Two years ago I mentioned the way 2012ers ”translate” various dates or numbers associated with the ”Long Count end date” into a Christian numerological system based on gematria (the art of number magic). Numerology is a pointless endeavor (check out Stuart’s take on the numerology of Comet Elenin and you get another idea of how silly this can be). Apart from its pointlessness the 2012 numerologists have no knowledge of how numerology worked for the ancient Maya. I will discuss this numerology in two posts. The first one will discuss Anthony Aveni’s recently published article “Maya numerology” and the other post will deal with what Gerardo Aldana calls astronumerology described in his book The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal. Aveni mainly deals with numerology in codices and Aldana deals with older inscriptions at Palenque. These numerologies differ somewhat and probably relates to Lounsbury’s distinction between the arithmetician/astronomer, who dealt with large numbers tied to the lives of the rulers and their ancestors, and the royal numerology that involved brief intervals. In the latter numerology numbers were chosen because of what they were (p 213)
I begin by quoting parts of Aveni’s abstract (p 187):
In stark contrast to the Western calendar, in the Maya realm of timekeeping the duration between ritual events seems to have mattered as much as the times when the events themselves occurred. Moreover, the manner in which the daykeepers of the Maya codices sequenced the intervals followed well-defined patterns, which reveal an array of motives for the Maya way of structuring time. Among these motives were the need to: a) arrive at or avoid particular lucky or unlucky days; b) accommodate changing seasonal or other astronomical events; and c) set up numerological mirror symmetries, a characteristic that resonates with the Pythagorean philosophy of number.
The Maya had a backward focus since they wished to link primordial mythical events with historical time. This linkage with the past is a road where number gods carry time periods and on occasion rest at various stopping points. Time is sometimes depicted as a series of footsteps. I would say that this is partially cyclical (tzolkin and haab) and partially linear (Long Count) and these relate to Lounsbury’s distinctions. In Aveni’s text he deals with periods of shorter cyclical duration and intervals.
Based on 301 almanacs found in the Dresden and Madrid codices Aveni notes several intervallic patterns. Three basic ones are arranged so that they sum to 26, 52 and 65 days (being multiples of 13). Equal intervals contain the same interval throughout the sequence (13-13-13-13=52). Nearly equal intervals mean that there is at least one deviant number (10-10-10-10-3-9=52). There are also alternating intervals that sum to 20 or 13 (12-8-12-8-12=52 [12+8=20] or 6-7-6-7-6-7-6-7=52 [6+7=13]).
The equal intervals are fairly easy to explain. Four times 13 relates to quadripartition. The nearly equal ones can be explained from the fact that the Maya could not divide time into units shorter than a day. An interval of 65 days could only be divided into 33-32 or 16-16-16-17, etc. However, the Maya still divided a 52 days interval into 27-25 rather than 26-26 or 13-13-13-13. There may have been political or social reasons for why this pattern emerged. In our own calendar the months follow a 31,30,31,30… sequence. The exception is July and August which both are 31 days long. There is a historical reason for this. Augustus borrowed a day from February so that “his” month August would be as long as the month named after his adoptive father Julius Caesar (July). Similar reasons may have affected the Maya scribes’ decisions to change the intervals of a sequence.
Another reason why scribes deviated from equal intervals is that they wished to avoid or arrive at a particular day such as a lucky or unlucky day for planting, fishing, etc. Another motive may have been a desire to update an earlier version of a calendar so that they fit real-time events. Aveni also suggests that intervallic alteration may have emerged from a need to save space in the manuscript. The most esoteric possibility relates to the rules of number where we find other number of stations than the normal ones (2 x 130, 4 x 65, 5 x 52, or 10 x 26). It will be difficult to exactly know what the scribes meant by certain numbers. Here I will refer the reader to the work of Barbara Tedlock which has influenced one of my earlier studies. Note however, that her study was done during the 1970s and 1980s in the Maya highlands (Momostenango). The codices are from the northern lowlands and are much older.
Aveni, Anthony F. 2011. Maya numerology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21:2, 187-216.