There is something which has been interesting me for some time with regards to the months of the Solar calendar and the natural occurrences here. It is something that many scholars and mathematicians have worked with to a much deeper level than me, but something I wanted to write about for a while. This post may ultimately be more of a musing about an hypothesis rather than anything else, but I will present my observations from living here.
According to most of the Highland elders that I know, the New Solar year begins with the month of Nabe Mam on 20th February (2017-2020) and will move to 19th February in 2021. This is because it is a 365 day calendar and every 4 years the Gregorian leap day steps it back a day the following year. The Solar calendar has 18 “months” of 20 days, plus one month of 5 days usually known as Wayeb (from the Ha’ab calendar), but really should be known as Tz’api Q’ij if following calendars here in Guatemala. If you are familiar with the calendar I publish, you will see that each month of the solar year has a name, which often aligns to agricultural activities and natural phenomena, and it is to those that I am looking.
In the lead up to 2012, I came across a book published in Guatemala that proposed a Gran Wayeb, a 13 day period after the proposed new year date (22nd February that year) which would re-align the solar calendar and keep everything ticking along correctly. This would mean that the Year Bearers would change from Iq’ Kej, E’ and No’j to Tz’ikin, Ajpu, Kan and Tz’i. I saw this idea adopted by a few Aj Q’ij here, but it seems to have now been dropped as they reverted back to the original Year Bearers. In theory it was a great idea, to reset the calendar to ensure that the months stay in order, but unfortunately was not correctly executed. The reason being that we can find evidence that the year bearers have been the same at various dates in the past. Adding the extra 13 days takes us to March 6th, the first day of the solar year in 1961. This effective locks in a time period for new year which runs March 6th to February 22nd over 52 years, from where it resets. I rather see this as knowing our clock is wrong, but then arbitrarily resetting it to a date which does not have a logical anchor in the greater scheme of things. So, what might be the true date of the Solar new year?
One of my primary sources for information on this is the book “Maya Daykeeping – Three Calendars from Highland Guatemala” which lists some observations of Spanish priests from several hundred years ago. They give us some data to work with from calendars of 1685, 1722 and 1854. These calendars come from San Pedro la Laguna (1685), Quetzaltenango (1722) and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan (1854), and so are highly relevant to this part of the country.
My issue started when I saw one of the big natural phenomena here; the emergence of the flying ants. It happens every May, for the last years around the middle of May, this year it happened 10th May, just a little bit early, usually just after the first rains. Yet, according to the agricultural calendar the seasons of the flying ants (Nab’ey Tumuxux and Ruk’ub Tumuxux) begin 26th November.
Another correlation point could be the harvest of cacao. The harvest will depend on where we are talking about and some communities can harvest year round. However, the Boca Costa region, the southern coastal plains of Guatemala which border Mexico in the North and El Salvador in the south, extending eastwards inland to the volcanic slopes of the highlands, this harvest is supposed to begin in October according to this paper
In the agricultural calendar, these months occur 280 and 60 days after the new year, giving us two points which could align. The big question would be are there more? If the calendar is re-aligned based on these two points, are there more months that line up and what would be the true start date of the Solar year?
What is the current solar calendar?
Here the current alignment of the months. It seems to me that some of the seasons cover a 40 day period with Nab’e and Rukub being their prefixes. Their meanings are:
Nab’e and Rukub Mam – First and second seasons of the early aged. Corn planted in this time is said to not come to its full potential, the milpa doesn’t reach its full height. Current season: 20th February – 31st March, one of the driest times of the year when planting without irrigation is not likely. However, it gives the whole rainy season for the maize to grow, so it would likely reach its full height.
Likin Ka’ – Season when the earth is soft and slippery because of heavy rains. Current season: 31st March – 20th April, still dry season right before the first rains.
Nabe and Rukub Toqik – First and second season of the harvest of cacao, season of flaying. Current season: 21st April – 31st May, just after the possible second harvest period according to this document which would end at the end of April.
Nabe and Rukub Pach – First and second season of hen hatching. Current season: 30th May – 9th July. I have no data (yet) on when the new hens are hatched, but I would have thought earlier in the spring, when the hens start laying again after their winter break
Tz’ikin Q’ij – Days of the birds. Current season: 9th – 29th July. Could relate to migratory birds arriving in the area on their journey between south and north America. We see this in October/November and March/April
Kaqan – Time of the yellow and white flowers. Current season: 29th July – 18th August. I have observed the hillsides turning yellow and white here in November, particularly at the end of rainy season. However, this timing does fit to some degree.
Ibota – Season of red colours and rolling up of mats. Current season: 18th August – 7th September.
Q’atik – Season of general sowing. Current season: 7th – 27th September. The heaviest of rainfall usually occurs in this time, and usually extend through to the end of October. It may be a time to sow, but flooding is often likely so it may wash away the tiny plants.
Iskal – That which is sprouting or to throw buds. Current season: 27th September – 17th October. Still heavy rain.
Pariche – Season of blankets to protect from the cold. Current season: 17th October to 6th November. When it gets wet in the highlands it gets cold, and at the end of rainy season it can get cold for sure.
Takaxepual – First sowing. Current season: 6th – 26th November. Usually the beginning of dry season. The rains have stopped.
Nabe and Rukub Tumuxux – Seasons of the flying ants. Current season: 26th November – 5th January. Dry season, some termites observed.
Qib’ixix – Smoke, burning of brushwood. Current season: 5th – 25th January. This is a common time for forest fires as people clear their fields with fires that get out of control.
