Raising Awareness and Understanding of Traditional Timekeeping

By Geraldine Patrick Encina and Mindahi Bastida Muñoz

The year 2012 was filled with expectation, particularly for three groups of people: astronomers, specialists in the cultures of Mexico, and the general public, that developed a fascination for “the end of time” or “the end of the world “.

For astronomers, the focus was on the transit of Venus. From the perspective of an observer on Earth, Venus synodic cycles have a periodicity of 583.92 days. This means that if, for example, the heliacal rising as a morning star is recorded on a certain date, the repetition of this phenomenon will occur in a little over a year and a half.

During the synodic cycle of Venus (Figure 1), Venus is first seen at sunrise over the eastern horizon. Each day it appears at a higher point until, after about five months, it begins to descend. If all the spots where it appears daily were connected, the line would resemble a closed clamp. The journey as morning star takes 263 days (almost nine months). Then Venus becomes invisible because its orbital trajectory is covered by the Sun from our perspective. That trajectory lasts on average 50 days. Then Venus appears for the first time as an evening star, sinking into the western horizon at nightfall. Again, it draws a closed clamp in an average time of 263 days, only this time, it does so in the sunset sky. When no longer visible, Venus is known to be traveling between the Sun and Earth. This journey is 8 days long; then the synodic cycle of Venus begins again.

Figure 1. Two aspects of Venus during a synodic cycle of 584 days. The synodic cycle is the time that goes by for Venus to repeat the same event, as observed from Earth.

Due to the obliqueness of its orbit and ours, the frequency with which Venus gets to transit right in front of the solar disk is very particular: 105.5, 8, 121.5 and 8 years. All other times it passes in front of the solar helium, but not in front of the face of the Sun. The transit implies that Venus can be seen (under ideal conditions of observation of the Sun and with dark, thick lenses) as a mole in front of the Sun, which indicates that Sun-Venus-Earth are aligned.

One such transit occurred in 2004 and could be observed in Asia. Astronomers knew that in 2012 it would be witnessed from Mexico, so the vast majority gathered to see the phenomenon in the same place. I was there, at the Cañada de la Virgen archaeological site, Guanajuato, along with my colleagues from the Archaeoastronomy Seminary (Figure 2). The long-awaited date was June 5, 2012.

Figure 2. Venus transit ‘eclipsing’ the Sun on June 5, 2012. Photo by Ricardo Moyano, taken with a dark lens, in Cañada de la Virgen, Guanajuato.

For their part, the academic specialists in Maya culture were attentive to December 21, 2012, since they had calculated the closure of the great 13 Bak’tun cycle for that date. Both they and Guatemala’s timekeepers participated in costly programs to promote the Maya culture in academic and tourist contexts, giving lectures and producing specialized books and documentaries. In general, they gave little relevant information from the Mesoamerican perspective of astronomy and calendars. That date was not correct, as it was written in stone that the closing of 13 Bak’tun would occur when the evening Venus and the Moon were in the same configuration as at the beginning of the great cycle: both about to emerge from the primordial waters. Metaphorically, they would be ‘birthed’ and at the same time ‘give birth’ to the time-space of the corn people. Such closing of 13 Bak’tun occurred on May 3, 2013, which is 4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’iin on the Ja’ab or Maya year, a year upheld by year-bearer Kaban (Movement), as I have published since 2013.

That evening Venus of May 3, 2013 would emerge from the waters after having acted as a morning star for almost nine months and also spending fifty days of invisibility. Taking into account what the Otomí-Toltec and Maya creation stories tell about the beginning and closing of great cycles, the state of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli—the impersonator of morning star—must have been comparable to that of a warrior after a battle.

On June 5, 2012, day 10 Rabbit, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli wearing a Rabbit mask, pierced the Sun with his spear: that was the day of the transit. Five days later, on day 2 Reed, he entered the dawn sky, circumambulating it for almost nine months with bloody hands from the recent execution. After that time, he immersed himself in the primordial waters, an act of purification that allowed him to emerge fifty days later in his evening aspect, now prepared to close the 13 Bak’tun cycle.

