Thursday, February 16, 2006

the Mayan Tzolk'in Calendar

The Tzolk'in calendar system or "count of days” continues being used in modern day Central America by the indigenous descendants of the Mayan culture. Its symbolism can be traced as far back as the stone age civilizations of Central America and because it was used consistently in Mesoamerica for more than a thousand years, it has allowed scientists a higher than usual level of accurately dating archaeological finds. The preservation of numerous inscriptions in stone and paint, the study of surviving pre-conquest codices relating specific celestial cycles and written accounts from the era of Spanish conquest, as well as, modern linguistic studies of various indigenous languages and sociological accounts of ritual and divinatory practices have provided me with a background to study this system. These many fragments add up to a complex and unique world view of the Classic Maya, surviving today as the rich and detailed shamanist tradition of Central America.

The Tzolk'in itself is built up from several counting cycles that juxtapose to create an entire repeating system of 260 consecutive days. From this basic unit, the Classic Maya extrapolated further calculations and cycles, but because the system progresses against the seasonal year, it is clear adjustments were regularly made and separate calendar cycles were maintained. This progression and a lack of following any known astronomical cycles, lead earlier groups of researchers to mistakenly conclude that it is not based on solar or celestial cycles.

In fact, the Maya developed several day-counting systems and one called the Haab, is used to sync the Tzolk'in along its seasonal progression. Later Classic Maya inscriptions included Haab symbols along side Tzolk'in dates. And so, recent interpretation has conclusively linked the stories and characters of Maya legend to astronomical observations and records of heavenly phenomena and cycles, such as the Venus cycle. Unfortunately, in all my reading I've not found much evidence linking the specific Classic gods to specific day names, although there remains much scholarly speculation on the subject.

The most basic cycle followed in the Tzolk'in is a symbolic cycle of four represented by the cardinal directions and designated by four colors: red for East, white for North, black for West (sometimes depicted as blue) and Yellow for South. Legends indicate that when the sky was set up like a house at the beginning of our current world, four figures called the Bacabs set the four corners of the sky. The Bacabs, as sky gods, seem closely connected to the four Chacs or weather gods who were responsible for bringing rain. Also it is suggested that the Bacabs are youthful aspects of not only the Chacs but the Pauahtuns which seem to be older aspects of these same deities. Additionally, there seems to be a connection between these figures and the Mam or "Year Bearers" which are an aspect of how the Tzolk'in is synced with the seasonal calendar. Today modern shaman honor the four cardinal directions when setting up shrines through a ritual setting of the shrines four corners.

The core count of the Tzolk'in is a cyclical numbered count of thirteen days imposed on a cycle of twenty named days represented during the Classic period with unique hieroglyphic symbols. These symbols depict animistic forces in nature honored by modern Maya shaman but depicted in Classic times as the many gods of the Maya cosmology. Among the modern Maya, explanations for the 20-cycle and the 13-cycle relate the twenty-based system to counting fingers and toes and the thirteen-based system to phases of the moon. The entire 260 day count is said to estimate the human gestation period in the womb.

My main goal working with this system, while expanding on my understanding of Western spiritual traditions, is to understand the specific meanings ascribed to each day in order to reveal its cultural wisdom. Only a small amount of writing ascribing specific meanings to the system comes from sociologists working with indigenous peoples. Most of the information I’ve found comes from the Internet and represents more spiritual beliefs than specific scientific research. As a result there is some confusion between Maya, Aztec and other classic Mesoamerican cultures; although there is plenty of evidence in the historical record to conclude cross-fertilization between these cultures occured frequently through trade and war. Additionally, the information I've gleaned from the Internet includes other spiritual traditions such as North American or Asian cultures which are often included without specific referencing to sources making it difficult to sort out where specific ideas originate. Although these ideas are varied and span many cultures, I do not believe they are unsupported by the scientific studies of Classic Maya and Modern Maya cultures.

Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life trans. by Dennis Tedlock, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group 1996

Time and the Highland Maya by Barbara Tedlock, University of New Mexico Press 1982

Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path by David Freidel, Linda Schele and Joy Parker, HarperCollins Publishers 1995

Star Gods of the Maya by Susan Milbrath, University of Texas Press 2000

Carol McCloud

Ian Xel Lungold

Saq’ Be’, Organization for Mayan and Indigenous Spiritual Studies

Aluna Joy Yaxk'in

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Planting by the Moon

Tulips Spring 2005
For the past year I've been informally investigating the benefits of following traditional times for planting. Basically you plant annuals and above ground crops when the moon is waxing in the early part of the month and plant perennials and root crops when the moon is waning. Also there are better traditional times for planting which coincide with where the moon is in its path along the ecliptic which is divided by the twelve signs of the zodiac.

