The Mayan Prophecies: Part 2

In our last blog, we introduced the nature of the Chilam Balam prophecies and discussed the most recent recurrence of a K’atun 8 Ahau (1953-73) as an example.

Let us look at a few more recent examples.

K’atun 6 Ahau began on July 20th, 1973, and ended on April 5th, 1993. The prophecies for K’atun 6 Ahau are blunt, straightforward, and not at all difficult to interpret. The Mayan text reads: Bin u tus ob coil than, tzuc achil. This may be translated as: “There will be lies and madness, and also lust and fornication.”

The context of the prophecy about “madness and lies” in the Chilam Balam books makes it clear that this is a specifically political prophecy and relates to heads of state and other leaders; the Chilam Balam books assume that there will be widespread corruption and government chicanery at this time. Few people will need to be reminded that 1974 was the year of Watergate. If the previous k’atun (8 Ahau) spelled the end of global dominance for the United States, the new one made it clear that its leaders could no longer act as they pleased without being held accountable. “Madness and lies” would bring a dose of “instant karma.”

.After the “madness and lies” of the Nixon Administration had been exposed and the Vietnam War had finally come crashing to an end, the whole tenor of American life changed virtually overnight in a remarkable “flip” of consciousness. Hedonism replaced idealism as the dominant lifestyle paradigm. The world went to the discos and started dancing.

In the prophetic portions of the Chilam Balam books, the Maya often remark upon the sexual mores of given time periods. Unlike most Western historians, they placed importance upon the changes in humanity’s consciousness of its sexuality. During the late 1970s, sexual promiscuity reached a worldwide apex which more than justified the “lust and fornication” prophecies of the k’atun texts. During K’atun 8 Ahau, sexuality had emerged from the darkness. The Kinsey Report opened the eyes of Americans to the sexual undertones which lay beneath their seemingly puritanical society; Marilyn Monroe stood above a subway grate and delighted the world. People began to see sexuality as a beautiful thing rather than something shameful, something to be hidden in the darkness. The promiscuous 70s were in many ways a logical development of that idea, but it was a development destined to come crashing to an end. As we noted earlier, the Mayan vision of history is also more concerned with global epidemiology than are most Western historians. The second half of the k’atun was characterized by the worldwide AIDS epidemic; by the end of the twenty-tun cycle, sexuality had returned to the darkness from which it had emerged and was once again perceived as a danger rather than a delight.

After K’atun 6 Ahau came K’atun 4 Ahau, beginning on April 6, 1993 and continuing until December 21, 2012. The prophecy for this cycle is poetically phrased, but somewhat mysterious. In Mayan, it reads: Ulom kuk, ulom yaxum. This is commonly translated as: “Come is the quetzal; come is the blue bird…..”

The symbolic depth and complexity of 4 Ahau far exceeds that of any other k’atun. The number four is sacred to the Sun God, for there are four daily stations of the sun’s progress: dawn, noon, sunset and midnight. In a symbolic sense, the Sun God and his four stations also reflect the four cardinal directions and the center point. It is little wonder, then, that the cycle of 13 bak’tuns or piks (from 3114 BC to 2012 CE) both begins and ends on the day 4 Ahau.

It is common among all versions of the prophecy for 4 Ahau that the “seat” (hetz’) or geomantic center of the k’atun was Chichen Itza, which seems to have functioned as the omphalos or “world center” for all of Yucatan. As the sun is the spiritual center of the universe from which all the directions radiate, so is Chichen Itza the World Tree axis of the Yukatek Maya.

In some of the prophetic texts, K’atun 4 Ahau is associated with the southern direction. It should be remembered that the Mayan concepts of “north” and “south” can also signify “above” and “below.” Here the reference is to the Underworld Sun of midnight, experiencing his initiatory trials in the land of the dead. Part of these initiatory trials, when applied to human history rather than to individual consciousness, seem to have involved epidemics, which were believed to be a strong possibility during this k’atun period, to judge by how often they are mentioned in the Chilam Balam texts.

The real core of the prophecies for 4 Ahau, however, are to be found in the oft-repeated words: “Come is the quetzal, come is the blue-green bird.”

The quetzal bird is, of course, the symbol of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent whose spirit was believed to “return” during each repetition of K’atun 4 Ahau. It is probable that Quetzalcoatl should be regarded as the “face” or deity that rules this k’atun.

