Written for "Nuit Isis", a metaphysical magazine from
Oxford England, August 1992.

The Mayan Venus Calendar and the
Golden Proportion


The Mayan Venus Calendar - this is what my latest study is all about. It is called Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies . I'll try to give an overview of this complicated subject, and then answer the inevitable question: "So what?"

The ancient Maya tracked the morningstar risings of Venus, which occur every 584 days. Venus was the centerpiece of Mayan cosmology and mythology. They created a framework of cycles for predicting the future morningstar risings of Venus - for centuries to come. With this system, they could also predict solstice and eclipse dates. The two cycles involved in this "calendar" system were the vague year of 365 days (the haab) and the sacred cycle of 260 days (the tzolkin). These two cycles synchronize with each other every 52 years, and this period of time was known as the Calendar Round. The Venus cycle fits in nicely with multiples of the Calendar Round, such that all three cycles synchronize once every 104 years (2 Calendar Rounds). This was the Venus Round, and the sacred day which began the Venus Round was known as the Sacred Day of Venus. From evidence in the Dresden Codex, one of the few surviving Mayan books, we know that 1 Ahau was the traditional Sacred Day of Venus for the Maya. Linguistically, the word Ahau means Lord, Sun, or Marksman, implying that the three cycles are "shot forth" from the sun on this day.

The Maya used this sacred framework of days to track the astronomical movements of Venus. Mythologies developed around Venus and the day-signs associated with its risings. The Popol Vuh of the Quiche Maya is one example of how the cycle of Venus was mythologized. In early Western civilization - in Mesopotamia - we know that Venus worship gave rise to astronomy, science, math and probably civilization itself. As did the Babylonian astrologers, gazing out from their ziggurats, the early skywatchers of Mexico noticed that 5 Venus cycles equals 8 years. This is just to say that if Venus emerged in the east as morningstar on, say, Christmas, then Venus would again emerge on Christmas eight years later. 13 of these Sun/Venus cycles equal one Venus Round. Another interesting fact related to this is that, because of this 8:5 ratio, Venus traces a five-pointed star around the ecliptic every 8 years. The occult symbol of the pentagram probably has its roots in the discovery of this fact in ancient Mesopotamia.

The moon cycle was also incorporated into the Mayan Venus Calendar, by way of the 9-moon sacred cycle of 260 days. So this amazing calendrical system of the Maya structured the movements of Sun, Venus and Moon, the three brightest celestial lights.

Unfortunately, the Maya were unable to perfect their Venus Calendar. A slight difference between the true cycle of Venus and the 584-day approximation employed by the Maya made long term predictions unreliable. The Maya had been collecting observational data and were working on this problem for many centuries by the time the Spaniards arrived in the 1500's. Around this time, the Venus tradition became fragmented and no Mayan groups surviving today follow a Venus Calendar. However, the basic framework of the 260-day and 365-day cycle (the tzolkin and haab) is still used by the Maya living in the Highlands of Guatemala.

So what? Well, the Venus tradition is dead. But with the deciphering of the Dresden Codex and the acceptance of the standard count of days still used by the Guatemala Maya, we should be able to reconstruct and resurrect the Venus Calendar of old. And with modern data on the Venus cycle available, we could even perfect it! We may imagine this to be the central dream of the ancient Mayan skywatchers, to create a self-adjusting perpetual Venus Calendar. I have endeavored to do this in my book, and propose that the next Sacred Day of Venus to begin a 104-year Venus Round occurs on the Venus rising of April 3rd, 2001 A.D., which is the Sacred Day of Venus 1 Ahau. My argument is well documented and discusses various opposing viewpoints on the question. The value in doing this lies with the resurgence of interest in Gnostic beliefs and Goddess Religions. As we know, civilization itself was spurred forth by the goddess - the study of the Venus cycle in ancient Babylonia. And now, with patriarchy running its course, perhaps it is time again to get in touch with our roots. The practical Venus Calendar I propose can be followed for some 2500 years with great accuracy, and is based upon the system of the Dresden Codex.

That covers the academic facet of my book. In the second section, "Visionary Perspectives," the more magical and mysterious properties of the Sacred Calendar are explored. This involves elucidating its essential structure and meaning. And what an amazing accomplishment it was! Some say that it arose simply to structure the planting and harvesting of crops - and indeed, this it does. But so many planetary cycles fit neatly into the system, and at the same time the 260-day cycle is said to correspond with the 260-day human gestation period! It is really an amazing cosmology of numbers, having uses on many different levels of reality. How can it have such universal appeal? The second part of my book answers this two-part question: What is the essential nature of the Sacred Calendar and to what does it owe its amazing properties? In the end, I relate the findings by which I conclude that the Golden Proportion, which gives rise to the spirals of seashells, pinecones, and DNA, is the core of the Sacred Calendar. This is true for numerological as well as philosophical and cosmological reasons. I will relate this in brief:

On one level the Calendar is an oracle used in divination. The 13-day periods, 20-day periods, along with other cycles of 260 days, 52 years and 104 years all make up the Venus Calendar system. And yet, the mystery is compounded because the ritual days are also used in casting auguries. In this way it is similar in function to the I Ching, the 64-hexagrams of the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.

The I Ching is a philosophy which explains the emanation of the world from the Tao and the primary duality of yin and yang. It does not focus so much on objects, but rather the process of change which "objects" undergo. As the world emerges, phenomena differentiate into 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 stages. This is called an exponential expansion, and is one model of terrestrial evolution. Yet a different factor needs to be considered - the involution process. This consideration allows for the apparent fact that there is a direction to the phenomenal evolution around us, that an inward dimension and its unfolding must be accounted for. This is just to say that spirit is the flower of the terrestrial process. Earth gives birth to spirit. While some readers may have objections to this, I don't have the space here to elaborate, so let's just assume that Darwin was either partly wrong, or that consciousness is the ultimate adaptive strategy . Now the I Ching only describes change - an endless, natural flow of forces, one giving way to the next - an ever repeating phenomenal flux in 64 stages. The I Ching, incredible though it is, is somehow lacking in its role as a cosmological model.

The Golden Proportion is the key to a fuller understanding of phenomenal unfolding - for it manifests in organic forms such as seashells and pinecones, as well as our own DNA. The involuting spiral of consciousness - the unfolding of the spiritual flower - this is what the Golden Proportion describes. Yet, the I Ching is fortunate in that it has a philosophical number scheme that goes with it; it has the 8 trigrams and the 64 hexagrams to encode and make known its secret workings. The Golden Proportion, being essentially a ratio usually approximated as 1.618, does not have a conventional system of numbers to encode its workings. Or does it? What if we combine the spiral unfolding of the Golden Proportion (PHI=1.618) with the exponential expansion of the I Ching? This is what we get:

2 x PHI = 3.258 x PHI = 1332 x PHI = 52
4 x PHI = 6.516 x PHI = 2664 x PHI = 104

These are all the essential numbers of the Mayan Venus Round system! So it seems that the Maya were able to intuit the profound workings of the Golden Proportion and transform it into an incredible cosmological system, having biological, mythological, spiritual, occult, calendrical, astrological and astronomical uses. The simple table given above contains profound implications, and with it the essential nature of the Mayan Venus Calendar becomes a bit more clear. The Sacred Calendar is such a rich vein of hermetic and esoteric truths that I find it hard to imagine that it is not the focus of greater interest. The reason for this, I believe, is that there has been some amount of disinformation and confusion about its nature. I hope that my book is a step towards clarifying the problem, so that we can celebrate and embrace the profound implications of this work of Native American genius.

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