The Concept of Opposite Nahuales in the Tzolkin

#NewParadigmAstrology: New Concepts in Mayan Astrology

Some of the most important concepts and insights that led to the notion of #NewParadigmMayanAstrology  came to me the day after visiting a sacred site in Guatemala or Mexico, or during or after a Mayan ceremony. The concept of opposite nahuales, for example, arose during a Path of the Feathered Serpent ceremony in my courtyard at Lake Atitlan several months ago.

#NewParadigmMayanAstrology offers fresh insights and concepts for applying Mayan astrology to your daily life.

On the Road to New Paradigm Mayan Astrology

The Circle of Jade Nahuales

For a personal ceremony, I usually arrange a set of 20 jade amulets with glyphs of the nahuales in a circle around me and place the candles of the four directions outside them. The day was Toj/Muluc, or Water, so I put that amulet directly behind the red candle on the eastern side of the circle.

For some reason, I wondered if the glyph on the opposite side of Toj was Noj, which is Earth. After all, water and earth are opposite in nature. Yet when I looked around, I saw the glyph for Cauac, which is Storm. Cauac is also a water-related nahual, and both are associated with women. So rather than having opposite meanings, the opposite nahuales had something in common.

The difference? Toj is a passive water sign, while Cauac is a strong and active one. I decided to further investigate the concept of opposite nahuales.

Opposites in the Structure of the Tzolkin

First I looked for other instances of opposite nahuales in the structure of the Tzolkin and other Mesoamerican time cycles. And found several. The four Year Bearers (whichever nahuales you consider correct) are opposites. Ik (Wind) and E’ (Road) two of the traditional Year Bearers, are on opposite sides of the circle of 20 nahuales. This is also true for the other conventionally accepted Year Bearers, Noj (Earth) and Kej’ (Deer).

The four nahuales that mark the burner day cycle, which divides the 260-day cycle into four sub-cycles, are also opposites: Ajpu (Sun) and T’zi (Dog), and Kan (Snake) and Tzi’kin (Eagle). Curiously, these four nahuales are the current Year Bearers, which were introduced on March 6, 2014, according to the Gran Wayeb system.

So there turned out to be a solid basis for the concept of opposite nahuales in the very structure of the Tzolkin. Next I examined each pair of opposites, which are easily discovered by counting 11 forward or backward in the circle, with the starting nahual as the first (as is done when calculating a Mayan Tree of Life or Constellation chart). The number 11 itself seemed significant. The numbers 7 and 9 are employed when doing such charts. 11 would naturally continue the progression.

New Paradigm Mayan Astrology introduces fresh concepts such as that of the "opposite nahuales" and their application to daily life.

Figure 1: The Opposite Nahuales of the Tzolkin

Figure 1 above and Table 1 below present all ten sets of opposite nahuales, using their names in English. It begins with Crocodile, the glyph at the top of Figure 1, and cycles counter-clockwise through the nahuales depicted hieroglyphically in this circle.

Some make more sense than others, but they all felt right. The most striking was Tijax (Knife) and Q’anil (Seed/Rabbit). The glyphs of these nahuales are almost identical, and represent the quincunx, among the most ancient of all symbols in the Mesoamerican sacred calendar.

  • Crocodile – Monkey
  • Wind – Road
  • Night – Corn
  • Net/Lizard – Jaguar
  • Snake – Eagle
  • Death – Vulture/Owl
  • Deer – Earth
  • Seed/Rabbit – Knife
  • Water – Storm
  • Dog – Sun

Table 1: The Opposite Nahuales

Before reading further, stop and examine each set of opposites and see what you find.

I said stop! Okay, now proceed.

Time’s up.

Did you notice that the Eagle and Snake are the symbols from the legend about the founding of Tenochtitlan, and recall that the Eagle and Snake are natural enemies? Or that Dog and Sun share a core meaning of authority, which leads to sub meanings of counsel and guidance? How about Death and Vulture/Owl, both related to the ancestors and the spirit world? Aspects of certain other opposite nahuales, such as Night and Corn, are not as obvious as these examples. But a blend of common sense and intuition led me to conclude that each set of opposites is related, though not always in the same way.

How to Apply the Concept of Opposite Nahuales

My next question was “What, if anything, does this mean, and how to interpret and apply this knowledge?” I’ll reveal the answers and offer more discoveries and insights, and how I arrived at them in my next post on the opposite nahuales.

