The Mayan Philosophy of Numbers

Many recent writers have tried to impose Western numerological concepts upon this Native American system. This is all the more puzzling when we realize that the concepts of contemporary Mayan teachers regarding the numbers are really not that much of a secret.

Some writers link the 13 numbers with the idea that there were 13 heavens in the ancient Mayan Otherworld. This may be true, but this concept is seldom found among contemporary Daykeepers – unless they have an interest in ancient history (most are too busy helping the members of their community to worry much about ancient times). It is also said that the 13 numbers represent the 13 major joints in the human body: the ankles, the knees, the hips, the wrists, the elbows, the shoulders, and the neck. Thus 13 is a number of humanity (so is 20, for we have 20 digits altogether). This teaching is indeed very common and is known among almost all Daykeepers. But there are other meanings for the number 13, perhaps not as well known to the outside world. For example, not counting various individual markings or protrusions, there are 13 rectangles on the shell of a turtle. Thus 13 is the number of Turtle Island, the American continent. There are also 13 rattles in a rattlesnake’s tail, and here there may perhaps be some connection with the Pleiades, which are known as the rattlesnake’s tail in Yucatan.

An important teaching, but one which is not well known outside of Guatemala, is that all the numbers are feminine, and may be regarded as the “wives” of the 20 day-signs (who are male). The interaction between numbers and day-signs is in the manner of a “sacred marriage.” The Tzutujil Maya of Santiago Atitlan recognize 12 Moon Goddesses, one for each of the months of a solar year, while the mystical 13th lunar month in a solar year is dedicated to the Goddess in her aspect as the wisdom crone of the waning moon, our First Grandmother.

The numbers move in a kind of wave motion. The low numbers are mild and soft, while the middle numbers -- 6, 7, 8, and 9 -- represent the days of balanced energy and power. The final days, 10 through 13, are "too strong," so powerful as to be potentially dangerous. Therefore, all major rituals are performed on the days of balanced power at the center of each trecena. Yet it is much too simple to merely say that low numbers are weak, middle numbers balanced, and high numbers too strong. This may be true in a very general way, but the numbers all have their individual characteristics. I cannot go into the meaning of each number here, but a few remarks may be helpful.

First of all, let us remember this: Although each number has both its positive and challenging aspects, the even numbers find it easier to bring their positive qualities into manifestation. Odd numbers are regarded as more intense; it takes us a bit more work to help them manifest their positive qualities.

The number 1, not surprisingly, symbolizes beginnings, unity, the original energy of creation. Even though it is a low number, it is powerful, for it has to do with the energy of the new trecena which is making its arrival. Therefore, Daykeepers always do ritual on a 1 day, and in some traditional communities there is a special shrine dedicated to the number 1.

The number 2 is a symbol of duality. Much like Taoists, the Maya think in terms of cosmic polarities. This is embodied in their mythology: there are two Hero Twins, two principal Lords of the Underworld, as well as the two monkey twins who represent the day-sign Chuen. There is the eternal dichotomy of this world and the Underworld, day and night, darkness and light. These themes run like a common thread in all of Mayan myth, especially in the sacred book the Popol Vuh.

The number 4 symbolizes wholeness. It is associated with Ahau, the Sun God as cosmic lord (the word ahau literally means lord). Why is this a solar number? The word for “day” (k’in in Yucatec or q’ij in K’iche’) is the same as the word for “sun”; a day is a complete passage of the sun. The sun or the day has four stations: dawn, noon, sunset and midnight. These four components of each day, each “sun,” can be conceptually expanded to include the solstices and equinoxes; thus the year is also a 4. There is evidence that the Classic Maya divided the universe into four sections marked by the two intersections of the Milky Way with the ecliptic. Thus we live in a fourfold universe. The Maya still lay out their ritual altars in a fourfold pattern.

