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Civilisation first appeared in Mexico and Central America in about 800bc. The Olmec culture left behind ceremonial centres, pyramids, sophisticated sculpture and writing. At about this time the idea of the 260-day ritual calendar arose.

From about ad200 until ad900, the Maya of Southern Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula developed what was perhaps the most civilised and spiritual of all Mesoamerican cultures. The Aztecs who came later were warriors concerned with conquest and built on the creative genius of the Maya.

mayan templeThe Maya built huge and beautiful temples at the top of stepped pyramids and developed the 260-day count into a complex astrological and numerological system that attempted to capture the wisdom of the universe.

What is especially remarkable is that they created huge urban complexes of great beauty in what was an area of dense rain forest and a limestone plateau. Teotihuacan, for example, was a sacred city laid out as a model of the cosmos as a whole, divided into four main divisions centred around the symbolic axis mundi, the centre of the universe. These vast urban complexes grew maize for food and had priest-kings as local, rather than centralised leaders.

Mayan religion and magic were based around the growing of corn and the need for rain and sun and the priest-kings became experts at forecasting weather cycles. To do this they developed, over the centuries, remarkable skills in mathematics and astronomy and were able to predict weather, eclipses, transits of Venus and the return of comets.

From these signs they made prophecies that have been startling in their accuracy, all the more amazingly because they did not know that the Earth went round the Sun.

The Maya developed two complex and accurate calendars, a solar and a ritual one. In what is called the Long Count, our current solar time cycle started in 3114bc and will end in 2012. In addition, Mayan priests calculated cycles going back to nine million years bc.

In spite of the collapse of the Mayan civilisation and the book-burning by the Spanish invaders who arrived in the early sixteenth century and found a culture still reflecting the old ideas, the classic 260-day astrological and divinatory Mayan calendar lives on. It can be found in an oral and simplified form in remote and scattered villages of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras and is used to regulate and determine many aspects of life.

The Deities

THE Maya believed that nature was a living entity that continually renewed itself. The Mayan Universe was made up of 13 higher and nine lower levels. There was constant conflict between the upper life-giving powers of life, warmth, light and fertility, and the lower life-taking powers of night death, drought, war, disease and famine. Mayan mythology is almost entirely based on the conflict between these primal powers of light and darkness.

A ritual ball game reflected this constant struggle of the universe. The Maya believed that each time it was played, the life-giving powers were enhanced and the darker powers temporarily defeated. The game court, erected near a temple, was formed like the imagined shape of the universe with carved goal at each side and raised seats for spectators.

The opposing teams, representing light and darkness, used their hips and shoulders to force a way through to score the winning goal and hence gain supremacy. The game is said to be an earthly version of that played by the sacred twins, Hunahpu and Zbalanque, the Sun and Moon, who, as forces of Light and Life, play against the powers of the underworld.

The chief deity of the higher realms was Itzamna who was associated with the powers of Sky and Sun and breathed life and light into people. Among other tribes he was also called Kukulcan, Man of the Sun and fore-runner of Quetzalcoatl, plumed serpent God of the Sun. He was also God of Thunder and the ruling god of the West.

In Yucatan, the Sun God was known as Kinich-ahau, Lord of the Face of the Sun. He was linked with the Firebird or Arara and was also called Kinich-Kakmo (Sun-Bird).

The Sun God ruled the North. Myths recount that the Maya came from the Sun. Because the Sun rose in the East, so the hero gods came from the ascending light, bringing culture, law and art, writing, architecture, mathematics, ceremonies and astronomy.

Next of importance to the Sun God for the growth of the maize was Chac, the tapir-nosed Rain God whose nose was the spout from which rain fell. He was Lord of the East.

Another major god of the growth cycle was Ah-Mun of the Corn or Yum Kaax, Lord of the Harvest Fields, who wore a leaf-ear of maize in his headdress. Like the Sun and Rain Gods, he was offered human sacrifices at the season’s end to ensure the next crop,

Ix che’l was the Goddess of Medicine and Healing and in later times she and Ix-chebel yax became one and the same was identified with the Virgin Mary. She ruled the South.

