Dear Susan Milbrath,
Hi Susan. Jim Reed said your presentation at IMS was great and he really enjoyed chatting with you. I am currently reviewing your book Star Gods of the Maya for Colorado Libraries magazine (previous reviews for CL include Jones' Twin City Tales.) This is John M Jenkins, author of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (1998). I've been trying for several years to dialogue with scholars on my end-date alignment work. In (very) brief, my theory is that the alignment of the December solstice sun with the dark-rift in the Milky Way in the years around AD 2012 might be behind the 13-Baktun cycle end-date. Of course, this is precession related. I recently found a most compelling confirmation in Copan Stela C that the concept/image/symbol of the "sun in dark-rift" might have been recognized by the Maya. I've distilled it down to two paragraphs so I won't take up a lot of your time. I was hoping you might read it and comment on what I point out. Many thanks for your insights and efforts to decode astronomy in Maya texts,
Version of Copan Stela C essay
that was sent to Susan, published in the Newsletter
By John Major Jenkins
Copan Stela C is the famous 18 Rabbit statue that we can see advertised in every issue of Archaeology magazine. In Schele and Mathews’ book Code of Kings, it is noted that Stela C is dated 22.214.171.124.0 (December 5, 711 according to the 584285 correlation). This would have been the first katun ending after 18 Rabbit's succession to rulership. But, as Schele points out, this political anniversary was also attended by astronomical events, occurring in the eastern sky toward which Stela C faces. The iconography on the statue helps us understand what it may portray astronomically.
The image is of the solar king standing in the maw of a crocodile form, holding a double-headed serpent bar that represents the ecliptic. He’s wearing a draped breech-clout (like pants) that are ornamented with the jaws and teeth of a crocodile, and the meaning is this: he is in the crocodile’s mouth. What is the significance of this? As David Kelley points out, the upturned frog-mouth glyph means “to be born” and the upturned crocodile’s mouth probably has a similar meaning. For a king, accession to rulership was a kind of rebirth into a new identity, thus the motif of “being born” is appropriate for Stela C. We see this imagery on many Maya monuments. For example, even the early Maya monument, Stela 11 from Izapa, replicates this basic idea.
As mentioned, Copan Stela C is dated December 5, 711 A.D. (Gregorian calendar). As Schele notes in Code of Kings, on December 5, 711, Venus was on the Milky Way (as evening star right after sundown), and this confirms the Venus iconography on the statue that she identifies. However, another important conjunction occurred on that date: the sun was aligning with the dark-rift in the Milky Way. The Milky Way’s dark-rift feature appears like a great cleft near Sagittarius, and is called the Xibalba be (Road to the Underworld) by the modern Quiché Maya. As a portal or doorway, this astronomical feature was symbolized by a door, a road, a cave, or a mouth (as in a crocodile’s or snake’s mouth). Clearly, the crocodile mouth in which 18 Rabbit stands could very well be the dark-rift in the Milky Way.
So what does Stela C depict? We have a solar king (sun) holding a serpent bar (the ecliptic), “inside” a crocodile mouth (the dark-rift). Stela C depicts the sun inside of the dark-rift. This interpretation might seem facile if it were not confirmed by the astronomy toward which Stela C faces — on December 5, 711 AD the sun was indeed aligning with the dark-rift in the Milky Way. Is this simply a coincidence? In Maya ceremony and symbolism, the meaning of this image involves the rebirth of the sun and the authority of kingship. If the ancient Maya of Copan consciously intended Stela C to encode this alignment, then we need to look seriously at the concept of “sun in dark-rift” and how it may have been included in other facets of Maya cosmology.
Comments and inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. John appears in the Discovery Channel’s “Places of Mystery” episodes on Copan and Chichen Itza, airing this Fall. For more information on the “sun in dark-rift” iconography, refer to the book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (amazon.com) by John Major Jenkins and his website: Alignment2012.com.
