A Ray of Sunshine

Leaving the dull halls of history behind for a moment, looking past the sharp mathematics of their calendars, we steep ourselves in a realm of unfettered fantasy. As bizarre as this landscape may seem at first, it seems much more becoming to the Mayan Calendar than mere facts alone seemed. Here the world of the calendar can take on a life of its own. And here, too, we may find the meanings lying behind the complexity of their temporal cycles.

The Maya, as with most ancient peoples, were conversant with a number of deities, both male and female, each with their own particular sphere of influence. Certainly there were spirits of the natural world around them but the primary gods were those – as elsewhere – who ruled in the heavens above. The ancients in all parts of the world revered the planets, the Moon, and the Sun as celestial beings who took an interest in Earthly affairs.

The vast majority of the written texts utilized by the Maya for educating and entertaining their children and their families were piled onto the bonfire by the earliest Catholic monks and priests who brought their own enlightenment to the natives, and ushered in yet another dark age on another civilization. Much of the history of the New World went up in these pious flames, from the South American tribes, through Mesoamerica, and far to the north. Even Easter Island had its history destroyed by those zealous few.

Among the mainland peoples, however, there were enough natives around to continue their stories through verbal transmission so not all their story was lost even after their tribes were decimated by the wars of conquest and by the ravages of hitherto unknown diseases.

For the Maya, enough of the stories survived to be written down in later centuries. And, in many of these tales, archaeology has brought physical confirmation of the stories. And the foremost among these, for the Maya, was the story of the Hero Twins.

The Popul Vuh

The story of the Hero Twins is the Mayan version of the Creation story, structured in three separate parts, three individual story cycles. The first part concerns the early attempts of the creator gods to create Man. After several attempts using various substances, the gods are finding the task a little more difficult than they had originally anticipated. People made of mud were a failure and so was their attempt using wood as the living medium.

After another attempt had failed, the gods took counsel among themselves about the next attempt. Meanwhile, the world was in twilight as the Sun and Moon had covered their faces when there arose a being who thought himself worthy enough to be worshipped as the Sun. A pair of young men with blowguns, the Hero Twins, decided to get rid of this troublesome imposter named Vucub-Caquix, or Seven Macaw. When he climbed up in his favorite tree to eat, they wounded him with a dart.

Later they stopped by his house and, through a little subterfuge, succeed in eliminating the arrogant wannabe. Then they had to get rid of the fellow’s two troublesome sons as well. One of these sons had killed a group of 400 young men who were then raised up to become the Pleiades. And that pretty much wraps up the first part of the tale.

Surprisingly, the second part seems to backup a few years to tell how the Hero Twins came to be. Their father and uncle had been challenged to a ball game by the Lords of Xibalba, the Underworld. After several devious tests – which they fail – they are defeated and decapitated. The Lords place the heads in a tree and go to celebrate their victory.

A daughter of one of the Lords happens by the tree and draws closer to the strange looking “gourds”, not realizing they are heads. One of the brothers’ heads spits into her hand and she becomes pregnant. Fleeing the wrath of her father, she steals away, up to the world above.

The Hero Twins are the children born of this slightly bizarre pregnancy. And they grow up excelling in the blowgun, as well as the art of trickery. After a time, they discover the ballgame equipment of their father, hidden away in the house. They become fanatics at the game and, of course, draw the ire of the Lords of Xibalba.

They are invited below for a “friendly” game and face the same obstacles as their father. At one point one of the brother’s head is chopped off and is used for the ball in the game before the other twin can get it back on his brother’s body.

Unlike the father and uncle, the Hero Twins are able to defeat the defeat the Lords of Xibalba and bring about the destruction of the underworld. Then the Hero Twins resurrected their father and climbed out of the world below. But they did not stop at the world, they kept climbing into the heavens where one became the Sun and the other became the Moon.

The third and final part of the book returns to the creator gods and their attempt to create Mankind. They are feeling a little pressured now because it is almost dawn and they really wanted to have the work done before the Sun shone for the first time. Settling at last on a composition of white corn and yellow corn, they fashioned humankind.

The people soon grew and multiplied and were divided into tribes and nations. They came together and found they were all speaking different tongues and they had to learn compassion for one another, at the prompting of the gods, before they could be given fire to keep themselves warm in the cold and the darkness. And though they spoke differently, they had to worship the same true gods. It appears that after this took place, the first dawn finally came.

