Susan Milbrath, Ph.D
Florida Museum of Natural History
P.O. Box 117800
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-7800
September 23rd, 1996
Dear Susan Milbrath,
Thank you for commenting on my essays of June. Also, thanks for sending copies of your own papers, especially the one from The Imagination of Matter - I couldn't even track that down through interlibrary loan. Congratulations on your book with the University of Texas Press. At the time I last wrote, I was unaware of your in depth examination of zenith imagery. I have since studied:
"Astronomical Imagery in the Serpent Sequence of the Madrid Codex"
"Birth Images in Mixteca-Puebla Art"
"Astronomical Images and Orientations in the Architecture of Chichen Itza"
"Star gods and Astronomy of the Aztecs"
"A Star Calendar in the Codex Madrid"
as well as the related work of Coggins and Broda.
It seems to me you've already blazed a trail I was beginning to wander down myself, so thank you for your insightful work. I know you must be busy, and I'll keep this brief. I do want to respond to your comments on my booklet "When the Skull Spits." The question of whether Blood Woman is the waning moon in the east or the waxing moon in the west is still undecided for me. I am aware of the primary argument for her being in the west.
Dennis Tedlock places her in the east in order to be near Hun Hunahpu - morningstar Venus - so that the twins can be conceived. I follow Tedlock in placing this whole scenario near the dark-rift - and the crook of the calabash tree may be the dark-rift. You caught a citation oversight. I had two citations which support Tedlock's placement of Blood Woman, [as old moon sliver in the east] [file corrupted – but only a sentence or two lost; citations are to pgs 258 and 271 below]
[My first citation was to the following quote by Dennis Tedlcok in his Popol Vuh translation:]
[see Tedlock page 258 for full quote] moon or the 26th day of a 30-day moon. By our own count that could mean a moon age of as many as 27 or 28 days... A moon that was 28 days past the moment of conjunction would be a very thin crescent (about to go into the dark phase), very close to the eastern horizon when Jupiter and Venus appeared together on the mythic dawn of 126.96.36.199.0 7 Ahau 18 Kayab" (258).
(This is the setup for the mythic event in which the Hero Twins are conceived. As such, we have Jupiter, Venus, and the waning moon near the crook in the calabash tree - the dark-rift.)
The secondary reference on page 271 is indirectly supportive:
"15. Elsewhere I have argued that this tree [the calabash tree, with its "crook" where Hun Hunahpu's head is hung] was in the west and that the head was the evening star (D. Tedlock 1985:40), but now, for obvious reasons, the tree looks better in the east, though the head remains the planet Venus."
Overall, I approached the research for "When the Skull Spits" rather lightheartedly, as an exercise in mythic astronomy. As I stated, the identification of Blood Moon could be explored either way. I know there are unstated assumptions in exploring this scenario. One is that some form of the Hero Twin myth existed at Izapa (Actually, this isn't an assumption; there is evidence that this is true, among Izapan Stelae). As you point out, it would be misleading to refer to this as the Popol Vuh - as that evokes a much later cultural group. Clearly though, specific episodes in the Hero Twin story have been identified on Classic Period ceramics and are also found on Izapan Stelae. (Beatriz de Pina Chan, V. Garth Norman, Michael Coe, Linda Schele). In fact, it appears to me that Izapan sculpture is where the Hero Twin story first appears in the archaeological record. For this reason, I looked to the Izapan era for the astronomical events that may represent the conception of the Hero Twins. A big assumption here, of course, is that the mythic scenario suggested by Tedlock was recognized and looked for by Izapan skywatchers. Or maybe it was the other way around - maybe the compelling stellar hierophany (of 165 B.C.?) suggested the myth.
In the end, my essay is highly speculative. Thanks for pointing out its ambiguities.
I really feel you are doing some very important cutting edge work. I have this idea that the dark-rift and the Milky Way play an unrecognized role in Mesoamerican cosmology and calendrics. You have argued that the Milky Way was understood as a goddess involved in birthing ("Birth Images in Mixteca Puebla Art", p. 162). On the 13-baktun cycle end-date, the winter solstice sun will be reasonably close to the dark-rift. I've thought this through, played the devil's advocate, deconstructed my own arguments, and it still emerges as an eminently reasonable proposition that the creators of the Long Count were aware of this future alignment and, in fact, placed the end of the 13-baktun cycle on it. This idea can be argued for, which I have striven to do from different approaches and in many essays. The only impasse that many thinkers can't get over is the fact that the hypothesis requires that precession was recognized and calculated. All too often, precession is seen as an annoying and inconsequential fact that just complicates our retro-calculations. Aveni, Brotherston, and others feel precession was most likely understood, a very long time ago. The alignment of the 13-baktun cycle end-date seems to testify to this; to cry coincidence pushes common sense beyond reasonable limits. I don't have any clear answers on how they did this, but can only encourage people to not dismiss the fact of the alignment of astronomy and calendar in AD 2012 as coincidence. We should incorporate precessional change into our examination of Mesoamerican astronomy and cosmology. On a personal note, out of all the helpful and gracious responses I've had to my inquiries, from many scholars - Aveni, Coggins, Krupp, yourself, the Tedlocks, Grube, Weldon Lamb, and others - nobody has acknowledged or commented on this very simple hypothesis: Intentional placement of the 13-baktun cycle end-date (December 21st, 2012 AD) because of the precession-caused alignment of the solstice sun with the dark-rift (the center of the Crossroads or Mayan Sacred Tree) that occurs on it. It must be taboo. I apologize; this is a little rant I've refrained from many times. But is acknowledging that ancient Mesoamerican skywatchers measured precession that big of a problem? Well, actually, two researchers, but none of the ones mentioned above, did comment on it, but invoked coincidence to explain it away. I take the scientific view of exploring what the implications and problems are if it's not a coincidence.
