a presentation of the Mesoamerican sacred calendar (Tzolkin) and its larger offspring (Long Count)
from historical, traditional, psychological, evolutionary, and stylistic perspectives


weaved by non-linear threads of fascinating metahistory

shaping in turn the critical onset of Earth's posthistory

“Time does not change us but unfolds us” 1

Tzolkin - stylistic evolution

[A] Zapotec - Mesoamerican Preclassic era - circa 500 BCE
[B] Maya - Mesoamerican Classic era - circa 500 CE
[C] Aztec - Mesoamerican Postclassic era - circa 1500 CE
[D] The Mandãla - Global Postmodern era  - circa 2000 CE




In the Mesoamerican calendrical system we have the realization of a cosmos mathematically ordered — that in the magic of number the mystery of being ultimately resides. The system according to which time moves must have preceded the existence of time itself and must be (or be directly issue from) the ultimate creative power itself. The human form, the geometry of space, astronomical periods and other natural cycles are at the origins of this complex, numerologically-interrelated whole.

This system of cyclical time reckoning rests on the count of days. Kin (translated as sun, day, or time) is the basic unit. Embracing all cycles and all cosmic ages, it is primary reality, divine and limitless. Through the concept of kin, we grasp the importance of the solar life-force and its movement in cosmological thought. For the Mayas, time is a sacred living entity enmeshed in the world of myth as a divine being. Since the solar lord is indivisible, whole-day approximations are employed, with no fractions, even when calculating precise astronomical periods.

The Tzolkin is the foundational cycle of the Maya calendrical system. The word derives from the K’iche term ch’ol q’ij and can be translated as count of days, ordering of days, or lining up of days. Similarly, the Tonalpohualli (the Aztec variant) is the count of day-signs. The word stems from the verb tonalli (to irradiate), hence carrying the meaning of an animating force possessed of vigor, energy, and soul. The most ancient known version is the Zapotec Piye, an appellation that derives from the root pi, meaning breath, spirit or wind.

A no-beginning-no-end model of cycling time, the Tzolkin is made of 2 interlocking sequences of 20 signs and 13 numbers. Each progress concurrently and in sequence at the rate of 1 unit per day, creating a complete cycle of 260 days (13 x 20 possible permutations). Note that the beginning/ending time of the day varies among Mesoamerican groups, who adopt either sunset or midnight.

Maya time cycles are exacting abstractions from nature, pure mathematical biorhythms. Central to the entire Mesoamerican calendar intermeshed construct, the length of this 260-day period has been linked to the average length of the gestational period in humans (266 days, or 9 lunations). It has also been connected to agricultural periods and several astronomical cycles and intervals — namely eclipses, Venus, Mars, and zenith passages. Because the Tzolkin is not the representative of any one celestial cycle per say — but instead is the common denominator of many — it seems a more direct expression of sacred knowledge and ultimate reality.

Each of the 20 day-signs and 13 numbers is a sacred entity. The 20 day-signs are especially sacred — living entities or gods created and named before even the world came into being. Each embodies a specific set of energies with related correspondences in the plant and animal kingdoms. Together, the 20 faces of the sun express all of the basic forces of creation and destruction, good and evil, yielding and immutable, that operate in the world, society, and the heart of man. The day-sign at birth will become the ‘daimon’ of an individual, guiding his destiny.

A glyph, or logograph, is a metaphoric or symbolic image encoded with a large amount of psycho-spiritual information. It holds and conveys sacred unspeakable meaning. The day-glyphs always appear in a cartouche, which is perhaps itself a glyph representing '20'. Another possibility is that the day-signs are depicted in a protective nest or cave, where they are formally ‘seated’, or enthroned, on a legged stool. In representing numbers, the dot for '1' stands for a fingertip, the bar for '5' an extended arm with fingers closed. Using only three symbols, this system can write numbers in the hundreds of millions and beyond. Tallying fingers & toes, 20 is a ‘person-full’ of days. Extending the analogy, we note that the human body is articulated with 13 principal joints.

The 13 numerical forces are sequenced like a wave building up in energy: the momentum is weak in the first few numbers (1 to 4 – considered gentle, weak, young, new), balanced in the middle numbers, at the tip of the wave or pyramid (5 to 9 – considered even, measured), and strong, sometimes incontrolably so, with the last numbers (10 to 13 – considered strong, powerful, violent, old, ripe); as a new wave cycle begins farther out at sea. Every moment is in a state of flux.

