The Long Count - 5 Eras of Humanity
What many of us recognize today as the Mayan Calendar was really a set of calendrical systems used by civilizations of Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, Huastec, Toltec and Nahuas.
In many aspects the calendars were similar, but nonetheless Maya was the civilization which developed and refined them further, hence the respect given to them is well-deserved.
The most frequently mentioned Mayan calendar in relation to December 21, 2012 theme is the Long Count. It was known by the earlier Olmec civilization and adopted by the Maya.
Some researches state that the Long Count calendar holds clues to the 5 Eras of Humanity (also called the Great Cycles, subsequent Sun Ages or simply Suns) and that in the year 2012 the 6th Era will begin.
The concept of “sun ages” was recognized throughout Mesoamerica, but also in other parts of the world. These are meant to represent recreations of the world after supposed cataclysmic destructions.
The Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs claimed we're living in the time of the “fifth sun”.
In the year 2012 we are to experience the transition to subsequent age, the “sixth sun”.
What will happen then, is the subject of countless debates and multiple proposed theories addressing the phenomenon of 2012 Mayan Calendar.
In the Long Count a single day was called kin.
20 kins (days) make one uinal.
18 uinals equals one tun. Thus, one tun consists of 360 days.
20 tuns were called katun. Which means that a katun was a period of 19.7 years (7,200 days).
20 katuns make one baktun. One baktun lasts 394.26 years (144,000 days).
13 baktuns or 260 katuns translates to 5125.36 years (1,872,000 days).
It is a single era.
And the end of 13th baktun falls on 21st day of December 2012.
It will be the Mayan Long Count date 126.96.36.199.0
Note: There are two formulas used to count the Mayan “zero date”. It corresponds to either 11 or 13 August 3114 BC, thus in reality the 13th baktun may relate either to 21 or 23 December 2012.
Each katun period was given a name and was later recognized by it.
Katuns were named after the last day of the particular period (not after the day with which they started).
For the Maya, a period of time did not exist, until it was completed.
Tzolkin: the Sacred Mayan Calendar
They had also a 260-day calendar named Tzolkin (“day-count”). It was composed of 13 day-numbers rotated against (multiplied by) 20 day-names. It was regarded as the sacred calendar and used for religious and ceremonial purposes.
Mayans were quite superstitious people and believed many aspects of their lives were predetermined. Thus the Tzolkin was also used for divination, to determine the possible quality of each day.
Day-names used in Tzolkin were: Imix, Ik, Akbal, Kan, Chicchan, Cimi, Manik, Lamat, Muluc, Oc, Chuen, Eb, Ben, Ix, Men, Cib, Caban, Etz'nab, Cauac, Ahau.
In Mesoamerica, time had a spatial quality and the Tzolkin functioned as a map to the domain of time.
Some researches view Tzolkin as moon calendar (synchronized with moon's phases), yet others state it was based on the cycles of the Pleiades constellation, where each lasts 26,000 years (it is also the cycle of the Precession of the Equinoxes - a term coined by Mayanists).
Mayans, like many other ancient civilizations, believed that humans and the whole universe come from the Pleiades, hence the importance attributed by them to this particular place in the sky.
Mayan Calendar: Haab
A 365-day calendar used by Mayans and Aztecs was named Haab. It is recognised as the agricultural calendar, as its primary purpose was to keep track of the seasons.
Haab was devised by rotating 18 “months” (uinals) through 20 days (kins) with an addition of 5 days at the end of the year - a period called “sleep of the year”.
In other words, it was 18 “months” 20-days each, plus 5 extra days.
These 18 uinals (20-day “months”) plus a 5-day period in Haab were named as follows: Pop, Uo, Zip, Zotz', Zec, Xul, Yaxkin, Mol, Ch'en, Yax, Zac, Ceh, Mac, Kankin, Muan, Pax, Kayab, Cumku + Uayeb.
Tzolkin and Haab calendars were known and used everywhere in Mesoamerica.
The Long Count, inherited from the older Olmec civilization, was exclusively used by the Maya.
Mayan Calendar Round
Mayans combined the Tzolkin and the Haab into the Calendar Round. It lasted 52 Haabs - that is, around 52 years.
Calendar Round was based on our Sun's alignment with the central star of the Pleiades, Alcyone, which occurs every 52 years.
Within this calendar were the trecena (13-day cycle) and the veintena (20-day cycle).
Mayan people believed the world might end at the turn of each 52-Haabs-cycle. So they prepared by making celebrations, also with human sacrifices, to please gods into giving man another 52 years of life on earth. It was known as the “New Fire Ceremony” .
52 Haabs make up a period of 18980 days. This is the reason why Mayans considered 18980 their holy number.
In the Classical era of the Mayan civilization days were identified for the number-name of the Tzolkin, followed by the number-name of the Haab.
For instance: 4-Ahau 8-Cumku translates to August 11 (or 13), 3114 BC.