In the realms of darkness, Cizin, the Death-God, was sometimes depicted with exposed vertebrae and a skull face. On his head was the snail symbol, the sign of rebirth. His was the realm of the West, the home of death, departing with the setting sun.

The Bat-God, also belonged to the regions of darkness. He was called Zotzilaha Chimalman who lived in the cave of bats, which was on the road to the lands of darkness, decay and death.

The Festivals

The annual Mayan festivals began in January, with the Rain Gods’ Festival of Ocna when new images of the gods and ceremonial artefacts were created. The Fire Festival of March was dedicated to Itzamana, God of Fire and Life rain gods. Rain rituals were also performed at this time.

The Maya built a terraced pyramid, its higher steps painted blue to represent the rain falling from the sky and the lower ones covered with mud to represent the wet earth.

Next came the festival of Eckhuah, God of Merchants and Hobnol, God of Beehives, in celebration of the cacao pod. In May came another Fire Festival, this time of Pacumchac, God of War. New Year was celebrated in July with rituals of cleansing temples, houses and streets. At this time, domestic and craft utensils were replaced. A new fire was kindled in honour of the gods before the Gods and incense was burned at the feast of Pocam, every artefact and tool was painted blue in honour of the Sky and the Rain and rededicated to service.

At their special festival in September beekeepers offered money and incense to the God Hobnil. The greatest annual ceremony came in October, in honour of the Sun God, Kukulcan the Feathered Snake the counterpart of the Aztec Quetzalcoatl.

The Calendar

The start of solar and lunar years coincided every 13 years when there was a sacred festival of the Moon and Sun deities.

Astrology and divination were to the Maya part of the same concept. An unbroken cycle of 20 named days formed the basis of both systems. This cycle began with the Alligator and finished with the Flower, Each day represented different stages and qualities of life.

The Sun as it travelled across the sky during the twenty four hour period created the day. The day unit was regarded as a basic measure of time itself. The importance of the day to Mayan calculations is shown by the fact that Sun, day and time were represented by the same word in Mayan language.

Birth Day Signs

THE MOST significant factor in understanding and individual’s fate was the day on which he or she was born. Priests and astrologers consulted the Book of Fate to assess the prognosis of an new born infant as well as on political or religious matters. The ‘birth day’ sign could indicate potential characteristics inherent in the birth symbol.

Unlike Western Sun Sign astrology, people born at different times of the year would, because of the 20 signs constantly rotating in 13 day cycles, share the same symbol and by implication core characteristics. The four directions, North, South, East, West each controlled five symbols. The genii Bacabs guarded the four quarters of the sky. Kan, Muluc, Ix and Cauac, whose symbolic colours were yellow, white, black and red. These stood in the east, the north, west and south respectively.

The same 20 symbols were also used for divination. Because there is so much connection between the Middle American systems the one used here is a representative system that attempts to bridge some of the discrepancies.

The 20 Day Signs

BECAUSE the Sacred Year was made up of 20 of these 13 day cycles, the number assigned to each symbol depended on the place it occupied in the current cycle.

The 260-day astrological calendar began with 1-Alligator, and the fourteenth day was 1-Jaguar, returning to the 1-Alligator position in exactly 260 days. Often the signs are seen in two sections. Nine and nineteen, Water and Rain are sometimes exchanged according to local variations. The meanings do vary according to the region and have been modified slightly to retain their essence but to bridge the vast gulf of ancient usage that has been lost.

The North, South, East and West connotations are not in a block but are more like the Earth, Air, Fire, Water characteristics of western Sun Sign Astrology but need not be considered in the methods used here.

The Meanings

1: IMIX, the Alligator. Nurturing

Area of Heavens: East

The Alligator is a creator, whether of home and family or business. The Alligator’s caring, nurturing side means that the interests of those close to one will always be paramount. However, because the alligator fears rejection, this love can become overwhelming and make others feel constrained.

