Maya calendrical divination is a subset of traditional beliefs, rituals and divinatory practices still held or performed among various Maya communities in Guatemala and southern Mexico. The anthropologist Barbara Tedlock first documented the practices after being initiated in Momostenango, Guatemala. Essentially Mayan astrology is quite distinct from the Western system, which is mostly comprised of ancient Mesopotamian zodiacal signs combined with Greek astronomy. The Western system is also mostly spatial in nature, zodiacal signs being measured against the stars, horizon, meridian, a “house”, and the distances between the visible planets. On the other hand, the Maya astrological system is based both on spatial designs and important time junctures.
Mayan Calendar Vs. Western Calendar Wheel
Scholars agree that astrology greatly influenced Mayan thought in day-to-day activities during the height of Mayan civilization. Mayan religion, philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, agriculture, hunting, intimate relationships, etc. etc. completely revolved around a 260-day almanac known as the Chol Qij, (sometimes called Tzolkin) or count of days. See Calendars for more information. The Chol Qij consists of twenty naguals which can be thought of as archetypes roughly analogous in significance to the Greek twelve zodiacal signs, except the Maya types are considered to be alive and petitionable.
The 20 day-signs are the key to nearly all Mesoamerican symbolism. The brief descriptions below of each day sign are based on post-conquest writings and the personal observations of individual western astrologers. As in Western astrology, each sign is additionally linked to a cardinal direction. 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.
In addition, each four signs seem to complete a separate delineated cycle each pertaining to a particular “world” or sphere of influence. For example, the first four signs, beginning with Crocodile, complete one rotation of the four cardinal directions and altogether appears to represent the four stages of personal and individual development of each individual. The second cycle of four signs, beginning with the Serpent, generally appears to be concerned with social relationships. Water begins the next cycle and symbolizes 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, beginning with Earthquake, mostly concerns a person’s needs to come to terms with the world at large in an ideal or spiritual sense.
Each of the day naguals are often preceded by a numerical coefficient ranging from one to thirteen which also modifies the signs underlying meaning. Thus twenty naguals x 13 numerical coefficients = 260 days. The origin of the numerical system is unknown but some Mayans believe that the number comes from the fact that 260 days is considered the normal human gestation period.
A few western astrologers believe that the 260 period represents the “crossroads” or “convergence” of two very important “biorhythms” of greater humanity, designated by the 20 and 13 day cycles respectively. The 20 day nagual cycle is thought to be mostly solar in nature and dominant in determining a person’s horoscope, while the 13 day cycle denotes more subtle influences on results, based mostly on lunar aspects and/or galactic alignments. Additionally, some astrologers suggest that the 20 day solar cycle represents who a person basically is, while the supplementary lunar cycle provides insights into a person’s instinctual desires, in other words, who that person ideally would like to be.
As in generic Western astrology, the Chol Qij possesses many uses: for example, as in natal astrology, a person’s character and destiny are determined by which of the twenty naguals, as modified by its numerical coefficient, rules the day on which that the person is born. The person’s nagual is considered to be his or her inseparable companion for life, and predicts the person’s personality, relationship to the community, and good or ill fortune. The nagual on which a person is supposedly conceived (counted twelve naguals ahead of the birth nagual) is considered to bear a secondary influence. Everything a person does throughout life is conditioned by his or her nagual; accordingly one’s purpose in life is greatly determined by the nagual.
The Chol Qij is also used to divine answers to specific questions such as: Does my husband have another lover? Should I do this business deal? How shall I cure this illness? What will be the outcome of this journey? Should I marry this person? Where is this lost object? Divination is carried out by sortilege: a Mayan priest manipulates 260 red tzintè seeds to obtain a nagual and coefficient which give the answer to the question being asked.
And as in electional astrology, there are propitious and unpropitious days for pursuing every human activity imaginable: planting, hunting, journeying, marrying, healing, etc.
Additionally, the Chol Qij serves a fourth purpose for which there is no counterpart in western astrology, namely evocational magic. Mayan ceremonies are usually performed for a particular purpose: to bring wealth, success in business, to bless newlyweds, to fecundate a sterile woman, etc. A Mayan priest will recommend which day is propitious for performing a ceremony for the given purpose. Then the order of the Mayan ceremony follows the order of the twenty naguals, beginning with the nagual of the day of the ceremony. Each of the twenty naguals is invoked in turn and petitioned for its particular virtues.
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