The Maya peoples constitute a diverse range of the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a convenient collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term embraces many distinct populations, societies, and ethnic groups, who each have their own particular traditions, cultures, and historical identity.
There are an estimated 7 million Maya living in this area at the start of the 21st century. Ethnic Maya of southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras have managed to maintain substantial remnants of their ancient cultural heritage. Some are quite integrated into the modern cultures of the nations in which they reside, while others continue a more traditional culturally distinct life, often speaking one of the Mayan languages as a primary language.
The largest populations of Maya inhabit the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Chiapas, and in the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.
So at least claim the Maya's, that ancient civilization that lived in the Mesoamerica's since 2,600 BC. The Maya's had an extremely complicated method of keeping track of time, based on three separate calendars. The most important, most encompassing of these calendars holds the `Long Count': the period from the beginning until the end of time. And on December 21st 2012, the Long Count expires. It will be point zero. Time will be up for the Universe. It will be, literally, the end of days.
Big deal, you might say. Still, there's a couple of very interesting (and disturbing) facts about the Maya calendar's end. Most intriguing, 21-12-2012 is not a day like any other. Up in the sky, an extraordinary and incredibly rare event will take place. The Sun will move to a unique spot in the sky -- and hold still for a while, since it is solstice day. The Sun will sit precisely on the heavenly crossroads between the Milky Way and the galactic equinox, forming a perfect alignment with the center of the galaxy.
"What does that mean?"
Well: the night time sky is crossed by several mathematical lines. One is the axis of the Milky Way -- the Milky Way, as you may know, being that bright band of stars you can see running across the heavens on a clear night. Another important line is the cosmological ecliptic: the axis along which the constellations travel, the line that defines coordinates in space.
You can say a lot about the Maya, but you've got to hand it to them: they knew a hell of a lot about stars. For instance, they calculated the exact duration of a year to a thousandth of a decimal point, much more precise than any Greek or enlightened philosopher ever did. Also, they were able to predict every solar and lunar eclipse until this day. And obviously, they knew where the galactic equinox and the exact middle of the Milky Way lay: they called this crossing `the Sacred Tree'.
More disturbing, the Maya's were awfully good at astrology, too. Mysteriously, they predicted in what year their civilization would be overrun by foreigners coming from over the seas. Legend has it they even predicted the world wars. So if a Maya tells you the world will end in 2012, you'd better take it seriously.
But actually, the Maya's never predicted anything concrete about 2012. That may have something to do with our ill knowledge about Maya culture: when the Spanish ransacked the land, they burnt literally every Maya book they could find. Only a handful of scriptures survived. And in them, there's not a clue about what happens when the Maya calendar ends.
So what awaits us in 2012 basically is an open question. And as with so many open questions, countless doom preachers, semi-prophets and other crackpots pop up to provide an answer. The interpretation you hear most: 2012 will mark the coming of a new, glorious age of wisdom and peace. It will be Age Of Aquarius at last, with a world full of peace, love and understanding.
The reasoning behind this is actually not that stupid. The Maya's didn't really believed in endings: their conception of time was circular, with every end being the beginning of something new. So, 2012 shouldn't be an exception.
Also, the Maya's had a highly developed philosophy of the cosmos. They saw the cosmos as the true mother of things. Consequently, the Maya's thought the cosmos is all around us, and within us. Every plant, every animal, every man is sheer Cosmos. =)
The Maya calendar is a system of distinct calendars and almanacs used by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and by some modern Maya communities in highland Guatemala.
These calendars can be synchronized and interlocked, their combination giving rise to further, more extensive cycles. The essentials of the Maya calendric system are based upon a system which had been in common use throughout the region, dating back to at least the 6th century BC.
The Calendar shares many aspects with calendars employed by other earlier Mesoamerica civilizations, such as the Zapotec and Olmec, and contemporary or later ones such as the Mixtec and Aztec calendars. Although the Mesoamerican calendar did not originate with the Maya, their subsequent extensions and refinements of it were the most sophisticated. Along with those of thAztecs, the Maya calendars are the best-documented and most completely understood.
By the Maya mythological tradition, as documented in Colonial Yucatec accounts and reconstructed from Late Classic and Postclassic inscriptions, the deity Itzamna is frequently credited with bringing the knowledge of the calendar system to the ancestral Maya, along with writing in general and other foundational aspects of Maya culture.
Built around 800 A.D. ( between 550-900 A.D. )
Kukulcán's pyramid is essentially a nine-step structure culminating in a flat platform that supports a two-story temple. The height to the top platform is 24 m, the temple adding another 6 m.
El Castillo's design is thought to relate to the Mayan calendar. Each of the four faces incorporates a broad, steep staircase consisting of 91 steps that ascends to the top platform. Counting the top platform as an additional step gives a total of 365 steps:
1step for each day of the year. The staircases rise at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizontal, while the average inclination of the stepped pyramid itself is 53.3 degrees. The faces of the individual steps are sloped at a greater angle, approximately 73 degrees.
The nine main platforms of the pyramid are thought to represent the 18 months of the haab, and the 52 panels represent the number of years it takes for a calendar round date to recur.
