In preparation for exploring Maya lands in our upcoming journey, Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara, we’ve been tapping into and exploring the mythological, literary, and now, the astronomical genius of the Maya. In this article, we will be exploring the Mayan calendars.
The Mayan calendars, 3 of which are still in use today, reveal the Maya’s profound connections with the Sky. If the Maya are known for anything, it’s their comprehensive, precise, and accurate set of calendars. Their deep knowledge of the cosmos in direct relation to their human experience is explicitly evident through their calendar system. The precision of this spiritual connection was so specific, that it involved not one calendar, but multiple.
The Maya used various calendars to map their ceremonial lives as accomplished observers of the sky. Their calendars are known as being some of the most accurate in all of human history.
Of their calendars, 3 are most commonly used, observed, and studied. These are the Haab, Tzolk’in, and the Calendar Round (an intricate weaving together of the Haab and Tzolk’in cycles). Again, these 3 Mayan Calendars are still in use today, particularly in villages of Guatemala such as Quetzaltenango.
1. The Haab Calendar
The Haab Calendar consists of a cycle of 365 days. Does this sound familiar? Well, the days aren’t exactly divided up the same as our current Gregorian calendar. The Haab consists of 18 months of 20 days each, and a single month of 5 days. This 19th month is known as “Wayeb.” The 5 days of Wayeb are spent in celebration and ceremony to close a cycle of the Haab Calendar and to open the next cycle.
It’s important to note that although many Maya communities study and observe the Haab Calendar, it’s not often observed as it once was. According to Tzeltal Maya and cultural astronomer Alonso Méndez, “Today, in contemporary Maya religious and cultural life the Haab is not used anymore but is melded together with the Catholic year and the Catholic cycle of celebrations and holidays. As so, the agricultural seasons of the Maya today are fused with that calendar and so because we are using a solar calendar in modern times ancient cycles that were predominantly based on agricultural cycles marry very well with the Catholic ceremonial cycle. And so today, we will see in the Maya world celebrations that have some relevance to Catholic traditions also expressing ancient Maya traditions.”
2. The Tzolk’in Calendar
The Maya sacred Tzolk’in Calendar is the most popular calendar still in use today. This is due to the work of the Ajq’ijab’, trained wisdom keepers who continue to maintain the tradition of the sacred calendar in the highlands of Guatemala to guide their communities.
Instead of using months, the Ajq’ijab’ utilize a very unique set of 260 days, divided into 20-day glyphs and the numbers 1 to 13. The numbers 1 to 13 cycle through each of the 20 glyphs to form 260 days.
The ancient Maya were able to perceive important agricultural and bodily cycles in relation to the calendar. The Tzolk’in Calendar is known as corresponding to the cycles of corn, the zenith sun, and the human gestation period. This partially explains why, to the Maya, humans, and corn are intimately and divinely linked.
Today in the highlands of Guatemala, the calendar is used for ritual purposes, divination, and for astrological purposes. Personal characteristics, according to the Maya, align with whichever given days people are born on. For example, day 3, “Akbal,” corresponds to darkness, night, and early dawn while day 20, “Ajaw,” holds the energy of a lord, ruler, and the sun.
3. The Calendar Round
The Calendar Round represents a 52-year period in which the Haab and Tzolk’in Calendars are combined. Thus, no combination of a Haab day and Tzolk’in day will repeat itself until after 52 cycles of the 365-day period. This longer cycle is viewed by the Maya as a combination of solar cycles (Haab) and moon cycles (Tzolk’in).
In Maya traditions, due to the Calendar Round, when a person reaches age 52 they’re considered exceptionally wise and earn their title of elder within their community. Contemporary Maya communities use the calendar to mark experience and teach younger generations.
Bonus Calendar: The Long Count
Of the Mayan calendars, The Long Count calendar is the longest. It is used to mark astrological and mythological events that go beyond merely 52 years ago (Calendar Round). According to the Maya Long Count Calendar, the creation of the world took place on 126.96.36.199.0 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. This date, which contains 5 of its own cycles and Haab and Tzolk’in dates, corresponds to August 11, 3114 BCE on the Gregorian Calendar.
The Gregorian Calendar that we know and use contains days, months, years, centuries, and millenniums. The Maya too had precise cycles of measuring time, the difference being in the amounts of time contained within each cycle. Both calendars count time chronologically, the Gregorian beginning with the birth of Christ and the Long Count beginning with the Maya mythical creation story.
What About December 21, 2012?
The date December 21, 2012 marked the end of a Maya Long Count cycle—though not the end of the Long Count Calendar altogether—and definitely not the end of the world as we know it. There’s a quote that’s been circulating by author Carlos Barrios, a Mayan Ajq’ij and ceremonial priest:
“Anthropologists visit the temple sites and read the inscriptions and make up stories about the Maya, but they do not read the signs correctly. It’s just their imagination. Other people write about prophecy in the name of the Maya. They say that the world will end in December 2020. The Mayan elders are angry with this. The world will not end. It will be transformed.”
Barrios goes on to describe this transformation as one in which humanity will be challenged to live in a new way. In his book, The Book of Destiny, he writes, “Everyone who is here now has an important purpose. This is a hard, but a special time. We have the opportunity for growth, but we must be ready for this moment in history…The prophesied changes are going to happen…It’s very important to be clear about who you are, and also about your relation to the Earth.”
~Jacob Lopez, staff writer