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The Thirteen Maya-Olmec Constellations

This time lapse photo clearly shows the 2010 winter solstice lunar eclipse in the Heart of Sky. The belt of Orion is clearly seen. The Heart of Sky is lined up directly above from the line extending through the three stars in Orion's sword.

This time lapse photo clearly shows the 2010 winter solstice lunar eclipse in the Heart of Sky. The belt of Orion is clearly seen. The Heart of Sky is lined up directly above from the line extending through the three stars in Orion's sword.

Compare this astronomical program generated plot to the real time event photographed above by a wilderness astronomer.

Compare this astronomical program generated plot to the real time event photographed above by a wilderness astronomer.

Models for Three Civilizations

Of the four surviving Maya works that escaped the purges of the Conquistadors and the church, the Paris Codex deals with the Maya constellations, which scholars theorize came from the Olmec who had links with Africa and likely Egypt. This authentic Maya source explains that there are thirteen constellations in all and that this is a possible interpretation for their concept of thirteen heavens on their cosmological world view that also includes nine underworlds that makes 22 parts of the Maya cosmic construction. The earth plane had four parts in of itself. Thus all together, there are 26 parts. The Maya adapted their constellations from the Olmec and applied them to agricultural activities such as planting and harvesting. The agronomical zodiac thus served as the reference to the movements of Venus, the moon, sun and Mars in particular and were seen as related to maize production; maize being one of the two items used to create and sustain humanity according to their account. Unfortunately, from the Maya written source, the information is fragmentary and incomplete, so some has to be borrowed from Olmec sources. The information from the Maya may exist on various temples and stellae that dot the former territories of the city states from all Maya eras prior to the Spanish era. In some cases, smaller temples were over built with larger structures to enhance their presence, so there may well be buried information as well.

We know from their accounts of the “Heart of Sky” as well as the “Great or Dark Rift”, the milky way “Tree of Life”, “The Hero Twins” and many others. The rest can be deduced as all of their life, the clothing, the ball game, design and layout of temples and cities, art and their ceremonial rituals was regulated and contains the essential information. In this way we can work form what still remains and is carried over to the present day. The less known, but no less significant constellations consisted of two turtles, two crosses, two trees, two houses, a bowl, a plate, a snake, a scorpion and a ballcourt. Some we can see a direct link with our zodiac, as in the case of the scorpion-Scorpio. Many are not clear as to the connections. For instance, we do not have an equivalent to the ballcourt, a feature that is central to their view of the cosmos.

According to the inscriptions on one of the Temples found at Bonampak, Chiapas, the turtle is linked to Orion, a small part of which overlays our zodiac between Gemini and Taurus. That small part is about 5 degrees wide and may well represent the 5 unlucky days at the end of the year when the sun was superimposed on the “Great Rift” in the point of opposition of Orion. This being the case, their equivalent to new years day would fall on either December 16th of 26th given that the 21st represents the winter solstice point and the marker for a long count. Which side the new year falls on is a matter of conjecture at this time and can be deduced from the operation of their multiple calendar system of time keeping-watching linked to cosmic events. As it is, we have already determined that one of the pivotal events dated to August 9th, 3116 BCE is linked to the setting of the three stones or mountains in the heavens at the birth of Venus, where Venus is posited at the midpoint between the moon in the “Heart of Sky” and the Sun equidistant on the other side with Venus being the morning star on the day in question. The moon thus was located above their constellation of the turtle, or our Orion during the birth of Venus, which also marks their creation event for mankind and civilization, set in motion by Kukulchan their chief deity. The three stones are also recapitulated by the traditional hearth to the three belt stars of Orion/turtle; Alnitak, Rigel and Saiph, which is also found in the Giza Pyramid complex thought to be similarly modeled.

The two tree constellations are marked by the intersection of the milky way at Orion and Sagittarius and are not star patterns per se, so much as the trunk of the “Tree of Life” denoted by the milky way that intersects at these two points with the path of the sun, moon, Venus and Mars. It is little wonder that the Orion intersection became the center of their cosmos that we call the “Heart of Sky” then as now, marks the location of the summer when the sun passes through there. For our period, this point contains the summer solstice, but for the Maya of history, they had different days that were important for their agronomical concerns due to their location. During the “Birth of Venus” the ecliptic was different than now due to the precession of the equinoxes.

Information of Mayan Cosmology

Considering that the Maya had two bands of constellations as well, one marked by the passage of the chief planets and the other marked by the milky way, there is a far different celestial view to that of our zodiac. The celestial bird, which matches our Ursa Major constellation, places it near the pole, so as the bird circles in the high heavens. The all important snake, modeled after the sacred diamond back rattler, was also posited near Orion-Heart of Sky, and it is this position that the loop of the snake surrounds and circles the “Heart of Sky”. The loop of the snake in the “Heart of Sky” is emulated in the sacred ball game where the ball has to pass through in order to win the game. When the sun, moon, Venus or Mars pass through the celestial loop of the snake, this is a significant event, especially for the moon or Venus. In some of our takes on Orion, the constellation has an upraised arm, with either a club or even a raised snake, such as the description of Moses raising a snake on a staff in the Sinai wilderness. This correlates with the Maya concept of a raised up snake in the “Heart of Sky”. Here there is an ancient accord between two cultures on opposite side of the planet. This information is depicted on an alter in Tikal that the shaman would offer maize to Chac, the rain deity in exchange for timely rains to grow more maize.

