Blinking snake

An Introduction to the Mayan Calendar

Initial Series Glyph for the month Yax, Patron Venus

Introduction

The Mayan calendar, in its full glory, is probably the most complicated calendar based on integer arithmetic that has ever existed. While lunar and lunisolar calendars do exist that are very complex, most of them are based on observation, as in starting a month when the moon is in a particular stage, or on floating point calculations that for all practical purposes simply replace such observation. The Maya did not have algebra, but they had an enormous advantage over many calendar-builders in the old world in that they invented zero.

Components and Index

The Mayan calendar is composed of many elements:

dot The tzolk’in, a 260-day interlocking cycle of 13 numbers and 20 day names;
dot The haab, a 365-day year, also known as the vague year since the haab drifts in relation to the seasons. This is a linear cycle of 18 “months” of 20 days, plus a terminal 5-day “month.” The Maya made no attempt to synchronize the seasons and the haab, unlike the Gregorian calendar in widespread use today;
dot The Long Count, an exact count of days from a zero point, usually referenced to Wed Aug 13, -3,113 (Gregorian Style), or Wed Sep 8, 3,114 BC (Julian Style). This assumes a Correlation Constant of 584285, the revised GMT correlation;
dot A perpetual cycle of 9 Lords of the Night;
dot An 819-day cycle of 4 colors and 4 directions and their corresponding gods;
dot Numerous other cycles and ritual periods, to be discussed later.

The Tzolk’in

The tzolk’in comprises:

The tzolk’in is also known as The Sacred Almanac.

The Trecena (“13”)
A Cycle of 13 Numbers
(Normal/Head Variants)
The Veintena (“20”)
A Cycle of 20 Names
1 1
1
2 2
2
3 3
3
Imix
’Imix, 1
Ik
’Ik’, 2
Akbal
Ak’bal, 3
Kan
K’an, 4
4 4
4
5 5
5
6 6
6
Chikchan
Chik’chan, 5
Kimi
Kimi, 6
Manik
Manik’, 7
Lamat
Lamat, 8
7 7
7
8 8
8
9 9
9
Muluk
Muluk, 9
Ok
Ok, 10
Chuwen
Chuwen, 11
Eb
’Eb, 12
10 10
10
11 11
11
12 12
12
Ben
Ben, 13
Ix
’Ix, 14
Men
Men, 15
Kib
K’ib, 16
13 13
13
    Kaban
Kaban, 17
Etznab
’Etz’nab, 18
Kawak
Kawak, 19
Ahaw
’Ahaw, 0

The basic idea is that a starting position in the cycle is chosen, and after each day elapses, each component of the tzolk’in is incremented. The Maya calendar tzolk’in begins on a day one ’Imix; the second day of the cycle is, therefore, two ’Ik, and the last day of the 260-day cycle is 13 ’Ahaw.

For more information about the veintena days, follow this link.
For more information about Mayan numbers, follow this link.

The Haab

The haab, or “vague year,” is exactly 365 days long (only a rough approximation to the solar year, which is why it’s called the vague year) and is made up of:

The Haab is also known as The Civil Year.

The Haab Months
18 20-day Months + 5-day Intercalary Period
Pohp
Pohp, 0
Wo
Wo, 1
Sip
Sip, 2
Sots
Sots, 3
Sek
Sek, 4
Xul
Xul, 5
Yaxkin
Yaxk’in, 6
Mol
Mol, 7
Chen
Ch’en, 8
Yax
Yax, 9
Sak
Sak, 10
Keh
Keh, 11
Mak
Mak, 12
Kankin
K’ank’in, 13
Muwan
Muwan, 14
Pax
Pax, 15
Kayab
K’ayab, 16
Kumku
Kumk’u, 17
Wayeb
Wayeb, 18
 

For more information about the months of the haab, follow this link.

Each month of the haab also had a patron god, whose names, for the most part, we do not know. On fully dated monuments in the Mayan area, the largest and most noticeable glyph was what is known as the Initial Series (IS) glyph; in the center of the IS glyph was another, smaller glyph, which was the patron god of the current month. Occasionally, the patron god glyph has been used to determine the month when the actual haab month glyph is effaced. The large glyph shown at the top of this page is an Initial Series glyph, containing the glyph for Venus, a war god for the Mayans and the patron of the month Yax. The patron glyphs are shown below, along with what we know of their associations.

The Patron Gods of the Haab Months
Jaguar
Pohp, Jaguar
Underground jaguar
Wo, Underground Jaguar
Mars beast
Sip, Mars Beast
Count fish
Sots, Xoc (fish)
Patron of Sek, possibly Kaban
Sek, Patron?
Patron of Xul
Xul, Patron?
Sun god
Yaxk’in, Sun God
God D
Mol, God D
Moon goddess
Ch’en, Moon Goddess
Venus
Yax, Venus
Frog god
Sak, Frog God
Earth monster
Keh, Earth Beast
God of #3
Mak, God of #3
K monster
K’ank’in, God K Monster
Muwan bird
Muwan, Patron?
Night sun god
Pax, Night Sun God
Young moon goddess
K’ayab, Young Moon Goddess
Crocodile
Kumk’u, Crocodile God
Patron of wayeb
Wayeb, Patron?
 

For more information about the patron gods, follow this link.

The Nine Lords of the Night Cycle

J. Eric S. Thompson first determined that this cycle was used as a component of Mayan dates back in the thirties. He speculated (and it is still a speculation) that the nine-day cycle of G glyphs corresponded to a nine-god association of nine Lords of the Night in common usage among the Aztecs. Each day in the Calendar is under the influence of a particular Lord of the Night (G-Lords), and the cycle began on day 0 of the Mayan calendar.

The Nine Lords of the Night
G1
G1
G2
G2
G3
G3
G4
G4
G5
G5
G6
G6
G7
G7
G8
G8
G9
G9

For more information about the Lords of the Night, follow this link.

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