Hopefully, I have covered the salient features of the tale. It is quite a long story and has detailed description of all the trials faced by the Hero Twins and the deceptions they used to avoid execution. Some of the details may actually be more important to our discussion than I realize, but then I do not know which of those details would be necessary to our discussion. If I have left out important parts, the fault is my own.

Other Evidence of the Twins’ Story

the Hero Twins

As amazing as the tale is as a stand-alone testament, there are further evidences to the antiquity of the story. Ancient vases and pottery show scenes of the Hero Twins’ story. The elder of the pair is always shown wearing a jaguar pelt while his brother wears small patches of jaguar fur – each small rectangular piece displaying a black circular spot like the spots on the leopard.

Since the one became the Sun and the other the Moon, it would appear that the Maya were quite aware that the moonlight was simply reflected sunlight, hence the full pelt on the sun figure and only small pieces on the moon figure.

Aside from the pottery, the Hero Twins have also been represented on stelae and other carved pictures from various sites in the Mayan area. It may seem like a rather strange story to modern ears and might prompt many to say “what were they smoking?” or such but it really is no stranger than some of the religious beliefs we hold dear.

What This Has to Do With the Calendar?

At first glance, there would not seem to be any correlation between this tale and the calendar. There is, of course, the granting of fire in Part Three of the story that would seem to tie in to the Fire Celebration at the end of the fifty-two years Calendar Round, but there seems little else that could be of any importance.

Interesting fact is that the incident of the blowgun dart shot at Seven Macaw is dated in some inscriptions to the latter years of the next previous period, Fourth Sun. And the creature Seven Macaw is usually identified with the constellation we call the Big Dipper. The four hundred boys killed by one of Seven Macaw’s sons ascend to become the Pleiades. Once again, the mythology is very cosmic, tying the people on the face of the Earth to the heavens above. Not only are the planets the gods, the stars were once people who lived, laughed, talked, and died on this plane below.

Many writers draw a great many parallels from the Mayan history and society with the Popul Vuh but I think it is really more cosmological in nature. That means I think it is talking more about what happened in the sky and during a dark period in history. But everyone is free to draw their own conclusions.

Mayan Mythological Origins

Aside from the apparent cosmological views obtained from the Popul Vuh, there are also tales of the ancient times before any recorded history. In his Book of Destiny, Carlos Barrios tells of the very early time of the Maya. The old tales have them living on a large island that sank beneath the sea and the survivors had to island-hop westward until they arrived at Yucatan.

The island that sank immediately makes one think of Atlantis. Not the tiny island of Thera in the Mediterranean masquerading as the lost continent at present, but the “real” one in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Even if you don’t believe there ever was a place, you only have to remind yourself that this was their myth, their legend.

On an interesting side-note, it is strange that Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet” and psychic, mentioned the rulers of Atlantis were the “red race”, the remnants of which survived in the Americas.

Out from Down Under

Another unusual feature of the Mayan myths, though it is not so prominent in the Popul Vuh, is the mention of people arriving in this world by passage through the earth. Just as in the myths of several Native American tribes to the north, who also mention the island hopping of the Mayan myth, entry into this present world was attained through a cave.

Mayan Cenote

In the Maya culture, caves are termed “mouth of the jaguar” and they consider them places of safety. Personally, I do not think of stepping into the mouth of a jaguar being anything even approaching “safe” behavior. Perhaps the people went into caves at the end of one age and exited when the excitement had finished, thereby exiting the jaguar mouth into the new world.

In Hopi legend, the souls of those who die are sent back to the previous world. This is not found in the Mayan mythology, preferring the place Xibalba as the home of the dead. And even though the Hero Twins defeated the Lords of Death in the Popul Vuh, the place apparently continued in operations for centuries.

The entrance to Xibalba was considered to be a certain cave in Guatemala but others see it also in the dark rift in the Milky Way in the night sky. I guess you had a choice to go up or down to get to the place, but that might be an erroneous interpretation on my part.

Jaguar Caves, Jaguar Sun

Besides the caves, the Maya also had a Jaguar Sun. In some writings, this is mentioned as the sun of the underworld, Xibalba. Others mention it as the sun of nighttime, which leads one to wonder what sort of sun would shine in the dark. Or is the concept a complete oxymoron?