The divinatory message of the Alligator is be creative and loving but not suffocating

2: IK, the Wind Versatility

Area of Heavens: North

The Wind is the sign of versatility and adaptability. The Wind has an ability to succeed in many fields and see the points of view of others. The Wind represents responsiveness to the world and human nature especially. However, he or she can give up easily on situations if things get difficult or new ventures beckon.

The divinatory message of the Wind is be adaptable but not fickle. It meets the demands of life with sensitivity and understanding of the real issues. The only danger is that the wind absorbs so much from others it becomes a mere reflection of the current situation.

3: AKBAL, the House. Security.

Area of heavens: West

The House is the sign of physical and material security. The House represents a steady, practical approach to life that succeeds because any venture has firm foundations. However, the desire for security can mean a too rigid attitude and an unwillingness to accept change.

The message of the House is to move steadily forward but do not exclude new ideas.

4: KAN, the Lizard. Transition.

Area of Heavens: South

The Lizard is a symbol of the links between two worlds, whether water and earth, past and future or body and spirit. It represents the integration of opposing factors, talents and the ability to move in different worlds with ease. However, the Lizard can be fickle and indecisive about priorities.

Its message is to integrate different aspects of your life but stick to a course.

5: CHICCHAN, the Snake. Transformation.

Area of Heavens: East

The Snake who sheds his skin is a symbol of the power to cast off the redundant or destructive throughout life and start again. He offers the powers of subtlety and the ability to change negative into positive.

However, he can be vicious to those who cross him and cast off the good with the bad.

Be free from unnecessary guilt but do not break off what is of value in the past.

6: CIMI, Death. Tradition.

Area of Heavens: North

Death is the sign of tradition, of loyalty and duties whether to politics, religion or to maintaining order and stability in daily life. Death therefore represents the conformist but one who is prepared to make personal sacrifices to the common good. However, Death can however lead to following others without thinking through the wisdom or justice of the situation personally.

The divinatory message is to uphold what is of value, but do not follow the wisdom of others blindly.

7: MANIK, the Deer. Relationships.

Area of Heavens: West

The Deer is the sign of relationships whether friends ,family or business and is the connecting force of harmony, using intuition and sensitivity to understand the feelings and hearts of others. The deer is a force for harmony but can be in danger of losing a separate identity.

The divinatory message is create harmony with others, but do not lose sight of your own needs and feelings.

8: LAMAT, the Rabbit. Adventurous.

Area of Heavens: South

The rabbit is eager to roam and explore new territories and has the ability to avoid obstacles and evade danger. It is a symbol of a desire for taking chances in life and not being held back by fear or the need for security. However, the rabbit can find it hard to make permanent commitments.

9: MULUC, Water. Emotions.

Area of Heavens: East

Water is the symbol of strong, deep emotions, following intuition rather than logic. Water represents psychic powers and development and an ability to move with the needs of the moment. However, Water falters where practical matters and the need to take responsibility arise. Follow your intuition but be aware of the need to live in the world is the divinatory message of Water.

10: OC, the Dog. Loyalty.

Area of Heavens: North

The Dog is a good friend or family member, although he is happier to follow than lead. He is consistently loyal, no matter what reverses of fortune may occur and is courageous. However, the Dog can need mature direction and guidance to fulfil his potential. Remain loyal and courageous even in adversity, but follow the guidance of the wise if in doubt.

11: CHUEN, Monkey. Curiosity.

Area of Heavens: West

The Monkey is a symbol of a desire to learn everything about the world and how it works. The Monkey is able to live by wit and intelligence and performs willingly in any social situation. The danger is that values can be as interchangeable as the needs of the moment.

Explore and learn but respect the rights and dignity of others is the divinatory message of the Monkey.

12: EB, Grass. Healing.

Area of Heavens: South

Grass is the symbol of peace and healing powers whether for an individual or the community. It represents reconciliation and compromise. However, because personal negative feelings can be suppressed, Grass can occasionally slip into depression or a flash of inappropriate anger.

Heal any quarrels or discord, but do not suppress your own feelings is the divinatory message of Grass.

