In Mesoamerica, today's Mexico and Central America, high civilization arose about 2,000 years later than it did in Asia. As would be expected, a kind of astrology appeared early on and it continued to evolve over the centuries. No significant outside influences altered its development until the arrival of the Spanish five hundred years ago when the Maya were in a state of decline and the Aztecs were at the peak of their empire. The effects of the Spanish invasion on the indigenous astrology was devastating. Friars were brought in to systematically eliminate as much of the traditional ways as possible, to be replaced by the Christian model. Disease decimated the populations eliminating nearly all who were knowledgeable of the astrological traditions. Worst of all, most of the books were burned. Only a few relics, some books and an oral tradition kept what is truly a Native American astrology alive.
The key to understanding the Mesoamerican astrological tradition is the notion that time, not only space, can be a sign or hold symbolic value. Western astrology, essentially a Mesopotamian astrology heavily modified by the Greeks, is spatial. We have signs that are measured against the stars, houses measured against the horizon and meridian, and aspects that measure the distances between the planets. While it is true that some elements of Western astrology combine both time and space, most of it is spatial. In Mesoamerican astrology time serves as a sign. The basic unit of one day, one rotation of the earth, is the foundation on which other units, including the important 13-day sign, stand.
THE 20 DAY-SIGNS
The ancient Maya and Aztecs counted days in sets of twenty. Like our Western seven-day week that is named for the seven visible planets, the ancient Mesoamericans gave symbolic names to the twenty days. Also like our week, the string of twenty days repeats endlessly. Some readers may know that during much of Western history, it was believed that the day one was born on had an astrological effect. For example, remember the old nursery rhyme that says "Monday's child is full of grace...," etc. The notion here, and it was the same for the Aztecs and Maya, was that the day you were born under stamped a certain kind of personality on you. The only difference here is that the Mesoamericans took the idea much further. They combined the twenty day-signs with cycles of thirteen (20 x 13 = 260) and arrived at what is called the sacred 260-day astrological calendar of ancient Mexico. The Maya name for this calendar was the tzolkin
The 260-day astrological calendar originated deep in Mexico's ancient past. For over 2,000 years Mesoamerican astrologers have faithfully kept the count of 260 days alive and constant. When it was the first day of the twenty signs in the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan is was also the first day of the twenty in the distant lands of the Maya. The correlation between this astrological calendar and the Christian calendar has been established by archaeologists and archaeoastronomers and is accessible in tables (see the book How to Practice Mayan Astrology by myself and Barry C. Orr) or by computer (as in the Mayan Astrology Report
offered by Astrology.com). In the opinion of this author, the ancient Mesoamerican astrologers had discovered two "biorhythms" of great importance to humanity, the rhythms of 20 and 13 days, which come together only once every 260 days.
The 20 day-signs are the key to nearly all Mesoamerican symbolism. Their qualities are projected to other measurements just as the zodiac signs in Western astrology project their basic meaning to the houses. The brief delineations below are based partly on primary sources, mostly from post-conquest writings, and partly on personal observations. As you will notice, each sign is linked to one of the four directions which serve in much the same way as do the elements in Western astrology. The direction East signifies initiative, North the mind, West relationships and encounters, and South the feelings and emotions. The Maya name for each day-sign is given before the direction.
Crocodile (Imix, East)
: Energetic. Protective and dominating in a parental way. Sensitive and private.
Wind (Ik, North)
: Communicative, mental, agile, clever and multifaceted. Idealistic and romantic. Fashion conscious or artistic.
House (Akbal, West)
: Powerful, logical, organized, deep, thoughtful and conservative. Good endurance, introspective.
Lizard (Kan, South)
: Interested in leadership and performance. Active, dynamic and sexual. Influential, holds to high standards.
Serpent (Chiccan, East)
: Strong-willed, extremist, powerful and charismatic. Has strong emotions or personal powers that affect others deeply.
Death (Cimi, North)
: Security conscious, materialistic, sacrificing and helpful. Interest and concern for the community and politics.
Deer (Manik, West)
: Peaceful, generous, cooperative, artistic and inspiring. Contradictory: nomadic, outspoken and individualistic, yet needs companionship.
Rabbit (Lamat, South)
: Energetic, busy, nervous, clever and playful. Intelligent, but somewhat paranoid. Likes to fight.
Water (Muluc, East)
: Emotional, imaginative, psychic romantic and fantasy prone. Dominates others easily by projecting strong feelings.
Dog (Oc, North)
: Cooperative, consistent, loyal and helpful. Good team player and joiner, but also good leader. Needs much variety in life.
Monkey (Chuen, West)
: Attention getting, artistic, clever and demonstrative. Multiple interests,communicative and very curious.
Grass (Eb, South)
: Relaxed, courteous, careful and useful. Also sensitive, touchy and easily hurt. Ambitious and hard-working.
Reed (Ben, East)
: Popular, knowledgeable, accomplished and competent. A fighter for principles, a crusader. Takes on challenges.
Ocelot (Ix, North)
: Secretive, sensitive, intelligent and psychic. Concerned with religion or spirituality. Aggressive but avoids direct confrontations.
Eagle (Men, West)
: Independent, ambitious and escapist. Scientific, technically inclined, critical and exacting. Has unique ideas about life.
Vulture (Cib, South)
: Serious, wise, deep, realistic and pragmatic. Hardened to life, status conscious. Sometimes dominated by others. Has very high standards.
