Maya calendrical divination

Maya calendrical divination is a subset of traditional beliefs, rituals and divinatory practices that are held or performed among various Maya communities in Guatemala and southern Mexico. The first thorough documentation of these practices was by anthropologist Barbara Tedlock after her initiation in Momostenango, Guatemala.

Mayan Astrology

Mayan thought and day-to-day activities were both deeply wrought up with astrology during the height of Mayan civilization. Mayan religion, philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, agriculture, hunting, intimate relationships, etc. etc. completely revolve around a 260-day almanac known as the Chol Qij, (sometimes called Tzolkin) or count of days (see the Mayan calendar article for detailed information.) The Chol Qij consists of twenty naguals which can be thought of as archetypes roughly analogous in significance to the Greek twelve zodiacal signs; except they are considered to be alive and petitionable. A nagual is preceded by a numerical coefficient ranging from one to thirteen which modifies its underlying meaning. Thus twenty naguals x 13 numerical coefficients = 260 days. The origin of this numerical system is unknown but some Mayans believe that the number comes from the fact that 260 days is considered the normal human gestation period.

Chol Qij glyphs.jpg Chol Qij Glyphs

As in generic, Western astrology, the Chol Qij has many uses: for example, it serves purposes which are analogous to natal astrology, horary astrology, and electional astrology. As in natal astrology, a person’s character and destiny are determined by which of the twenty naguals, as modified by its numerical coefficient, rules the day on which that the person is born. The person’s nagual is considered to be his or her inseparable companion for life, and predicts the person’s personality, relationship to the community, and good or ill fortune. The nagual on which a person is supposedly conceived (counted twelve naguals ahead of the birth nagual) is considered to bear a secondary influence. Everything which a person does throughout life is conditioned by his or her nagual; and everyone has a place and a purpose which are determined by that nagual. Mayans traditionally performed propitiatory rituals on the day of their own nagual (every twenty days; and especially every 260 days when the birth nagual and coefficient return).

The Chol Qij is also used like horary astrology, to divine for answers to specific questions such as: Does my husband have another lover? Should I do this business deal? How shall I cure this illness? What will be the outcome of this journey? Should I marry this person? Where is this lost object? Divination is carried out by sortilege: a Mayan priest manipulates 260 red tzintè seeds to obtain a nagual and coefficient which give the answer to the question being asked.

And as in electional astrology, there are propitious and unpropitious days for pursuing every human activity imaginable: planting, hunting, journeying, marrying, healing, etc.

Additionally, the Chol Qij serves a fourth purpose for which there is no counterpart in western astrology, namely evocational magic. Mayan ceremonies are usually performed for a particular purpose: to bring wealth, success in business, to bless newlyweds, to fecundate a sterile woman, etc. A Mayan priest will recommend which day is propitious for performing a ceremony for the given purpose. Then the order of the Mayan ceremony follows the order of the twenty naguals, beginning with the nagual of the day of the ceremony. Each of the twenty naguals is invoked in turn and petitioned for its particular virtues.


Tedlock, Barbara, Time and the Highland Maya (U. of New Mexico Press, 1992) ISBN 0-8263-1358-2

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