So, 2012 was definitely key in the Mesoamerican conception of completion of large cycles, but not for the reasons that scholars of the Maya gave about the closing of 13 Bak’tun on December 21, 2012. In fact, they had no way to prove that date was any different from other December solstices.

The record of the year 2012 was in charge of the Otomí-Toltec astronomer-priests, not of the Maya. It was pre-calculated by them thanks to their observation of Venus and of solar and lunar eclipses —all of which are interpreted as causing endings of times, eras or suns. That calculation was possible due to the knowledge cultivated for hundreds of years in articulation with the so-called ‘Olmecs’, who were inhabitants of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and speakers of Mixe-Zoque, a language related to Hñahñu-Otomí, Tenek, Cholano and Yucatec Maya. It was from the ‘Olmecs’ that the Maya inherited astronomical knowledge and the calendrical system,[1] noting that May 3 is extremely important, as it is the date when evening star Venus opens the rainy season from its northernmost position on the western horizon.

The Otomí-Toltec astronomer-priests wanted to imprint the date of the closing of the Fifth Sun on the strongest and most durable material available to them: a basaltic megalith of more than twenty-four tons, with a diameter of almost 360 centimeters. The date recorded was 4 Movement of the year 13 Reed, where the sign for 4 Movement is highlighted in Figure 3 in blue and the sign for 13 Reed appears in the red square at the upper end of the stone. The 4 Movement tonal would also occur 260 days later, in Year 1 Flint. For the Otomí-Toltecs, the closing of times have always been in year 13 Reed, which occurs every 52 years and its multiples.

But this particular ending deserved to be recorded in stone to ensure that the population of these times (2012) was prepared for the events caused by 4 Movement —which can be interpreted in association with fire, air, water and earth.


Figure 3. Stone of the Suns. The sign in red in the upper portion records year 13 Carrizo and the sign in blue is tonal Movement, surrounded by four small beads. It is day 4 Movement of year 13 Reed, and it is an Otomí date. The year 1 Flint, also highlighted in red, is the opening year after a 52-year cycle closes in 13 Reed. The tonal 4 Movement happened on March 26, 2012 and 260 days later, on December 11, 2012.[2] On the first date, evening Venus and the Moon were in conjunction. On the second, morning Venus and the Moon were in conjunction. The Venus-Moon conjunction phenomenon denotes eclipse times.

In addition to the two dates 4 Movement, among which visible eclipses would occur in Mesoamerica, another date that stands out on the Stone is 1 Rain of the Otomí year 1 Flint (Figure 4). This date occurred nine days before 10 Rabbit, equivalent to June 5, 2012. We know that up until recently, a nine-day ritual used to be traditionally performed to avoid calamities before the imminent arrival of an eclipse. On day 10 Rabbit Venus eclipsed the Sun. In the interim, the Moon was also eclipsed, on day 8 Death. Five days after 10 Rabbit, [3] Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli appeared in the dawn sky. That date, 2 Reed, shows in the Borgia Codex, p.53, with an omen that coincides with the dramatic closing of the Fifth Sun, for it depicts Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with a Rabbit mask overthrowing a ruler (see Figures 6 and 8).

Figure 4. Central portion of the Stone of the Suns. The lower date is 1 Rain of the Otomí year 1 Flint (which is equivalent to the Mexica 13 Flint year), and it is translated to May 27, 2012. The Rabbit and Death tonal dates are symbolic. 10 Rabbit alludes to the Rabbit mask worn by Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli in the Borgia Codex for this event.


Pages 53 and 54 of the Borgia Codex (Figures 5 and 6) show an almanac for all dates of heliacal risings of morning Venus for 104 years. In addition, it shows the effects that the rising of the morning star will have in the world: seas and rivers; freshwater mountains; cultivation fields; government structures and among the general population. This almanac shows that Venus observers found that the morning star produces five types of effects, all harmful to life and distinguishable from one another.

Venus experiences five different synodic cycles in an eight-year period. This means that if the first one in the sequence of five synodic cycles is taken as a referent, its repetition will occur after eight years. For example, the cycle that started with the heliacal rising of morning Venus in June 2012 would be repeated in June 2020 and then in 2028, and so on.