Earthquake (Caban, East)
: Mentally active, rationalizing, clever but practical. Usually liberal and progressive. Often controversial. Strong convictions.
Knife (Etz'nab, North)
: Practical, mechanically inclined, well-coordinated. Social, but struggles in close relationships. Compromising and self-sacrificing, but suppresses anger.
Rain (Cauac, West)
: Youthful, restless, friendly and helpful. Multi-faceted, a good learner and teacher. Drawn to philosophy or religion. Concern for healing and purification.
Flower (Ahau, South)
: Loving, devoted, artistic, dreamy and romantic. Socially awkward but well-intentioned. Stubborn and uncompromising.
Besides the directions, there are a few other subtleties in the order of the day-signs. The first four signs, beginning with Crocodile, complete one rotation of the direction and appear to signify four stages of personal and individual development. Each of these signs represent very basic patterns or issues that personal. The second cycle of four signs, beginning with Serpent, appears to be concerned with the social world of relationships. Water begins the next cycle and it appears to symbolize the development of feelings and emotions. The Reed cycle concentrates on the intellect and the world of the mind. The last of the five cycles, which begins with Earthquake, seems to be concerned with coming to terms with the world in an ideal or spiritual sense. I've used the word "appears" in discussing these five levels or stages because this distinction is one I've observed, not found written in any texts.
THE 13-DAY PERIODS, OR TRECENAS
As was mentioned earlier, the day-signs were also counted in blocks of thirteen within the overall framework of the 260 days. These 13-day periods are called trecenas
. Starting with the first day-sign, 1-Crocodile, numbers were attached to each day until 13-Reed was reached. The following day, Ocelot, became 1-Ocelot and was followed by 2-Eagle, etc. After 20 cycles of 13 numbers, the full 260 days were completed. This arrangement generates a second order of the day-signs if you take all the signs beginning with the number one in order of their occurrence.
What is of special interest to astrologers here is that these 13-day blocks of day-signs, each beginning with the number 1 and named for the sign that begins the period, were used in delineating cosmic events like eclipses and conjunctions. For example, when the 13-day period beginning with the day 1-Water sets in, and this is correlated with a specific date (for example, Dec. 21, 2010 - Jan. 2, 2011) the general trends of the world will be in line with this sign and any major planetary activity would be judged according to its influence as well. In other words, here is one element of Mayan astrology that Western astrology might wish to examine more closely. Independent researchers on this topic have concurred as to the effects of these 13-day signs that are blocks of time. In terms of personality, the trecena in which a person is born seems to indicate the qualities similar to those described by the Moon in Western astrology. The 13-day period delineates instinctive, possibly subconscious, personality qualities. It shows a person's deeper instincts and yearnings.
The combination of day-sign and 13-day period yields a quite complete personality description, perhaps as good or even better than does the Western 12-sign zodiac. It should be said that these two signs represent only a partial reconstruction of what was once a more complex system. There are other elements that I have been developing in order to form a more complete reconstruction of the Maya astrological system:
The Lords of the Night
: A nine-day cycle that ran concurrently with the day-signs; each day was associated with a specific deity (Lord).
The Year Cycle
: Each 365-day year in the Mayan civil calendar was associated with directional and number symbolism, influencing the character of those born in that year.
The Cycle of Venus
: The Maya watched Venus carefully and noted the position of the planet in its 584-day cycle. They associated Venus in its various phases (morning star, evening star, etc.) with certain events in the Quetzalcoatl myth and specific events on earth.
The Mayan Astrology Report
offered by Astrology.com includes personality delineations based on the above factors calculated according to an individual's birth date. You can learn more about this material in my book How To Practice Mayan Astrology
(written with coauthor Barry C. Orr, Bear & Company, 2007).
An important question is when during the day do the day-signs begin to show an influence on personality? It appears from experience that the transition from one day-sign to the next begins around sunset in Central Standard Time. There are some historical clues that the Aztecs and Maya began important rituals at sunset suggesting that was a point of change for them. The author and others have also observed that most people born after sunset display the qualities of the day-sign that would begin at midnight, the next day. While this issue is not completely settled, it is recommended that those person born after sunset consider as their day-sign the one for the next day. Those born far from the time zone of Mexico, which is Central Standard Time, may want to convert their time of birth to that zone and then determine their day-sign. People born in Central Europe would subtract 6 hours and those born in east Asia would subtract up to 16 hours which could move their birth to the previous day.
The day-signs appear to influence personality strongly. A birth occurring on a particular day-sign takes its imprint, as well as the imprint of the 13-day period in effect at the time. Human personalities viewed in terms of the day-signs stand out to those familiar with their symbolism, perhaps more so than simple sun-signs. The effect of the day-signs seems to be of a solar nature, in other words the day-signs indicate the form that the immediate identity of a person takes and it influences their characteristic behaviors. The 13-day sign appears to indicate a more subtle influence, essentially lunar in nature. A person's instincts and natural qualities, those that operate without rational consciousness, seem to be indicated by this secondary influence. It has been suggested to me that the day-sign indicates who the person is, the 13-day sign who they wish to be. While there are a number of other factors that make up a person's Mayan horoscope, these two seem to be the most important, much as the Sun and Moon are important in Western astrology.
Exactly where studies of Mayan astrology will lead is uncertain. Most likely, elements of the system will find a place in the creation of a future world astrology. For the time being, this tradition invites explorers of symbolism, number and cosmic rhythms. Much territory still remains hidden.