13: BEN, Reed. Communication.

Area of Heavens: South

The Reed was used for writing and so became associated with communication both spoken and written, especially that of an authoritative source, as it was seen as a regal plant. So the Reed talks of the need to communicate clearly and to listen or read carefully any spoken or written communication for the real meaning.

Be clear and make sure you understand what others are trying to communicate is the message of the Reed.

14: IX, Jaguar. Power.

Area of Heavens: North

The Jaguar is symbol of power, moving at great speed through life and yet noble in spirit. The Jaguar will have great impact whether on life or a situation and inspire lesser creatures with his fire. The danger is that the powerful energies may be dissipated rather than concentrated on vital targets.

Use your power to the utmost but make sure there is a cause.

15: MEN, the Eagle. Vision

Area of Heavens: West

The Eagle is symbol of the visionary, who soars high and so can see the whole picture clearly. The Eagle offers a clear perspective on life or any matter of concern and has startling accuracy of aim for any ambition, whether in personal or work life. However, the eagle can find it hard to settle to mundane daily existence and so can be seen only as a dreamer.

16: CIB THE Vulture. The Realist.

Area of Heavens: South

The symbol of the Vulture represents an awareness of life with all its darkness as well as light. The Vulture may be critical but is always fair and may find that life’s path is not always easy. However, this experience offers a basis for wise counsel to others and an awareness of valued. The Vulture does find it difficult to accept human weakness and so sometimes can seem unsympathetic. Speak the truth and expose injustice but tempered with compassion is the divinatory message of the Vulture.

17: CABAN Earthquake Movement

Area of Heavens: East

The Earthquake is a vital form of restructuring life and so is a vital vehicle for progress from one stage of life to another. It represents the power to fight injustice and so can be very altruistic and to instigate positive change. However, the Earthquake can also contain suppressed emotion that unless channelled can become destructive.

Instigate positive change but do not turn any anger inward is the divinatory message of the Earthquake.

18: ETZ ‘NAB, Flint Knife. Decision

Area of Heavens: North

The Flint Knife represents making a choice and then following that decision through in the real world. The knife is incisive cutting through difficulties and doubts. The only danger is in hurting oneself and others by too forceful an approach.

Be clear and put decisions into action, but do so with the minimum of pain is the divinatory message of the Flint Knife.

19: CAUAC, Rain, Renewal

Area of Heavens: West

Rain is the sign of fertility and growth, whether of a new enterprise or personal development. It is the opportunity that may come after a period of waiting and preparation and promises that old problems can be solved through a new perspective or input. The only problem is in being too impatient and giving up when results are not instantaneous.

Choose the right moment for action and then wait for the results.

20: AHAU, the Flower. Fulfilment

Area of Heavens: South

The Flower represents perfection whether in a personal or worldly way. Finding this perfect happiness whether the right mate, career or a lifestyle filled with beauty and joy is the aim of the flower and he or she will go to any efforts to reach this ideal in whatever sphere. The only problem is that real life sometimes does not measure up to the flower’s ideals and the flower can be disappointed and in refusing to accept second-best may end up with nothing.

The Divinatory message for the flower is to aim high but accept that life is rarely perfect in every way.

Mayan Divination today

ALTHOUGH little is known about divinatory practices at the flowering of Mayan civilisation, their descendants including the Quiche Maya who live in Guatemala, have magicians or Day Keepers who pass on orally the 260-day count and practice divination on behalf of individual tribal members.

They use crystals or beans in a special ceremonial bag. A seeker asks a question and the day-keeper draws at random a quantity of crystals or beans from a bag. These are divided into lots of four until all have been used. The final group is the important one, for if only one or three beans or crystals remain, the Day Keeper will proceed no further. Should two or four beans remain then he will continue, counting all the complete piles of four. The number obtained will be added to that of the present day sign.

For example if the day count had reached 1-Flower, and there were ten piles of four, he would count on to 11-Dog and Dog would be the sign that held the answer. The characteristics of the Dog would hold the clue to a course of action, that is to show loyalty to one’s friends and seek guidance from someone wiser. The next Day of the Dog would in addition offer especially favourable conditions for resolution of the problems. The divination was, if a matter was difficult, repeated to give another sign and perhaps other auspicious days for action.