Most readers will think of Quetzalcoatl as a Toltec religious teacher; such an historic individual may or may not have existed. In any case, the figure of Quetzalcoatl or Feathered Serpent as a creator god and god of the wind goes back to the very beginnings of civilization in Mesoamerica. The reference to the “blue-green bird” probably describes the Central American cotinga. Both the quetzal and the cotinga have brilliant, iridescent feathers. The quetzal’s feathers are more vividly green rather than blue, while those of the cotinga accentuate the blue. The actual Mayan words read: “Ulom kuk, hulom yaxum.” The word kuk is Mayan for quetzal, while yaxum is “the blue-green bird.”

It should be remembered that the center of the universe, the origin point of the four directions, is blue-green (like jade) in the Mayan medicine wheel, and that the term yax, as well as simply describing a blue-green color, is often used in contexts that refer to “beginnings,” or to the center point or world axis. The color blue-green still symbolizes the center of all things. I have witnessed any number of Mayan fire ceremonies in which the center of the altar is decorated with blue and green flowers or candles.

In this sense, the “language of Zuyua” may be telling us that this is the k’atun in which the spiritual energy of the archetypal Feathered Serpent returns to us, over and over again, flying like a bird from the very center of all being.

Searching back through the historical record, it is astonishing to realize how often major disseminations of spiritual teaching have in fact occurred during 4 Ahau periods. It is, of course, much easier to deal with recent history than with the distant past; in many cases, the only records that exist from archaic times simply record the reigns of kings. At a time when literacy was a prerogative of those who were close to the throne, it is not surprising that all references to defeat, disaster, and unrest are deliberately expunged from the record. And so it is with references to any religious movements other than the business of the “official” state religion.

In that respect, it is highly unusual to find references to religious activity as far back as the second millennium BCE – but we do. A 4 Ahau k’atun took place from 1340 to 1320 BCE, encompassing the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE). This unusual man has sometimes been called “the world’s first monotheist.” He declared that there was only one deity ruling the universe, and this was the sun god. He closed the temples to all the other Egyptian deities and shaped a royal cult dedicated to the divine sun. His ideas caused an uproar with many repercussions. Although the ancient Egyptian religion was reinstated shortly after his death, his monotheistic ideas were to have a resounding influence on the course of future history.

As regards the 13-pik or 13-bak’tun span of the Long Count (3114 Bc – 2012 CE), it is interesting to note that the exact midpoint of the cycle falls at 551 BC, the end of a 4 Ahau k’atun, and that this midopoint corresponds to the so-called “axial age” in which many of the world’s great religious traditions developed – the compilation of the Upanishads and the lifetime of the Buddha in India, Ezekiel the prophet in the Near East, Lao-tse and Confucius in China and the pre-Socratic philosophers in the Mediterranean. In Mayan languages, the verb is usually the most important factor in a sentence, so we should pay particular attention to the verb ulom, because it means that this spiritual energy of Feathered Serpent is in motion, emanating from the center but definitely moving with great force. This, then, was a time when the spiritual energy of the quetzal and cotinga (symbolizing the center of all things) fly forth energetically from that center to inseminate the world.

The development of “enlightenment” teachings in the region of the Himalayas stands out with particular force because important landmarks in the dissemination of those teachings (the flight of the quetzal and cotinga) also correspond to 4 Ahau cycles, though other religious traditions make an appearance as well, with teachers who represent the apex of such traditions often propounding their teachings (“coming forth”) in a 4 Ahau cycle. For example:

 Scholars disagree on the exact date that the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma traveled from India to China, but the 4 Ahau cycle of 455 to 475 CE seems very close to the mark. Bodhidharma was the founder of the Shaolin Monastery, which was a nodal point for the development of the martial arts (influenced by Taoism) and for the meditative form of Buddhism that became known as Chan, and later, in Japan, as Zen.

The Chan patriarch Hui-neng died in 713, during the 4 Ahau cycle of 711-731. His principle teachings were recorded in “The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch,” which quickly spread throughout the Far East, another landmark in the development of the meditative tradition.

Scholars disagree as to whether or not there ever was an historical Toltec religious teacher who was called Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl; but if in fact such an individual ever lived, the 4 Ahau cycle of 968 to 987 is as good a guess as any for his dates.

