Celebrating Nothing

Can it be that there was not supposed to be any great happenings at the baktun end?

Where did the Mayans get the idea that each baktun or katun-ending was some monumental event? That they thought this is not exactly known but judging from the Books of Chilam Balam (written after the Spanish Conquest) it would seem to be the case. Each successive period had a different “flavor” to it and was ushered in by an important event.

At least this is the interpretation given by Carl Johan Calleman. His insights into what each age meant, their defining moments actually tell us more about the author and his worldview than what the Mayans were talking about.

Is this the reason they abandoned the Long Count or was it something else? If they noticed it was not working the way they anticipated, perhaps the whole thing had to be trashed… but they kept the tzolkin, and the haab, and the Calendar Round.

Where did they get the notion that the katun and baktun endings were of importance? In our present society, whichever calendar you are using, the New Year’s Day is celebrated as the start of something new, separating everyone from the year before.

I don’t think anyone actually expects for something great to occur on New Year’s Day so where did the Maya get this notion? From the histories I have seen, it did not appear to be anything monumental in their earlier period but gained in importance later on.

Could it be that the King’s of the Classic Period, assuming the dates were of major importance, planned wars on the appointed day then, when the expected outcome was not achieved, they simply blamed the calendar?

This could explain why the Long Count was abandoned. It was a tool they assumed was broken. It was as if they – the Classic Era Maya – had already forgotten the intent of the Calendar itself. They had already forgotten about the end of the Fifth Sun. Instead, they had assumed the Long Count acted much the same as the tzolkin: as an augury.

It is a shame they abandoned the Long Count but even more of a shame that they seem to have forgotten exactly what it was all about.

We now understand what the ancients were trying to tell us. Why did the Maya themselves forget?

We learned of their meaning some time ago but wrote it off as superstition, mythology, tales to entertain. Because of our worldview, we could not comprehend the message. So what happened to the Mayan society that altered their worldview in a fashion to make them forget the meaning of the calendar their ancestors had given them?

Easy to see how we could have overlooked it but what caused them to forget? Could it have been nothing more than that daily survival required so much of their intention? Or had the priesthood “played-up” to the kings on the importance of the baktun-ending dates?

We just don’t know why but abandon it they did.

But now, at least, we know what it’s about.

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2 Responses to “Celebrating Nothing”

  1. Carl Johan Calleman Says:

    There are several other possible reasons as to why the Long Count may have been abandoned. One is that as time speeded up it became more natural to start following short counts of 256 years as the Post-Classical Maya did. As the Planetary Underworld approached with a twenty time higher rhythm short counts might have felt more relevant. More importantly maybe might have been the fact that when the new baktun begin in 829 it led to a collapse of the Classical era because civilization then all over the planet shifted north, which led to the demise of the Maya. If the Long Count resulted in phenomena that were not favorable to the Maya they were then also likely to abandon it, which they did, regardless of whether it was an accurate predictor of the course of events or not. I feel this is common human psychology, we only want to use calendars that has at least a neutral and possibly also positive message for our own particular civilization.

    • rsmarshal Says:

      I don’t know for certain whether time speeding up or the rhythms of the Planetary Underworld increasing would have made them cast the Long Count aside, but its loss of relevancy to the Maya sounds like a good fit. And I agree that it seems a fairly common human reaction to abandon something when it results in unfavorable phenomena.

      That, I believe, is a fair parallel to what I had said. When something appears irrelevant or have outlived its usefulness, people usually tend to discard them. I am glad we have some agreement on this issue.

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