According to "Guided by the Moon: Living in Harmony with the Lunar Cycles" by J. Paungger and T. Poppe, the various signs of the zodiac delineate the various growth effects of the moon on plants in the following ways:

fruit: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
root: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
flower: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
leaf: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Anyone knowledgeable with Astrology will recognize these as coinciding with the elemental associations of fire, earth, air and water and suggest the nature of the elements are not arbitrary but are based on correspondences in nature. The more I study Astrology, the more I realize observation in nature does correspond and science is not so divorced from it, despite skeptics insisting otherwise.

As I said before, I've been informally experimenting with these concepts. Plants that I've moved during leaf, flower, or fruit periods often expend all their energy during the following growth period and are less likely to survive the winter. Only when I move them in a root period do they seem to hunker down and wait until the following growth period to bloom and put on leaf.

Also the plants moved in the leaf period tend to get really leggy, putting all their growth to leaves and stems. Planting seeds in anything other than a root period also have varying results and planting flowering plants in fruit and leaf periods don't seem to germinate. Overall, my impression is that following the cycles of the moon does seem to help maximizing my success with growing plants.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

love and knowledge in the usual direction

I'm in a much better mood since Venus stationed direct early last Friday. Although I've be working this year on making EBay sales mean something, which I might add has been more successful than last year, I'm still following my studies in astrology and the Maya calendar. I may post something comprehensive here so that you may all understand why I have this fascination.

Much of my current reading has been following the Maya calendar, aka Tzolk'in. I am amazed how much new information there is about both classic and modern Maya culture printed in just the past twenty years. Growing up I'd always heard that the majority of knowledge was lost and because so little was published in the mainstream market, I could only assume it was difficult to research unless you were a scholar. But in fact, archaeologists and sociologist have published many works directed at a public market, making great strides in piecing together the classic Maya culture from remaining codices and monumental architecture and comparing it to current culture in the region.

My own interest was rekindled by a nearly unrelated work that followed a New Age spiritual tradition. Over the past years I've regularly purchased the 13-Moon calendar, sometimes called the Dreamspell. It assigns names and numbers in the tradition of the Maya Tzolk'in, using the same symbols, but with different application and with a direct correlation to the Gregorian calendar.

In investigating the Dreamspell's roots and development as a way to understanding its spiritual message I realized its existence was almost obfuscating the original Maya system which is still followed in the Yucatan highlands. The Tzolk'in is steeped in a long tradition of astronomical observation, which hit its peak during the heights of the Classical Mayan period (200-900 CE).

On the other hand, the Dreamspell follows a metaphysical agenda, tied more to vibrational frequencies within the body, associated to Chakras and other Asian spiritual traditions that are popular in the US. This is really not so removed from a modern understanding of the Tzolk'in, because the modern Maya explain the system’s unique numerical juxtaposition of cycles of thirteen days and twenty days by relating it variously to cycles and systems of the body.

Last fall I was learning about the Tzolk'in from my friend Carol McCloud who has an extensive website where over the past five years she has been following the traditional count of days. She has established a working knowledge of the system based on her initial interest in Tarot symbolism. Within the past fifteen to twenty years archaeologists have developed a more complete understanding of Classic Maya cosmology through breakthroughs in translation and interpretation of architectural carvings and artifacts. I believe it is now possible to develop a more complete and “classic” interpretation of the Tzolk'in and my studies have confirmed in my mind its connection to astronomical cycles as well as the previously suggested body cycles.

Another item relating to astrology: I've been reading and very much enjoying a historical survey of western astrology, The Fated Sky, by Benson Bobrick. I read a review of it in the New Yorker and noted they gave it a favorable review. Although I’m being exposed to lots of traditional ideas, it is exposing me to notions of how astrology has been applied and influenced western culture and history. Even if you don’t have a working knowledge of astrology the book is interesting, I do have to agree with The New Yorker that various short passages can be a serious wade in astrological lingo although they are easy enough to pass over.