During the era of the Spanish Conquest, it was a common belief in Yucatan that a great leader called Kukulcan (literally “Quetzal Serpent”) was none other than this exiled lord of the Toltecs, and that he was instrumental in establishing Chichen Itza as the political and religious center of the Yukatek Maya.

The Toltec Empire at Tula Hidalgo is dated, archaeologically, from c. 900 to 1100 CE. While some versions of Topiltzin’s tale place him near the end of this period, it is more commonly said that he lived near the beginning of Tula’s days of glory. If the Chilam Balam prophecies regarding “the coming of the quetzal bird” recorded for 4 Ahau cycles do in fact (as many Conquest period Maya seem to have believed) refer to the advent of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl in Yucatan, then the 4 Ahau cycle of 968-987 would seem to fit with the archaeological evidence from both Tula and Yucatan rather well.

The 4 Ahau cycle of 1224 to 1244 falls squarely in the lifetime of the great Sufi mystics Ibn al-Arabi and Jalal-ud-din Rumi as well as St. Francis of Assisi and the Zen Master known as the Dogon.

Any attempt to date the lifetime of the historical Chilam Balam of Mani is mired in debates about changes in the Mesoamerican Calendar, but the 4 Ahau cycle of 1480 to 1500 is very close to the mark.

The 4 Ahau cycle of 1736 to 1756 encompasses the lifetime of the Zen master Hakuin. He brought the Zen tradition down from its cloud-hidden peaks and into the “floating world” of ordinary people. He is probably best remembered as the individual who, when faced with truth, lies, and life changes, simply responded: “Is that so?”

What can we say about the current 4 Ahau cycle, the one which has so recently come to a conclusion?

In many ways, the spiritual themes appear to be the same as always. The 4 Ahau cycles strongly emphasize the dissemination of what I have called the “Himalayan Enlightenment Teachings.” They also sometimes spotlight spiritual events in the history of Mesoamerica, close to the Mayan homeland.

In the present day, it is hard to ignore the vitality and energy with which Tibetan Buddhism has spread throughout the world. The Vajrayana path of Tibet has had its adherents in the West at least since the end of the 19th century, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead became a cultural icon of sorts during the 1960s. But the phenomenally rapid spread of the Tibetan path throughout the globe falls largely within the confines of the most recent 4 Ahau – 1993 to 2012.

There is another spiritual phenomenon worth mentioning in this context, though it is not as well known to the world at large. In 1996, the Guatemalan Peace Accords were signed, ending more than a decade of civil war. Part of the agreement included the right of the Maya to practice their traditional religion without persecution. In recent years, the resurgence of traditional Mayan spirituality has grown throughout Central America. Many of the Maya are turning away from Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism, and returning to the path of their ancestors. The practice of the Mayan Calendar as a Medicine Path is very much alive and well, and growing in strength. I wrote the first draft of this piece in a small room in the traditionalist community of Momostenango, while preparations were under way for the celebration of 8 B’atz’ (Yukatek: 8 Chuen), the most important day in the Sacred Calendar. In February of 2012, less than ten foreigners from various parts of the world made it to this mountain community to join the Maya in their festivities. This time (March 27) there were 45. Is it purely coincidental that worldwide interest in the Maya and their Calendar should reach an apex at precisely the same time that the Maya are experiencing a spiritual renaissance, and that all of it should take place during K’atun 4 Ahau?

Anyone who has ever studied Tibetan mandalas and also witnessed a Mayan fire ceremony cannot but be struck by the similarities in cosmological symbolism shared by both of these spiritual paths. In both traditions, there are circular diagrams that represent the four directions, and each direction has its psychological and symbolic attributes. In both cases, the directions and the axis mundi which serves as the center of all things are represented by red, white, black, yellow and green. Fire, water, and flowers serve as offerings in both traditions.

The energy of 4 Ahau is always in motion. The quetzal is flying. The beautiful cotinga is flying. And they fly from the heart of the eternal center.

In a certain way, the most recent 4 Ahau is much like others before it. The same themes play over and over again, interwoven with each other like a colorful huipil, or like the notes of a grand symphony. But during this most recent recurrence, there is one important difference. The energy generated by the 4 Ahau k’atun of 1993 to 2012 also marks the close of the 13-bak’tun or 5,200-tun cycle which began on August 11, 3114 BCE and ends on December 21, 2012 CE.

What does this mean, and how does it affect the unfoldment of the Chilam Balam’s k’atun prophecies? We shall examine some of these issues in our next article.