An Interval Ritual: A Ritual Transition from Xul to Yaxk’in and Mol within the Postclassic Yucatec 365-day Calendar

There are indications that the year of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day calendar was almost certainly ceremonially transferred from the veintena of Xul to Yaxk’in because there are similarities between the descriptions of the ritual performed on the last five days of Xul and Wayeb in Landa’s

Relacion. Xul can be rendered as “completion” and Yaxk’in can be translated as “new sun” or “new day”. The last day of the previous veintena and the first day of the new veintena found place at the same time. This sign is nearly always placed together with Yax k’in. Yax k’in may therefore originally have been the first veintena of the New Year. Gates originally proposed—later followed by Tozzer—the idea that the 365-day year began in Yaxk’in (Wichmann 2000: 47; 49; 222). Gates writes, in his 1937 translation of Landa’s Relacion, that:

Xul means “end, termination”, and on the 16th they created new fire, and continued offerings and other ceremonies for the last five days of the month, paralleling those later carried on before the New Year beginning the 1st of Pop’. K’in means “sun, day, time” so that Yaxk’in means “new time”. And so even in the later changed arrangement they kept the month Yaxkin for the renewal of all utensils with preparation for the very sacred ceremonial carving of the new images in the following month Mol, and carried through into Ch’en (Gates 1978: 74-75, original bold emphasis changed to italic).

Landa accounts that in the veintena of Xul, all the lords and religious specialists gathered in the city of Mam with people coming in multitudes from the towns after fasts and abstention. A procession of people was carrying “idols” from the temple of the lord to the temple of Kukulcan. There was a kindling of a new fire and offerings were made. In the temple remained the lords and the ones who had fasted for five days and five nights in prayer, making sacrifices and executing sacred dancing until the first day of Yaxk’in (Tozzer 1941: 157-158). Tozzer observed that: “The fasting and prayers, together with the rites held on the last five days of the month Xul, recall the same details in the ritual held on the Uayeb days” (Tozzer 1941: 158, note 808). The last five days of Xul can be understood, like the five-day Wayeb period, as an inverted or as a liminal period of a rite de passage. Landa outline the ceremonial activity during these days:

The comedians went during these five days among the principal houses, playing their pieces and collected the gifts which were given to them, and they carried the whole of them to the temple where, when the five days were ended and past, they divided the gifts among the lords, priests and dancers, and they got together the banners and idols and returned to the house of the lord, and from there each one to his own house (Tozzer 1941: 158).

Kukulcan came down from the sky on the last of the five days. He received the vigils and offerings of the festival of five days called Chic Kaban (Tozzer 1941: 158).[1]

On Yaxk’in a general festival called Yolob u dzab Kan Yax was, in honour of all the deities, prepared for the succeeding veintena of Mol. A religious specialist determined this day (Tozzer 1941: 158-159). During Yaxk’in an initiation ceremony and a renewal ritual, that came off in November-De- cember and which began the new agricultural year, was executed. Yaxk’in corresponded in the mid-sixteenth century to the period November 23-De- cember 12 when the bush is cut down in preparation for making the milpa (Tozzer 1941: 158-159, note 811).[2] Yaxk’in is recorded several times in Codex Madrid, supposedly in association with a first fruit ritual (Vail 2002: 78-85). Landa records also analogous New Year ritual elements in the veintena Mol (which succeeds Yaxk’in).

Moreover, the Yolob u dzab Kan Yax initiation ceremony for boys and girls was undertaken in Mol. A fasting and the election of the Chacs were undertaken. There was a drunken ceremony at the end of this feast with a renewal of “idols” (Tozzer 1941: 159-160). An erection of the four Acantun (stones) at four cardinal points in a ritual for the manufacture of wooden idols did also take place in the veintena of Mol (Tozzer 1941: 159-160). Landa writes that during Mol the Yucatec “... put incense to burn to four gods called Acantuns, which they located and placed at the four cardinal points” (Tozzer 1941: 160). It will be remembered that in each of the four Wayeb- rituals there was a stone called Acantun connected to a colour and a cardinal point. Each of these stones represents the four cardinal points of the world in the cosmogony according to Roys (Roys 1933: 171; Tozzer 1941: 160, note 827). A ceremonial or “period-ending” interval transition can have been performed from the sixth to the eighth veintena—Xul, Yaxk’in and Mol—within the 365-day calendar year. But how can this be explained within the context of the New Year rituals of Paax, K’ayab, Kumk’u, Wayeb and Pohp?