I feel that the dark-rift is typically related to a whole complex of ideas - the cave, the crook in the tree, the womb-passage, the mouth of the jaguar or snake, the cenote, the temple doorway, etc. The Milky Way was probably mythologized as a Cosmic Mother deity. Underlying these identifications is, of course, the alignment of the winter solstice sun with the dark-rift on 188.8.131.52.0. The reason I'm interested in Izapan iconography rather than later Classic Period forms, is that the creation of the Long Count goes back to at least the Izapan period (500 B.C - 100 A.D.). We are looking at a very ancient era of Mesoamerican history, about which we have little concrete knowledge. As such, the main artifact we really have to work with is the placement of the Long Count itself.
Well, I don't want to ramble too much. I do want to point out a section that was unclear on page 160 of your forthcoming book, the sixth paragraph below the heading "Venus in the Popol Vuh":
"A clockwise direction is how the planets and sun move through the background of stars..."
Don't the sun and planets move counterclockwise, from west to east, against the background of stars? (unless a planet is retrograde of course).
"...as opposed to the daily motions counterclockwise motion of the sun evident to the viewer facing north."
Facing north, assuming the date was between the two zenith passages and you were in the tropics, the sun moves counterclockwise (east to west) from morning to night, but clockwise against the background stars over weeks and months.
In your paper entitled "Birth Images in Mixteca-Puebla Art" you state toward the end that "The celestial ‘birth’ of Venus as it crosses the Milky Way is actually a rebirth that takes place when Venus enters the fertile realm of the Milky Way" (163). And: "...which suggests the Milky Way is linked to divine birth..." (163). I thought this was brilliant. If we accept the dark-rift as the birth-passage of a cosmic mother deity (the Milky Way), doesn't this support your reconstruction? There are many other ideas in your essay which clearly lend support to the identifications and meanings I argue for the Milky Way, the crossroads, and the dark-rift in relation to the end-date alignment. I'm sending a recent study of the ballgame which provides some documentation on the dark-rift-womb complex of mythic images. Please give its primary message some thought.
Thanks again for all your insightful work. Good luck with your book, I look forward to reading it. In fact, I'd be honored to proofread it if you wanted to send me a printout, or on disk (I have an IBM PC).
John Major Jenkins
Four Ahau Press
PO Box xxx
Louisville, CO 800xxxxx
More studies in Mesoamerican calendrics and cosmology available at:
"A Hawk, a Cross, and a Mouth"
"The Cosmic Symbolism of the Mayan Ballgame"
"Maya Creation: The Stellar Frame and World Ages"
June 3rd, 1996
Dear Susan Milbrath,
I greatly appreciate your perceptive work in Mesoamerican cosmology. Anthony Aveni suggested I send a few of my essays to you regarding zenith imagery and zenith phenomena in Mesoamerican cosmology. He thought they might be of interest to you. While I wrote these I had not yet read your essays in La Antropología Americanista en la Actualidad, but now I see that you've insightfully covered some of this ground already. So please forgive any repetition or oversights. Your work, as well as Johanna Broda's and Clemency Coggins', seems to get very close to something that should be looked at seriously. In my work I assume the Mesoamerican skywatchers were capable of a greater degree of accuracy in their observations, and this resulted in what I consider to be the primary meaning of the New Fire ceremony. As you will see in my essays, this involves the convergence of the changing date of the Sun-Pleiades conjunction in May (moving forward one day every 72 years with precession) with the static solar zenith-passage date a little later in May (at the latitudes of either Tenochtitlan, Teotihuacan, or Chichen Itza). The convergence of these two phenomena is what I believe the New Fire "end of the world" hoopla was about. This "World Age" myth especially seems suggested (though not provable) in the serpent-shadow hierophany at Chichen Itza (see enclosed article).
My premise requires that Mesoamerican skywatchers were aware of, and in fact had calculated, the precession of the equinoxes. From another direction in Mesoamerican astronomy, and an angle I have been working out for years now, the awareness and calculation of precession seems impossible to deny because the scenario are so straightforward. This involves the fact that the end-date of the 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count occurs when the winter solstice sun conjoins with the Milky Way, specifically right in the dark-rift the Quiché call the xibalba be - the road to the underworld. I guess I'll enclose some of my work relating to this idea too. This one is really interesting to me because it is much less complex than the zenith stuff - it involves two facts: 1) the end-date itself, now established via the 584283 correlation number; 2) the astronomical fact that the solstice meridian joins the Galactic Equator (via precession) in roughly 1998. I explored the way the ancient creators of the Long Count would have perceived this in a previous monograph. The bonus fact here is that the dark-rift is right where the winter solstice sun crosses over the Milky Way, and this invites comparison with various mythic scenarios including the Popol Vuh and the "First God emerging from the cave of Creation" theme. Well, I should keep this short. Anything that comes to mind, criticism, questions, mistakes, if you have the time, will be greatly appreciated.
John Major Jenkins
Note: Milbrath’s response to my mid-1997 mailing of the MC2012 prototype was very brief, saying she didn’t have time to read it. Our late 2000 e-mail exchange is elsewhere.