Illustration of Mayan calendar

1050 Mayan calendar

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Mayan astronomy Illustration of Maya calendar

Maya calendar

The day of the Mayan creation—the beginning of the Mayan era—was 13 b'ak'tuns, 0 k'atun, 0 tun, 0 winal, 0 k'in, 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u, or 11 August 3114 BCE, we would say. A k'in is a day. A winal is 20 k'ins. A tun is 20 winals. A k'atun is 20 tun. A b'ak'tun is 20 k'atun. That was on a Monday. The Mayan week had two ways to reckon weeks. The first counted thirteen k'ins, 1 through 13. The second named twenty k'ins: Ajaw, Imix', Ik', Ak'b'al, K'an, Chikchan, Kimi, Manik', Lamat, Muluk, Ok, Chuwen, Eb', B'en, Ix, Men, K'ib', Kab'an, Etz'nab', and Kawnak. These two give us a cycle of 260 k'ins and the Tzolk'in date in the ritual calendar: 4 Ajaw was that distant Monday. The Mayan year had 18 months of 20 k'ins, plus 5 unnamed k'ins called Wayeb'. The Wayeb' was the dangerous, unlucky part of the year in which the gates of the underworld dissolved. This was the Haab' date in the civil calendar: 8 Kunk'u was the eighth day of the eighteenth month. The Mayan long count started over again on 21 December 2012.

Lords of the night

The ritual calendar had 29 groups of 9 nights, each represented by one of 9 lords of night. The lord of fire and sunlight is life after death, warmth of a fire on a cold night, a light in the darkness, something to eat during a famine. The lord of wind and the night sky is the night winds, the cold north, hurricanes, war, rulership, temptation, black obsidian reflecting the earth. The lord of the rising sun is the protector of children. He is healing, hallucinogens, visions to guide our path. The lord of maize and plenty is dried corn still on the cob, the spirit of the harvest, the fertility of the earth. The lord of the underworld is death and sacrifice of human flesh. He is the god of heroic death, normal death, and accidental death. He guarded the bones of the first gods that Quetzalcóatl stole, giving rise to all of humanity. The goddess of water in her skirt of jade is rivers, seas, and storms. She is youth, beauty, and passion. She watches over childbirth and baptism. She brought the flood to end the fourth world, but protected humanity from drowning. The goddess of purification is vice and disease, love and desire. She is steam baths and confession. She eats dirt to free us from our sins. The lord of the heart of the mountains is earthquakes, echoes, and jaguars. He is the lord of animals and dark caves. The spots on his jaguar coat are the stars in the sky. The lord of rain, hail, and lightning is earthly fertility and water, the giver of life and sustenance. He is the heron and creatures that live in water.

Counting and naming

We begin counting at the beginning of time. We give each period a name and attributes for the meanings of our lives, for all the things we depend on and all the things that threaten us. Life is manifold, death is manifold, power is manifold. The moon and the sun run circles around us and array the forces of earth.

The Maya calendar was adopted by other Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztec, Toltec, Huastec, Mixtec, Olmec, and Zapotec. My descriptions of the lords of night are modelled on Aztec mythology.

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