Uchum – Season of second sowing. Current season: 25th January – 15th February. Height of dry season.
Tz’api Q’ij (Wayeb) – Closing days. Current season: 15th -19th February.
So there are some more natural phenomena we can observe here in the highlands of Guatemala, but lets try an alignment based on these phenomena.
Tumuxux: Season of the flying ants. Let’s say May 15th based on previous years’ observations. Occurs 280 days after Nabe Mam, so let’s subtract 280 days to find a date of Nabe Mam according to observations: 15/05/2020 – 280 days = 09/08/2019.
Nabe Toqik: First harvest of cacao. Let’s say 1st October based on the pdf linked before. Occurs 60 days after Nabe Mam. 01/10/2020 – 60 days = 02/08/2020
It is difficult to select a precise date from these calculations, but we do have an important solar alignment around that time, the solar zenith transit. This happens between 11th and 13th August at this latitude. Could it be that this zenith transit marked the beginning of the solar year? After all there are 105 days between the first and second zenith transits (30th April and 13th August), meaning the other half of the solar year would be 260 days, linking the calendars together. How could this be resolved?
Last year I attended a very interesting presentation by Geraldine Patrick Encina, where she proposed something similar. That the solar year begins on August 13th, which is the base date for the haab’ for the Classic Maya. She also proposed a resolution to the year bearer question by suggesting the years began at different times of the day, you can find her work here. This resolution would create a massive change, including a change to the count which would mean our nawales would change. Scary territory!
How would the calendar match up if we did change to 13th August as a start to the new solar year?
(The dates in bold mark zenith transit days and equinoxes)
Nabe and Rukub Mam – 13th August – 21st September – Early aged meaning that corn doesn’t have enough time to grow before dry season comes? Rainy season likely to end by 5th November. If you need 90 days of wet weather for the corn to mature, last planting date to get there would be 7th August, so planting in Nabe or Rukub Mam would suggest that there is not enough time to get a good harvest.
Likin Ka – 22nd September – 11th October – Slippery earth. The heaviest of rains tend to occur during this time, so some strong correlation here.
Nabe and Rukub Toqik – 12th October – 20th November. Harvest of Cacao. According to the document, in the Boca Costa this is cacao harvest time. Being as the calendars that this is taken from originate in San Pedro la Laguna, Quetzaltenango and Santa Maria Ixtahuacan, it is likely that the cacao harvest they refer to is that of the Boca Costa rather than the Franja Transversal del Norte.
Nabe and Rukub Pach – 21st November – 30th December. Hatching of hens. If hens are hatched in this time, just before the mother hens have their winter rest, the newly hatched will start laying from the end of March through to mid-April (14-16 weeks after hatching). In reality I have not observed a particular season when egg laying hens are hatched in particular.
Tz’ikin Q’ij – 31st December – 19th January. Season of the birds. There are certainly many migratory birds here at this time. It’s usually when the whip-poor-will birds sing all night. To hear them click here. These birds are also featured in the Popol Vuh as the guardians of the gardens of Xibalba, and were punished for sleeping on the job by being made to stay awake all night!
Kaqan – 20th January – 8th February. Time of yellow and white flowers. This does not really fit to my experience here. It’s dry season and most of the landscape is drying up and turning brown.
Ibota – 9th -28th February. Red colours and rolling up of mats. I have no experience of what this could relate to.
Q’atik – 1st – 20th March. General sowing. I guess that seed could be sown at this time in anticipation of the coming rains. I have certainly sown my garden at this time to get the plants established before the heavy rains begin at the end of April.
Iskal – 21st March – 9th April. That which is sprouting or throwing buds. Pretty obvious after planting that sprouting would occur. The first sporadic rains announcing the beginning of rainy season sometimes happen here, which would bring on that sprouting.
Pariche – 9th – 28th April. Season of blankets to protect from the cold. This really doesn’t fit. This is the warmest time of the year if the rains don’t come!
Takaxepual – 29th April – 18th May. First sowing. Maize sown at this time would be ready in early August when canicular would allow it to be harvested easily.
Nabe and Rukub Tumuxux – 19th May – 27th June. Seasons of the flying ants. This seems a little late in my experience, but maybe climate change has something to do with that. 9th May was the big emergence in my garden of the flying ants, this year, 16th May last year, but it is pretty close.
Qib’ixix – 28th June – 17th July. Smoke, burning of brushwood. Rainy season would make this unlikely as most things are pretty wet at this time of the year.
Uchum – 18th July – 6th August. Season of second sowing. This would be the last time that the second maize crop of the year could be planted and still have time to mature before the end of rainy season. It is 80 – 100 days after the first sowing, i.e. the first sowing has had time to come to maturity and be harvested allowing for two harvests in the year. Canicular would allow for the harvest to be taken in and dried somewhat, and the wet earth and promise of september rain would ensure that the second crop will grow.
Tz’api Q’ij – 7th – 12th August. Closing days. Final five days before the new year begins.
There is so much more investigation to do, so many elders to speak with before this could ever be something of a re-alignment. However, as this system is designed to key us into a more natural way of life, it would seem correct that we ensure that it aligns with natural phenomena. It would seem that a start date of 13th August would do that, although there are some which still do not align. It is also interesting to see that the equinoxes also fall on the first days of certain months of the solar calendar, Likin Ka and Iskal, as does the other solar zenith, of course with Takaxepual. Seeing these highly important celestial events highlighted in the solar calendar seems to add weight to the reason for it being kept, as well as it’s agricultural significance.