The World Tree in Maya Calendrical Astronomy

542 days after the beginning (zero base-day) of the Classic Period Long Count notation, three planetary spirits came together, so to speak, and, using the combined force of their natural power, raised the World Tree into its proper place in the cosmos. Prior to that act, even though the world itself had already been created and time had already been set in motion, life of any kind was thought to be impossible. This is true in shamanistic ideology because the World Tree is the source and sustaining power of life itself. Without the Tree there can be no life whatsoever in the world because the Tree contains, nurtures, and generates the spirits that animate every living thing in the universe. The spirits that set the Tree in place existed prior to their act because the Tree itself existed but needed to be put in its proper place before life could begin. Trees need to have their roots in the ground and their upper branches in the sky before they can begin to grow and prosper and cling to their rightful place in the universe.

So, 542 days after time began, at 13 Ik 0 Ch'en in the Maya Long Count notation, three planetary spirits planted the World Tree in its rightful place and life began in the universe. What is unique about this Maya calendrical ideology, what sets it apart from other "creation" myth ideologies, is that 13 Ik 0 Ch'en is not some imprecise date in the distant past of a culture's mythic history, some point in time that has no name, as it were, but is, rather, a point in real time unique from all others that can be exactly fixed relative to that singular moment when the Maya zero base-day of their entire calendrical history actually occurred. 13 Ik 0 Ch'en is not mythological; rather, it is historical because it can be exactly placed relative to every other day in the 1,872,000 days that make up the Maya Long Count notation. The day the World Tree was raised came on a real day in real time that can be calculated in its temporal location relative to every other day that has occurred since that event transpired.

Eurocentric views of this circumstance have always been conditioned by the fact that there is no comparable ideology much to speak of in European civilization. There was a "star of Bethlehem" in Christian myth but no one has ever been able to pin that astronomical occurrence to a definitive date in the European calendar. Most people prefer to leave it unspecified in the belief that knowing exactly when it appeared, magically or otherwise, as it were, would only serve to dispel the divine mystery that surrounds the birth of the Savior of the human (Eurocentric) race.

Since Europeans, individually, and even in general as a race, tend to equate everyone else's perceptions of reality to the divinely inspired standard of their own value system, to the standard of their own knowledge and experience, they have never seriously entertained the possibility that the event referred to as the raising of the World Tree ever actually happened on a real day in real time. They have always seen it as a "mythic" event even in the face of the fact that the Maya fixed an immutable date to its occurrence, a date that can be calculated in precise relation to every other date in the 1,872,000 days of the Long Count. More specifically in terms of Maya conceptualizations of time, which were always connected to celestial motion, on the day the World Tree was raised Venus was crossing the celestial equator from northern to southern sky. I say that, not because there is a Maya myth of which I am aware that fixes Venus's position at that most auspicious position, but because the Julian Day number that corresponds to that calendrical position in the 12 Lamat Eclipse correlation (with the zero base-day fixed at Julian Day #563334 on April 29, 3171 B. C.) is equivalent to October 23, 3170 B. C. (Julian Day #563876) and on that day in real time Venus reached a southerly declination from the celestial equator of -00*28'53" on its first day of residence in the southern half of the sky.

For reasons that will be explained in subsequent notes in this series of ideas, I became interested in fixing the temporal location of Mars-Saturn conjunctions relative to the day on which the World Tree was raised. Suffice it to say here that in an analysis of the astronomy associated with the dynastic dates recorded in several Classic Period ceremonial centers (Tikal, Copan, Palenque, Piedras Negras, Naranjo, Yaxchilan, etc.) I found that accession dates were always chosen by virtue of certain kinds of calendrical relationships to the days on which Mars-Saturn conjunctions occurred. Since Maya rulers were usually depicted on those same monuments in ways that seemed to connect them to the World Tree, I began to wonder if there was a connection between the day on which the World Tree was raised and the occurrence of Mars-Saturn conjunctions.

