Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Welcome to 13 Baktun

So, today marks the end of the holiday season for us (it being Janice's birthday). The end of feast days and the start of carb-counting and portion control and daily walks to get a little exercise.

Therefore it seems a good time for a post I've been meaning to get written up for a while now. Better late than never, perhaps.

So, I like calendars. And in addition to the calendar that hangs in the kitchen by the phone (ours is not only a land-line, but rotary-dial), I also have a little card-sized calendar I carry every day in my pocket,* a smallish one I carry in the side-pocket of my satchel (to write down appointments and events on, so I can remember them), and a large one (sometimes a Tolkien calendar, sometimes a Mayan calendar) hanging in my office where I can see it from my desk (more or less). This year I have not one but two Tolkien calendars vying for that space (the Hobbit calendar and the Beyond Bree one) and have decided to keep the Mayan calendar in the central sliding drawer of my desk, since it has so much detail that it's impossible to appreciate it from a distance. 

And of course the big issue this year with the Mayan calendar (or rather Mayan Calendar) was, were they going to have one? Last year's ended with December 21st and left the rest of the last page blank (aside from an ad urging me to order the next year's). I expected the missing days wd be accounted for at the start of this year's calendar, perhaps in a special section.  Nothing of the sort: it simply starts with January 1st, a.k.a. 2 Chuwen 14 K'ank'in, or by the long count. 

The first two of these are unambiguous, being the day-name in the Tzolk'in (Sacred) calendar of 260 days (thirteen numbers and twenty day-name), followed by the day-name in the Haab (vague Year) calendar (eighteen months of twenty days each). The two together give a fifty-two year cycle, of the Calendar Round.

All that's fairly straightforward, if requiring good record-keeping skills to keep track of. Where things get tricky this year is with the most direct of all Mayan time-keeping, the Long Count. This is a count of days, starting with August 11th 3114 BC, made up of kins (days), winals (twenty-day months), tuns (three hundred and sixty day long years), k'atuns (7200 days, or roughly a score of years), and bak'tuns (144,000 days, or roughly four centuries)

Why 3114 BC? Because that's the date that the creators of the calendar system (who were probably Olmecs, from whom the Mayans inherited it) decided this already distant to them date marked the time of the Hero Twins and the beginning of Fourth Creation. And December 21st marked the last day of Fourth Creation, with December 22nd being the first day of Fifth Creation about which we know almost nothing, the Mayans not being much bothered about the physical limitations of their system of reckoning, quite reasonably having thought that 5,126 years was long enough to measure time for practical purposes.

From our point of view, we know that December 22nd was 5 Imix 4 K'ank'in, since the Tzolk'in and Haab calendars continue unimpeded. But by the Long Count is that day the first day in a new 395-year cycle ( or the beginning of an unprecedented thirteenth Bak'tun? 

The calendar-makers have decided to go for the latter option. So my new calendar starts on Tuesday January 1st (2 Chuwen 14 K'ank'in), or (the eleventh day of 13th Bak'tun), and today (Wednesday January 9th) is 10 Kawak 2 Muwan, or

For those of us interested in other places and other times, it's good to get a glimpse sometimes into how other people conceived of time and how they chose to record it. For those of us interested in fantasy and science fiction, the time-keeping systems of other worlds and mythic realms offers a fascination all its own, and real-world systems (like that of the Olmecs and Mayans) can offer inspiration.

  And the calendar itself is really impressive, with really stunning examples of Mayan art on each page (it also this year comes with a substantial essay explaining the calendar system and the reasons for their decision to continue the Long Count in their calendar)

And finally, just for fun, here's a link to a calendar converter, designed to convert any date from our calendar (say, your birthday) into the Mayan equivalent:

--John R.

*to be fair, it's one of the many things I carry every day in my pockets (there are at least seventeen of them)

1 comment:

Gerry Blair said...

Oh goody precious a riddle. Whats it got in its pocketsssssis #1string, #2handkerchief, #3knife, #4compass, #5money, #6glasses, #7calender,#8pen, #9matches, #10cell phone, #11magnifying glass, #12pipe, #13tobacco, #14coins, #15notebook, #16I Pod, #17wallet, OR NOTHING! Sorry John I could not resist.