Astrology and Astronomy: The Maya System–All About the Numbers

Editor’s note: Most of the post below was published on the now defunct 451Press site shortly after Bruce Scofield lectured at the Astrological Society of Connecticut in April of 2009. Bruce is returning to the ASC for our March 15 lecture “2012–We Are Here, Venus transit, Sunspots, and the Maya Madness!”. (See the ASC site for more details on this lecture.)

Kukulkan Hieroglyph


In a real sense, Bruce Scofield prepared for twenty-five years to give the lecture to a small group of Astrological Society of Connecticut members. “All we have,” he says “are fragments of the astrology of the Mayans.” It is reconstructive work in progress.

Scofield is a cautious man, so cautious that he takes a full seven hours of the lecture to propose that Maya astronomy is a full fledged astrological system. This may have to do with his Saturn sitting on his ascendant, and perhaps his twelfth house Cancer Sun. In any case he lays out his case methodically with few embellishments about the mythology of the Maya. With a masters degree in history, he made connections with cultural development of the Maya to the development of other world peoples. He is quick to point out that some “New Age” authors who tie historic events with the Maya astrological system may be stretching a point. He wants to tie down the facts. Even with all his study, traditional academe does not take the work seriously, he tells us, because there is too much speculation in it.

But aside from statistics, numbers do not lie, and Maya astronomy and astrology is all about the numbers. Unlike Western astrology, which is based on planetary movements within space, the Maya system is based on cyclic patterns of blocks of time.

The Maya calendar is starts with a day called a kin (keen) but then loses its immediate connection with the solar year. Each day is connected to one of twenty day signs, each one governed by one of the four directions. According to Scofield these days signs appear to function as the ascendant and Sun sign would in Western astrology.

The Maya observed that the Moon cycles with the Sun thirteen times in one year. This gave rise to another measure of time, for which we use a spanish derivative name Trecena (for thirteenth). The trecenas mesh with the 20 days signs to give us the 260 days in the Maya religious calendar.

Bruce says of this calendar:

There is no presently known reason why the Maya and Aztecs used only 20 signs. Perhaps they had discovered an important biorhythm or cycle. But besides the 20-days, they also used a 13-day cycle (or sign) and these intertwined with each other. While the days of the 20-day cycle each have a name, the days of the 13-day cycle are numbered from 1 to 13. If you start both cycles together, the first day of the 20-day cycle coinciding with the first day of the 13-day cycle, it will take exactly 260 days for all possible combinations of day and number to occur.

It’s All About The Numbers

One of the problems of our Julian calendar is that while we think in terms of 24 hours days, the universe isn’t quite that precise. At the end of each year we are left with roughly 1/4th and some change of a day that’s left hanging out there mucking up our perfectly good solar good calendar. To handle this problem we add one day to the year every four years. Except for the people born on February 29, everyone is happy. Still, it is an imperfect solution.

The Maya on the other hand, weren’t having any of that. They were into neat and precise whole numbers. Though the Maya did not (from what we know now) have a concept of the earth revolving around the Sun, they were perfectly aware of the inconvenient 1/4th plus some of the day that hung like a dangling participle in their astronomy.

Valerie Vaughan, who was intimately acquainted with Bruce Scofield’s work, wrote this about how the Maya arrived at a solution:

Other calculational values were used repeatedly by the Mesoamericans. In the Dresden Codex, we find indications for another significant period of time, 1820 days.

1820 = 5 x 364 (calculational year) = 7 x 260

Put in the least complicated way possible the Maya added up the numbers until the 1/4 and plus some of the year was able to be absorbed into a regular repeating cycle as a whole number.

And she says further:

The fact is that the ancient Maya discovered a mathemagical key that linked nearly every known astronomical cycle. With the number 260 and its component divisors (13 x 20, 5 x 52, etc.), they could interconnect all the apparent time sequences of observable celestial cycles — solar, lunar, eclipse, Venus, Mars, Mercury, even the cycle of precession. The 260-day calendar was used to denote multiple interrelated systems; for example, it could be brought into phase with the 365-day calendar once every 52 years, which was an important cycle for the Maya. This period of 52 years is called the Calendar Round, the hunab (Maya) or xiuhmolpilli (Nahautl).

With this precise repetitive system the Maya was able to extrapolate dates and planetary events with accuracy thousands of years into the future, all without the use of computers.

Here are the numbers the Maya worked out, something for you to think about until our next piece on Maya astrology:

The day signs (260-day calendar)

Venus appearance interval 263 days

Lunar synodic cycle of 29 days x9 = 260

Lunar daily motion solar daily motion = 13:1

Eclipse half-year= 173.3 days : x 3 520 days = 2 X 260

Mercury synodic cycle – 118 days ( 9 x 116)= (4 x 260)

Mars synodic cycle = 780 days = 3 x 260

Venus synodic cycle =584 days

5 x 584 = 8 x 365 (5 synodic cycles in 8 years)

As for the “End of the World” supposedly prophesied by the Maya on December 21, 2012, we’ll find out more about that at Bruce’s lecture on March 15!

You can order Bruce Scofield’s latest book “Mayan Astrology” and learn more about his work at his and Barry C. Orr’s website One Reed Publications.

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