The Origin of the Number 20 in Mayan Cosmology and Astrology

New paradigm Mayan astrology challenges some of the longstanding stories of contemporary Maya about the source of the key numbers used in the 260-day calendar. Common sense, rather than a strict reliance on hand-me-down stories will lead to the truth. I’ll begin with some fiction and facts about the number 20, which is the number of nahuales in the Mesoamerican spiritual system commonly called the Tzolkin, a contemporary name for the ancient calendar system used throughout Mesoamerica and not only by the Maya.

Which Came First, the Number 20 or the Nahuales?

One common story among the Maya of Guatemala concerns the source of the number 20. Some Elders and their disciples, Mayan and non-Maya, repeat the oral legacy that the number 20 is based on the number of fingers and toes of the human body, apparently without considering the implications. And they say that this is the source of the number of nahuales in the Tzolkin.

The number 20 in Mayan astrology is based on the number of nahuales, not on the human body.

This drawing has been used to “prove” that the number 20, even the 20 nahuales themselves, were based on the human body – a conclusion that does not add up when one considers that humans appeared after the nahuales, which invalidates this assumption.

With all due respect to the Elders, it is clear that this story defies not only common sense but also the written records of the Popul Vuh, which tells how several of the nahuales created people. It is obvious that if the nahuales were around before people, the number 20 could not have been based on any part(s) of the human anatomy.

And not only did the nahuales predate human beings, so did the concept and reality of day keepers, who count the days of the Sacred Calendar and interpret their significance. According to the Popul Vuh, Xpiyaco and Xmucane – “midmost seers” and “day keepers,” were consulted during the process of creating human beings.

We Come From the Stars

The notion that the number of nahuales is derived from a human source could even be called arrogant: it assumes that the Sacred Calendar was based on human beings. That would violate the maxim, “As above, so below.” If the key numbers of the 260-day calendar were based on the human body, the maxim would have to be, “As below, so above.” And that ain’t right (a rarely used scholarly term that will be used rarely on this blog).

Human Beings, Nahuales and the Tzolkin

At the same time, some contemporary Maya that the correlation between the number of toes and fingers and the number of nahuales establishes a link between people on Earth and the spirits in the heavens, or Otherworld. That this correlation is the significance of the number 20, not its reputed source of the number itself. I invite my colleagues here in Guatemala and in the rest of this world, as well as those who are new to Mayan cosmovision and astrology, to comment on this post and help bring illumination to planet Earth as we phase into the new paradigm.

And Where Did the Number 13 Come From?

20 is not the only number that links human beings with the nahuales and this universe. In my next post, I’ll look at legends and scientific research about another vital number in the Tzolkin system – 13 – and its origin.


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From the Guatemalan Highlands

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