Agency of Deified (Sacred) Calendar Time

Sacred or deified time is not an unfamiliar phenomenon in religious traditions. Especially in the Indo-Iranian but also in Graeco-Roman and probably Egyptian religions, divine beings were thought to personify time (Brandon 1965: 31-64).

Time units and numbers of various calendars were also believed to be under influence of deities by many Mesoamericans. It is reason to believe that the different calendars—solar year, lunar cycle, Venus cycle, the signs for the days in the 260-day calendar, the veintena of the 365-day calendar, The Lords of the Night, The Birds of the Day and The Lords of the Day etc.—were not only represented but also ruled by deities in Mesoamerican temporal philosophy (Kelly 1977; Thompson 1978). A passage in The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel describe the birth or creation of the 20 days:

Then they (the days) went to consider and spoke as follows .... Then the reason was sought by the first ruling day why the meaning of the word to them was not repeated so that they could declare themselves. Then they went to the centre of heaven and joined hands. One could hardly ask for a clearer proof that the Maya regarded the days as animate and sentient beings (Thompson 1978: 96).

Ethnography from various contemporary Maya groups convey that the numbers and days of the 260-day calendar and of the 365-day calendar were conceived deified (Lincoln 1942; Girard 1966; La Farge and Byers 1931; Farge 1947; Goubaud Carrera 1935; Price 1964; Oakes 1969; Thompson 1978; Neueswander 1981; Tedlock 1992).

Both the present-day Ch’orti’ and K’iche’ regard the days of the 260-day calendar as deities (Girard 1966: 281). F. Nunez de la Vega (1702) describe days of the Chiapan 260-day calendar as “heathens” or “gentiles” and of the day sign 13 Tox as the “devil” (Thompson 1978: 96). The concept of the days of the K’iche’ of Momostenango 260-day calendar constitute a personification of a deity referred to as a “lord” who ruled each day. Goubaud Carrera alleges that the religious specialist in Momostenango answers, when asked of a given day in a calendar ritual, that it is a day of a lord (Sp. “senor” or “jefe”). Goubaud Carrera quotes Leonard Schultze Jena recording[1] of a curing prayer to illustrate the personification of the days as lords (Goubaud Carrera 1935: 42). The twenty K’iche’ day names of the 260-day calendar are also, according to recent field research, by Barbara Tedlock considered to be proper divine names. The day is addressed with the title ajaw. But among the contemporary K’iche’, only the four Year Bearer days, Mam, and their two secretaries are active (Tedlock 1992: 107). The days or the godly patron of the days in the 260-day divinity calendar decided the fate of that particular day. The names of the days in the calendar are considered to be sacred and are reckoned by the K’iche’ in Momostenango as untranslatable. It is the sound of the day-name and the poetic sound play, paronomasia, which are important, and not what they signify (Tedlock 1992: 107). The association of the 13 numbers with deities of the 260-day calendar has survived in the Ixil culture of highland Guatemala. The 13 numbers and 20 day-names are both seen as “sacred beings or deities who are worshiped and petitioned in prayer”. The 13 numbers, associated with the day, are called “the Thirteen Kings”. A calendar specialist in Nebaj said to the ethnographer J.S. Lincoln that: “The 20 day names are the King” (Lincoln 1942: 106-107). La Farge and Byers and Lincoln report that the days were considered to be sacred living beings in contemporary Jacalteca and Ixil cultures (Lincoln 1942: 108). There was a deification of the 13 numbers, the 20 day- deities and mountains in prayer. They were “... worshipped and petitioned in prayer, together with the Holy Cross, God, Jesus Christ, the saints, the sun, the corn, and certain mountains and animals” (Lincoln 1942: 123-124). It is quite exciting that La Farge and Byers have observed that the days of the 260-day calendar were called “he” and not “it” in Jacaltenango:

When speaking of these day-names I have called them “he” instead of “it”, and referred to them as being “in charge” of a day, or in the case of the year bearer, “coming into office”. This is in strict accordance with local usage, and also is done to emphasize the fact that strictly speaking these names are not the names of days, but of “men” who control days . . . These twenty men have charge of their respective days, the informants spoke of “his day” .... The soothsayers stated definitely that “these men” granted the prayers, and would say of a given day-god “he does so-and-so (La Farge and Byers 1931: 172-173).