Each of the synodic cycles begins at a different time in the solar year. Currently, the five times of the year that see a heliacal rising of morning Venus are: in mid-August, on day or in tonal Cipactli (Crocodile) –see Box 1 of the almanac, Figure 5; at the end of March  in tonal Cóatl (Serpent) –Box 2 of Figure 6; at the beginning of November  in tonal Atl (Water) –Box 3; in the second week of June  in tonal Ácatl (Reed) –Box 4; and in mid-January  in tonal Ollin (Movement) –Box 5. The effects of the rising of the morning star are verifiable within a great cycle of 104 years.[4]

Figure 5. Lower left portion of page 54 of the Borgia Codex.
This is Box 1 of the Almanac of heliacal risings of morning Venus with omens of the acts by his personification, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli. This Box 1 is framed by 13 Cipactli (Crocodile) dates which are taken one by one, every eight years. Cipactli is the first tonal of the Tonalpohualli (the 260-day Pan-Mesoamerican cycle). The omen is that Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with the face of Death will harm beings from the seas, lagoons or rivers. Currently these morning risings of Venus take place in mid-August every eight years.


Figure 6. Page 53 of the Borgia Codex. The reading begins at the bottom, from right to left. Box 2 of the Almanac is for heliacal risings of morning Venus in tonal Cóatl (Serpent). The omen says that the Eagle-headed Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli will hurt the springs. Currently these risings occur at the end of March every eight years. Box 3 is for heliacal risings in tonal Atl (Water). The omen says that Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with the face of a Dog will cause the cultivating fields to be filled with pests that will attack the corn. Currently these risings occur in early November every eight years. Box 4 is for heliacal risings in tonal Ácatl (Reed). The omen says that Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with the face of a Rabbit will cause the deposing of rulers. Currently these risings occur in the first weeks of June every eight years. Box 5 is for heliacal risings in tonal Ollin (Movement). The omen says that Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with the face of Death will provoke war and hunger. Currently these risings take place in mid-January every eight years. Image of Akademische Druk – U. Verlagsanstalt – Graz at famsi.org.


The transit of Venus in front of the solar disk occurred on June 5, 2012 which is 10 Rabbit of the Otomí year 1 Flint. After five days Venus made a first heliacal rising. The date was June 10, 2012, day 2 Reed. According to the almanac on page 53 of the Borgia Codex (Figure 8), this date reveals the burden of overthrowing a ruler, an act carried out by Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with the face of a Rabbit.

In 2012, this burden was particularly heavy, as the Fifth Sun that ruled for 1040 years was to be terminated. The second half of that cycle, that is, the 520 years between 1492 and 2012, were extremely violent and destructive due to the invasion with the Christian cross and firearms. The closing of the Fifth Sun would certainly bring the unveiling of traumas accumulated by all the generations that have lived in resistance since that bloody 1492. The closing would indeed be stormy and painful, not only for the corn people, but also for the land of their ancestors.

For the Olmec—and later Maya—priest-astronomers, the key moment of closing of the great cycle would be that in which Venus emerged renewed as an evening star (Figure 7). This event would be linked to the birth of the 13 Bak’tun cycle, which was so cherished in Palenque, Yaxchilán, Cobá and Copán—to name a few places. The personified evening Venus was Deity GI (her jadeite face appears in Figure 7), and great Maya rulers—men and women—claimed to come from her lineage only.

Deity GI established order in the world through calendars and ceremonies, instructing corn people to maintain proper behavior, and promising in return copious rains, fertility and continuity of biocultural societies. With birth date 9 Ik’ (9 Wind), it is the same deity that the Otomí-Toltecs called K’eya Maxi, the Mexica called Quetzalcóatl or 9 Ehécatl, and the Itzá called Kukulkán.

May 3 (3 K’ank’iin) is the day that best characterizes the agency of this Pan-Mesoamerican deity, whose rituals are held at the summits of mountains that look to the west. With the deity’s breath of life, that day sees the opening of the season of rain, corn and abundance.

