The Sacred Tzolk’in/Cholq’ij/B’isb’al Txajul Calendar and Mayan Nawales

Standard glyphic representations of the sacred 20 day names of the cholq'ij.

Standard glyphic representations of the sacred 20 day names of the cholq’ij.

Evident in thousands of the sculpted monuments and ceramics, the several ancient books that survive, and even in the planning of many ancient Maya cities is the highly developed nature of Maya astronomical observation. The keen night eye of our ancient abuelos directly led to the development of several calendars, including a 365-day solar calendar and a 260-day lunar calendar. This lunar calendar is often referred to outside of Guatemala as the “tzolk’in” (sounds like “soul-keen”) which may be a neologism invented by non-Mayas from the Yucatec-Maya language. Inside Guatemala it is more often called the Cholq’ij (“chole-keeh”) which in Kaqchikel-Maya means something like “the organization of days”. In my language, Q’anjob’al-Maya, we have several words but the one my grandmother always used when explaining it to me when I was a little girl was B’isb’al Txajul (“bees-ball Cha-hool”) which literally means “the sacred count”.

Which gets to my main point, the 260-day lunar calendar is not a thing frozen in the ancient past. It has an unbroken history of use in many Maya communities, whom have maintained the calendar count and the meaning of the 20 days in the face of brutal repression for centuries. Even today with the massive growth of Pentecostal religious movements the use of the sacred calendar is widespread and important throughout indigenous communities in Guatemala. The calendar, and the specialists who have studied the way the calendar works and what it means, are consulted about a wide range of activities: what day would be best to plant the corn, to go on a trip, pray for someone’s health etc. Before getting more into this, we should briefly discuss how the calendar works.

A representation of the 13 interlocking numeric months with the 20 sacred days of the cholq'ij.

A representation of the 13 interlocking numeric months with the 20 sacred days of the cholq’ij.

The 260-day calendar is composed of 20 different days that occur in 13 months, 20 x 13 = 260. The months simply come in an endlessly repeating cycle of 1-13. The 20 days are all named and arranged in a specific order. They also repeat but always in the same order with only the numeric coefficient changing until the 260 day cycle is complete. For example, today, July 29, 2013 is 3 Ajpu’. Tomorrow is 4 Imox, and Wednesday will be 5 Iq’. Each of the 20 days is associated with particular energies and qualities, both positive and negative. According to our ancestors and our spiritual guides who study the calendar, certain days are better or worse for certain activities depending on the unique characteristics of the particular day. Similar to western astrology, of great personal significance is the day on which you were born (you can calculate this here). The day name the day you were born is your Nawal which is the spirit or energy that predominates in your character. Each Nawal is associated with different personality traits, occupational propensities, colors, places, animals etc.

I have put together this document with explains some of the different characteristics or aspects of the 20 days of the sacred calendar. A number of the products I have for sale include Nawal glyphs, including small and medium bags, silver and stone earrings, and necklaces.

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