title: journey through time

The first question people ask me is why? Out of all the things in the world to interest a person to the point of obsession, why the defunct calendar system of an extinct civilization?

And my answer is, Aztec by Gary Jennings.

I see straight off that this is going to digress heavily off of the Mayan Calendar & onto how reading Aztec changed my life. Click to skip the entertaining digression. If you have NOT read Aztec, go and read it and come back and THEN tell me it's not the best book you've EVER read in your entire life. Go ahead. Iíll wait......†

It began innocently enough, when I bought a used paperback edition of Aztec when I was in college (late 80's) from Silver Books, a local used bookstore (now defunct and sadly missed). It was virtually untouched; the previous owner had read through the beginning of the first flowery letter to the king, turned down a page corner and never returned. Some days I feel sorry for that person but most days I THANK him because if he hadn't done that, I wouldn't have picked up the book and I wouldn't be writing this right now.

If you have read Aztec (and having read Aztec, gone right on to the sequels: Aztec Autumn, Aztec Blood*, Aztec Rage*, Aztec Fire*, Aztec Revenge*, and the related books 2012 Codex* and Apocalypse 2012*)(*written by other people from GJ's notes) you will understand why I cried when I found out Gary Jennings had died. He died February 13, 1999, but I didn't find out until I was reading the introduction to the Science Fiction Annual for 1999 (in late 2000) that stated he was one of those who left us. I never wrote him a fan letter telling him what his work meant to me. I guess this is it.

† Anyway, before I derail my train of thought again, Aztec is the (fictional) life story of an Aztec (Mexica) scribe called Dark Cloud, as told to the Spanish who conquered his people. In the course of his life he only mentions the calendar a few times but something about it just caught my attention as I read my paperback copy to tatters and moved on to a used hardcover (who ARE these people who would sell this book?).†

Aztec also opened my eyes to the whole domination of other cultures by white European men, and domination of other religions by the Catholic/Christian Church. Seeing it laid out like that affected me deeply. I had already left the Catholic Church when I was about 15 because I knew it wasn't right for me, and reading Aztec cemented my decision. The last few sentences of the book...how it pleased God that the heretic should die...never fail to make me sob with helpless anger. After finishing Aztec for the first time, I no longer wanted to be associated with a religion that killed people for God and called it good.

As a direct result of that, I wandered farther & farther down the pagan path until one day I arrived at Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler (I special ordered it from Waldenbooks because I had no idea there were whole STORES devoted to this stuff) and upon reading it found out I was a witch and cried again. (This has truly been a path of tears for me...what I just summed up in a few paragraphs took 5 years.)†

All the while, every time I read Aztec, the calendar would get my attention. I took every book out from the public library on the Aztecs (and later the Mayans when I found out that's where the calendar came from) and once I got online in 1993 the Internet was my new playground. I searched out nuggets of information on archeological sites, astrology sites, and found a few sites devoted to Mayan or Aztec astrology. I bought every book on the subject I could find (I think I have about 50) but none of them were the book I wanted to read. So I wrote it myself. More on that later.†

So in a nutshell, that's WHY. But WHAT is it, you ask me again, looking peevish at my constant meanderings. (One of my creative writing teachers once said that I love a good tangent and although I get miles off the subject, what I write is so entertaining it's hard to get angry. Hope you agree with her.) It's a calendar, a system of astrology, a divination method and a way of life.†

Not much, eh?

The 260 day calendar (called the Tzolkin by the Mayan and the Tonalpouhalli by the Aztecs) that obsesses me was probably developed by the Mayans, possibly by the Olmecs. The Mayans loved mathematics and time and calendars and astrology; one of their main gods was Hunab Ku , the god of weights & measures (i.e., calendars measure time). They had many, many calendars which all ran on top of each other. If that sounds confusing, understand that we also have several calendars that run on top of each other and we don't get a bit confused.†

For example, our calendar runs Sunday-Saturday in an endless 7-day loop. It runs January-December in a 12-month loop. Each of these 12 months has a different number of days (28, 30, 31, some years 29). We have religious holidays like Easter, Samhain, & Passover. A given Sunday could be Easter day and month March and day 31 and year 2002. It could also be someone's birthday or anniversary. Is that confusing? No. So why should the Mayan calendar be?†

The Tzolkin is actually very simple. It consists of 20 day names, sometimes called "solar glyphs" which repeat over and over in the same order (an endless loop)....crocodile, wind, house (or dark) , lizard, snake, death, deer, rabbit, water, dog, monkey, grass, reed, jaguar, eagle, vulture, earthquake, knife (or flint), rain (or storm), flower (or lord). (Some of the days have different translations in Mayan than Aztec.) Running along side this 20-day loop is a 13-day loop of the numbers 1-13 over and over. Thus the "first" day of the calendar is One Crocodile. The second is not Two Crocodile but Two Wind, then Three House/Dark, etc. Thirteen Reed is followed by One Jaguar and the cycle continues until 13 Flower/Lord "ends" the cycle and One Crocodile follows. Now wasn't that easy?†