The first Mars-Saturn conjunction after the zero base-day came at 12 Caban 0 Ch'en on October 23, 3171 B. C. (Julian Day #563511). This calendrical position and the event it marks is significant for two reasons. In the first place, the interval separating the zero base-day from the Mars-Saturn conjunction is the same one Classic Period astronomers used to separate the days of occurrence in sequences of serial eclipses in the structure of the Dresden Codex Eclipse Table, since 177 days (8.17 in Maya notation) is the interval that most often separates one eclipse from another. This could be a coincidence, of course, since there is no obvious eclipse concern in this context, but the fact remains that, if an astronomer knew this application of the interval and was looking at the Dresden Codex Eclipse Table, he/she would be reminded of 12 Caban 0 Ch'en every time 8.17 was encountered in the course of that Table's use. The number 8.17, written in the bar and dot format, occurs at least 50 times over the course of the Table's run. The second reason this date is significant concerns the fact that the first Mars-Saturn conjunction after the zero base-day occurred 365 days prior to the raising of the World Tree, since the interval of the Maya Haab is 365 days in length. That is, of course, why 0 Ch'en marks both days, the first at 12 Caban in the almanac and the second at 13 Ik in the same day-name sequence.

373 days after the spirits raised the World Tree the second Mars-Saturn conjunction occurred at 9 Men 8 Ch'en on October 30, 3169 B. C. (Julian Day #564249). The interval is 8 days longer than the Maya Haab and the day-name for the conjunction advances in that sequence from 0 Ch'en to 8 Ch'en. The interval from the first conjunction to the second is, therefore, 738 days in length, which seems to be the least number of days that can separate consecutive conjunctions of Mars and Saturn over time.

With these facts firmly in hand, then, it is possible to suggest that the planetary spirits responsible for raising the World Tree were Venus, Saturn, and Mars, since these three celestial objects come together here in a configuration both simplistic to express and even easier to remember; that is, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku April 29, 3171 B. C. (563334) New Moon
+177 12 Caban 0 Ch'en October 23, 3171 B. C. (563511) Mars-Saturn conjunction
+365 13 Ik 0 Ch'en October 23, 3170 B. C. (563876) Venus equatorial passage
+373 9 Men 8 Ch'en October 30, 3169 B. C. (564249) Mars-Saturn conjunction

All Maya calendrical devices (Almanac, Haab, Calendar Round, and Long Count notation) count their respective intervals (260, 365, 18,980, and 1,872,000 days respectively), return to the day on which they began, and begin a second sequence without stopping or skipping any days in real time. This is certainly true for the first three intervals, even if there is no evidence in hand to demonstrate that the Long Count notation, when it reached its terminal point, simply began a second count of the next 1,872,000 days. That terminal point, of course, reached well beyond the end of the Maya Classic Period and was counted on August 14, 1955 A. D. (Julian Day #2435334). That day would have been written as 4 Ahau 3 Kankin in the LC notation. The next day, after the terminal point (August 15, 1955), would have been designated by 5 Imix 4 Kankin, if the LC notation simply continues its forward progression without stopping or skipping any days, which is the presumption that guides the rest of this evaluation.

Since it was necessary for the planetary spirits to raise the World Tree after the beginning of the first LC interval, in order to allow for the existence of life, a presumption of that same necessity is taken here that a second series of celestial events was necessary to begin the second count of the LC notation from its beginning point on August 15, 1955 A. D. Most scholars would probably assert that no meaningful astronomy could be found to support such a notion, however, because in general terms Mayanists do not accept the idea that the Maya calendrical system, with its multiple interval structure, has or contains any inherent astronomical components. That being the case, no one would be inclined to look for, or expect to find, any event structure in the sky that could be said to parallel the astronomy that did occur after the beginning of the first LC sequence of day-names and notations in 3171 B. C.

