Comparative Methodology of a History of Religions Explication of Ritual Practice of Time

Due to the limited access to pre-European/pre-Christian primary and secondary sources to the ritual practices of calendar time, I intend to explicate the ritual practices of the noted four major calendars—The Long Count calendar, the 260-day calendar, the 365-day calendar and the 52-year calendar—of three cultural groups of Mesoamerica respectively: the classic Maya culture, the postclassic Yucatec Maya culture and the postclassic Aztec culture.

As aforementioned the Long Count calendar is only known from the Maya and Isthiman region. It is moreover important to note that information about calendars exists from many other Mesoamerican cultures but alas there are no extant sources to their ritual practices of time. There is for instance information about the 260-day calendar, the 365-day calendar and the 52-year calendar from the Zapotec and Mixtec but no data of their ritual practices of time. Furthermore, there is a quite lot of information about the Aztec (Nahua) 260-day calendar and the 365-day calendar but not much of the ritual practice of time of these two calendars.[1] [2] The analysis accordingly considers the ritual practice of time of the following calendars of the respective civilisations:

  • 1. The Long Count calendar of the classic Maya (and to a lesser degree the Short Count calendar of the postclassic Yucatec Maya).
  • 2. The 260-day period/calendar (The Burner Periods) of the postclassic Yucatec Maya.
  • 3. The 365-day calendar of the postclassic Yucatec Maya.
  • 4. The 52-year calendar (aka Calendar Round) of the postclassic Aztec.

The classic Maya civilisation is the only Mesoamerican culture recognised in the extant sources to have used all these calendars in question: The Long Count calendar, the 260-day calendar, the 365-day calendar and most probably the Calendar Round of 52 years.21 Except for the Long Count calendar, the ritual practice of time of the Mesoamerican calendars are essentially recorded in pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial ethnographic sources. Scholars today enjoy the benefit of the recently deciphered logosyllabic inscriptions as a primary source for the classic Maya culture and to a lesser extent of the Yucatec Maya speaking groups of the early postclassic period. This analysis does not contain new decipherments but rely upon previous extensive work of epigraphers. I have, however, examined the reading of the discussed inscriptions for my philological explication. The postclassic Indigenous narrative visual (with logographic signs) manuscripts (aka codices) and colonial accounts by Spanish Catholic ethnographer missionaries represent the principal sources about the celebrations of the rituals of time of the 260-calendar, the 365-day calendar and the 52-year-calendar in the postclassic period. I carefully supplement these sources with ethnographic data from principally contemporary Maya cultures, which to a certain extent celebrate rituals of time of the 260-day calendar and the 365-day calendar.[3] The character of the various compiled sources will be methodologically reflected upon and presented individually in the course of the analysis. It is significant to underline that ritual practices of time—in the different cultural communities, which used various interlocking calendars—do not interact.

As the title of this book suggests, the ritual temporal analysis explores the philosophy and sociopolitics of the aforementioned four Mesoameri- can calendars, which I classify as “religious”. The category “philosophy” signifies how the ritual practices reflect the conceptions of time of Mesoamerican intellectual systems: the organisation and structure of calendar time; the mathematical logic of calendar time; the origin of the world (cosmogony) related to time; space (cosmology) and time (spatial-temporality); whether there were eschatological notions of a final ending of time. The category “sociology” signifies the social meanings and functions the ritual practice of time hold for society and social groups. Intimately related to the sociological subject, there is a “politics of time” where the ritual practice of time quite often constitute an instrument for the power of the aristocratic elite and ruling lord. The philosophy and sociopolitics of the ritual practices of calendar time is “religious” since the ritual practice of calendar time pertains to the phenomenon of religion. For this reason, the analysis is written from the theoretical perspective of the discipline of history of religions. The concept “religion” signifies how various people in their proper languages classify and conceive beings, places and phenomena as belonging to non-human categories set apart from the human sphere (cf. Pharo 2007). A similar reverence can also apply to time, which may be ritually venerated because of its religious significance. A systematic exploration of the ritual practice of time of the above-mentioned Mesoamerican calendar systems using the lens of the discipline of history or religions is therefore accordingly undertaken. A methodology of history of religions requires, however, enquiring consistent systematic and comparative questions to the ritual practice of time of each of the four calendars respectively. I employ the following analytical model, explicating the ritual practice of time regarding to:

  • [1] Cf. section V of the book.
  • [2] Isthmian (epi-Olmec) inscriptions of T ehuantepec in southern Mexico record 260-daycalendar, 365-day calendar and Long Count calendar notations (Stuart et al. 2005: 7).
  • [3] This is because I analyse the pre-European/pre-Christian ritual practice of thesecalendars from the Maya culture. As noted, besides various Maya cultures, the traditional260-day calendar is in use today in the Mixe culture.
 
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