the Prophecies of the Chilam Balam

There has been a lot of interest in this ancient “book of prophecy” on many websites and especially in the books of Carl Calleman.

They were written as reference guides for the local priests to keep the future straightened out for their people. Glimpse what is coming and let everyone sort of know what to expect for the coming year.

Except rather than years, it seems to have been broken down into katuns… periods of almost twenty years. If the idea of twenty year chunks of time are a little difficult to grasp, think of it more along the lines of our own history with these place markers:

President William Henry Harrison • President Zachary Taylor • President Abraham Lincoln • President James Garfield • President William McKinley • President Warren G. Harding • President F. D. Roosevelt • President John Kennedy

You know, all the American Presidents who died in office. Their terms were all twenty years apart and show you the short of time span we are talking about.

Sir J. Eric Thompson summarizes the effects of each of the katuns from the Books of Chilam Balam of Chumayel and Tizimin:

in order, arranged by end date (all periods ended on the day called Ahau)

11 Ahau: Barren is the katun; scanty are its rains . . . misery.
9 Ahau: Drought, famine.
7 Ahau: Carnal sin. Roguish rulers.
5 Ahau: Harsh his face, harsh his tidings.
3 Ahau: Rains of little profit, locusts, fighting.
1 Ahau: The evil katun.
12 Ahau: The katun is good.
10 Ahau: Drought is the charge of the katun.
8 Ahau: There is an end of greed; there is an end to causing vexation . . . much fighting
6 Ahau: Shameless is his speech.
4 Ahau: The Quetzal shall come . . . Kukulcan shall come.
2 Ahau: For half the katun there will be bread; for half the katun there will be water.
13 Ahau: There is no lucky day for us.

So, for the thirteen katuns in sequence, it would seem that they all foretell doom and destruction with the exception of 12 Ahau, at the dead center of the group.

Wow! With such negativity, you really would have expected them to predict the end of the world… and that would be something to look forward to, as a way of ending all their gloom.

As an example of the full text of a katun prophecy, consider the first prophecy for katun 11 Ahau in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (from Thompson):

Katun 11 Ahau is established at Ichcaanzihoo*. Yax-haal Chac is its face. The heavenly fan, the heavenly bouquet shall descend. The drum and rattle of Ah Bolon-yocte*** shall resound. At that time there shall be the green turkey; at that time there shall be Zulim Chan; at that time there shall be Chakanputun****. They shall find their food among the trees; they shall find their food among the rocks, those who have lost their crops in katun 11 Ahau.

* – at Merida
** – this refers to the Green Rain God, the Lord of this Katun
*** – the regent or priest of the Katun
**** – apparently all these are symbols of times when the people were driven from their homes into the forest (hm, I guess that sort of thing happened a lot to the Mayans… and maybe why they later seemed to desert all their cities)

It is assumed these various chilam balams were still being used when they were written down in the 17th and 18th centuries and that they reflected what the Mayans had been using at an earlier period. What I cannot understand is why their prophetic outlook was so drab, so negative. Didn’t they see anything good coming in the future?

Perhaps we have been misled by historians and the Maya really did predict the end of the world. As a means of escaping this drudgery if nothing else.

But I don’t think so. Even if this paints a rather negative and dreary picture of their world view.


Interestingly enough, most scholars do not think the Chilam Balam books painted a true picture of the Mayan world before the Spanish conquest. They see too many points where the prophecies predict the coming of a new religion in order to give some veracity to the Church’s influence in the area.

Perhaps the reason they reflect such gloom and doom is only to show that Christianity was a better way to go.

So, rather than books of prediction, they were nothing more than religious tracts for the Church but written in language and symbology that the indigenous population could understand.

Therefore, their use in this whole 2012 movement becomes suspect… and a little useless.


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