Ethnographic data convey that fixed seasonable summer and winter stations, every period lasting 180 days, within the traditional 365-day calendar were observed in numerous Maya communities.

The Ch’orti’ 365-day calendar ceremony of the village Quetzaltepeque at the department of Chiquimula, Guatemala has been witnessed and delineated by Rafael Girard. The old cosmo-ideogram is discarded so the rain gods are not able to function. This is a symbolic destruction of the cosmos, which features the termination of the old time cycle. The rainy period is closed and the summer calendar cycle under the protection of the new sun begins on the October 25 under the ceremonial supervision of a new group of religious specialists. This ritual ending of the rainy season and the introduction of the summer cycle under the New Sun may be reflected in Landa’s Relacion by the words Xul (“end”) and Yaxk’in (“New Sun”) of the pre-His- panic/pre-Christian calendar claims Girard. The end of Xul and October 25 corresponds, according to the calendar delineated by Don Pedro Sanchez de Aguilar (Bishop of Yucatan in the 17th century) book Informe contra Idolorum Cultores (1639 ad). The introduction and termination of the winter and summer seasons, which embodies either nine 20 periods or 20 nine periods cycles of 180 days each, are ritually dramatised by nine religious specialists. Time is thereby ceremonially ordered or structured. A bipartite division of 180 days of winter and summer cycles each are ceremonially celebrated by their beginning and ending. They are separated and untied at the same time as parts of a whole. There is a change of deities, religious specialists, religious institutions and ceremonies at the transformation of winter and summer seasons. But there is also continuity, since the rain gods become solar gods and vice versa (Girard 1966: 219-228).

The Ch’orti’ 365-day year is tied or closed on January 7 at the last dance of the Bull. The bull is tied with a lasso with the sacred number of five tied knots. A prayer is held with the wish of health and good fortune for the coming year for the community. The old year is tied (Sp. “anudado”) when the summer cycle and calendar wheel are concluded. The ceremony of the fastening of the bull completes the year symbolically. There is not celebrated another ceremony until the New Year ritual. A cycle of 20 days (from December 19 to January 7) is represented by the dance of the Bull. It ends with the binding of the Bull who impersonates both a time period and a deity. The termination of the year rituals concludes the merry and festive season of the cycle of solar worship, a period taking place after the 260-day cycle of agricultural labour (Girard 1949: 271-272; 1966: 262-263). Consequently, a 180 days summer and winter season and an ending of the five afflicted days, xma kaba kin, constitutes the 365-day calendar of the Ch’orti’. A chrono-religious and economical division of the Ch’orti’ 365-day calendar is therefore divided in three sections:

  • 1. The date of the New Year.
  • 2. The opening ceremony of the rain season.

3. The exaltation of the New Sun (Yax k’m) with the introduction of the summer season.

The K’iche’-speaking АсЫ or Aj-Cubul winak of the municipio of Cubulco located in the departamento of Baja Verapaz in the central highlands of Guatemala has retained most of the ancient system of computing time. The year (hunab) is divided into half-years (nik’ah hunab). There are accordingly two seasons, rain (alah) and dry (sa’ih), each composed of six veintenas. Ceremonies are performed at the beginning and at the termination of the rainy season (Neuenswander 1981: 143-147).