And we must not forget that Hunahpu, one of the Hero Twins, was also known as the Jaguar Sun, emphasized by the jaguar pelt he wore. But whether he was the sun of the day or night, the upper world or Xibalba is a little cloudy.

From the Popul Vuh, we learn the Sun and Moon had their faces “hidden” for the longest time, until the Creator Gods were able to create a Mankind they felt good about. Again, it is unclear if this is another description of the Hero Twins or not.

But we assume it must be because there could not be more than one Sun and one Moon, even though they assign what seems to be a separate sun for the underworld, the dark world.

The Gods in the Heavens

Like I mentioned before, most of the ancient peoples looked to the heavens to find their gods. The planets took on certain personality traits and certain characteristics that seem to have been almost universal.

Various cultures assigned a warlike quality to Mars and assigned the color red to him. Venus was often seen as a beauty but with a few harder qualities as well. Perhaps some of the “woman scorned” was assigned to that deity.

In Mesoamerica, the planet Venus as the morning star was represented – at least to the Aztecs – by Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. Part warrior, part fertility god, part god of resurrection and rebirth, his cult seems to have begun at Teotihuacán and reached its peak with the rise of the Aztecs.

But why did these ancients consider the planets to be gods? Could it simply be, as some historians have hypothesized, that the planets had “independent motion”? Unfortunately, anyone who watched the heavens for any length of time – and the ancients certainly did that since they did not have distractions like television – knew the courses of the planets. And those courses were very far from independent. In fact, the patterns were so regular… Heck, you could even plan a calendar on such regularity.

What a unique thought, huh?

A Prevalence of Heads

Throughout the region and in their mythology, we see a repetition of the “head” as a constant motif. The Mayan hieroglyphic alphabet seems to be nothing more than a bunch of “talking heads”, many of them representing a head of some sort.

The father god of the Hero Twins lost his head and then spit into the hand of a girl who then became pregnant with the Hero Twins who then came back to the Underworld to beat the game with the Lords of Death, one even losing his head for a short time during the adventure, and “resurrect” their father – or, as some sources say: free him to be reincarnated.

Perhaps the tale is mixing metaphors. First, establishing a basis for belief in reincarnation and, secondly, describing cosmological events.

The head that spits to impregnate another sounds much like a “god” figure (i.e. planet – perfectly round like a head) so where in the cosmology is a “god” killed and then spits to impregnate another that gives birth to twins?

There does not seem to be a single tale that I can think of in cosmological history, but perhaps you may think of one. But I wonder, are they compressing a couple of suns into one here or what?

It is not known how far north these myths were spread but I do know that there are several ballcourts in the area around Flagstaff, Arizona, a few miles south of the Grand Canyon. There is a rather large one at Wupatki and I have even discovered a couple in the forests on the Kaibab Plateau there.

But where did this strange game come from? We may have to keep digging to find a better answer to that question. One historian mentioned the game was reenacting cosmic events and records show some of the games even using a flaming ball. The parallel to the Sun is quite evident in that rendition. But a Sun that is batted around?

The Olmec Heads

The most famous remnant left to us of the Olmec culture of ancient Mexico is the giant heads carved from basalt. Well, the heads and the famous Mesoamerican Ball Game. Their name is not known to us except from the Aztecs, who called them “the rubber people” because of the rubber ball used in the game. But this is about the heads.

Most scholars think the giant Olmec heads (20-50 tons each) were representations of rulers wearing ball-playing helmets or perhaps some of the more famous players of their even more famous Ball Game.

But why only the head? Why not show the entire form of the ruler or ball-player? Why not show the playing gear they wore?

My own thought on the matter is that the Olmec were not picturing rulers of any Earthly realm. The heads are depictions of the gods. The strange markings on each one’s helmet differs one to another and reminds me of the differing glyphs used to depict their gods in written texts. One even has the jaguar pelt reminiscent of the Hero Twins.

They believed the planets were gods, and they knew the planets were spheres. That is the why they pictured them as round head-spheres. Just like the planets. It could also add another level of interpretation to the Hero Twins myths where, a couple of different times, the player loses his head but the head continues talking.

Round heads, round planets, round rubber balls… But normally one does not see the planets bouncing around. Usually, they continue their graceful motion through the zodiac unimpeded.

