sacred calendar

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The calendar, which is also called the ritual calendar, defined complex relations between time, counting and astronomy.  It concerns a unique method of counting time and is based on 20 days and 13 numbers. Every day has its sign and repeats 13 times in the course of the calendar cycle. The days are grouped into so-called trecenas (13-day cycles) and the entire cycle consists of 13 x 20 days, which makes for 260 days.


Daily signs: reveal, similarly to the western signs of the zodiac, important characteristics and elements of a person or his/her fate. The glyphs of the Mayan daily signs, together with their names, are set out in the figure below:


Trecena: a group of 13 days (there are 20 of them altogether), which works as a sign itself. It is a sub-group of the daily signs and has a similar character as the month of one’s birth in western astrology.


Ruler of the Night: repeating groups of nine days are called “rulers of the night” and each of them bears the name of one of the important gods of the Underworld. It is assumed that these rulers of the Underworld represent involuntary or hidden motivations, perhaps the “dark” side of the personality.


Year: four cycles, 13 years each, form a calendar cycle 52 years long, which is sometimes called the Mesoamerican century. Each year was “controlled” by a different direction (north, south, east and west) and thus it had its own characteristic. 52 years or 18,980 days is the synchronization of the tzolkin and the haab.


Phases of Venus: this planet has four periods (morning star, evening star, upper and lower conjunction). In Mayan astrology and in Mesoamerica in general, Venus was associated with the male god Quetzalcoatl (Kukulkan in the Mayan language) as far as its symbolic meaning and mythology are concerned. In a certain sense, Venus was the “civilizer” regulating sensuous and destructive instincts, and if the Maya wanted to preserve their civilized way of life, they had to vent their emotions in accordance with this planet. Therefore, dates for battles, coronations, exchange of rules, etc. were determined according to the phases of Venus. The average synodic cycle of Venus is 584 days.

If we look thoroughly at the sacred calendar, we may notice that it has a special mathematical property: the numbers 1 to 13 form (as any other sequence of numbers) binary pairs arranged in a mirrored position:


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

The pyramid of time

If we sum up the numbers in each pair, we always get the number 14 (1 + 13 or 2 + 12, etc.); in the middle is number 7, which has no mirror. If we create a diagram from this sequence of numbers, we get a formation called the “pyramid of time” – this pyramid is identical with the “pyramid of the Heavens”, which also has 13 parts (see cosmology). Mayan medicine men believed that the most suitable days for the performance of rituals from the point of view of energy were the days on the top of the pyramid, which means the numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9. With respect to the fact that the Maya counted days from sunrise to sunrise – the exact centre of each cycle has to occur on the 7th day at sunset – which means exactly on the top of the pyramid of time. The days at the beginning with low numbers were weak from the point of view of energy, but the days with numbers 10–13 were so strong that they were potentially dangerous for the performance of rituals, see the figure below:

The method in which the Maya perceived time is unique. Unlike us, who perceive time as running in a linear manner always forwards, the Mayan understanding of time was based on its cyclic character. As day and night repeat, as seasons come in cycles, as birth and death occur, the individual cycles and the same or similar events associated with them repeated in the Mayan perception and counting of time. The Maya believed that death is not an end, but a phase necessary for transformation and rebirth. We can say that if the Maya knew what happened in previous cycles, they could foresee and prepare for what was to come – with a little bit of exaggeration, they knew their future. Some of the relations between the planets and the sacred calendar are really strange and the number of days (260) in the tzolkin is of great importance.

- The synodic cycle of Mars lasts 780 days – a third thereof is 260 days

- 20 synodic cycles of Mercury (having 117 days) equal 9 cycles, 260 days each

- 3 synodic cycles of Mars equal 9 cycles, 260 days each

The tzolkin, the ritual calendar, served mainly for the needs of prophecies, in particular for determining extraordinary and important events such as the date of the ceremonial coronation of the ruler (which was not the same as the date of the real beginning of his reign), the date for sacrificing a captured king from an enemy city, etc. As the Maya had to function in the real world as well, they had to ensure sowing and the harvest along with other necessary activities. For these purposes they used another calendar, which was more appropriate. Both the calendars worked in parallel and permeated as the life of the Maya permeated. This calendar was called the haab and is also called the sun/solar calendar.



Solar calendar - Haab

The solar calendar: the measure of secular time had 365 days divided into 18 months of 20 days each, plus the last (nineteenth) month Uayeb consisting of 5 days and generally regarded as unfavourable or nearly unhappy and it was recommended not to begin anything during this month. In the picture below you can see the glyphs and names of the Mayan months:


Within the framework of each month, days were numbered from 1 to 20, e.g. from the first month with which every year started: 1 Pop, 2 Pop, 3 Pop, etc. As both the calendars worked simultaneously, each day was identified in two ways, one within the framework of the ritual tzolkin and the other one arising from its position in the solar calendar or haab. Their beginning, e.g. 1 Imix (tzolkin) and 1 Pop (haab) will repeat in exactly 18,980 days, which makes for 52 years (the Maya did not add one fourth of a day to every year, making leap years, as we do*). This period is called the calendar cycle and these 52 years are also called the Mayan century – this was regarded as the period of time when everything old dies and the new is born. Therefore, for example, a number of the pyramids were rebuilt according to these cycles (Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, etc.). Sometimes we may encounter the number 73, which is also regarded as a magic Mayan number. We get 73 if we divide the foregoing 18,980 days by the number of days in the tzolkin, which makes for 260.

*) The Maya solved this problem by accurately calculating deviations and recording them always at the end of a 52-year period, namely with an accuracy of 365.2420.

It is interesting that the Maya (and the Aztec as well) held every 52 years the so-called festival of “New Fire”, which was associated with rituals where they prayed for the reoccurrence of a new cycle, making the Sun rise again and start the new cycle. This festival allegedly lasted 13 days and so the inaccuracy with the leap year was removed. 18,980 days (52 solar years times 365 days) + 13 days of the festival = 18,993/365.24 = 52 years

Bellow is nice demonstration how both calendars worked and synchronized together



Adrian Gilbert and Maurice Cotterell: “Mayan Prophecies”

Carl Johan Calleman “Mayan Calendar”

Kenneth Johnson “Jaguar Wisdom”

B. Scofield and B.Orr: “How to Practice Mayan Astrology”










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