The Traditional Count
A reading from a traditional day keeper is a form of initiation or baptism, where a person is given her individual day sign, which also becomes her calendar name. Before the European invasion, all the Maya were known primarily by these names. This one-to-one transmission of knowledge has a continuity that goes back at least 1,000 years, but the Maya themselves believe their traditions date back as many as 5,000 years.
Not everyone is able to visit the Mayan highlands where the living traditions are still strong. Those that do, if they are lucky, may get the opportunity to learn directly from someone who has been born into the calendar and whose traditions may stretch back many generations. This unique perspective cannot be recreated through a few paragraphs of reading, which can only serve as a basic introduction.
Few westerners have been accepted into the traditions of Mayan day keeping. Not everyone is suited to such a role; those who are need patience and perseverance to learn the traditional way through a lengthy apprenticeship. The only way to become a day keeper is by living the calendar and immersing oneself in it and the worldview of the Maya.
One person who has been working in this way with the calendar and is now sharing his knowledge is Martin Prechtel, author of Secrets of the Talking Jaguar. Prechtel was raised on a Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico. His mother was a Canadian Native American and his father a Swiss paleontologist. He married a Mayan woman and raised two sons in the Mayan village of Santiago Atitlán. After a shamanic apprenticeship he became acting shaman of the community and eventually Nabey Mam, the first chief. The world he describes is a heart-centered one, rather than an intellectual one, where much of the wisdom contained in the calendar comes to a person not by study or contemplation, but by participating in ceremonies and the Mayan way of life. In the traditional communities, learning the calendar is indivisible from learning everyday folklore and the tales of the ancestors.
Dennis and Barbara Tedlock
Two of the first westerners to be accepted into the Mayan day-keeping traditions were Dennis and Barbara Tedlock, both anthropology professors at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Together, they undertook the traditional 260-day training period to become an ajk'ij or day keeper. This involved making offerings of copal incense and candles at shrines and studying the rahil bahir or circle of days, as the Tzolkin is known in the Guatemalan highlands. At the end of the training, a large pot called an olla is broken. This symbolizes the break with the previous life led by the person being initiated and the entry into the new life of day keeper. Barbara Tedlock's book Time and the Highland Maya is an excellent introduction to the rituals and cosmology of Mayan day keeping.
Different Starts to the Day
One of the things that makes converting the date of the Gregorian calendar into the traditional Mayan Tzolkin more difficult is that there is no certain rule about what time the day begins and what time it ends. For some of the Maya, the day begins at dawn; for others, it begins at sunset. In neither case does it begin at midnight, as the western calendar does. This makes a standardized approach to decoding your day sign more complex because if you are born before dawn, or, in some traditions, after sunset, a different glyph applies. In the case of the traditional calendar, this is one of the reasons a personal introduction remains indispensable.
The debate over starting times is also one of the reasons Argüellés devised his system. He wanted to create a system that gave consistent results for anyone using it anywhere on the planet. For this reason, the day in Dreamspell follows the Gregorian start point of midnight. Dreamspell was designed to be a transitional calendar that allows an easy introduction to the energies of the Tzolkin. In Dreamspell, the definitions of the energies of each day are given in the form of just a few keywords with universalized meanings. The idea behind this is that more people will become engaged in experiencing the calendar, rather than just reading about it.