Until then, review the table and illustration of opposite nahuales and, instead of approaching these questions strictly with logic or with intuition alone, try to “think with your heart and feel with your brain.” Use both common sense and intuition simultaneously. Blending dualistic concepts such as these into one is a key element in the new paradigm.

I would appreciate your comments and questions about this topic, for some of you are certain to see things that I have overlooked.

Posted on 1 Akabal/Aq’ab’al (Night) in July 2014.

Copyright Shay Addams 2014 All Rights Reserved.


The Maya Elders Got it Wrong about the Source of the Number 13

It’s a colorful tale spun Mayan Elders and other teachers about the source of the number 13 in the context of the 260-day calendar. The myth, which you will hear handed down by practically every Maya shaman and their disciples , tells us that this magickal number is based on the 13 major joints of the human body is often punctuated by slapping the hands on the ankles, knees and other joints.

The Mayan Elders are all wrong about the source of the numbers 13 and 20 in the Tzolkin, or Sacred Calendar.

Mayan ceremony at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Yet upon closer examination, the story falls apart. With all due respect for the Elders, here’s a more plausible basis for the true inspiration of the number 13 in Mayan astrology and cosmovision, which highlights the frailties of oral legacy.

What really happened was that long, long ago the Maya forgot the source of the two numbers that are multiplied to result in the number of days in the calendar, which are 13 and 20. (I covered the true source of the number 20 in a previous post: see True Source of Number 20 in Mayan Astrology and the Tzolkin Sacred Calendar. In the same way they forgot a lot of things. (Remember that most Maya did not even have a written language by the time the conquistadors arrived, relying instead on oral legacy, which is fraught with potential for error.)

The Shaman Says, “Moldy Bones Don’t Make It.”

For the number 13 were based on the number of major joints in the human body, that means a situation like this occurred long ago when at a meeting of a group of shamans somewhere in Mesoamerica. “On the way to the meeting, said Leroy Eagle Claw, I saw a skeleton in the grass, and it had 13 major joints.”

“Great!” shouted Harvey Sloth Nose. “Now we can finally invent that calendar we always talk about when we eat those funny mushrooms.”

That scenario is not likely to have unfolded. What makes common sense is that somewhere down the line, the story of how 13 was based on human anatomy was concocted by one or more Elders simply to have an answer for a question commonly asked by other Maya. After all, their credibility was on the line.

The True Source of 13 in the Tzolkin

According to linguistic anthropologist Marci Macri, ancient Mesoamericans venerated the thirteen celestial numbers – even before the system of 20 nahuales came along. The Maya depicted these and other numbers with head figure glyphs like the one seen here.

The numbers 1-13 of the Tzolkin, the Mayan sacred calendar, appear in the inner ring of this plate.

“Head variant” glyphs for the numbers 1-13 are seen in the inner circle of this plate, created by a local artist at Lake Atitlan.

These 13 powerful spirits, then, are a more reasonable, if less entertaining, source for the number 13 in the calendar.

Other Potential Sources of the Number 13

There are thirteen levels of Heaven in Mayan cosmovision. Marci also posits that the 13-day sub-cycle within the lunar cycle might be the source of the number 13 in the Tzolkin. Finally, the ancient Maya considered Pleiades a constellation, so they recognized 13 constellations. Perhaps more than one of these played a role in the emergence of this number and its vital part in the 260-day calendar, which is divided into 20 weeks of 13 days each.

All these potential sources for the number 13, inspired by celestial observation (often referred to as “astronomy”), make a lot more sense than someone stumbling across a bunch of moldy bones in the jungle.

The traditional myth would also have us believe that the source of the calendar was here on Earth. This violates the maxim, “As above, so below.” For if 13 really came from the number of major joints in the human body, the maxim would have to be, “As below, so above.” Good sense says otherwise, regardless of the quaint but misguided oral legacy of the Elders and their disciples.

This analysis does not suggest that the Elders are completely wrong when they relate that ancient myth, for the link between the number of major joints and the number 13 demonstrates a correlation between people on Earth and the spirits above. The Tzolkin, therefore, functions like an interface between heaven and earth, between the nahuales and Ajaw and human beings.

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From the Guatemalan Highlands

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