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Mayan Mythology

Mayan Mythology

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Published by Maor Lain

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Published by: Maor Lain on Nov 10, 2011
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Mayan Mythology
The Maya are a native Mesoamerican civilization. Prior to the arrival of European explorers andconquerors, the Mayan civilization extended from southern Mexico across Central America, withheavy concentration in the Yucatán Peninsula.The area of the Maya first became inhabited around the tenth century BCE. Despite the fact thatthe Mayan long-count calendar (which is responsible for the2012 speculation) begins in 3114 BCE, the development of clearly Mayan culture seems to begin at about 1800 BCE. During theClassic Period, from 250–900 CE, the Mayan population grew quickly and urbanized, organizingthemselves into city-states not unlike those of ancient Greece.Towards the end of the Classic period, the Maya suffered a decline. The possible reasons for thiscollapse include overpopulation, revolt, war, disease and drought, and are not widely agreedupon. Afterwards, the cities began to build again, and several on the Yucatan Peninsula unitedunder single rule for a time.The first contact between the Spanish and the Maya occured in 1511, and within 40 years theSpanish had conquered the Mayan territory, as they had done with the Aztecs. Christianity hassince become the dominant religion in the area, but many surviving Maya continue to value someof the traditional beliefs of the Mayan culture.Of all of the cultures native to the Americas prior to European contact, the Maya are the only onewith a fully-developed written language. The Maya had a great deal of interaction with other Mesoamerican civilizations, and as a result, their myths have much in common with themythology of the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican religions.
2012 in Mayan Mythology
In recent years, there's been much talk about an approaching date on the Mayan Calendar.Famously, the Mayan long-count calendar is supposedly set to end and reset in the year two-thousand and twelve (
2012
), which, according to some (loose) interperetations of Mayan myths,corresponds with an end of the current creation and the beginning of the next. This has led tolaregly unfounded speculation, and in some cases fears, of an apocalyptic event before the end of 2012, as well as media capitalization of the supposed event with many books and films beingreleased on the subject.This article will attempt to very briefly explain how the long-count calendar works, what theMaya believed and what the 2012 date actually means to them.
Understanding Long-Count dates
The Mayan long-count calendar uses 5 divisions of numbers to indicate a date. The numbers areall base-20, except the second (or second-from-right) number which rolls over at 18.
 
Long-CountDateMayan unit of timeNumber of days
0.0.0.0.11 k'in1 days0.0.0.1.01 winal20 days0.0.1.0.01 tun360 days0.1.0.0.01 k'atun7,200 days1.0.0.0.01 b'ak'tun144,000 days
Each unit of time is equal to twenty of the previous unit, except for the
tun
, which is equal toeighteen
winal 
.According to the most widely-accepted calculations, the Mayan calendar begins on August 11,3114 BCE. The 12th
b'ak'tun
is nearing completion, with the date 12.19.19.17.19 calculated to be December 20, 2012 CE. On December 21, 2012 CE, the date will be "13.0.0.0.0".
Creation myths
According to Mayan myth, the gods have attempted previous versions of creation, and human beings are currently the third version of their creation.The creator gods Gucumatz (or Kukulkán,better known by the Aztec name Quetzalcoatl) and Tepeu wanted to create a people that would resemble them and praise them. With the help of thestorm god Huracán, they began creating life, beginning with animals. The first version of humanity was made from mud, but these people could not move or speak, and they easilycrumbled. After this failed, the creators summoned other gods, and remade mankind out of wood. The wooden men were able to move and speak, but they were soulless creatures whoquickly forgot about the gods. For their third attempt, the gods created men out of maize (whichwas the primary source of food for the Maya).The previous version of creation, according to Mayan myth, is beleived to have ended on itsthirteenth b'ak'tun — that is, 13.0.0.0.0 or August 11, 3114 BCE. At this point the currentcreation began, and the long-count calendar reset to 0.0.0.0.1 the next day.Thus, the significance of the arrival of the thirteenth b'ak'tun in this round of the long-countcalendar is that the previous creation ended on its thirteenth b'ak'tun.
However
, there seems to be no evidence that the Mayans themselves believed that the currentversion of creation would come to an end at its thirteenth b'ak'tun. A five-numeral count willreset after the thirteenth b'ak'tun, but this is celebrated as the completion of a cycle, and was notseen as a doomsday event by Mayan culture.
 
Mayan dates beyond 2012
Further demostrating Maya belief in the continuation of this creation is that Mayan artifacts mark future commemorations, and some of these occur beyond the thirteenth b'ak'tun in 2012.In fact, there is evidence that the Maya expected to add another numeral to its calendar when the b'ak'tun count is complete. The unit
 piktun
is said to be the next value, although scholars disagreeon whether a piktun should be considered to be 13 or 20
b'ak'tun
, and there are Mayan datesscheduled beyond a completed piktun. (Most Mayanists generally go by the convention that allfive-numeral dates roll over at 13 b'ak'tun, while larger dates count 20 b'ak'tun.) If there are 20 b'ak'tun in a piktun, he first piktun would appear on the Mayan long-count calendar on October 13, 4772 CE, well beyond 2012. If there are only 13, then December 21, 2012 would become1.0.0.0.0.1, marking the completion of the first piktun since the calendar's beginning date.The word piktun is not an original Mayan word, but evidence of higher orders is found in Mayanrelics. In fact there are an additional three units, kalabtun, k'inchiltun, and alautun, all higher thanthe piktun. The names of all of the units above the b'ak'tun were created by scholars in theabsence of knowledge of Mayan words for them.Since the age of the Mayan civilization occured within a single piktun, however, there was noneed to use more than five digits in their calendar for most uses. This alone may be the cause for confusion about the supposed end of the long-count calendar.Some interperetations of Mayan dates also suggest that the 3114 BCE date of creation isincorrect, and that the 13-b'ak'tun (or 5,125 solar year) calendar has completed before. Oneinscription, for example, puts the creation date at
13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.0.0.0.0
. By this date, the calendar won'tend until 4.134105 × 10
28
years into the future, a span of time three quintillion times thescientifically-accepted age of the universe. By that time, the sun will have long-since devouredthe Earth and been destroyed itself, and the universe may have drifted apart, condensed or otherwise reconfigured itself in some unrecognizable way. If you're concerned about the fate of mankind, there are more pressing issues than the end of the Mayan calendar.
No cause for alarm
There are a number of new-age theories surrounding 2012, which predict anything from galacticalignment and solar flares, to alien invasion, to global consciousness. However, these predictionsare not based in or accepted by science, or even the so-called predictions of the Mayathemselves. They are at best misinterperetations of science and myths, and at worst totalfabrications. There is simply no evidence that December 2012 will be any more important thanthe average month, other than the Y2K-like hysteria that has developed since.
Huracan

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