But it brings to mind a theory presented to us by Immanuel Velikovsky: the planets were thought of as gods because of their independent motions. That does not refer to their motion in an orderly fashion around the Sun, it referred to the planets “leaving their courses” as some of the dire prophets think will happen again at the End-Date of the calendar.

With all this concern over heads, and planets, and bouncing rubber balls, it makes one wonder again what their ancient ball game was really all about.

A Closer Look at the Gods

In many respects the gods of the Maya are similar to the gods of other ancient cultures. There is the usual gods of Sun, Moon, wind, and so forth, but they also have a separate set of Creator Gods.

These Creator Gods were not just present at the beginning of the universe, they remain at hand even today because they will be called on again the help usher in the next sun, just as they have with the four previous suns.

One might think the use of Creator Gods somehow implies the dis-creation (i.e. destruction) of the present age. It might make sense to our technological minds but to the Maya, the form of this creation is not starting from scratch but merely redirecting the world onto a new course, a new future, a new sun.

And for the complete changeover to be accomplished one would hope there would be true creation professionals on hand. Otherwise who knows what sort of a mess we might wind up with.

So these gods and their assistants have patiently awaited their duties to kick-start the new sun to begin soon. Still, it does not seem to mean much to us. Exactly what sort of creative duties these gods will have is glossed over.

The Mysterious White Visitor

In the myths of Mesoamerica were tales of a wondrous white man and his companions who were very wise and came to teach them how to grow the maize that became their staple. This fellow hung around long enough to teach them a great many things and when he departed, he supposedly promised to return.

Thus, when the conquistadores arrived, some probably thought the “god” was returning.

Exactly when did these events unfold? It seems from the Mesoamerican account it seems to have been around 3000 (though some say 8000) B.C.

From archaeology, many researchers have determined the cultivation of maize began around 3000 B.C.

From the Inca accounts of this strange white man, it seems to just precede the Inca Empire and so it would have been 1000 AD.

Was this the same guy appearing in the two different places some 4000 years apart or were the stories confused and only tell us about the same person? But then why would the Inca make him so much more recent?

It is just another mystery about which we may never learn the truth. Although it is strange to hear that in an interview with a Mayan Elder, we are told that the End-Date of the Calendar coincides with the return of the wise, ancient ones.

The Suns of the Maya

The Maya claim there have already four suns that have preceded our current sun. Based on the calendar, the current sun will last about 5,125 years. A few varying sources give us the lengths of the previous suns. And the numbers differ rather drastically.

The first sun lasted for as little as 676 years or as much as 4,008 years before the people were devoured by tigers.

The second sun seems to have lasted even a shorter duration according to some sources. Only 364 years are attributed though some writers assign 4,010 years to this period. This longer reckoning is very close to the longer length of the first sun though the smaller number is considerably less. This sun ended by intense windstorms and the people fled into the trees to become monkeys. (Sort of a reverse-Darwin.)

Third sun has a period even shorter than the second: 312 years. Others give it an even longer period than the first two at 4,081 years before a rain of fire came down and the people turned into chickens. (But at least we did not evolve from them!)

The fourth sun, which ended in a worldwide flood, lasted 676 years on the short end and a whopping 5,026 years by the longer estimate. The people survived by turning into fish.

And that brings us to the present sun, which has no varying estimates as it is tied into the present Long Count of 5,125 years. The ending of this period will supposedly be marked by earthquakes and no one is saying what the people will evolve into this time around.

Using the larger numbers advanced here, it appears the varying suns get longer with each iteration. Exactly why this happens is not explained. But it should seem clear that the arrangement of the calendar at present would not work for the previous suns. This would mean the Mayans had to figure out a new calendar with each new sun.

What a headache that must have been!

One writer commented that the last previous age was only eleven baktuns long, giving us a duration of 4,336 years. That is, of course, assuming the baktuns were the same length as those used in the present calendar.

John Major Jenkins thinks that each of the Ages were of the same duration, 5,125 years. That is because his theory is that they were simply measuring the full precessional cycle. That is, if the complete length of precession turns out to be 6,125 years but most astronomers do not have not agreed on a length of time for that cycle.

Some writers seem to think that the baktuns, katuns, etc, have always been the same durations while others seem to think they differed from Age to Age based on various (as yet unknown to us) criteria.

According to Leon-Portilla, the Aztecs claimed that 22nd of May in 1558 was the 2,513th anniversary since the beginning of 1st Sun.

