Eschatological Philosophy of the Ritual Practice of Time of the Long Count calendar

We have seen that multitude of Long Counts or time ages (world eras) had existed before the present time era according to classic Maya temporal philosophy. Time was completed and recreated many times in this cyclic perception of temporal world ages (i.e. Long Counts eras). Conversely, the Christian tradition represents a historicist cosmology where cyclical temporality is incorporated into a linear eschatological concept where time will end at the Last Judgement (Farris 1987: 568-573). Let us now consider whether the classic Maya had a similar eschatological notion of a final ending date of the contemporary linear Long Count calendar and what such a concept might have represented for the ritual practice of time.

It has been suggested that the contemporary Long Count calendar may be definitively terminated on 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw (K’ank’in) or on December 21, 2012 AD, when 13 pik (e.g. 1,872000 days) is terminated. The contemporary Long Count calendar will have, according to this mathematical or rather numerological “logic”, the equal length of time as the previous Long Count period. But there is not recorded an eschatological prophecy in classic Maya writing or in any other source (Lounsbury 1981: 766).

The date of 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw has been recognised on the fragmented damaged inscription of Monument 6, Tortuguero (O2-P5), Mexico.[1] The obscure inscription state that: “it will be the completion of

  • 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw (December 21, 2012)”[2] Unfortunately, the remaining inscription is obscure but epigraphers are convinced of its non-escha?tological character.[3] [4] [5] [6] It is moreover a huge misconception that the classic Maya spatial-temporal cosmos will end on December 21, 2012 BC, when
  • will occur again, because classic Maya inscriptions demonstrate calculations made into the future beyond 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw (December 21, 2012).

As first noted by Bowditch87, written evidence is represented in the inscription on the West Panel of the Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque. The arithmetic in this inscription indicates that the current Long Count calendar will continue well into 14 pik, until the “piktun” (8000 tuno’b’) ends on October 14, 4772 AD ( followed by an anniversary on October 21, 4772 AD ( The largest coefficient in the five notation Long Count system is: or 2,879,999 days or c. 7.885 years (Stuart 2011: 230-231) corresponding to the date October 12, 4472 AD. This date will continue in the inscriptions with 10 ’Ajaw 13 Yaxk’in, October 13, 4772 AD. There is a linear time concept in classic Maya experience and expectation. But Christian linear temporal philosophy of a definitive beginning and termination of computed calendar time did appearently not exist in classic Maya temporal thought.

The classic Maya probably not only projected events forward to October 12 and October 21, 4772 AD. Numerous inscriptions89 embody the mysterious expression “3-11 bak’tun” or 3 x 11 x 144,000 days, which amounts to 4,752,000 days or c. 13,010.5 years (Van Stone 2011). Daniel Grana-Behrens has correlated this date to 10 Ajaw 8 Chakat of the past or 9897 BC (Grana-Behrens 2002: 233; 425-426). But Boot argues that since Gaida and Proskouriakoff has shown that the 3-11 bak’tun date on MT 26/27, Tikal alludes to 10 Ajaw 8 Chakat or 9897 AD of the distant future, which is presumably the case with corresponding 3-11 bak’tun dates. More than 13,000 years have elapsed between of the previous Long

Count and the future date (Boot 2005: 347). A predetermined completion date in a linear system or a termination with a new beginning in a cyclic concept of the present Long Count calendar can for this reason not be identified.

Thompson champions the idea that the great numbers calculated of past Long Counts indicates that for the classic Maya, time was infinite, it had no beginning or starting point (Thompson 1978: 314-316). It is intriguing that the ending of stations within the cyclic 365-day calendar, by the word chum or “seating” in the inscriptions, has the sense of both a beginning and a termination. Chum of the cyclic 365-cay calendar do not, however, represent zero or twenty but the transition between the 19th of the last preceding time period and the first day of the succeeding time unit (Blume 2011: 65-66).[7] The verb chum had a special significance because it alludes to the seating of both the old and new time unit. It is, in this connection, striking that the world or time of the contemporary world age or time era was said to have been created, not on the date of nothingness, but on the last day of the previous Long Count calendar, 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u). The numerical system of many cultures of Meso- america was vigesimal. The cyclical 365-day calendar and the linear Long Count calendar accordingly shared a common temporal principle of the beginning/ending of a time period.