The 365-day calendar year renewal rituals of the contemporary Tzotzil Zinacanteco are also executed twice a year. Ac’ Habil (“New Year”), O’Lol Habil (“Midyear”) and Slaheb Habil (“End of year”) are celebrated by various religious specialists. Only in the centre of Zinacantan are all these rituals performed annually, where they are conducted for the good of the entire community (Vogt 1993: 179).[3] [4] The period of New Year festival, December 16 to January 25, fall at the end of the maize cycle. It is a ritual marking of the end of the old and the beginning of the new solar year.43 There are two phases: The Christmas-New Year’s Epiphany and after twelve days there is the fiesta of San Sebastian.[5] “The phases are like a couplet in a Zinacanteco prayer: the second restates and intensifies the ritual symbols and themes of the first” comments Vogt (Vogt 1993: 176). The Year renewal rituals do not follow the Catholic calendar in a specific way. The most prestigious religious specialist, the Presidente and the Elders sets the dates. It is essential that the Year Renewal rituals do not come in conflict with other ceremonial dates (Vogt 1993: 180)[6] These ceremonies are terminating and renewing the cycle of the 365-day year. If the end of the year originally took place near the winter solstice, as that would follow the natural time cycle of the sun, is not known (Vogt 1993: 187).

The ceremonial practice of the veintenas of Xul, Yaxk’in and Mol of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day calendar presumably display such an interval temporal ritual (provided that Landa’s account of the ceremonial proceedings of the veintenas is correct), but not as a Half Year ritual since these veintena’s does not fall on Half Year dates. The sequences of the Half Year were recognised by the postclassic Maya. It had a significant position in the seasonal table in the Codex Dresden and was related with the solstices. The Half Year of 180 days of the late postclassic and colonial Yucatec Maya 365-day calendar fall on the date 1 Yax and during the nameless days (xma kaba kin) of Wayeb (beginning of the 361st day of the year) (Bricker and Miram 2002: 39-41; 47). The reason for celebrating the sequence of the veintenas rituals of Xul, Yaxk’in and Mol of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day calendar is indeed obscure but it may have an agricultural significance (cf. below) since Yaxk’in, new sun” might refer to the dry season or winter and Mol to “harvest” according to Stuart (Stuart 2011: 159).

It is quite clear from the ethnographic data given above that a completion and renewing of sequences of time can be ritually celebrated, not only at the beginning and end, but also at certain stations within the 365-day calendar. Consequently, interval temporal rituals, at Half Year or at other time stations, of the solar and the agricultural 365-day calendar were commonly practised.

  • [1] Roys has etymologically analysed Chic Kaban (Tozzer 1941: 157, note 802).
  • [2] “In the eastern Yucatan peninsula today, late November and early December markthe time when the maize ears are doubled on their stalks and harvesting begins (Redfieldand Villa Rojas 1934: 83; Villa Rojas 1945: 78-79). The harvesting of the maize crop also takesplace during the same time period in the Lacandon area of Chiapas (Davis 1978: Table 2)and in the Ch’orti’ region of Honduras. Additionally the Ch’orti’ harvest festival is celebratedin late November or early December, and manufacturing tasks are also begun during thistime (Wisdom 1940: 468)” (Vail 2002: 78; 85).
  • [3] “Zinacantecos say they are performed so the year may pass in happiness and contentment, without sickness or death” (Vogt 1993: 179).
  • [4] “The events begin just before the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its lowestpoint of waning, and continue through what is appropriately considered “the rising heatfiesta” as the sun is moving higher into the sky, the danger of frost is passing, and the newmaize-growing season is about to begin” (Vogt 1993: 176).
  • [5] Cf. also Hunt (1977: 226-228).
  • [6] “The New Year Ceremony is set for a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday in late January orearly February, following San Sebastian, which symbolizes the end of one year and thebeginning of the next. The Midyear rite is scheduled for a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday afterJune 24, the Day of San Juan. And the End of Year ceremony is assigned a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday following All Saint’s Day, usually late in November but occasionally in earlyDecember” (Vogt 1993: 180).
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