It simply incorporates two energetic biorhythms of 20 days and 13 days each. Each day has the "energy" of both the day name and the number. Just as in a Western horoscope, the positions of the planets, sun & moon at your birth "stamp" you with particular types of energies; you also have an energy stamp of the Mayan calendar. My Tzolkin energy stamp is 4 House/Dark.†

The energy stamp of a particular day makes it more appropriate for some tasks than others. You would want to start projects on low numbered days, and finish on higher numbered days. Being born on a certain day would give you certain energy. From what I understand, if you were a young Mayan or Aztec, your future may have been determined by your date of birth. If you were born on a day on which good weavers were usually born, a weaver you'd be. Apparently it wasn't unusual for parents to delay the naming visit, to have the child named for a more benevolent day. No one wanted to raise a child who is destined to become a career criminal!†

For whatever reason, whatever weird genetic or energetic wiring I have, this whole concept just appealed to me. I know the Chinese have something similar (and even more complex) and while I find the Chinese calendar interesting, it doesn't haunt me like Tzolkin. (Maybe because the Chinese weren't destroyed?)†

There are still some Mayans left, in Guatemala, who follow the Tzolkin calendar and use it for divination. The ones who do this are called Day Keepers. Having had no formal training, I consider myself an amateur Day Keeper. Someday maybe I'll learn Quiche Mayan and Mexican Spanish and take myself down to Guatemala to become a ďrealĒ day keeper. Believe it or not, I was born on one of the allowable days to become a day keeper--I have "coyopa" which means lightning in the blood. My current (as of 2006) projects (never ending) are my book, Jaguar Nights, and my sculpture, The Resurgence of Time. The book is finally finished; I am just tweaking the format a bit. It is basically a day keeping guide, listing all the energies for each day.

The sculpture, well, that's literally a never ending project. It keeps changing. I am basically trying to build a 3 dimensional fractal, which is of course impossible, to illustrate how the calendar works. I started out wanting to do a full 52 years, with solar (Haab) calendar and the tzolkin intertwining like graceful snakes. That's 18,980 days. If I make each day only a centimeter thick (not much room for writing) that's almost 625 feet. If I did 1" for each day, that's 1/3 of a mile. High. And me afraid of heights. No, I don't think so. My next idea was, lay it down. Make it a circle....100' radius, 200' across with one centimeter per day. Why do I have to think so BIG? My back yard is only about 35' wide. My brother in law showed me a program where I could just make a model of it in 3-D space, which SOUNDS cool, but I'd have to learn this complex computer program first. So I have to limit myself to just the tzolkin. Eventually I will build it, and when I do it will be perfect.†

You can use the Tzolkin calendar for divination in a few ways. There are several sets of cards where you can read the day signs like Tarot cards (I use this method); my favorite is The Mayan Oracle. Knowing a personís birthday helps because you can relate their birth energy to the energy of the reading but itís not entirely necessary. To convert a Julian date to a MesoAmerican date you really need a computer, or spend a few minutes with charts, and some people just arenít willing to wait. I have a program for my PDA (not the one I wrote) and that's what I usually use. Or you can use the handy conversion page here on this site.

Another way is to use crystals and/or seeds. I use a bag of 260. The querant grabs a random number of seeds, which are counted out according to the calendar, and the end date is the answer. Itís outlined in Time & the Highland Maya by Barbara Tedlock. As the base date, today or the birthday of the querant can be used. This method also takes a bit of time.†And truly, to be a day keeper is to live the calendar. In the West, we have lost the rhythms of life. The sun & moon donít rule the lives of those who have electric lights. Many people donít know what the equinoxes or solstices are (other than the first day of a season), or when the next full moon is. To be a day keeper is to know today is 12 Wind, and itís a good day for communication, but to be wary of talking too much.

My book, Jaguar Nights, is a day keeping guide. I always look at the world sideways (I was born under the western astrological sign of the sideways walking crab), and my work with the Tzolkin is no exception. Other books list the correlation between the calendar in a way I consider backwards. Yes, today is 12 Ik, but whenís the NEXT 12 Ik? Try and find a place on the web, or a book, that will tell you that. I've put up a database where you can find out Gregorian calendar dates for all the Tzolkin dates and vice versa. I have two enormous Kindle books, one that lists Gregorian dates sorted by the Tzolkin, and one that lists Long Count, Haab, and Tzolkin sorted by Gregorian dates.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey through the MesoAmerican calendar.† --Gevera 6 Caban 10 Zip .....May 24, 2006
Page Modified: 16-Mac 10-Ben (Intention portal) (14-Dec-2012)
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All material on this page and all pages is (c) by Gevera Bert Piedmont, except where noted. All rights reserved. Contact me for permission to republish.