There is then a divine ruler or lord of the day. K’u is a combination of a word and number. The word is the name of a divinity which, in his turn, rules over a day (Farge 1947: 171):

... references to the names are always accompanied by the affix or title of male spiritual beings, human and divine, nak or ko-mam. Also, a soothsayer in speaking of the day controlled by a given lord is likely to speak of it as “his day” (Farge 1947: 171).

The days are time-units when the respective divine beings or day-lords are in power. They are: “reinforced or weakened by the magic powers of their associated numbers. According to their individual powers, they are also more or less effective and more or less deserving of prayer during the days of other lords” (Farge 1947: 172).

There are several ethnographic examples of the divine nature of the 365-day calendar as well but dominated by sacred days, most of them Year Bearers, from the 260-day calendar.[2] The Year Bearer and the day Ahau had an influence on prayer and the ceremonial observances throughout the year among the Kanhobal speaking Maya of Santa Eulalia (Farge 1947: 165). In the 365-day calendar of the Mam village of Todos Santos every fifth day is called an alcalde (“regent”). There are a total of four regents in a twenty-day unit. These are the four “alcaldes del mundo”. The other sixteen days of the twenty-day period are called “mayores” (minor officials). The twenty days are all considered to be gods (Price 1964: 268-269). These are: “.... farmer gods, who bring them rain and sunshine and fertility for the crops. They also bring good health and happiness” (Price 1964: 269). Maud Oakes reports in her book The Two Crosses of Todos Santos (1969) of a Year Bearer ceremony of the 365-day calendar performed in the Mam village of Santiago Chimaltenango in the Cuchumatanes Mountains within the department of Huehuetenango of northwest Guatemala (Oakes 1969: 99-114). The year of the Mam is founded upon the calendar of the religious specialists, the Chimanes.[3] The twenty days of the 360 day-calendar constitute deities where every fifth day is called an “alcalde”. There are four alcaldes del mundo (t’uit tor) (Oakes 1969: 100; 188):

These are powerful gods; the most powerful of the four is the day k’mane (also called ee), while the others-noj, ik and t’ce-are co-equals. The Mam year is always ushered in by one of the annually rotating alcaldes, and this alcalde is chief alcalde for the year and reappears every twenty days (Oakes 1969: 100).

The other sixteen days or gods are called mayores and batz. The twentieth day, batz (of the 260-day calendar) has a special significance in prayer. Batz is especially regarded as important to the Mam and is second in importance to the Alcaldes (Oakes 1969: 137; 188; 191; 256). The most important gods, k’mane (“Our little Father”) are followed by noj, ik and tce, or the four alcaldes del mundo corresponds to the names of the four most important mountains surrounding Todos Santos (Oakes 1969: 190). The four Mam regents, K’mane’ (the most important god or Year Bearer), Noj, I’k and Chej (of the 260-day calendar) therefore are each associated with a world direction and a colour. As the most prominent day-lord K’mane is every twenty day venerated with offerings of flowers and other objects, praying and the burning of candles at the church and at the religious site of Cumanchun (Price 1964: 269).

The twenty signs are divided into four groups of five each. In these twenty sacred words are expressed all the basic forces of creation and destruction, good and evil, yielding and immutable, operating in the world in society and in the heart of man. Upon the concatenation of these forces in individual lives depends the course of life and the destiny of the soul (Price 1964: 269).

The Achi of Cubulco, Baja Verapax department of the central highlands of Guatemala divide the agricultural year into two halves, the beginning and ending of the rainy season (alah) and the dry season (sa’ih) (Neueswander 1981: 143-147). Saints are by the Achi considered to supervise the time periods. They are the owners of these periods and have taken over the function of the ancient deities (Neueswander 1981: 149):

Whenever it rains on a saint’s day, the immediate response is that it came from the saint in charge. Ceremonies in the honor of saints still are for the purpose of “elevating their day/their birth” in the poetic language ....: qa yab’bal u’ih, yak’bal ralaxik “our raising-means his day, raising-means his birth” (Neueswander 1981: 149).