Finding a Special Day

There are many complications and little agreement as to definitive correspondences between the ancient ritual calendar and the modern solar one, since so much evidence has been lost. Even in western astrology, the astronomical and astrological years are separated by two whole star signs.

Therefore, since divination relies on intuitive links, it is possible to use the old Mayan methods to calculate a symbolic special day, equivalent to a birth day and then use this for all future divinatory questions.

Buy or make a special bag for your tiny crystals, beads, stones or beans, You may already have a quantity of small quartz crystals or white stones - you will need about 150 in your bag but do not count precisely how many are in there.

You can sometimes buy very cheaply bags of very tiny crystals of all kinds or you can like the Maya use dried beans. They do not all have to be the same kind and colour so long as the size is similar. You may wish to go somewhere humid to carry out your divination, perhaps the corner of a hothouse if you live in a cool climate. However, you may wish to begin a collection of small ferns and palms in a small glassed area as your ‘Mayan place’.

1: Pull out a quantity of beans at random. This may be one or two handfuls according to what feels right at the time.

2: Divide these into piles of four, discarding any incomplete piles. You may, like the Day-Keepers, wish to try another day if you end up with one or three in your last pile, but this is entirely a personal choice.

3: Count the complete piles and note the number.

4: Beginning at 1 Alligator, follow the list in this book and count on the number of piles. You may go through the list two or three times before you reach your day. Do not worry about its number, merely the name for this will be your special day. You may like to find or make a symbol of your special day sign and keep it as a token.

5: This first core sign, picked by divination is special to you, but if after a few months you feel that you have changed or seek to develop a different side of yourself, you can repeat the process of divination.

Asking Questions

You may have a natural question or simply a desire to find out what characteristics and strengths would help you fulfil your current ambition or need.

Take one or two handfuls of beans or crystals and divide them into piles of four. Again discard any incomplete piles. You may if you wish prefer to continue another time if you are left with one or three beans in the last pile.

Write down the number and from you list of signs identify your special day and count on the number of piles until you reach a day sign. If this is your special day sign, you will know the issue is a core one, where your identity is in some way at stake. Look at the strengths of the day sign and see how a person whose special day sign it was would respond in your situation.

Be aware, too, of any weaknesses in that approach. If the Day Sign does not answer your question, then repeat the process with the beans and add the insights of a second day sign to your special one. Remember that the number of days counted ahead will be especially propitious for any action or new endeavours on your part.

An Example of Mayan Divination

Doug discovered his special sign was the Snake and he felt that its habit of shedding its skin and moving on expressed his own travelling light lifestyle.

He had worked as a freelance television producer, going wherever the work was and keeping a small flat in the centre of town for his needs. But Jenny, an old girlfriend, had come back into his life and Doug found himself dreaming of a home and children as time was passing. The death of his mother had brought home to him his own mortality.

Doug used a corner of a hot house on location while everyone else was at the bar and picked a handful of pebbles from an old plastic bag (magic can be improvised anywhere). Doug was left with exactly fifteen piles and so he counted on from the Snake to the Flower. Perfect love. But then he realised that what the Day Sign was saying was that he was seeking an idealised love, home and family to fulfil his own longing and was not really looking at Jenny as a person.

He also realised that the expectations he was loading on to Jenny were unfair. So Doug decided that he would take time to get to know her again and then see how they both felt about a committed future.

Making your Own Mayan Calendar

Take a wall chart planner or your own diary. Mark your own special sign either on your birthday or on the day you carried out the ‘special day’ divination. Mark each day going forward with the 20 signs until you have reached the end of the year. This may offer for you a guide to significant days, i.e. every time your own day sign appears. You may even find that the day signs do give you a personal hint as to the day ahead. For example. If it is an earthquake day then you may wish to make a few changes. You may be surprised as to how accurate this personal day sign scheme is.


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