Cosmologies

Interpreted by J.B.Waskul

Northwest Coast

The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest have a rich and varied cosmology. Although the meaning of its totemic symbols may differ from tribe to tribe, the underlying system of beliefs seems to be universal. Within their cosmological understanding is the belief that all things in the world are in a state of transformation and that a single spirit may express itself through many forms. 

The Olmec Worldview

The Olmec civilization flourished between 1300 - 400 B.C. and gradually faded creating the foundations of the Mayan culture that would proceed it. If they had any formal writing, it has yet to be found. What they have left behind is an extensive array of stone engravings and statuary. Two prominent deities depicted in their art are the Corn God and the Jaguar God.

The cosmology of the Olmecs is a layered universe. At its base are the three stones of creation, placed as the hearth of the world. Above the stones is the primordial ocean upon which floats a mountain representing the land. On top of the mountain grows a cornstalk surrounded by seeds representing the four corners of the world. Above the cornstalk resides the kingdom of the clouds. A doorway or gate can be seen in the mountain and below the sea, possibly representing a passage to the underworld.

Mayan Calendar

Mesoamerican calendars tracked the solar year, the lunar year, the Venus cycle, and other phenomena including supernatural and ritual cycles whose fundamental basis remain unknown. This cyclical calendar is made up of a 260 day spiritual calendar and the 365 day solar calendar. The 260 day calendar was the most important and remains in use to this day in the Highlands of Guatemala, Chiapas, and Oaxaca.  It may recreate the human gestational period or perhaps the cycles of Venus and was used by the ancient Maya as a kind of almanac for divination. (In Yucatec Maya it is called the tzolkin and was composed of 13 periods of 20 days each.  The 365 day calendar (know as the Haab to the ancient Maya of Yucatan) corresponds to the solar year with 18 periods of 20 days each.  Together the sacred and solar calendars combined to create a 52 year cycle.  Each day in the 52 year cycle was a unique association and provided the name of the day people were born on and at least one of the names they used in life.

 

- Dr. Thomas Killion, Professor of Anthropological Archaeology, Wayne State University

Mayan Long-Count Calendar

Pick a day, any day and start counting. The long-count calendar is a linear system based upon tracking time through units of twenty.  Charting longer periods of time required a different kind of calendar.  During the Late Formative period (sometime around 500 B.C.) ancient Mesoamericans introduced the Long Count.  The Long Count date records the total number of days that have elapsed since a mythological zero day that can be correlated to August 2nd, 3114 B.C.  The Maya perfected the long count system during the 1st millennium A.D. and calculated dates millions of years in the past and the future for ritual purposes.  The long count is based on the number 20 and days are referred to as kin.  From there you have uinals (20 days), 360 days (tun, most like our year), baktuns (20 years), katuns (400 years), and more.  Long count dates are expressed as 9.13.0.0.0 (9 katuns, 13 baktuns, 0 tuns, uinals, and kins) and are inscribed as dates on many ancient Maya monuments. 

 

- Dr. Thomas Killion, Professor of Anthropological Archaeology, Wayne State University

Aztec Calendar

This is a 260-day spiritual calendar. The right wheel depicts the creation myth of the five suns the left wheel has an image of the moon.  Each Aztec year bore the name of the 260-day almanac that occurred on the last day of the 18th month.  This works out to be one of four possible day names (with its number).  The Aztec and most other people of Mesoamerica name their years for the first day of the new year in the 260-day almanac (sacred calendar).  These days were called “yearbearers” and historical dates from the Aztec reigns are known by this yearbearer name. The Spanish began their attack on the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, in the year 1 Acatl (1 Reed).  This year had previously been revealed by divination to Motecuzoma, the Aztec king, as a year of doom.

- Dr. Thomas Killion, Professor of Anthropological Archaeology, Wayne State University