The Structure of Time: Interval and Calendar Ending/ Calendar Inaugurating Rituals

There are two elementary categories of the ritual practice of time. The ritual practice of time can either celebrate a termination and an inauguration of the calendar or just a sequence (interval) of time within the calendar system.

Being either organised in a linear or in a cyclic manner fundamentally identifies a calendar system. All calendars have a starting point. A cyclic calendar has a determined termination date, which will be, seemingly endlessly, restarted on exactly the same introduction date. Conversely, linear time has a distant, but not always acknowledged, definitive date of conclusion. In contrast with the cyclic principle, linear time, will therefore not be re-introduced. A termination or completion of individual time stations or time units appears in a linear calendar and a cyclic calendar. But only a cyclic calendar can incorporate a calendar ending/calendar inaugurating ritual.

The contemporary Long Count calendar is reported, by the inscriptions, to have started on the date 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u) (the last day of the preceding Long Count reckoning) or Rituals were announced celebrated along the Long Count continuum. Due to its long linear time span, the Long Count was never ceremonially closed and restarted. The passage of time was just ritually divided in the Long Count calendar into units and subunits. We may categorise the divisions of the Long Count calendar as discontinuous time-reckonings, where a regular recurrence of unequal time units within a linear system, were ritually defined. Since the Long Count calendar was not terminated by these interval ceremonies, a sequential ritual practice of time instead of a calendar-end- ing/inaugurating practice of time was being observed.

Another type of an interval ritual is the Burner rituals of the cyclic postclassic Yucatec 260-day period. There were four Burner periods, in units or intervals of 65 days in the 260-day calendar (65 x 4 = 260 days). The 65 days were internally divided in three intervals of twenty days and in one of five days. A five-day intermission followed each sixty-series, serving as a time of transition to the next Burner period. The structure of the ritual sequence consists of intervals marking the completion of four definite 65 cycles of 260 days. The Burner ceremonies comprise 16 rites divided into four groups of four rituals each within the 260-day period. These ceremonies encompass a quadripartite ritual sequential interval (65-days) structure of a cycle of 260-days. The Burner rituals constituted a structural interval but not necessarily a calendar-ending ritual since a fixed beginning and ending date of 260-days cannot be recognised. The 260-day calendar is, in the Burner ceremonies, not terminated on a specific date. As a result, we cannot be sure whether the Burner ceremonies started and completed the postclassic Yucatec 260-day calendar or a simply a 260-day period.

The ritual structure of the traditional Mesoamerican 365-day calendar and of the European Catholic calendar, which are included in numerous modern Mesoamerican cultures, is quite dissimilar. Thus, three types of rituals of time of the 365-day calendar can be identified among Maya groups in Mesoamerica:

  • 1. The Pre-Catholic/Pre-European (Pre-Gregorian) Year Bearer ritual of the Mesoamerican 365-day calendar.
  • 2. The traditional Maya-Catholic Year Bearer ritual of the Mesoamerican 365-day calendar.
  • 3. The Maya-Catholic cargo-changing Year Bearer ritual of the Gregorian 365-day calendar.

A religious importance is attached to the celebration of the calendar festivals on a proper date. Calendar ceremonies or festivals and rituals of time are therefore intimately connected. Divisions of the 365-day year are determined by atmospheric and ecological conditions where geographic latitude decides the mode of life of the 365-day calendar. Consequently, various festivals are held at definite times of the 365-day year. Agricultural and seasonal ritual practices celebrated within the 365-day calendar can for that reason perceived to demark time in interval sequences. According to this principle, the traditional Mesoamerican 365-day calendar integrated rituals of the festivals of their 18 veintena. It is true that fixed calendar seasonal festivals of the 365-day calendar systematically divide time. But the primary instrumental function of these rituals was not to systematise or define a limited division of time. The rituals of the veintena regulated and ordered the calendar but did not inaugurate the beginning of a season or a 365-day year. These festivals were pre-eminently concerned with nat?ural cyclic phenomena of the 365-day year, and not in time-reckoning as such. Interval rituals, at the Half Year or at other time (summer/winter) stations, of the solar and the agricultural 365-day calendar year were and are quite common in Mesoamerica. Ritualised seasonal intervals of the 365-day calendar are contrasted with the more abstract time-intervals of the 260-day calendar and the Long Count calendar.

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