Maya Spacetime

Maya image

How to seek a prediction: Visit a priest/calendar expert

(Sample) Equipment: Mayan calendar

Personnel: Priest trained in interpreting meaning of dates

The Maya Civilization of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras developed as early as 2000 BCE, but the major kingdoms rose and fell between 300 BCE and 1250 CE, though even the Classic Maya (c.250-900 CE) cities were never part of a unified empire like the 15th century Aztecs. Rather, Maya kingdoms formed alliances and regional city-states that competed and cooperated with each other over the course of nearly three millennia.

In Maya belief, supernatural beings had the power to intervene in human affairs on earth, only certain humans were able to interact directly with the upper and lower spirit worlds and forces, and these individuals were either royalty who served as intermediaries between gods and humans or specially trained priests and other ritual specialists with the appropriate knowledge, tools, and ancestry.

One way the Maya attempted to understand the will of the gods was through astronomy. Astronomer-priests recorded their observations of the movements of celestial bodies and other sky events and their calendar dates over extended periods of time in bark paper or deerskin books called “codices” that were passed down over centuries. Over time, these evolved from observation of data to theory in the form of astronomical tables designed to allow priests to predict future similar events. The priests would then link the occurrence of an astronomical event with a terrestrial event (e.g. an eclipse occurring around the time of a king’s death) and use these connections to help predict what the gods had in store for them when the next astronomical event of that type occurred again.

The Mayan systems’ reliance on celestial phenomena is reminiscent of the purely astrological predictive systems popular today, in that the #deterministic motion of celestial bodies is linked into an otherwise #human (interpreter) oriented predictive system.

For even more background on the Maya, check out our "Deeper Text" from Dr. Dylan Clark.

Also, as you can see from the image above, our course logo is inspired from the image of a Maya astronomer, from the Madrid Codrex.

Maya Astronomy

Maya Calendar

 

Meet the Expert: Dr. Dylan Clark

The Diviner's Guide expert on the Maya is Dr. Dylan Clark. Dr. Clark got his PhD in Anthropology at Harvard, where he studied under Dr. David Carrasco. Dr. Clark's research is on Maya culture and he has gone on numerous excavations to the port area of Isle Cerritos in Yucatan, Mexico in order to better understand Maya life there from 800-1250 CE. Dr. Clark is an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina (Asheville) and he was also a teaching fellow for PredictionX -- Dylan's contributions to helping develop this course were numerous and we are greatly in debt to his help!

Deeper Background

(courtesy of Dr. Dylan Clark)

Like other Mesoamerican cultures, the ancient Maya were very interested in the passage of time, and their calendars organized time into interrelated cycles of days including a 260-day ritual calendar, a 360+5 day agricultural or solar calendar (both common to all Mesoamerican cultures), and the Long Count, which was like a running odometer of days forward from a mythological date associated with creation. The calendars, especially the 260-day ritual calendar, were key tools in Maya divination, which involved the prognostication of future events and interpretation of the deeper, universal meanings in past events, as well as the fate of individuals born on certain day sign + number calendrical combinations. The Maya believed that above the earth were 13 levels of an upper world and below were 9 levels of an underworld where various gods and supernatural forces existed and interacted with each other and with the earthly plane.

 

While supernatural beings had the power to intervene in human affairs on earth, only certain humans were able to interact directly with the upper and lower spirit worlds and forces, and these individuals were either royalty who served as intermediaries between gods and humans or specially trained priests and other ritual specialists with the appropriate knowledge, tools, and ancestry. There were places on earth from which humans could see or experience things happening in the upper and underworlds, such as bodies of water or caves that were entrances to the underworld or the sky in which different levels could be observed in the clouds and various celestial bodies, including stars, planets, the moon, eclipses, comets, and meteors. Thus, naked eye astronomical observation was very important in Maya society because the perceived movements of these entities across the horizontal and vertical planes of the sky (i.e., across the ecliptic) represented physical manifestations of gods, eternal mythological events, or actions playing out in the spirit world that impacted human lives on earth in various ways.

Astronomer-priests recorded their observations of the movements of celestial bodies and other sky events and their calendar dates over extended periods of time in bark paper or deerskin books called codices that were passed down over centuries. Over time, these evolved from observation of data to theory in the form of astronomical tables designed to allow priests to predict future similar events—and some of these tools proved to be quite accurate, while others were less reliable. Either way, the point was not so much to predict future events, but to seek points of connection or overlap between the cycles of time in the calendars, astronomical events, weather patterns, natural disasters on earth, or historical events of kingdoms, allowing them to decipher the greater cosmological significance of the events and, in turn, explain them with an eye toward encouraging or preventing future occurrences. For example, the Maya were very good at back calculating the dates of eclipses in history from ones they observed. This was useful because they could then seek correlations between historical eclipses and past events like wars, the rise and fall of kings, epidemics, time period endings, droughts, etc., and thus suggest possible prognostications, along with what deities were involved, when like-in-kind events happened during their time. Another way to think of this is as a kind of calendrical numerology where groups of numbers (of days) are linked to both religious and secular significance, sometimes with physical manifestations that could be observed on earth.

We also know that divination by ritual specialists was important among all social classes and a part of daily life in Maya society, not just the elites. We have archaeological evidence from modest, non-elite sites, such as the agricultural village of Cerén, El Salvador, where a divination house was found with the remains of the equipment used for prediction was left in a front room that may have been a place commoner farmers could consult with the shaman or priest. Both in the past and present, Maya specialists have been involved in diagnosing and curing illnesses. They use bowls of water, pyrite mirrors, glass balls, polished crystals and other reflective surfaces to see into other levels of the universe, diagnose illnesses, and also predict future developments. Patterned textiles and bark paper manuscripts were also used in combination with sacred stones, beans, and maize kernels to cast lots and compare the patterns thrown with calendrical day counts, providing insight into the best and worst days for planting, naming a child, traveling and trading, or sacrifice.