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Mayan Moon Cycles and Astronomy

The ancient Maya people were passionate astronomers, and their central beliefs were centered around their creation story. They developed the most accurate calendar system that archaeologists still find fascinating today.

Based on the lunar cycle, a month is 29.5308 days, and the Maya based their cultural and religious events per the moon cycles. Similar to modern-day astrology, Mayan astrologers believed the location and phase of the moon influenced the birthdate of a person. Showing the importance of the moon in the heavenly night sky.

They believed that the earth was the focal point of all things, and the planets, the stars, the sun, and the moon were their gods. The gods interpreted the moon’s movement and sun as the gods moving from one place to another and between the earth and the celestial realm. 

The gods were significantly involved in human affairs, making the Maya astronomers watch them closely. The Maya planned their life events to coincide with astrological movements.

For example, a ruler might only ascend to the throne of a Mayan city-state when certain planets were visible in the night sky.

Pyramid of the Moon

The pyramid of the moon in Teotihuacan is the second largest pyramid in Meso-America; it is located at the end of the Avenue of the Dead. Priests used the platform at the top of the pyramid to perform ritual sacrifices to the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. The pyramid’s base is a sculpture and a platform dedicated to The Great Goddess.

A magnificent plaza called the Plaza of the Moon is opposite the altar and forms the four cardinal points of a cross called “Teotihuacan Cross.”

The ancient Maya civilization placed much significance on the moon.

The Importance of the planets

These ancient astronomers were aware of the different planets in the solar system and tracked their movements with phenomenal accuracy. Although they keenly observed Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, they focused their attention on Venus, which they believed was strongly associated with war.

When Venus was positioned in the night sky, battles and wars would be fought against neighboring city-states, and captured leaders and warriors would be sacrificed depending on the position of Venus.

Astronomers recorded the movements of Venus and determined that in relation to the Earth, a year was 584 days long, close to modern astrology, has determined that a year is 583.92 days long.

The Importance of the stars

Maya astronomers watched the stars positioning with the moon and planets and realized that the stars move across the heavens but remain in the same position relative to each other. Meaning that the stars mythos were not as important as the moon, the sun, Venus, and the other planets.

The Maya astronomers calculated that the stars shift according to the seasons and that the rise of Pleiades in the night sky meant the rain would fall in Central America and southern Mexico. A critical component for their agricultural planning as they were mainly farmers. They were utilizing the stars for practical and not religious or cultural reasons.

The importance of astronomy in architecture

According to astronomy, Mayan buildings such as temples, palaces, pyramids, ball courts, and observatories were laid out. Temples and pyramids were explicitly designed for the sun, moon, or planets to be seen from a particular window at essential times during the year.

The observatory at Xochicalco, central Mexico, has an underground observatory with a hole in the ceiling through which the sun shines. However, on 15 May and 29 July,  the sun is directly above this opening, illuminating a particular area on the floor. These were important days for the Mayan priests for ceremonies and rituals. 

One of the most famous observatories is in Chichen Itza, where the entire city, including the ball court, is aligned with astronomical anomalies.

The Chichen Itza observatory is one of the most well preserved in the Mayan ancient archaeological sites. 

El Caracul, meaning “the snail,” is the name given to the ancient observatory in Chichen Itza. The title refers to the circular staircase leading to the top of the 74-foot-high observatory.

The moon, planets, and stars can be recorded inside the observatory through a window.  The observatory at Chichen Itza is also referred to as the moon observatory.

The Mayan Calendar

Archaeologists believe that the ancient Maya were the first civilization to have a calendar linked to astronomy. They developed two calendar systems; the Calendar Long Count calendar was divided into two calendars: Haab, which had a solar base and 365 days, and Tzolkin, which had a 260-day year.

The Tzolkin Calendar is considered sacred to this day as it aligns with nature’s cycles, including the human reproductive process. This calendar is intricately linked to the gods and goddesses of the ancient Mayan people.

These majestic ancient people believed that everything in the universe was interlinked, and the calendars enabled the Maya to live in harmony and balance with nature.

Magnificent Discovery

In 2010 a student of the famous archaeologist William Saturno discovered a room with unbelievably preserved murals in the ancient Maya ruins of Xultun, Guatemala.

A wall covered in its entirety with calculations and astronomical observations. This mural includes records of moon cycles, eclipses, and positions of the planets that extend as far as seven thousand years into the future.

It is clear that this advanced civilization knew how to harness the universal powers of the moon, sun, and planets, past, present, and future, and use them to bring about harmony and balance in their daily lives.

It is undeniable that the moon serves as a focal point in the Mayan civilization. When we look at the achievements of these ancient people, it shows an intricate balance in the world, one that we cannot ignore.

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