The first Mars-Saturn conjunction in the modern era LC notation occurred at 1 Ben 11 Zip, which corresponds to January 14, 1956 A. D. (Julian Day #2435487). In other words, this event occurred 153 days after the zero base-day in the modern sequence, as opposed to 177 days for the first Mars-Saturn conjunction in the ancient sequence. One could say that over the entire length of the interval of the LC count of the days in the Maya calendar there has been a total regression of 24 days of real time from one event to the next. The theoretical point at which the World Tree would have been raised, since we are looking for astronomical parallels, would have to be a position of Venus which shows a definitive relationship to the celestial equator, where the ancient event was the planets equatorial passage as it moved from northern to southern sky. The event in question came 521 days, as opposed to 542 days, after the zero base-day at 5 Imix 14 Zip (January 16, 1957 A. D.--Julian Day #2435855), when Venus reached 21.5* of elongation from the sun in the morning sky with a declination of -23*02"36". In other words, on this day Venus had reached it extreme southerly declination from the celestial equator. In terms of the parallel here, after 1,872,000 days, one could say that Venus had moved from its first day of residence in the southern sky after crossing the celestial equator from north to south to a position of extreme southerly declination in the same half of the sky. Calendrically speaking, of course, the Venus position is marked by the same almanac day-name (5 Imix) as the first day of the new LC notation after two complete turns of the interval (2 X 260 = 520). Also important to note is that only a 21-day regression is evident here from the original position after 5,128.77 Maya solar years. The second Mars-Saturn conjunction necessary to complete the astronomical structure being considered here came at 12 Eb 0 Zotz on January 22, 1958 A. D. (Julian Day #2436226), which shows a 23-day regression from the original position.

The interval structure for the second series of events after 1,872,000 days can be summarized in the following data: 4 Ahau 3 Kankin August 14, 1955 A. D. (2435334) Zero Base-Day
+153 (177) 1 Ben 11 Zip January 14, 1956 A. D. (24355487) Mars-Saturn conjunction
+368 (365) 5 Imix 14 Zip January 16, 1957 A. D. (2435855) Venus Extreme Southerly declination
+371 (373) 12 Eb 0 Zotz January 22, 1958 A. D. (2436226) Mars-Saturn conjunction

While the structure here is not exactly identical to the one in the past, there are enough close parallels to suggest that the Maya LC notation was developed as it stands for its inherent ability to project a repetitious sequence of astronomical positions involving Venus, Mars, and Saturn across the 1,872,000-day interval of its duration. What may speak most eloquently to the mathematical structure of the Maya calendrical system in this context is the interval in real time that separates the two Venus positions that I have identified as being ones that fall on the day the World Tree was raised. Those two positions are separated by the difference between Julian Day #2435855 and its forerunner at #563876 in the ancient sequence, which is only a convenient way to calculate the interval that actually separates these two position in the Maya system itself. The difference is equal to 1,871,979 days (2435855 - 563876 = 1,871,979). This value is equivalent to 3,205 average synodic periods of Venus (at 584 days each) with a remainder of 259 days, or one day less than the interval of the Maya almanac sequence. Counting back from 5 Imix 14 Zip in the modern sequence by 259 days, in order to fix the position where an even number of Venus synodic periods (at 3,205 X 584 days) would have been counted after the raising of the World Tree at 13 Ik 0 Ch'en in this structure, the position 6 Ik 0 Ch'en is reached in the modern sequence 262 days after the second zero base-day. This position corresponds to May 2, 1956 A. D. (Julian Day #2435596). Just 4 days later, at 10 Cimi 4 Ch'en (May 6, 1956 A. D.), Venus reached 43.1* of elongation from the sun in the evening sky with a declination of +27*28'41", which is equivalent to its extreme northerly declination from the celestial equator at this point in its synodic period. The same interval from the first 0 Ch'en (13 Ik) to the second (6 Ik 0 Ch'en) is 5,128 Maya Haab (at 365 days each).

The only thing left to be said is that nothing here is the result of coincidence; rather, everything here is the result of design. This is the way the Maya calendrical system works. This is what it does. Finally, since there is only one correlation number, 563334, because it alone delivers this astronomy, and no other one does, or even can, April 29, 3171 B. C. must be the only legitimate choice there is for the zero base-day of the Maya Classic Period Long Count notation.