THE RITUAL PRACTICE OF TIME OF THE 260-DAY CALENDAR OF THE POSTCLASSIC YUCATEC CIVILISATION: THE BURNER CEREMONIES OF QUADRIPARTITE 65-DAY INTERVALS

Rituals celebrating a symbolic termination and re-beginning of the cyclical Mesoamerican 260-day calendar is known from ethnographic data as for instance from the contemporary Ch’orti’ culture (Girard 1949; 1966). Conversely, there are a few extant sources from the early colonial period of Mesoamerican pre-European/pre-Christian rituals of time celebrated at certain intervals of the 260-day calendar.

Interval Rituals of the 260-day Calendar In Mesoamerica

The so-called Burner period 65-day intervals of the cyclical 260-day calendar are only acknowledged from Yucatec sources and therefore believed to represent an exclusive Yucatecian tradition (Taube 1988: 178). This ritual may, however, not be purely Yucatecian. Barbara Tedlock asserts that contemporary 65-days interval burner rituals are conducted by K’iche’ male and female religious specialists in Momostenango of Highland Guatemala (Tedlock 1983). Moreover, David Stuart has identified a plate where the Maize God is surrounded by the twenty day-names of the 260-day calendar. They are divided in four sections where each is associated with one of the four cardinal directions: 4 x 5 = 20 (Stuart 2011: 144-146). This indicates that also the classic Maya had a spatial-temporal interval concept of the 260-day calendar, which might have been ritually observed. The role of the Maize God may also suggest that the 260-day calendar had an agricultural character, which is outlined by the Spanish ethnographer missionary Fray Diego Duran for the Nahua civilization (Duran 1971: 396-397).[1] A quite unique Aztec (Nahua) presentation of the 260-day calendar can be observed in the colonial Mexican Codice Tudela. This manuscript contains a description, not only of the eighteen festivals of the 365-day calendar, but also of the ritual cycle of the Nahua 260-day calendar, tonalpohualli. The ceremonial cycle is organised in four groups of sixty-five days where each group is associated with a tree and two patron deities (Boone 2001: 268-269). There is also a division into 4 periods of 65 days in Codex Borgia (lam. 27-28), Codex Vaticano B (fol. 69) and Codex Fejervary-Mayer (fol. 33-34).[2] Additionally, Juan de Cordoba’s Arte delIdioma Zapoteca narrates that the Zapotec 260- day calendar (pje or piye) was divided into four time units of 65 days each (cocjo or pitao) (Cordova [1578^987: 201-214).[3] Colonial manuscripts from Villa Alta also outline a quadripartite division of 65 days (each ecomposed of 5 x 13 day periods) of the Zapotec 260-day calendar (Alcina Franch 1993: 181-183; cf. also Tavarez 2011: 144-156; 196-199).[4] The Zapotecs made sacrifices to the four cocjo.[5] Similar rituals of the Yucatec Burner ceremonies, marking a 65-day period, were most probably celebrated among the Aztecs, the Zapotecs and other cultures of Mesoamerica.

  • [1] It appears, however, that Duran confuse the 365-day calendar with the 260-daycalendar (cf. Duran 1971: 395).
  • [2] Anonymous reviewer.
  • [3] Cf. summary by Caso (1965: 943-944) and Whitecotton (1977: 168).
  • [4] Cf. also the outline of the Zapotec 260-day calendar as quadripartite by the Bishop ofDurango and Oaxaca, Diego Diaz de Quintanilla y de Hevia y Valdes (1656: 187).
  • [5] Cf. the spatial-temporal analysis of the Zapotec 260-day calendar by Marcus (200391-92) and de la Cruz (2003: 346-370).
 
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