The Cultural Ritual Practice of Time of Various Calendars

Time is sensed, conceived and experienced by the individual and by the community. Moreover, time is identified and defined by its organisation and systematisation within calendars. The worldview of a culture and individuals is accordingly influenced by the calendars. The calendar holds an ideological meaning and function where the socio-political and religious practices are patterned. Consequently, time is integral to the constitution of society and the social construction of reality. As we have seen, not one but a multiplicity of time reckonings or calendar systems can subsist within a socio-cultural context. Cultures construct different notions of time through a synchronisation of chronotypes. A disparate time concept can hence coexist within the same social and cultural community causing a plurality of time reckonings (i.e. calendar systems) (Rutz 1992: 2) or a poly-chroni (Jens Braarvig, personal communication, 2005). The calendars and the associated ritual practice impose order where a culture can gain hold on the past, present and future. The ritual practice of time is therefore ideological and strategic, although dependent on the type of the calendar and the political, religious and socio-cultural context.

The computation of the Long Count calendar was not adjusted to meteorological phenomena of the agricultural year and functioned therefore not as a chronological instrument for the farmer. It is reason to believe that the farmer instead, independently of the Long Count calendar, applied the 365-day calendar and conceivably the 260-day calendar. Hence, the different calendars served contrasting purposes. A misunderstood comparison of the 365-calendar and Long Count calendar ritual has, however, been made by various scholars.[1] [2] In her analysis of the modern Chamula Maya festival, Bricker is confusing the New Year Ceremony of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day calendar with ritual temporal practices of the Long Count calendar (Bricker 1989: 237-249). Christie perceives the Year Renewal ceremonies of the 365-day calendar as “the modern version of classic Maya “period-ending” and accession rituals” of the Long Count calendar (Christie 1995: 304). Taube has observed that numerous elements of the Yucatec New Year festival like gods (the Bacabs and the Chacs), iconography, symbols and cosmological conceptions are shared with the classic Maya (Taube 1988: 304-306). Taube therefore argues that the completion of Long Count periods and the 365-day year have many thematic elements in common. Among these joint themes is the concept of time as a burden and that the end of time periods is symbolised by a death motif. Moreover, Taube expresses that “The erection of stone trees in association with both Long Count period endings and the end of the 365-day year suggest that there was considerable thematic overlap between the “period-ending” events of both calendrical cycles” (Taube 1988: 200-204; 215). Thus, Bricker, Christie and Taube apparently do not conceive the fundamental difference between rituals of the Long Count calendar and the 365-day calendar.16 These cal?endar systems have, however, as have been elaborated (in the foregoing analysis of this book) to be incomparable. An example is the concept of a ‘burden of time’, which has been proposed by numerous scholars to constitute the philosophy of the ritual practice of calendar time of the Long Count calendar and the 365-day calendar. But this notion, intimately associated with the concept of the Year Bearer, only applies to the 365-day calendar and the 52-year calendar. The Year Bearer was a supernatural being (time deity) impersonating and ruling time of the 365-day year. The Year Bearer carried time as a burden, which was to be transferred, during the ceremonies of the New Year festival, to the next Year Bearer. When a 52-year calendar cycle is terminated the four Year Bearers of the four cardinal directions had completed their burden of time. In this manner, the four Year Bearers of the 52-year calendar cycle carried the burden of time. Linear time did not have this crucial need. Ritualised time of the classic Maya Long Count calendar was conceivably of a special value. Time of this calendar was not perceived to be a purely abstract burden in Maya philosophy but instead under the reigns of various gods. Time deities, controlling time units, interchanged in taking the office (“cargo”) of a time interval of the linear Long Count calendar. An office or cargo is considered in Me- soamerica to be a burden, i.e. a duty or obligation. Time was therefore not a burden of deities, which had to be ritualised. Instead, I have advocated that there was a ceremonial homage to “idols” of these time deities at the change of a time period of the Long Count calendar through the ritual practice.

Taube and other scholars[3] have found several parallels between the New Year rites of the 365-day calendar of the postclassic Yucatec Maya with the 52-year calendar ritual of the postclassic Aztecs. These are the night vigil, the threat of world destruction by demons, the journey to mountains or surrogate mounds, the casting out of old utensils and the creation of a new fire at the beginning of the new time period (Thompson 1934: 229;

Taube 1988: 309-310). I refer to the previous analysis of this book demonstrating the fundamental discrepancies between these two calendar systems and their ritual practices. The 365-day calendar and the 52-year calendar were simply incompatible calendars, even if their ritual practices of time have a few traits in common.

Various scholars have aimed to show that the inscriptions also display a celebration of so-called “New Year rituals” of the 365-day calendar (Taube 1988; Stuart 2005; Zender 2004). It is intriguing that Alfredo Barrera Vasquez reports that stones at the end of a k’atun (winikhaab) and at the end of a 365-day period were erected in the colonial period (Barrera Vasquez 1965: 72, note 17). But, in contrast with the recorded rituals of time of the Long Count calendar, no known inscription state explicitly that a celebration of a conclusion and beginning of the 365-day calendar was being observed. Nevertheless, I do not doubt that the classic Maya conducted New Year rituals of the 365-day calendar, but more data and research are needed to establish this securely. That the classic Maya rigorously observed “periodending dates” within the Long Count calendar on public monuments and other objects, and not ritual practices of time of the 260-calendar and the 365-day calendar, may simply be because it was the calendar of the aristocracy. It was the aristocratic concept of time, more or less forced upon the common people, which were publicly displayed. This suggests that the Long Count calendar was more important to the elite of the polities in the classic period than for instance the agricultural calendar of 365-days.

The data to be presented in the following sections establish that a particular Mesoamerican culture did indeed employ various calendars associated with different ritual practices of time:

  • 1. The postclassic Maya of Yucatan celebrated rituals of time of the 260- day calendar, the 365-day calendar and the Long Count (Short Count) calendar.
  • 2. The postclassic Aztecs celebrated rituals of time of the 52-year calendar and the 365-day calendar.

I begin with the postclassic Aztecs, followed by the postclassic Yucatec Maya.

  • [1] The inscription on Stela 1, Jimbal (A4-A5) of the classic Maya display evidence of thesame Year Bearer system as is known from Codex Borgia (lams. 49-52) of Central-Mexico(Alfonso Lacadena, personal communication, 2007) but in the Maya case intermixed withthe Long Count calendar system.
  • [2] Alfonso Garda-Gallo Lacadena has identified on the Northern wall of the “Hieroglyphic Mural” of Room 22, Structure 1 (Acropolis), Ek’ Balam, the expression 14 tun k’ay [('],which he translates as “the announcement of the 14 tun”, before the date 3 Lamat 1 Wayhaaband nine other Calendar Round dates. The series of Calendar Wheels, expressed later inthe inscription, suggests the beginning of winals of the 14 tun from the 17 k’atun (9.17.13.0.8;
  • [3] 9.17.13.1.8; 9.17.13.2.8; 9.17.13. 3.13, etc. ). Lacadena maintains that celebration of a ceremony,which prognosticates a tun (the 14 tun) was connected with New Year rituals, outlined byLanda, of the 365-day calendar (Lacadena 2003: 32-34). Lacadena confuses, however, the365-day calendar of the Calendar Round with the 360-day period of the Long Count calendar. Consequently, Landa’s account is useless in this context. Moreover, no verb, conveyinga ritual undertaking, can be identified in the inscription. Thus no rituals of the 365-daycalendar are stated to be celebrated. 17 Cf. Tozzer (1941: 151-152, note 750).
 
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