Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies by John Major Jenkins, Borderland Sciences, Garberville, CA, 1994. 330 pp. —$13.95— ISBN945685-16-5
Tzolkin is the Maya name for the 260-day astrological calendar of ancient Mesoamerica, and Mayan calendrics is what this book is about. The astrologer-astronomers of ancient Mexico were the ancient world’s experts on time and symbol, and any study of this subject requires some concentration and attention to detail on the part of the reader. This effort is not unlike that required by a study of Western astrology—it’s a bit technical, but the payoff is a peep at the mysteries of nature and the genius of mankind in making sense of it all. Many books have already been written on this subject, most of them by academics for academics. But the book on the subject that spread the idea of the Mayan calendar far and wide was The Mayan Factor by Jose Arguelles, a book that many bought, few read, and fewer understood. The fact is that most people don’t know what the Maya were really doing in spite of all these publications. Worse, mostly due to Arguelles, the situation is murky—it’s hard to tell who really does understand what the Maya were doing with all their numbers.
This having been said, Tzolkin is a book that cuts a path somewhere between the stiff and non-interpretive reports of the archaeoastronomers and the wide-ranging speculations presented as near fact by Arguelles. To his credit, Jenkins actually does both of these things. He presents the facts, gives sources (the book includes a huge annotated bibliography that by itself is valuable to anyone interested in this topic), and explains both sides of persistent arguments in the field of Mesoamerican calendrics. He also takes some leaps; in fact, the book is really an attempt to do what the Maya were trying to do over one millennium ago—reconcile the Tzolkin or 260-day astrological calendar with the cycle of Venus.
Although this is not an astrology book per se, Jenkins begins with a well-written attack on those who attack astrology, and continues with a discussion on synchronicity and causality. This is followed by a close look at the most complex of the four surviving Maya manuscripts, the Dresden Codex. From here on the reader is in a world of magical numbers, resonance, and harmonics. As Jenkins himself says at one point, “We have now entered the realm of visionary myth-making.” Students of sacred geometry, numerology, and planetary cycles will have a heydey with what follows.
Tzolkin is not an easy book, in part because the subject matter is not so well-known. However, it is a brilliant, radical, interesting, and important work in the new tradition of Mesoamerican studies. Jenkins has kick-started ancient Mesoamerica astro/numerological science in a clear-headed and responsible way.