Susan responded to this letter and I replied within the text of her response:
Sent: Friday, September 29, 2000 9:58 AM
From: John Jenkins
Subject: Re: Star Gods, IMS, Copan Stela C
SM: Hi John:
As you will know from reading my book, I disagree with a number of Linda Schele's interpretations. The snake as the ecliptic, for one—I see the snake imagery more closely linked with the Milky Way.
I follow the work of John B Carlson in identifying the double-headed serpent bar and related iconography with the ecliptic. One of the mythological identities of the Milky Way is a serpent. I don't think we can settle on just one symbolic identity for the Milky Way, the ecliptic, or any other astronomical feature. The ancient Maya symbolists seem to have been more adaptable and creatively flexible in their identifications than we are often willing to be.
I also think the giant maw as the Xibalba be rift in the Milky Way also seems unlikely.
JMJ: The concept of the xibalba be as monster mouth is derived first from David
Kelley's 1987 (or '89) paper (see the bibliography in my book), and seems
likely when you consider the complex of mouth-portal-door-cave-vagina symbology that is comparable to the "road to the
underworld." In the Popol Vuh,
the Black Road speaks to the Hero Twins, suggesting that the dark-rift / Xibalba be either has or is a mouth. Mouth and tail symbology is usually interchangeable (or can work both
ways) in a dialectic cosmology; e.g., the underworld is the night sky.
Furthermore, the Pleaides are the tzab
or serpent's rattle (tail). The Pleiades are near the
dim and diffuse area of the Milky Way whereas the xibalba
is near the bright and wide area of the Milky Way (near the
Galactic Center). Pleiades-Scorpius polarities,
whether or not we can agree on where the mouth and tail are, bear out an
indigenous recognition of an axis that we could call a
SM: Indeed, my study suggests the diagram should be reversed. If we follow the Bricker's layout of constellations and relate it to the Cosmic Monster, this places the Quadripartite monster on the tail in the area of the Milky Way rift and the head with its open jaws at the other intersection point of the Milky Way and the ecliptic—the summer solstice end. There is a serpent of sorts at the winter solstice end, however. I do agree with Linda that the White Bone Serpent jaw is at the rift end of the Milky Way (located in Scorpius). I also think she is right about Orion and the turtle, and the hearthstone stars, but these identifications are supported by ethnography and ethnohistory.
JMJ: As is my work with the dark-rift crossroads and the Fall of Seven Macaw symbolism at Izapa.
SM: I think that many scholars would agree that the Maya knew their larger calendar cycle would come to an end at the winter solstice, but why they structured it to begin in August of 3113 B.C. remains mysterious. If you suggest that the Maya understood precession by the time they first recorded the Long Count calendar in about A.D. 250, then you have to say that the people of Chiapas and Veracruz understood this concept even earlier, for this is where the earliest Long Count dates are found.
JMJ: La Venta alignments indicate a precise orientation to circumpolar stars around 1200 BC. That these alignments shifted with precession leaves us wondering how the Olmec could not have noticed precession. Long Count monuments from the first-century BC, Izapa context and alignments, etc etc, I've addressed these issues and questions in my book.
SM: I think from my brief look at your paragraphs that people will find It difficult to follow the leap between connecting Izapa iconography (with no date—why include this?). . .
JMJ: I included that because, even though it contains no date, Stela 11 faces the December solstice sunrise and, most importantly, it symbolizes the sun in the dark-rift, as does the identical symbology on Copan Stela C.
SM: . . . and Copan Stela C, which has a date that is close to the solstice, but not exactly on that date. The sun would pass through the rift for more than a month, so I am not sure why you are stating the Naval Observatory information, implying such precision, unless you are making an even bigger leap to say the Maya understood exactly where the Galactic equator was located in relation to the solstice meridian—things that we have only been able to determine in the last century. I suspect you are only trying to say that the sun was crossing the rift at this time—why bring in the supposed error of six years, which is based on your calculations rather than any recorded by the Maya? These days you only need to refer to the computer program you are using to generate sky maps for the epoch, and this is sufficient proof because anyone can check using the same or similar programs.