Freidel, Schele and Parker have forwarded the theory that linear time of the Long Count calendar “unfolds in a cyclic structure” (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993: 63) whereas Farriss claims that the classic Long Count was a “grand computation” of a “gigantic cycle” of millions of years. Thus, a cyclic pattern could “incorporate an exceedingly long-term linear progression, as long as the cycle is large enough” (Farriss 1987: 575). We have seen that the classic Maya expanded time far into the distant past where there were separate time periods before the beginning of the present Long Count reckoning. These Long Counts were world ages or time eras of different durations. The Long Count was then a recurrent world age or a time era and could accordingly be conceived as both linear and cyclical in character. There was, accordingly, not a perception of a termination of time but rather a continuum of the former Long Count calendars.

A cycle has many repeatable beginnings and endings of computation whereas a linear sequence consists of one beginning and an unrepeatable end. Many Mesoamerican religions had a cyclic notion of various previous world ages. But the present world era can be experienced as linear because it was the only world of human existence according to Mesoamerican temporal philosophy. Time of the contemporary Long Count was possibly conceived by the classic Maya as running to a not determined end point with no new beginning because there is no indication of a concept of a subsequent time era or world age in Mesoamerican temporal philosophies. The principle of linear time, which does not end in the foreseeable future in contrast with cyclical time, which terminates within calendars of a shorter time span, is that it does not need to be renewed or recreated by ritual practice. This is because time of the Long Count calendar was considered to last, way beyond the lives of the classic Maya, into the distant future. 13 pik or c. 5128, 76 years, exposes a linear mentality, of the classic Maya.[8] The experience of the historical individual within a given time epoch decides his or her concept of time. For the classic Maya, who lived in the 9th and 10th centuries, it would take at least 1000 years before the Long Count of the present time age would (presumably) end on December 21, 2012 AD (e.g.. after 13 pik). The temporal ritual practice consisted of interval “period ending rituals”, not calendar-ending, within the Long Count calendar. The ritual practice of time intervals of the Long Count was therefore not eschatological since a final completion of the Long Count calendar was not recognised as an imminent threat to the classic Maya civilisation.

  • [1] Also the Hieroglyphic stairway of Structure 13R-10, La Corona, Guatemala records13. but with no additional information regarding potential events on this date. Yuk-noom Yich’aak K’ak’ celebration of as a “13 k’atun lord” may refer to a “numericalposition of the next higher cycle at” according to Stuart (Stuart 2012b).
  • [2] It is intriguing that the deity mentioned in the final passage, Bolon Yokte’ K’uh, appearamong the deities on the Vase of the Seven Gods on the creation date of 4 Ajaw 8Ohl.
  • [3] Cf. epigraphic analysis which conclude that this date do not constitute the finaltermination of the classic Maya Long Count calendar: David Stuart (Stone 2009; October11th, 2009:; Stuart 2011c)and by Stephen D. Houston (December 20th, 2008: Cf. also interpretations of Gronemeyerand MacLeod (2010), Callaway (2011), Van Stone (2011) and MacLeod (2011).
  • [4] 87 “The evidence against the theory that 13 cycles make 1 grand cycle is that on J11 ofthe Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque ... there is a glyph which clearly shows 14 cycles”(Bowditch 1910: 320).
  • [5] Cf. Lounsbury 1981: 805; Schele 1992: 121; Schele and Miller 1986: 17; 56, note 9; 321;Schele and Friedel 1990: 430, note 39; Schele and Mathews 1998: 106-108, note 8, 341.
  • [6] The Caracol Stela, Chichen Itza, MT 26/27, Tikal; Stela 49/Altar M’, Copan; Altar 1,Naranjo; East Side, Stela F, Quirigua; Stela 1, Tzum; Msc. 5, Xcalumkin.
  • [7] Cf. also k’aab’ or “end of’, which only occurs in the number position of the 365-daycount of the Calendar Round.
  • [8] “Although it is cyclical, the length of the cycle is so long—5, 200 tuns (360-day periods)—that the history of the Maya and present day fall into the same creation of the world,and it therefore presents a more linear view of time than that of the Calendar Round andits components” (Gossen and Leventhal 1993: 191).
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