The International Writers Magazine: Mexico
On Mayan Time
Silence surrounded us as we were the only souls present that day. It was absolute bliss! Energy vibrated with centuries of history buried deep within every crevice. Beneath my feet, hidden amongst the debris, were fragments of coral clay that at one point in time had a purpose.
As I weaved freely through the space I brushed my fingertips along the walls. I felt connected. Although this isn’t the first ruin I have visited in Mexico it is by far my favorite. The surroundings are quaint and you are free to explore. All of these qualities authenticate that yes, a civilization did reside here at one point in time.
Excavated ruins blanket Mexico, but the one we are in today humbled the block buster movie version of Chitzen Itza; it shed the light of reality onto the Mayan culture reminding us that their discoveries weren’t just contrived from storey books, but through the extensive study of a medley of sciences. Although Chitzen Itza was mind blowing, the experience reminded me of being in an amusement park, absent the rides. Any chance of gaining insight into Mayan history was lost in the tour guides herding tourists across the vast expanse of spotless pristine grounds. It was chaotic! Now situate yourself in a serenely raw landscape that still has an undeniable presence lingering throughout. You are in El Meco and magical is the only way to describe it.
El Meco is in Puerto Juarez which is just a short cab ride from Cancun. This beautifully situated Post-classical ruin overlooks the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and in its heyday was used as a navigational hub for those travelling between the mainland and Isla Mujeres. Mother Nature is in control here. Countless species of wildlife remain the only residents of this domain, and the eroded stones they sit atop have naturally evolved into a backdrop to showcase nature’s beauty. We make our way through a structure once used to conduct spiritual and political rituals and step into a small clearing. My friend and I sit along the perimeter facing the majestic temple which, despite years of vacancy, emits an air of grandeur. He starts to indulge me in some Mayan history.
The mystery behind this intriguing civilization is quite spectacular. Mayans were engineers, spiritualists, survivors, innovators, mathematicians, and astronomers. Within lush jungles they meticulously built a civilization/culture in which every detail established was defined using the same principals of precision and accuracy. Their ability to harmoniously link the scientific with the unknown is what made them so intriguing; embracing all facets as each was equally instrumental in the way they lived.
The Mayans date back to the pre-Classic period (2000 BC – 900 AD) and spread across Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. Within Mexico the Mayans resided in the southern region, but at the turn of the Post-classical period (900 AD – Spanish invasion) they relocated settling in the Central and Northern regions. The reasoning for this mass exodus is unclear, but speculations range from warfare to natural disasters and possibly over-population. Their presence is still very prominent today, so if travelling through the Yucatan Peninsula you will see locals wearing traditional Mayan garb and speaking in Mayan tongue.
To further solidify their superior intellect the Mayans were the first indigenous culture to develop a written language and therefore, the first to have a recorded history. They fluently translated their spoken word into a set of hieroglyphs to document their findings in codices (or books) for generations to follow. Carved on structures and imprinted on paper each entry holds a clue that brings us one step closer. Although historians have yet to fully decipher their writings, we are well on our way to understanding the intricacies of Mayan culture.
||The alignment of stars along with planetary movements act as a map for the Mayans and by studying the infinite universe above, they created a framework within which each unique cycle was recorded. Each codex documented specific details regarding everyday Mayan practices such as, where they would build their communities, and other pivotal phases like the Venus Cycle which warned society that war was on the horizon.
The alignment of stars along with planetary movements act as a map for the Mayans and by studying the infinite universe above, they created a framework within which each unique cycle was recorded. Each codex documented specific details regarding everyday Mayan practices such as, where they would build their communities, and other pivotal phases like the Venus Cycle which warned society that war was on the horizon. When the Spanish conquered Mexico in 1521 they burned all but three Mayan books, or codices. Is there a missing link that was burned during this time that could fill in the gaps?
For modern day society the most perplexing concept that continues to astound intellects from diversified fields of study is the Mayan Calendar System. The Mayans first analyzed a 26,000 year cycle and continually broke it down until they concluded with a unique 260 day count. December 21, 2012 is one of the most notable and haunting dates documented by the Mayans as significant. This date marks the end of the Long Count Calendar and although it is said to be the end of the world no one really knows. The sky reads it as this… The Milky Way is framed by four prominent stars, and on this day the rising sun will position itself with the centre to form an upside down cross or T-square. Many believe that with this intersection something cosmically significant is going to happen, but we will forever hypothesize until that fateful day.
After dedicating years to simple observation and extensive research, they concocted three calendars, Haab, Tzolk’in, and Long which are all embedded into even longer cycles. The Tzolk’in was built on a 260 day short count and it is the only calendar that is not based on astrological influences. Next is the Haab calendar which is one solar year or 365 days with cycles revolving around sunrises and sunsets, similar to the Western Calendar we use today. Each glyph (image) represents a month with a corresponding name based on seasons and agricultural events. Within each of the 18 months there are 20 days plus a period of 5 “nameless” days.
The final and longest of the three is the Long Count. This is where all the commotion regarding the end of the world came into fruition. Astronomy, time, and numbers are intertwined in a web of logical counts that make up this method of measuring cycles.
To further complicate this intensively systematic way of planning there are even longer calendars! The Mayans did nothing haphazardly. There are 5 great ages or equinoxes recorded (each 26,000 years long) with their life cycle based on winter and summer solstices. We are in the fifth and final age, the age of the 5th Sun. Each great age is a creation cycle ruled and destroyed by a specific element, jaguar, water, wind, and rain. Within each equinox is another cycle count where each covers a 5,200 year period and is further dissected into a series of Long Count calendars. The world, and all other elements comprised in space shift, and shake up events of cosmic births and transformations. So the question, was a codex summarizing the next equinox burned by the Spanish?
Interlacing the spiritual within all these calculations are thirteen Mayan Gods, each symbolizing the thirteen heavens and nine Gods representing the nine underworlds. If you look at the 365 day Haab calendar each Mayan God of the heavens represents a morning and evening, which comprises the seven day weekly cycle. Connecting the heavens and the underworld is the Ceiba Tree or “Tree of Life”. The compass was another aspect the Mayans turned to and at the center, the fifth point, is the Ceiba Tree. The Mayans flawlessly correlated the spiritual with the scientific into one cohesive reference, the Calendar.
|So, the astrological alignment of the Cosmic Cross adds pressure and tension forcing us to take action to ‘fix’ a stressful situation. The T-square can be a representation of the Sacred Tree at the centre of the compass. Every 600 years the Mayans abandoned their communities and moved on as their current living situation was no longer sustainable. Is this just the end of an unsustainable era? Is it time for us to move into a new way of thinking conscious and aware that the pressure of our current lifestyles cannot be maintained forever?
The Mayans predicted that during this final cycle society would be disconnected with nature; “The triumph of materialism” and “the transformation of matter”. I’d like to think this is the end of one way of living and the beginning to something better.
© Janelle Brandon June 2011