JMJ: I don't require the 6-year precision, I wanted to point out that the Maya of Copan were interested in when, during the solar year, the sun occupies the dark-rift. The sun is in the dark-rift every year for not more than 14 days, and the precise midpoint would be the Maya's conceptual equivalent of the Galactic equator. The Galactic equator's visual equivalent is the Milky Way itself and, more precisely, the dark-rift itself. These features were known to the Maya long before modern astronomy named them abstractly. If a precise polarity between solar nadir passage and New Fire observations is allowable, why not a similar level of accuracy as to when the sun most precisely occupies the dark-rift?
SM: I would not model yourself on Linda if you are trying to reach other scholars. Linda did some fairly imaginative things in her interpretations, but she combined this with a knowledge of Maya glyphic writing--so many people took the proof to be in the texts she translated. By the time she developed these ideas in 1992, she was facing a death sentence after a major cancer operation and she had become very mystical. She also had years of publishing very scholarly articles with detailed analysis of the glyphs, so people were ready to believe her, especially when she made a dramatic presentation in front of hundreds of her fans at the Maya meeting in 1992. Only Linda got away with such intuitive leaps, and this was because she had a compelling style of presentation. On paper, lots of what she wrote about astronomy in her more recent work simply will not stand the test of time. Her Code of Kings was written when she was dying, and I am sure none was going to tell her they disagreed—much less her co-author, Peter Mathews.
JMJ: Thank you for clarifying the context of Schele's work—I didn't know that her diagnosis went back to 1992. I do believe that her emphasis on the deep relationship between Mayan mythology and astronomy is correct. However, my work is not derived from hers nor does it rest upon a foundation of her thought. Our shared use of the Milky Way-ecliptic cross is about as far as it goes, and that feature as you know, is supported by Girard and in the Popol Vuh. I agree that many of Schele's astronomical descriptions are inaccurate, but the identification of the cross formed by the Milky Way and the ecliptic as a creation place is on target. The problem is that the other crossroads near the dark-rift (near Sag-Scorp) didn't concern her. Caves and crosses sound familiar? Thrones and portals? Chen?
SM: I know it is frustrating not to be heard, but it is all in how you tell the story. I faced resistance when I first published in the 1980s and I am still working on convincing people, but only by slowly building up to my book with a series of articles. The way you build your "case" that makes all the difference, especially when we cannot definitively prove anything.
JMJ: I've told the story very clearly and carefully, on the Aztlan list, in my seven books and many articles, and in personal correspondence. I've addressed all questions with open consideration of possible flaws and misconceptions. One thing that I think is needed is a forum of critique and discussion, to address the basic premise of my book and really ask ourselves if there is enough interdisciplinary analysis and assemblage of evidence for it to be taken seriously. I believe there is. It's all organized and presented in a detailed and clear way in my book. The problem is that the book is not being read. For example, though he was made aware of my thesis, John Carlson said he would intentionally not read my book. I was surprised at such a closed-door policy. Something about being unduly influenced...?
Galileo implored the intellectual deacons of his day to examine the evidence he had found, that there were heavenly bodies not revolving around the earth. But they refused to peer through his telescope for fear of being infected by demons.
In regard to a forum, I am designing a grant proposal for The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. The intention will be to have an officially sanctioned and mediated dialogue with Mayanists, astronomers, and other specialists, to open channels of communication and provide an opportunity for interested scholars to take a real look at my work. This can take place in a conference setting or, more likely, via an e-list that would be set up for the purpose. Results, critique, and conclusions would be published, and participating scholars would be compensated for their time with an honorarium from the Foundation.
This can be an objective forum and should help us all understand more deeply where the issues are. Whether or not the proposal is successful depends on having scholars pre-agree to participate. Would you be interested in participating in such a forum? Please let me know, as such a conference might improve the general consensus appreciation for the astronomical content of Maya traditions. Thank you for your time and consideration, Best wishes,
John M Jenkins
Final note: The invitation to be part of a committee dialogue was declined.