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Mayan Calendar – Timekeeper of Life

Mayan Calendar - The 20 Day Signs and Yearbearer

Mayan Calendar – The 20 Day Signs and Yearbearer

The Mayan calendar shaped ancient Mayan culture.  Mayas thought of time as divine and eternally flowing without beginning or end.  Time and space were two aspects of the same divinity.  The Underworld of watery deities and Death Lords, the Middleworld of human, plant and animal life, and the Upperworld of sky deities and Star Lords were the spaces for actions, both human and divine.  Space became the platform on which the handiwork of the gods played out.  All deities acting in a space were the changing faces of time.  Time was life and the origin of all things; therefore to study and measure time was the supreme concern of calendar priests, called Ah K’inob.  To understand and follow the cycles of time was paramount to ancient Mayan civilization.

Observatory at Chichen Itza

Observatory at Chichen Itza

The ancient Mayans discovered cycles of time and invented ways to measure them, both immense and small.  They developed calendars to track cycles of the days, moon, sun, Venus, Mars, Pleiades, Orion, and other stellar bodies.  They followed the cycles of precession of the equinoxes and movements of the Milky Way, which they called the Celestial Caiman.  These cycles with their intrinsic order ruled what happened in the universe.  Patterns in the stars were repeated on earth, and ruled the cycles of life and creation.  Making observations of stellar patterns and doing computations that predicted recurrent cycles enabled the Mayas to foresee the actions of the gods.  These time cycles were turned into formulas for ritual and worship.

Ceremonies to honor important time periods were held with mathematical rigor, and inscriptions carved to commemorate these moments when actions of the gods left their imprint on the world.  The calendar priests calculated tables for lunar and solar eclipses, Venus as morning and evening star, Mars return cycles, the Pleiades and sun at zenith, and the equinoxes and solstices.  In effect, these tables allowed the Mayas to dialogue with the gods, scheduling rituals at the ordained times because they already knew the divine sequence of the universe.  They fulfilled their contract with the gods to keep their days and honor their names.

Central Square at Mayapan - Quadripartite Pattern

Central Square at Mayapan – Quadripartite Pattern

The entire life of the Mayas was governed by time.  Their architecture, ceremonies, mythology and religion all reflected the theme of time.  The main plaza of cities had buildings oriented to the four directions to express the quadripartite universe shaped by movements of the sun and stars.  Art and symbols are replete with expressions of time, and numerous deities were Lords of Time.  The sciences of Mayan astronomy and astrology are tied to the extraordinary precision of their calendars.  They created a 13-constellation zodiac and tracked the Precession of the Equinoxes that has a 25,000 year cycle.

Ancient Maya Priest Calculating Venus Rising as Eveningstar

Ancient Maya Priest Calculating Venus Rising as Eveningstar

Time was their worldview.  Nothing could exist without time.  The Mayan calendars codified time to determine all great and small actions of every day.


Experience how the Mayans related to time in my historical novel:  The Visionary Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque.

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