Every date, which held an astronomical significance, have the names of saints in many cultures of Mesoamerica (Neueswander 1981: 149-151). The Ixil and the Jacalteca assign the four days of the Year Bearers a special title of respect indicating that they are living beings. They are called “our father”, or “our father king” (cubal rey), or by the Spanish word “alcalde” which can be translated as “mayor” or “chieftain” (Thompson 1978: 96). The four Year Bearer days or Mam, Quej, E, No’j, Ik’, are also addressed as “alcaldes” in Momostenango. They are assisted by two secretaries (ajtzib) called: C’at and Tz’iquin (Tedlock 1992: 100).

It seems that a patron deity ruled the classic Maya 365-day calendar. A supernatural 365-day calendar patron, who appears as the central element of the so-called initial series introductory hieroglyph (ISIG), reigned over each twenty-day unit or veintena (winal/winik) in the 365-day calendar. The patron deities of 20-day units of the 365-calendar correspond loosely in function to the day gods of the 260-day calendar. Only 18 of 19 patrons of the veintenas have been identified because of the taboo of the 5 Way- haab days. There were also patron gods of the veintena in the 365-day calendar in the cultures of the Valley of Central Mexico (Duran 1967; 1972; Sahagun 1950 - 1982). The Aztecs celebrated ritual feasts each veintena to honour at least one deity. Attributes of the deities became the symbol of the veintena “..., although a picture of the patron god more usually indicates the period of 20 days” (Thompson 1978: 105).

Not only deities and human beings but also particular days and days of the Year Bearer can have the masculine gender prefix aj, “he”. In passages of the books of Chilam Balam of Tizimin, Chumayel and Kaua are special days and a day of the Year Bearer given the prefix “aj”. But this was not a general custom (Thompson 1978: 96). It also interesting, observes Thompson, that The Book of Chilam Balam of Mani contains the same reference to a k’atun (winikhaab): “ah oxlahun Ahau”, “he, 13 Ahau”. The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin outlines the k’atun as ah ho’ ahau, “he of 5 katun” and the Mam has ah oxlahun ahau, “he of 13 Ahau”. The Year Bearer of the 365- day calendar is in the Tizimin called ah oxil kan, “he of 3 Kan”. The masculine gender precedes the day names in the Chumayel and Kaua (Thompson

1978: 96).

The postclassic colonial Yucatec and contemporary ethnographic data of the days, numbers and time units of the 260-day calendar and the 365- day calendar seem to agree with the philosophy of sacred or deified time of the Long Count calendar of the classic Maya. The numbers of the classic Maya inscriptions were not only expressed by bars and dots but also by portraits of gods, the so-called “head variants”. The 20 days were respectively represented by 20 gods. A deification of periods of time and the numbers of the Long Count calendar, where a range of gods embodied time and numbers, were accordingly manifested in the inscriptions (Thompson 1956: 235-236; 1978: 1; 12). Periods of time were then regarded to be deities or were under charge or patronage of a supernatural being.[4] The full- figures signs in the classic inscriptions of the Long Count might, even if they did not symbolise a burden of time, illustrate that the time units and numbers of this linear calendar were deified. But I warn against the methodology of this explication—as I did concerning the “pictographic evidence” for the “time as a burden theory”. The personified sign does not only express numbers and units of time but also grammatical elements. There are, however, other indications of the divine character of the time periods of the Long Count calendar.

Avendano y Loyola asserts that the books and stones were associated with the calendar where each time period had its particular “idol” and religious specialist. In this connection he says that the Indigenous people worshipped the “devil”, i.e. the time deities in the form of stones (Means

1917: 141; Roys 1933: 142, note 5; 184; Avendano 1997: 42). Avendano y Loyola writes of the k’atun cycle of the Itza in the late seventeenth century that he had seen books with:

... ages and prophecies which their idols and images announced to them, or, to speak more accurately, the devil by means of the worship which they pay to him in the form of some stones. These ages are thirteen in number; each has its separate idol and its priest, with a separate prophecy of its events. These thirteen ages are divided into thirteen parts which divide this kingdom of Yucatan and each age, with its idol, priest and prophecy, rules in one of these thirteen parts of the land, according as they have divided it (Means 1917: 141).