But then the Aztecs have a few different touches on the mystery. They were “late-comers” to the party and, though they adopted many of the cultural aspects of the area before their arrival, their world view was flavored through their own needs.

Why the Planet Venus?

Many scholars wonder about the obsession with the planet Venus and why the beginning of the Mayan Calendar is pegged to the “birth of Venus”.

True, the Maya kept tables of the movements of all the planets as well as the Sun and the Moon, but Venus seems to have held a very special place in their cosmology. Certainly, it is the brightest of all the planets but not too much brighter than Jupiter. And its brightness is nowhere near what the Moon reflects.

That their legends of this “feathered serpent” of a planet seem odd to us knowing what we do of the planet we see today, we must remember that other ancients around the globe also mention some strange things about that planet. And the Maya are not the only ones who claim to have witnessed its “birth”.

Early on, many ancient cultures talked about the “tail” the planet had, the plumes around its “head”, and its dragon-like appearance. As a humorous aside, many scholars say the concept of dragons began with comets. The creatures never actually existed, they claim, but were merely suggested by the appearance of the comet. Unfortunately, so many cultures speak of comets resembling dragons that there had to have been an earlier model for them to base their similarity on. Otherwise the analogy becomes meaningless.

Still, the moment of “birth” of the planet Venus – figuratively or in reality – is not described anywhere in vivid detail, so we are left with yet another puzzle from their mythology.

The World Tree

The Maya legends also mention the Tree of the World. So what is this? Some say it is the foundation pillar on which the entire world rested. The Greeks put the world on Atlas’ back while others had this tree motif. The Norse called their tree Ygdrasil.

Many people see this tree to be reflected in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from the Garden of Eden. José Argüelles considers it to be the axis of the universe. John Major Jenkins calls it the Milky Way. Carl Calleman thinks it refers to the planetary axis.

Even the major writers of the 2012 movement disagree on what this thing is and yet it seems to be part of the underpinning of Maya cosmology. There is a major crossroads near this tree and some writers place it on the road to, or even at the entrance to, Xibalba.

Troubles in the Pleiades

Another interesting feature in the mythology is the small constellation called the Pleiades. In Greek myth, it was seven sisters either plagued by overly aggressive amorous males or in shame from their father being forced to carry the world around on his back. They were the seven daughters of Atlas.

The Mayans mention it as the final resting place of the four-hundred boys who were killed by Zipacná, the son of Seven Macaw. There seemed to be no special horror or anxiety about this small constellation by either the Greeks or the Maya.

Still, it was very important in the celebration of the Calendar Round. Every fifty-two years, after the fires were extinguished, every watched patiently until the Pleiades had passed over the zenith of the night sky and the eastern horizon began to glow.

In relief that neither the world nor the Sun had been destroyed, they carried the fire back to their villages and continued life as before.

But what was expected? Why did they get so anxious over the Pleiades passing above them in the night sky? Some terrible calamity must have befallen them in times past that made them wary of its approach again.

And it was not just any approach, either. The Pleiades passes through the heavens once each and every day as the Earth rotates. All portions of the sky pass overhead once every day. They did not get anxious at its passage at any other time, only when the fifty-second year arrived.

It is a puzzlement! And what’s even more surprising is that in the earliest periods they do not seem to have celebrated – or feared – such a passage.

At Yet Another Crossroads

Having circumnavigated the Mayan world, its history, its calendar, and much of the mythology of its structure, how much closer are we to understanding the calendar and its purpose?

I am afraid this journey has led us into the same quagmire found by most researchers on the subject. The Maya, for all their time spent on the world stage, seem to have actually left precious little description of the workings of the thing much less an owners’ manual.

Their culture, so steeped in spiritual mysticism, should have rather large signposts pointing us in the right direction but instead we are at a crossroads. To continue of the straight course seems the most logical though all the paths fade into shadow at some distance from where we stand.

Could it be that the calendar was something not of Mayan construction? Can it be that is why they do not have a clearer path? If others had created the mechanism and bequeathed it to the Maya, it might make perfect sense that they did not necessarily know what is was really all about.

Unfortunately, that path is the least likely for a substantial journey. The Maya were known to still be doing the research, writing the star charts, calculating the numbers well into their Classical Age.

Like it or not, we have to come to grips with carefully sifting through whatever data we can latch onto to try and find some understanding.

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