Additionally, when one looks at the western face during the winter solstice, the sun appears to climb up the edge of the staircase until it rests momentarily directly above the temple before beginning its descent down the other side.
The orientation of the pyramid is approximately 17 degrees east of magnetic north, in an area where the declination is approximately 2 degrees east, so the actual orientation is around 19 degrees east of true north. Several other major structures on the site are oriented in approximately the same way.
The Mayan Calendar began on on the first day of Pop month, or our July 16th.
They kept a count of 52 days (breaking down into 2 months with 20 days each,
2 weeks with 5 days each, and 2 additional days.
This count puts us in the 12th day of the 3rd month called Sip, or September 6th by our calendar.
This was the day the Mayans held their most significant ceremonies at the base of the pyramid as September 6th (as well as April 6th) is when the complete nine triangles of shadow and light can be seen on the western side of the north staircase. Nine triangles being the most complete example of the phenomenon, with eight visible on the staircase and the ninth illuminating the head of Kukulkan.
'The Dresden Codex' has perhaps proved the most fruitful in helping to recreate the ancient environment, and containing an elaborate calendar used to record the observations of Venus, which seems to be an object of utmost importance to them. Working with both a solar calendar and a ritual calendar, the ancient Maya imparted much meaning in the helical rising of Venus, which is made evident in the structure of several ceremonial centers throughout the area. Unlike the Megalithic and Egyptian complexes, scientific observation can be better deciphered here, because of the elaborate records left behind, and because of the fact that so many of the deductions the Maya made so closely resemble recent calculations of the same recorded cycles.
Like the Egyptians, the Maya had devised two calendars, one solar and one ritual which interacted and depended upon one another for the dictation of certain ritual events to be carried out. The sky for the Maya was a seeming personification of Gods and deities who played important roles in the daily lives of the population. Most significantly, the relationship between the Sun and Venus (talked about previously in the helical rising, conjunction, phases) was representative of Kutaikcan, the God of Venus , and "symbolizes the cyclic myth of departure and return or death and resurrection." (Aveni 1984). In addition other objects may have been tracked in order to predict certain 'natural' phenomenon in accordance to seasonal changes therefor placing major importance on the accurate predictions undertaken to better predict the earthly events thought to be under the control of the Gods.
A great many structures are indicative of the devotion to and dependence upon Venus, to the Maya, and can be found in the architecture ceremonial centers throughout the region. Caracol, at Chichen Itza sits atop a large earthen mound and is a structure obviously intended for observing Venus at its most extreme points on the horizon.
Just as famous, is the Governor's Palace at Uxmal, constructed so that it would center on the helical rising of Venus at its southernmost point during the eight year cycle it follows. Such an alignment can be further substantiated by the fact that the Palace deviates from the remainder of the buildings at Uxmal by twenty degrees, indicating the care taken to insure the sight lines of the observation windows. The careful planning inherent in the design and building of such structures is made evident in the precision of their alignments, however this precision was indispensable to the planning of ritual events and the prediction of natural processes that so dictated the lives of the Maya.
In Chichen Itza, in Mexico there is a celestial observatory to the stars that was aligned along the line of the summer and winter solstice. It was built by the ancient Maya and / or their God Quatzequatl. The western orientation of the Castillo at Chichen Itza faces within a degree the zenith passage sunset. The east faces sunrise at the time of solar nadir.
The Upper Temple of the Jaguars and the Temple of the Warriors align to the zenith sunset. The Castillo has 365 steps. The Caracol at Chichen Itza is recognized as an astronomical observatory (Milbrath 1988). The Caracol has three Venus alignments, including the building's alignment to the northerly extremes of Venus. A pair of turret window alignments and a pair of base alignments point to Venus' western horizon standstills around 1000 A.D. The Caracol's platform, an irregular rectangle, has a diagonal directed toward the winter solstice sunset and summer solstice sunrise (Broda 1986). The platform staircase faces the Venus extreme north position.
Astronomical alignments are also obvious in Peru. One of Machu Picchu's primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, not at the solstice (as is stated in some tourist literature and new-age books). At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment the sun "sits with all his might upon the pillar" and is for a moment "tied" to the rock. At these periods, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they ?tied the sun? to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere), when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma's claw), the most sacred mountain of the western Vilcabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinoctial.
The Intihuatana Stone - The Hitching Post of the Sun
Shamanic legends say that when sensitive persons touch their foreheads to the stone, the Intihuatana opens one's vision to the spirit world (the author had such an experience, which is described in detail in Chapter one of Places of Peace and Power, on the web site, www.sacredsites.com). Intihuatana stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people and were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. When the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the Inca believed that the deities of the place died or departed. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, even though they suspected its existence, thus the Intihuatana stone and its resident spirits remain in their original position. The mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. Supply lines linking the many Inca social centers were disrupted and the great empire came to an end. The photograph shows the ruins of Machu Picchu in the foreground with the sacred peak of Wayna Picchu towering behind. Partway down the northern side of Wayna Picchu is the so-called Temple of the Moon inside a cavern. As with the ruins of Machu Picchu, there is no archaeological or iconographical evidence to substantiate the new-age assumption that this cave was a goddess site.