Switching gears from the Middle Eastern world, I wonder a bit at Mesoamerican ritual practices around agriculture, which have an independent antiquity of their own. This post will be quotation heavy.
Let’s dive right into that:
“The 260-day calendar was used to prognosticate human destiny according to the day of birth and to predict the appropriate days for the planting cycle. This ritual calendar survives today….They [contemporary Quiche] explain the calendar corresponds to the human gestation period of nine lunar months. In fact, the interval is very close to the length of the human gestation period, which biologists estimate to be between 255 and 265 days. The 260-day period also approximates the length of the agricultural period in core areas of Mesoamerica.—Star Gods of the Maya by Susan Milbrath (2)
(Oh, in case you are worried, despite its lurid title, Milbrath’s book is standard scholarly fare, university press publisher and all.)
In reference to those other accounts, let me return briefly to Lopez Austin talking about the Tzotzil:
“Not all of the maize produced gets to the farmers’ houses. Some of it is lost and some devoured by pests. It is necessary to plead for the missing maize in order to recover all of the maize’s soul….that had been deposited in the soil.”—Tamoanchan, Tlalocan: Places of Mist by Alfredo Lopez Austin (141)
Maize has ties to the heavens and the sun, contra the soil with its ties to the land of the dead and water. Add to this the underlying sense that the storehouse from which the souls of maize come and from which souls of human being comes are the same. The entanglement of the two cycles is deep.
Now, back to Milbrath:
“Daniel Flores notes that the 260-day cycle is well suited to the recording observations of Venus. Indeed, the people of Precolumbian Mesoamerica observed both Venus and the Moon in relation to the 260-day calendar.”—Star Gods of the Maya by Susan Milbrath (2)
Hmm. Venus, the Moon, children, agriculture…it really does sit really closely with the world of Near Eastern antiquity, which suggests that the cycles and the spiritual roots go more deeply than culture on these ones. Also, that there is a degree of kinship between people and plants.
Two more quick quotes:
“The origins of the 260-day calendar can be traced back to circa 900–500 B.C.” (Ibid., 2)
“Although records of contemporaneous Long Count dates begin around A.D. 250 in the lowland Mays area, the Classic Maya clearly had a sense of mythological history, for some Long Count dates on stone stelae of the Classic period refer back to events preceding the recorded epoch of creation around 3000 B.C.” (Ibid., 3)
That last part catches my eye because that makes the creation of the world according to the Maya roughly contemporary with Middle Eastern ones (exemplified in Biblical chronology). That’s suggestive, too, of some deeper and global cycles to which both groups are responding on a spiritual and/or material level.
Add to that a common sense of the hill/mountain as spiritual center.