The Tzolkin and Long Count calendars transpose into our civil calendar using a Traditional/True Count correlation known as the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation, or GMT (Julian day 584283). This correlation is backed up by ancient stone inscriptions, historical records, astronomical data, the oral tradition of the most conservative Maya in Guatemala, and the empirical observations of modern Western astrologers. Using the True Count, 12-21-2012 has a Long Count date of and Tzolkin date of 4AHAU.


As above, so below. Cyclical time makes use of the correspondences between the organic rhythms of the human body (microcosm) and the celestial cycles (macrocosm). A time that is cyclical, or circular, presents the same shape as perceivable space. Not just simply intermeshed, spatial and temporal dimensions are a single continuum.

Literally and etymologically, the 'universe' a "turning of the one". A sacred calendar abstracts that notion and becomes what some have called a synchronometer — a device for measuring cosmic time and synchronicity.

Combining mathematical precision with archetypal power, the Tzolkin gives shape to our otherwise unformed notion of Time. Its 2 interlocking sequences of 20 signs and 13 numbers generate a no-beginning-no-end model of cyclic and fractal time. With the Tzolkin, it appears as if a mathematical key to the various cycles that embodied the fundamental order of the world has been discovered, a key revealing the order of time itself.

The Golden Proportion or PHI ratio — the underlying principle of spiraling organic growth and self-same similarity, of unceasing evolutionary unfoldment — lies at the geometrical foundation of the system. Consider the following: 20/13 = ø [95% accuracy]; 100ø2 = 260 [99.5% accuracy]. Other mathematical relationships can be elaborated between number 260 and number 64 of the I-Ching (the Book of Changes, the ancient Chinese oracle) and of our DNA Genetic Code. 

The 260-day Tzolkin cycle is the fundamental expression of the Maya Time Module (see below) — obtained when abscribing 1 unit to 1 day, our most basic biorhythm. We recall its connection with the biological gestational period in humans, from conception to birth. But the Time Module serves as an integrative model for many other time periods, large and small — giving us a map of our personal and collective evolution, our human and cosmic destiny.

Each of the 20 signs embodies a specific, yet poetic, archetypal set of living energies; each a multidimensional gateway to the great beyond and to ourselves. They have been rising, day after day, since Time began...

Numerological notions for 13, 20, and resulting 260, can be summarized as follow:


TYPE  unfolding process

ASSOCIATION  the changing phases of the Moon

PRINCIPLE  the germination, growth, maturation, and completion of systemic processes

HUMAN  the unfoldment of the human soul reaching into the karmic past and future



TYPE  building blocks sequence

ASSOCIATION  the full Sun and Person

PRINCIPLE  a complete sequence of archetypal shifting

HUMAN  the full survey of human potential



TYPE  sacred cycle / time module

ASSOCIATION  the dyad of Sun + Moon

PRINCIPLE  human and cosmic unfolding

HUMAN  full gestational period, biological and spiritual


Time is alive.

The concept of polarities, opposing expressions of a single unified force, is a central tenet of the calendrical system. The Sacred Cycle can be understood as the quest to integrate the dyad of Sun and Moon: to heal the original 'wound' of separation and return to the perfection of the original unity. Connecting past and future memory, it becomes a circuit by which all things return to themselves: a blueprint of individuation from the original unity which inherently and at the same time implies a return to it — the simultaneous movements of separation and reintegration.

Thus the Tzolkin can map our hero's journey toward individuation, our healer’s quest for integration, our original impulse for realization. The blossoming of the human spirit is here achieved in 260 steps, through the dance of the primary dyad of Sun (20 signs) and Moon (13 numbers): from unaware, undifferentiated attachment to the Source [1IMIX] to fully realized individuation within the oneness and perfection of that source [13AHAU]. Before the next turn of the evolutionary spiral. Ever needing to be fed.



The time value ascribed to the basic unit determines the type of 260-unit fractal construct:

1 UNIT (kin) = 1 DAY — 260 units = 260-day cycle = 1 TZOLKIN

1 UNIT (kin) = 1 TUN — 260 units = 260 tuns = 13-katun cycle = 1 SHORT COUNT

1 UNIT (kin) = 1 KATUN — 260 units = 5200 tuns = 1 LONG COUNT

infomed by and freely adapted from:

David Stuart, The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012
Bruce Scofield, Signs of Time: An Introduction to Mesoamerican Astrology
John Major Jenkins, Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives
Jose Arguelles, The Mayan Factor
Kenneth Johnson, Maya Calendar Astrology: Mapping your Inner Cosmos
Marguerite Paquin, Manual of the Soul: A Guide to the Energies of life

1  Max Frisch – edited

eternal plant of Time
in rapture and granite rooted

ever since the Eternal Return

breathing architecture of Time
the moving image of Eternity