "The One Giver of Movement and Measure." As far as beginnings go, Hunab K'u refers to a larger perspective than One Ahau, perhaps even to the Galactic Center - our cosmic origins. But even One Ahau, as the "launching off point" for tzolkin, haab and Venus, retains a similar function as "giver of movement and measure."
As an aside, Hunab K'u is a Yucatec Maya term. The Quiché term for this same god is Hura C'an, from which is derived the english word hurricane. In the above depiction, Hunab K'u is conceived as a swirling cauldron of the cosmic dualities - and reminds us of the oriental yin-yang symbol. It symbolizes the many levels of the sacred/secular duality we have been discussing - male/female, lunar/solar, subjective/objective, mind/body, spirit/matter, and so on. And we should remember that in keeping with what we know about Mayan time, this duality is one of mutual involvement and complimentarity, not irreconcilable opposition. Furthermore, a principle of unfolding or flowering is inherent in time; movement and measure beget expansion. The cosmic conflict of yin and yang thus engender the natural processes of change and growth which surround us, and of which we are a part. And this is a critical quality of spiral time: growth. For all of its seeming abstractness, Mayan cosmology is extremely organic. In fact, Mayan philosophy may be likened to the spiral unfolding that we see in seashells, pine cones and flowers - analogies drawn from nature. And Mayan earth worhip - prayers to Tiox and Mundo - acknowledge this profound principle; that the earth is a living being, struggling through eons to bring forth the exquisite flower of spiritual awareness. So without further tracing the journey by which I say what I say, let me try to state things simply: The Sacred Calendar is a cosmological model which unites inner and outer reality and explains the earth's inherent goal of physical and spiritual unfolding.
Yet this is not the end-all. Is there ever one? Going further, here is a hint of what lies hidden beyond the veil:
Imagine a comprehensive cosmology of numbers which unites the workings of both the material and spiritual realms. Imagine it to be based upon the ancient systems of the I Ching and the Golden Proportion. Furthermore, imagine this brilliant philosophy as a revival and completion of Kepler's obsession with a "harmony of the heavens" based on the five Platonic Solids. You have just imagined the Mesoamerican Sacred Calendar.
And what does Hunab K'u have to do with all this? Well, everything. How can
I restate this progressive and ancient understanding of the cosmos which is
embedded in the Sacred Calendar...
The time sense implied in the tzolkin is rooted in natural cycles. In essence, this truth involves a seeming paradox, for what "natural" cycle does the tzolkin correspond to? Answer: the human gestation period. In turn, the tzolkin is then used as a key factor in the amazing calendar of the Maya; the organic gestation cycle is used as a calendric constant to structure the celestial cycles of the planets, sun, and stars. In other words, the cycles of humanity are linked with the cycles of the planets - not in the cause-and-effect sense - but by virtue of a more mysterious principle of correspondence. The relationship is of a type of mirroring, an unconnected and distant affinity because both realms are unfolding with the same rhythm! How? Because mind and world, spirit and matter, the objective and subjective realms, are spun off from the same moment of creation. Call it Galactic Center, the Big Bang, God - whatever. In Mayan terms, this source is none other than Hunab K'u - Giver of Movement and Measure.
Mayan time conception is more sophisticated than the one presently in vogue among the "western" cultures. It involves an approach or attitude of mutual involvement, overlapping inclusion, and adaptable pro-active problem solving, rather than "taking a stand", "sticking to our guns," or "peace through strength." The Maya enjoy a world-view free from the entrapments of dualistic thinking. And while this may sound hyperbolic or grandiose, we have only to look carefully at the shrouded traditions and ceremonies of the present day Quiché Maya. Still tenuously holding onto ageless traditions amidst continuous onslaughts from the outside "civilized" world, they may very well hold the secrets of a more mature perspective - one which may transform the world. How can we learn to perceive time and experience life in this seemingly more evolved way? Can we? I feel that we can, and learning to track the tzolkin/haab calendar is a start - a doorway to that realm beyond dualities - where humanity meets and participates with the Great Spirit . . .
Oxib Ajmac. On 4 Jaguar 18 Flaying
Calculating Your Tzolkin Birthday