As the Mayan new solar year approaches I have been thinking about the relationship between the Chol Q’ij, the 260 day Mayan sacred calendar, and the Macewal Q’ij, the 365 day Mayan solar calendar, or ordinary days. In the Macewal Q’ij, “new year” will occur on February 21st in 2016, and because of the lack of an intercalary day, February 20th from 2017 to 2020. The Macewal Q’ij consists of 18 months of 20 days, which are then followed by a period of 5 days known as Wayeb.
Each new solar year, a new year bearer (also known as Mam, grandfather, cargador or Year Lord) takes his seat. There are four year bearers in use here in Guatemala, these are Kej, E’, N’oj and Iq’. They cycle much as the days cycle; 2012 was 13 N’oj, 2013 was 1 Iq’, 2014 was 2 Kej, 2015 was 3 E’ and 2016 will be 4 N’oj. In 2017 the solar year will begin on the day 5 Iq’, so we see the same sequence of year bearers with the number increasing by 1 each time. These are the year bearers currently used by the K’iche’ people of Guatemala. Archaeologists give a slightly different count as they start their count, the Ha’ab, 40 days later. The year bearers are the same, but the number is increased by 1, making 2016 the year 5 N’oj. There is also another count which starts 13 days later, due to an extra 13 days being added in February of 2013, which changed the year bearers. This was known as the “Gran Wayeb” and while this has many logical reasons and has been adopted in some areas, I do not know many indigenous day keepers who have adopted it yet.
The Chol Q’ij consists of 260 days and is commonly seen as 20 periods of 13 days, which are sometimes referred to as trecenas. Each trecena has a different attribute depending on the days involved and their strengths. However, there is another way of counting the Chol Q’ij which co-ordinates it’s movements with that of the Macewal Q’ij; that is by counting 20 day periods. Each month of the solar year begins with a seating day, which is usually given a value of 0, and ends on a day numbered 19. Therefore, the first day of the solar year, consists of two components, and in 2016 will be 4 N’oj 0 Nab’e Mam. After 20 day have elapsed, the solar month will change and the month of Rukub Mam will start on the next N’oj day, the date 12 N’oj 0 Rukub Mam. I have compiled the dates into the table below to show the entire year.
What this table shows is that the bearer of the year presides over each of the Macewal Q’ij months, moving through each of his variations. He moves through the solar year twice, once thirteen times, then the second time five times (marked with a *), then through the Wayeb. The ** on the Wayeb marks that the year bearer only takes his seat for five days, and that it is the year bearer which governed for the previous appearance of this year bearer. For example, 13 N’oj was the year bearer of the year 2012, and 1 Iq’ was the year bearer on 2013. This seems hardly a coincidence and probably relates to the “Ghost” of the previous Mam taking responsibility after the current year bearer has “died”. The Wayeb is known as a time when public ceremony should be avoided, some people do not wash or comb their hair, they may not leave the house. It is a time when the days are unsupported and misfortune may occur.
When these cycles are compared with the life cycle of the maize, possible clarity occurs. The life cycle of the maize, the sustenance and substance of the people is 260 days. If Maize was planted on 21st February, it would be harvested on 7th November, which incidentally also around when rainy season usually ends. The maize grows and ripens, then the plant dies and is doubled over so that it dries out. In this way we see the 260 days as a cycle of life. From the 7th November through to 16th February there is no rain, so new life, the new sprouting of the maize, cannot occur. This is the second period of the year bearer, the 100 days, which could be seen as a journey through the otherworld, the world of the dead. We then have the 5 days of mourning, before the new year bearer takes his seat and the cycle of life begins again.