The number 7 may confuse some people, for it sometimes represents death, or at least “endings.” The reason for this may not be readily apparent. In order to illustrate this, we may take a look at any tzolk’in diagram. If it is in a standard “New Age” book, the day-sign at the top of the list will be Imix, but if it is in a contemporary Mayan almanac, the first day-sign will be B’atz’ (Chuen in Yucatec). It doesn’t matter. What we are looking for is the sequence of numbers in the top row. It will be like this:

1, 8, 2, 9, 3, 10, 4, 11, 5, 12, 6, 13, 7

Any day-sign sequence beginning with 1 will end in a 7. This is why 7 is so often considered a symbol of endings. In the Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins are named 1 Hunahpu and 7 Hunahpu, while the most important Underworld Lords are named 1 Death and 7 Death. When 1 and 7 are paired together in such a fashion, it is as if we were saying: “The beginning and end of the Hero Twins archetype,” or “The alpha and omega of the Death archetype.”

The number 7 also illustrates how a number may have one meaning in terms of its core symbolism and another meaning in terms of personal astrology. To be born on a 7 day is not inauspicious – it does not signify death. Since 7 is midway between 1 and 13, those born on a 7 day are able to see both backwards and forwards, and they may be indecisive, uncertain of which way to go. They can see the value in both ways. In other words, being a 7 is a bit like being a Libra in Western astrology! In much the same way, if natives of a 7 day can learn to take action, their ability to see things from all sides makes them capable of amazing creativity and power.

If 1 and 7 are the beginning and the end, then 1 + 7 = 8, making 8 a number of completion or wholeness, much like the number 4. This is why there is some sort of ritual for almost every 8 day, and why some extremely traditional communities have a special local shrine dedicated to the number 8. Of course, 4 + 4 = 8, so the wholeness implied in the number 4 is doubled here, as if the wholeness of the fourfold universe were seen from the viewpoint of both polarities: night and day, light and darkness, sun and moon, yin and yang.

Even though 9 is an odd number, it is an extremely positive one, often used for ritual purposes. Inscriptions surviving from Classic times (200 – 900 CE) indicate that 9 was the day most favored for the timing of coronations and other important ceremonies.

As noted earlier, high numbers are often considered “too intense.” But there are exceptions even to this rule. Some shamans make special visits to local sacred mountains on certain 11 days (in some communities, this is done on Chicchan, Cimi, Manik, Ben and Ahau).

Likewise, 13 has special qualities, some of which are of great value – despite the fact that 13 is both very high and an odd number. On 13 days, the spirit world is closer. Hence a 13 day is the best day upon which to meditate, seek visions, and cultivate potential psychic gifts.


Philosophy of Numbers

Many thinkers have contributed their ideas concerning the nature of mathematics. Today, some philosophers of mathematics aim to give accounts of this form of inquiry and its products as they stand, while others emphasize a role for themselves that goes beyond simple interpretation to critical analysis. There are traditions of mathematical philosophy in both Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy. Western philosophies of mathematics go as far back as Plato, who studied the ontological status of mathematical objects, and Aristotle, who studied logic and issues related to infinity (actual versus potential).

Greek philosophy on mathematics was strongly influenced by their study of geometry. For example, at one time, the Greeks held the opinion that 1 (one) was not a number, but rather a unit of arbitrary length. A number was defined as a multitude. Therefore 3, for example, represented a certain multitude of units, and was thus not "truly" a number. At another point, a similar argument was made that 2 was not a number but a fundamental notion of a pair. These views come from the heavily geometric straight-edge-and-compass viewpoint of the Greeks: just as lines drawn in a geometric problem are measured in proportion to the first arbitrarily drawn line, so too are the numbers on a number line measured in proportional to the arbitrary first "number" or "one."
These earlier Greek ideas of numbers were later upended by the discovery of the irrationality of the square root of two. Hippasus, a disciple of Pythagoras, showed that the diagonal of a unit square was incommensurable with its (unit-length) edge: in other words he proved there was no existing (rational) number that accurately depicts the proportion of the diagonal of the unit square to its edge. This caused a significant re-evaluation of Greek philosophy of mathematics. According to legend, fellow Pythagoreans were so traumatised by this discovery that they murdered Hippasus to stop him from spreading his heretical idea. Greek ideas remained dominant in Europe until the 17th century. At this time, and beginning with Leibniz, the focus shifted strongly to the relationship between mathematics and logic. This perspective dominated the philosophy of mathematics through the time of Frege and of Russell, but was brought into question by developments in the late 19th and early 20th century.


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