In full Long Count notation it is written as: 13 Baktun, 0 Katun, 0 Tun, 0 Uinal, 0 Kin, 4-Ahau 8-Cumku.
The Venus Cycle
Laborious and accurate observations of planet Venus led them to form another calendar based on the planet's location in the night sky: the Venus Cycle, which encompassed 584 days.
Venus was particularly important heavenly body to the Maya. It was called the “Morning Star”, but also the “Evening Star”, and was associated with war. This is why Mayan rulers synchronized the beginning moment of wars they fought with the visibility of planet Venus.
Mayan Calendar or Aztec Sun Stone?
Aztec Sun Stone
- Why there is often this Aztec Sun Stone shown, when there's a talk about the Mayan calendars? I thought Aztec civilization has developed later and flourished after the Maya, wasn't it so?
It's true. The only sensible reason why it is frequently made this way, is the sheer aesthetic motive behind it.
Aztec Sun Stone is renowned for its easy recognizability and unmatched aesthetical value - it is complex, sophisticated and simply looks amazing.
Besides that, Mayan concept of time as “cycles within cycles” was shared by Aztecs (among other Mesoamerican civilizations), so for secondary illustrative purposes it is not necessarily wrong to attach the image of the Aztec stone.
However, it's correct only as long, as we clearly denote its Aztec origin and also acknowledge, that in actuality it's not just a calendar, but an artifact depicting a cyclical view of mankind's history (however there also exist a few other interpretations of the symbolism used in this stone).
2012 Mayan Prophecy
The source of Mayan 2012 prophecy phenomenon is generally attributed to the Books of Chilam Balam from Chumayel.
The so-called Books of Chilam Balam are handwritten, chiefly 18th-century Mayan miscellanies, named after the small Yucatec towns where they were originally kept, and preserving important traditional knowledge in which indigenous Mayan and early Spanish traditions have coalesced.
Written in the Yucatec Maya language and using the Latin alphabet, the manuscripts are attributed to a legendary author called Chilam Balam, a chilam being a priest who gives prophecies and balam a common surname meaning 'jaguar'. Some of the texts actually contain prophecies about the coming of the Spaniards to Yucatan while mentioning a Chilam Balam as their first author. (After Wikipedia)
The following mysterious passage from the 12th Chapter of Chilam Balam is often cited as the source of 2012 End of the World fears:
Katun 4 Ahau is the eleventh katun according to the count. The katun is established at Chichen Itzá. The settlement of the Itzá shall take place there. The quetzal shall come, the green bird shall come. Ah Kantenal shall come. Blood-vomit shall come. Kukulcan shall come with them for the second time. It is the word of God. The Itzá shall come.
Katun 4 Ahau is the katun we are now living in, which began in 1993 and will end in December 2012.
However, many researchers of Chilam Balam of Chumayel and Mayan 2012 prophecy point out, that albeit, for instance, the phrase “blood-vomit” might seem scary, it exists in other parts of the books and shouldn't be taken literally, also the text of Chilam Balam continues right after this passage, foretelling what will happen in the very next katun, which clearly suggests that the world is not going to end at this time.
Mayan Calendar 2012 Predictions
To some researchers of Mayan calendric systems the end of a 13th baktun (188.8.131.52.0 date) bears obvious prophetic significance.
2012 doomsday scenario believers claim that Mayans predicted catastrophic events to happen at the end or soon after that year. According to some of them, it might be even the End of the World in 2012...
However, many clarify this by expanding it further as “the end of the world as we know it”.
Still, this phrase is just as enigmatic as most of the 2012 predictions and by itself doesn't tell us of the exact nature of events that may unfold.
Proponents of 2012 transformation theory and Mayan 2012 predictions believers state the ancient civilization prophesied for us a time of great changes, a global consciousness shift and an age of enlightenment.
According to most Mayanists Mayan Calendar 2012 foretells a time at which the Earth will undergo a global transformation, humanity will leave the path of self-destruction and hate, and cooperation attitude will take precedence before that of competition.
Finally, skeptics to the year 2012 theme accuse both groups of misinterpretation of the ancient records. They often point out the fact, that Mayans believed in cyclical nature of time and what it might mean for us, is that how it was once in the past, will repeat in one form or another. But this does not necessarily mean, that a catastrophe and doomsday are upon us, or that a “cosmic activity” will suddenly transform life on our planet.
From their perspective, end of the Long Count calendar is just an end of a cycle. It will be at most a good opportunity for contemporary local Maya communities to engage in celebrations of the transition of cycles. Hence, the Long Count's end could be only a sign of the changes occuring within the longer 2012 Era (a period of 36 years between 1980 and 2016, according to famous Mayanist John Major Jenkins).
Whose arguments will prevail? Are the views of the proponents of apocalyptic predictions attributing them to Mayan calendar 2012 justifiable?
Or is the end of 13th baktun really only a symbolic date of transition from one cycle to the next (often also termed 2012 transition of the ages)?
Is it ultimately possible to sort the strongly differing views out before the notorious December 21, 2012?