Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mayan Prophecies

This blog post is brought to you by the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center and the letters R and P. Because it was written by one of their educators, R.P. Hale.

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Maya astronomers were really astronomer-priests, or more properly, calendar-priests who alone could interpret the night sky and the calendars—which is why as a class they could become so powerful in Maya societies.

They viewed the seasonal star positions to foretell the rainy or hurricane seasons. This was important because central Mexico to southern Central America does not have the familiar four seasons; rather, their seasons are wet-dry-wet-dry, roughly:

August – October: Major wet season, often with hurricanes
Nov. – Dec.: Two-month dry season
Jan. – Feb.: Two-month short wet season
Mar. – July: Major dry season; extended droughts were serious

Mesoamerican temples—and cities—were almost invariably sited astronomically, most often to solsticial or August 13 sunrise/sunset positions. Those at Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, Palenque and Tikál were sited to these and the four-temple complex at Tikál was sited to multiple Sun positions over the solar year.

August 13 was and remains the most important calendar day to the Maya groups overall. The beginning of the Current Era of the Maya Long Count correlates to 13 August 3114 BC. It does not “end” on 21 December 2012! This cycle completes on 13 October 4772 AD, when this pik’tun period of 20 bak’tuns is completed. Notice that I do not—and will not—use the term “end.”

The units of the Long Count are:
1 K’in = 1 Sun = 1 day
20 K’in = 1 Winal = 20 days
18 Winal = 1 Tun* = 360 days
20 Tun = 1 K’atun = 19.75 y
20 K’atun = 1 Bak’tun = 294.25 y
20 Bak’tun = 1 Pik’tun = 7,885 y
20 Pik’tun = 1 Kalabtun = 157,769 y
20 Kalabtun = 1 K’inchiltun = 3,153,985 y
20 K’inchiltun = 1 Alawtun** = 63,079,702 y

* Not a solar year! The solar year is 1 Tun + 5 days, called the “vague year”
** Pronounced “Ah-lauh´-toon”

And, if that weren’t enough, more Mayan archeological evidence shows we are in the midst of the longest time period ever conceived by any culture:
71,803,130,579,762,893,154,680,634,776 years!
In light of that time span, of what significance is 2012?

The Temple of K’ulk’ulkan in Chichén Itzá is oriented so that on the spring equinox, the temple shadows fall so as to appear that K’ulk’ukan the Feathered Serpent crawls down the staircase of his temple (very popular with tourists today). The Feathered Serpent cult came from the northern lands and wasn’t adapted by the Yucatán Maya until late in their history. Their Feathered Serpent, identified with the planet Venus, became Quetzalcóatl to the Aztec.

The Mesoamerican Venus was never a goddess of love; rather, it represented a bloodthirsty male deity of human sacrifice, war, pestilence, and hard times. Its white color also represented death itself.

The planet Venus was one of the two most important celestial bodies for Mesoamericans overall, and some Maya groups saw Venus as more important than the Sun. One of the Calendar Cycles derives directly from Venus’ sidereal period (584 d).. The conjunction of Venus with the Pleiades (the body of K’ulk’ukan joining with the tail rattles) is a rare event that happens once every eight to ten years—not every spring. It was also part of the Calendar 52-year cycle.

Human sacrifice is always a delicate subject to bring up. All Mesoamerican groups practiced it for over 3,500 years, and the Maya were particularly involved in it—far more so than the later Aztec. Capturing the king, nobles and priests for subsequent sacrifice was the primary aim.

The Palenque Maya viewed the Milky Way as Caban Xibalba – The Road to the Underworld, traveled by the sky monster, and other Maya groups saw the trunk of the sacred ceiba tree that connects the heavens to the Earth and Underworld. The Southern Cross was also a ceiba tree. Ceibas were and remain sacred trees to Mesoamericans. The late Maya knew about precession but made no mention of Sun positions relative to the Milky Way—simply because you cannot see the Milky Way in the daytime! (Reference this to King Pacal’s conquering of Death with the sunrise.)

In the entire Maya record, there is but one mention of the date corresponding to December 2012. This is in the c.740 AD Tortuguero Tablet, which also makes it very clear that, 4 Ahaw 3 K’ank’in—21 December 2012—is but one bak’tun completing among the 20 that make up the pik’tun that completes in 4772 AD. There are seven more bak’tun periods to go until 4772.

The Classic Maya considered the endings of k’atun and bak’tun periods as very important and many monuments commemorate these. If a king lived for a k’atun, that too was commemorated. Celebrations ranged from festivals to making wars on neighboring cities.

The Maya did not vanish: they abandoned their cities and authorities and returned to autonomous pastoral/farming (and sustainable) village life. Their city societies had created all manner of ecological disasters due to overcrowding and overconsumption of resources. There are some 15 million living now, speaking 30 Maya languages.

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