The expression ‘K’atun X Ajaw’ refers to not only the stone but also an “idol” representing the old and new time unit. The “idol” of Katun 7 Ajaw was for instance ceremonially removed and replaced (seated) by the “idol” of K’atun 5 Ajaw. In the K’atun ceremony two “idols” share the power for about 10 years. Landa writes that:

They worshipped and offered homage and sacrifices to the first, ..., as a remedy for the calamities of their twenty years. But for the ten years, which remained of the twenty of the first idol, they did not do anything for him more than to burn incense to him and to show him respect. When the twenty years of the first idol had passed, he began to be succeeded by the destinies of the second and (they began) to offer him sacrifices, and having taken away that first idol, they put another in its place, in order to worship that for ten more years (Tozzer 1941: 168).

Landa accounts that the Yucatec had “idols” of deities, placed in temples, dedicated to each k’atun. Representing the individual k’atun, these “idols” were worshipped by the Yucatecs (Tozzer 1941: 168-169). A divine influence of the time-periods affected the daily life of the people. A deity ruled over every 13 k’atun named after the day (Ajaw) (Thompson 1978: 181-182). Seating of gods at time intervals are described in The Codex Perez and The Book of Chilam Balam ofMam, where the seating of a patron deity of a k’atun as the reigning lord, with symbols of government, a cup, mat, throne and bed, is outlined (Craine and Reindorp 1979: 102; 106, note 146). The reign of Amayte Ku (K’atun 5 Ajaw) is over:

On 10 Ix, 1 Pop, during the Katun 5 Ahau, there fell from heaven the fan and the bouquet of the ruler. When Amayte Ku was seated, he was firmly established in his coming command, at his cup, on his mat, on his throne and on his bed. Then his command was taken away; he was forsaken at the time when one worked stone was placed upon another, and he relinquished the language (law?) he had known since birth. It was the time for arranging the calendar (setting the order of the Katun). It was a time in which Ah Piltec (He-who-opens-the-eyes) asked for charity and the burner (Ahtoc) gathered his fire, which has the heat of the sun. The priest kept watch; with sorrowful face he looked at his father (or lord), who was given a mat opposite him and who was always seen fasting with his eyes on heaven. The soul of Aj Siyahtun-Chac cried out. It was the time when it was determined which Katun should follow Katun 5 Ahau, the time to implore the intercession of Ah Nitoe and Ah Mazuy. The following day Ah Kinchil descended (Craine and Reindorp 1979: 106-107).

The god of Katun 5, Amayte Ku, is first seated with his symbols of power: the mat, cup, thorn and bed. His time is up and he is replaced with the next k’atun Lord or Regent (Craine and Reindorp 1979: 106, notes 146, 147 & 148). Roys comments that there is a mention in Books of Chilam Balam of a ‘plate’ or a ‘cup’ of the K’atun that was set up. This is probably associated with the rituals with the “idols” of the K’atun accounted by Landa. The “plate” or the “cup” may symbolise the numerical coefficient of the day of the Ajaw (of the 260-day calendar), which gave the K’atun its name and identity (Roys 1933: 101, note 1). The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel characterise the deities as the face or countenance of the k’atun (Roys 1933: 151, note 3) in this way: “Katun 11 Ahau is set upon the mat, set upon the throne, when their ruler is set up. Yaxal Chac is its face to their ruler” (Roys 1933: 77). We can later read in the same book that: “Katun 11 Ahau is established at Ichcaanzihoo. Yax-haal Chac is its face” (Roys 1933: 133).[5] Moreover, Don Juan Perez accounts that:

At the end of each Ajau Katun, or period of 24 years,” says a manuscript, “great feasts were celebrated in honour of the god thereof, and a statue of a god was put up, with letters and inscriptions” (Stephens 1843: 286-287, Vol. 1).

The Maya had in the temple two “idols”, each carry the name of the actual k’atun period it ruled, dedicated each to a k’atun period. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel states that:

This katun today is Katun 3 Ahau. The time has come for the end of its rule and reign. It is finished. Another one for a time. This is Katun 1 Ahau, which is set within the house of Katun 3 Ahau. There it is its guest, while it is given its power by Katun 3 Ahau (Roys 1933: 89).

Also following the 365-day calendar, as delineated by Landa, the Maya make a clay figure of the deity of the (365-day calendar) year and place it in the temple where it will reign for the haab year (Tozzer 1941: 139-142).