Tikal, an ancient city in northeast present day Guatemala, provides the architectural evidence for the thirteen constellations and stands as a source outside of the limited printed information. The layout of the ceremonial center of the city represented twelve of the constellations by its design and we can plot the sky locations based on that design. The thirteenth was worn by the king on his belt. Further, the thirteen constellations are still mirrored today within the design of the traditional Maya house. The basic design has not changed in four thousand years. The houses of the Maya feature a rope hung inside from the peak upon which is hung the ball for the ball game. The house represents one of the two houses in the heavens, being the “Orion house” and the “Dark Rift or milky way house”, which was the path to the nine underworlds and marked by the “plate” constellation between Scorpio and Sagittarius, where lies the center of the galaxy, containing what many believe to be a super massive black hole. The rope represents the snake/galactic equator and the ball of course, a celestial body like the moon, Venus or the sun. The two junctures of the milky way to the ecliptic are important markers in many ways for the Maya and it is these that have been handed down through the generations and to us for instruction as to celestial time keeping concerning cycles. For the Maya, these held importance because of the timing of the rains and the avoidance of famine sometimes caused by drought. Drought caused by far away outside sources like El-Nino cannot be avoided, but the timing of rain when it is there, usually worked out for them. It differed year to year on an eight year cycle. The Hero Twins reside where we see Gemini near the “Heart of Sky” and it is these two according to the myth, that defeated the lords of the underworld in the “Great Rift” and rescued their father, the maize god and allowed for the second creation.

The Maya had worked out a system of timing over an eight year period linked to the cycle of Venusthat took the same time less two days. They determined that the rains followed an eight year cycle in their territory and thus were obsessed about Venus. After all, water marked the other half of the creative material that Kukulchan used in creating humanity according to their creation myth. Simply put, no rain meant no maize and no maize meant no people as maize is the staple crop. To them, celestial events were directly tied to the natural world and their agriculture. This is also true for all other cultures around the world including our own. However, as seasons vary from locale to locale, so too does the timing and local sky myth. This does not make one right and the other wrong, except when the myth of one region is applied to another where it does not fit.

Celestially speaking, our current obsession with the Maya long count is based squarely on celestial events that the Maya so carefully calculated based on real time observations over three and a half thousand years combined with Olmec and Toltec input. These apply world wide as they are the same skies throughout. However, the same portents in the sky has different effects around the world due to earth bound events related to location and seasons. Celestially speaking, the ecliptic and the galactic equator intersect at a 55 degree angle and this is where we find the cross, the arms of which branch out on four sides of the two intersections. This true in the “Heart of Sky” and “Great Rift” parts of the sky. The two fourfold divisions of the sky at each cross point gave eight divisions overall for the sky. Of the two crosses, the one at the “Heart of Sky” was the most important and this is where the offerings and prayers were offered. The loop of the snake circumscribed the cross at the “Heart of Sky”, which can also be regarded as the base of the “Tree of Life”. Due to the central importance of this part of the sky, it is little wonder that it features prominently in their lore and is now having such a profound impact on us non-Maya today.

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There may well be some significance to interpretations of prophetic views, but we wonder if this is manufactured or if there is real substance. For our part, we can state that if its celestial, then it is real, such as the winter solstice lunar eclipse of 2010. If it is something projected on society, then there is room for questions of all kinds. We must ask if it is real prophecy or merely a self fulfilling well planned agenda manufactured to look like prophetic fulfillment. The heavens are plain for anyone with the means to observe and record, but in the arena of politics and religion, there is plenty of room for corruption and deception, not to mention fear mongering for reasons of control and profiteering. For the Maya and Olmec in their locale, following these cycles carefully was the difference between success and failure, life and death. For us, all too often, it becomes the locus of entertainment, when we should be regarding various warnings in all analytical seriousness. We are all part of nature and linked to events in the heavens whether we believe it or not. Our civilization is not exempt from events in the heavens, just as those of the Olmec and Maya were not exempt. They were deadly serious about these events to the point of modeling their lives around them. We do not need to go that far, but we should at least take note.


Kaylasa Maia on February 20, 2012:

Thanks a lot, I am a Mexican looking for information about the bright civilization developed by the Mayas. This article is extremely well-documented, well-written, concise. Thanks a lot for helping reveal the real greatness of the Mayab.

Emma from Houston TX on March 17, 2011:

Useful information which really made me to research a lot in other to digest what you just thought in there,thanks great lecturer and a resounding three hot cheers for you.

William J. Prest (author) from Vancouver, Canada on January 23, 2011:

Consider the fact that their "zodiac" is almost completely different to ours to the point of being alien in nature. This is a good study against the day where we really do encounter alien cultures in deep space where their cosmogony will be as different to us as the Maya after most of the source information was destroyed. What we have is fragmentary at best. What we have found out gives us a completely different view of the same skies. On an truly alien world, the skies will be completely different to what we are used to, as will be the living circumstances, seasons and so on. The Maya year was constructed far different than ours, which makes it a challenging study, but it was based on real sky events.

Christopher Price from Vermont, USA on January 23, 2011:


This had my head spinning now and again, there is so much to absorb. You seem to have a wonderful grasp of your subject matter, and the listed reading sources are welcome.


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