title: introduction to the mayan tzolkin
Hunab Ku symbol
hunab  ku symbol
The supreme deity of the Maya is called Hunab Ku, the god of weights and measures. The Maya lived their lives according to a completed system of interlocking calendars which foretold eclipses, the setting and rising of stars and constellations, and the beginnings and ends of major and minor world ages.

Their Long Count calendar specifies dates from 3114 B.C.E. to 2012 A.D. and beyond. It is a series of five numbers:, for example, marks the date of my birth. Each place holder represents a different amount of time, much like own numerical system where 8347 means (8x1000)+(3x100)+(4x10)+(7x1). The Mayan numerical system is vigesimal, or base-20, while ours is base-10. The long count date above signifies (12x144000) + (17x7200) + (14x360) + (16x 20) + (3x1), or 1,855,763 days since the beginning of this age (approximately 5084 years). is the supposed “end date” of the calendar, which corresponds to December 21, 2012. On the morning of the winter solstice, the sun will rise in the center of the Milky Way, in a dark section known to the Maya as the womb of the universe, signaling the re-birth of this world in a new age. For extensive detail on this alignment, please read Maya Cosmogenesis: 2012 by John Major Jenkins. The Long Count doesn't end, ever, not even on 12/21/2012. That is the first day of Baktun 13, a new 400 year cycle.

Two other calendars are used in conjunction with the Long Count. The Haab is a vague solar calendar with 365 days, containing 18 months of 20 days each and one month of five days. Like our calendar, the date 6 Tzec comes about every year. If I told you something happened on July 8, you would not know WHEN it happened because I hadn’t told you what year--the same with 6 Tzec.

The Maya did not number their years as we do, but they had another calendar to pinpoint dates, called the Tzolkin. This is a divinatory/sacred calendar of 260 days which repeat over and over in the same sequence. The Haab and the Tzolkin interlock in a cycle of 52 Haabs (slightly less than 52 of our years). Since most people didn’t live more than 52 years, a date of “4 Akbal, 6 Tzec” was enough to fix an event within a lifetime. To make a permanent record of the date, one would affix the long count date also: 4 Akbal 6 Tzec, or happy birthday to me. The next 4 Akbal 6 Tzec alignment is June 25, 2020 ( in the long count).

The Tzolkin is a simple calendar. It can be used for divination purposes, and followed separately from the long count and Haab (once you have aligned it to our calendar). Those who follow the Tzolkin and live by its energy are called Daykeepers.

The Tzolkin consists of 20 day names (also called solar lords) repeated over and over in a fixed sequence. The Maya and the Aztecs had slightly different meanings for some of the day names (even within different tribes of the Maya, some of the meanings changed slightly). Here are the order and the most common translations of the day names (see below for glyphs):

  1. Imix: crocodile
  2. Ik: wind
  3. Akbal: house/dark
  4. Kan: lizard
  5. Chicchan: snake
  6. Cimi: death
  7. Manik: deer
  8. Lamat: rabbit/star
  9. Muluc: water/moon
  10. Oc: dog
  11. Chuen: monkey
  12. Eb: grass/road
  13. Ben: reed
  14. Ix: jaguar
  15. Men: eagle
  16. Cib: vulture
  17. Caban: quake/incense
  18. Etznab: knife/flint
  19. Cauac: rain/storm)
  20. Ahau: flower/lord
Mayan Day Sign Glyphs read from left top to right bottom
The numbers 1-13 run alongside the day signs, also in an endless loop. 1 Imix is followed, not by 2 Imix, but by 2 Ik, then 3 Akbal and 4 Kan. The number 13 is reached at Ben, making the next day 1 Ix. Commonly the calendar is consulted in a compact board layout.

Each day sign has its own energy, which is modified (strengthened, lessened or balanced) by the number assigned to it. The day you were born provides a natal-scope, the Tzolkin energy-stamp you carry for life. (This does not invalidate other energy-stamps from other astrology systems or karmic agreements.) The energy of each day changes according to the two bio-rhythms of 20 and 13 running side-by-side. Obviously, according to the energies of a specific day, some actions may be more appropriate than others. You would want to complete a project or end a relationship on a high numbered day, and begin on a low numbered day, for instance.

You can use the calendar for divination in many ways. The Mayan Oracle is a set of cards, similar to Tarot, based on the Tzolkin energies. The Aztec Circle of Destiny is a card and counter set also based on the Tzolkin. Either of these may be used for divination, or you can make a large calendar board, drop a marker, and see on which day it lands. The energy of the day you choose, via cards, counter, or marker, answers your question.

Another use for the Tzolkin is in magick. The day signs can be called upon, in their capacity as solar lords, as gods to assist you in ritual. I call upon them to guard the quarters, and use the Tzolkin to plan appropriate times for rituals, requests, and magickal workings. Daykeepers also enact specific Tzolkin rituals to honor certain calendar dates/energies.

Each day sign has other energies attached, such as direction, color, ruling God/dess, and quality (mental, physical, etc) which can further your reading of that day. A compete listing is out of the scope of this article, but is available in Jaguar Nights: A Journey Through the Tzolkin.

I offer readings based on the Mayan Oracle Cards and also Tzolkin-based horoscopes.

En Lakesh,
Gevera Bert Piedmont
Mayan Reiki Master
written 1 Akbal 16 Muan (01-26-2003)

A slightly different version of this article appears as a chapter in Dennis Alexander's MayanReiki, which I also edited.
Page Modified: 16-Mac 10-Ben (Intention portal) (14-Dec-2012)
Page Created: 14-Mac 8-Chuen (Intention portal) (12-Dec-2012)

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.