The time components of the 260-day calendar, the 365-day calendar, the Short Count calendar and the Long Count calendar were therefore regarded by the Maya to be divine. The deities were, however, not passively personifying time. They played an active role in the completion and re-inauguration of “period-endings”. We have seen that various supernatural beings acted at the last “period-ending date” of the former Long Count, 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u). Inscriptions outline that supernormal beings ended and inaugurated time intervals in preceding Long Count eras and also performed temporal interval rituals in the contemporary Long Count. For instance, the inscription on Stela 7, Copan records a k’altun- ritual, conduced by the two Paddler gods and the Ik’ (“wind”) god, on the date 2 Ajaw 3 Suutz’ (May 10, 613 ad) (Schele 1987: 200-201). The Wind god (Ik’) is named u tzutz pik or “kalabtun” (B8). He may be a patron of this period of time. The deities were also present as participants in rituals or by being conjured in these types of ceremonies.

A passage (B12-B14) related to the half “period-ending date” of in the quite long inscription on Stela 31, Tikal is transcribed according to Stuart as: tahnlamajjun pik chan(al) k’uh kab(al) k’uh translated as: “the eight thousand heavenly deities and earthly deities half-diminished”. In addition other deities are mentioned with the eight thousand heavenly deities and earthly deities: The Paddler Gods, the wind god, the sun god, the Principal Bird Deity and Bolon Tz’akab Ajaw. A later abbreviated passage of the same inscription (E24-F27) also says that eight thousand heavenly deities and earthly deities were associated with the half-period ending of[6] Stuart believes that not abstract (half winikhaab) but divine time, embodied by deities, is being diminished by the passage of temporal units. A ritual renewal or regeneration by ritual practice of time is therefore necessary. The Tikal lord Siyaj Chan K’awiil is said to oversee or tending to the diminishing time unit (or temporal deities) (u kabij) by performing a renewing or regeneration ritual at change of the winikhaab period on (Stuart 2011b: 2-4). Bruce Love (2011) adds to Stuart’s propos?al[7] by comparing this with how k’atun (winikhaab) and other time deities (of the 365-day calendar year) are being outlined by Landa and illustrated in the Paris, Dresden and Madrid codices as “loosing power” and being replaced by other temporal deities. This transitional process is overseen or tended by the ruler Tikal lord Siyaj Chan K’awiil. I find, however, this explanation problematic because Stuart argues that the suffix -aj makes tahnlam an intransitive verb followed by the subject e.g. the various deities (Stuart 2011b: 2): making the passage a VS and not a VO sentence. Consequently it is 8000 deities’ etc. as agents whom half diminished the winikhaab followed by a overseeing or a ritual by the Maya lord. This is another example of the agency or active role of deities at ritual practices of time.

The calendar systems and the numbers of the classic Maya were not lifeless, abstract or purely mathematical (quantitative) but derived from, pervaded by and practiced by the agency of various supernatural beings. It is for that reason reasonable to assume that the ritual practice of the Long Count calendar was conducted in order to complete old and inaugurate new intervals of deified/sacred linear time.

  • [1] Cf. Leben, Glaube und Sprache der Quiche von Guatemala (Schultze Jena 1933).
  • [2] No mention of a deity of the 20-day unit of the 365-day calendar is stated in theBooks of the Chilam Balam but this is expected, claims Thompson, because a sequence ofk’atuns and not specific dates are stated in these chronicles (Thompson 1978: 153).
  • [3] The ceremonial calendar is denominated as guaxaklaj xau, or the “calendar of theChimanes”. A year of 360 days is named abij. The 18 twenty days is tequin ij, or wen en ij, orxau which can be translated as “moon”. A day is called ij, which also means “sun” (Oakes1969: 99; 188).
  • [4] Thompson has described the identification of the numbers with deities in greatdetail (Thompson 1978: 88-89; 93; 131-137).
  • [5] Ichcaanzihoo is the Maya name of Merida also called Tihoo (Roys 1933: 133, note 2).
  • [6] Cf. also the date: 9 Ajaw 3 Muwan in the same inscription where the ruleris said to bind a stone after the deities’ half-diminished time: tanlamaj jun pik k’uh kab k’uhchan k’alajtuun Siyaj Chan K’awiil (H7-G9).
  • [7]
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