Figure 7. Representation of the trajectory of Venus beginning at the transit date that occurred on June 5, 2012. After five days it made a heliacal rising as a morning star, remaining 263 days in the dawn sky. Then, after being submerged in the primordial sea for fifty days, it emerged renewed on May 3, 2013. This is the narrative that can be read by integrating the Otomí calendrical and astronomical information from the Stone of the Suns and the Maya information from Stela 1 of Cobá and the Tablet of the Cross of Palenque. The jadeite face corresponds to the Deity GI, Venus. On its obverse is marked the date of the beginning of the great cycle of 13 Bak’tun.


The closing moment of 13 Bak’tun, although linked to that beautiful birthing of the corn people, also implied a deep cleansing in every way, materially and spiritually. For thirteen years the Bacabs supporting the world, the five sacred Ceiba or Yaxché trees, would remain fallen. That cleansing would take place mainly in that thirteen-year period.

Every time a Bak’tun is completed (i.e. 400 Tunes of 360 days) the same happens. While the Bacabs are down, all kinds of calamities occur. In the Chilam Balam of Chumayel we read these verses from the Ritual of the Bacabs:

In these stanzas we note that the agent of destruction is Bolón ti ku. It is the same Bolon Yokte’ K’uh that, around 650 C.E., was invoked by the ruler of Tortuguero, Tabasco, who was seeing prolonged droughts and famines impacting the territory at the time. [5]

Bolon Yokte’ K’uh is the personification of planet Mars, and it is a deity that calls for violent destruction. It is important to note that that ruler, Bahlam Ajaw, pointed out that, upon the completion of 13 Bak’tun, we would witness Bolon Yokte’ K’uh “in his great investiture ”, while making no allusion to the resurgence of evening Venus. Certainly, Mars emerged in the dawn sky on May 3, 2013. But why did Bahlam Ajaw choose to resort to the auspices of Mars, plundering in his name, while his Palenque relatives remained loyal to Deity GI, evening Venus? Why, if his relatives’ vision was one of evening Venus emerging from the primordial waters once again at the closing of 13 Bak’tun, Bahlam Ajaw instead exalted Mars’s rising? One path and philosophy of life is that of Palenque peoples, who honor 9 Ik ’, Venus, the breath of life, the rain bringer and the fertilizer of corn. It is the kind of thinking that relies on the re-harmonization of the world after thirteen years of experiencing unsettling agitation and shifting of forces while the Bacabs remain fallen. The other way is to take up arms, annihilate the defenseless and loot to survive while better times come.

Today—and exactly on November 3, 2019—we have gone through half of the 13-year cycle in which the Bacabs remain fallen. These are the most critical times, in which all kinds of disasters and distress combine in nature and in our society. You can review what has been going on, from the recent locust plague in North Africa, to the intercontinental invasion of killer wasps, and to the bat-borne coronavirus in China. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and melting of the polar icecaps and glaciers in the summits are becoming increasingly frequent and intense.

But none of this is just of natural cause. The ancestors did not record what would happen each time the Bacabs fall so to accept a fatal predestination. On the contrary, they recorded it so that biocultural societies could contribute to maintaining a high resilience of ecological and socio-ecological systems. By maintaining that resilience, damage from natural impacts would be reduced. Likewise, when the time of the falling of the Bacabs came, there would be an opportunity to make a review of consciousness and a rectification of the behaviors that threaten the harmonious continuity of life.

The destruction we are now witnessing is the result of the execution of the mandate to dominate nature and exterminate native peoples —those who have developed a responsible way of life with the land, understanding their purpose of caring for life, a mandate of Mother Earth’s. Modern societies continue to reproduce the acts of oppression and domination ordered in 1493 —and even half a century earlier— by two popes that deserve no mention. They are acts at the micro and macro scale that affect the individual and collective psyche, and that are based on the principle of free will and the belief in Christian salvation. Laws and rules are written by common agreement of a group of interest, but that interest is avaricious, and the rules can be violated at any time.

Instead, the original societies are organized based on the mandates of Mother Earth to care for the germs and sources of life. There is no free will at all. One lives—both in the world of life and of dreams, and in that of the spirits of plants and animals and of the dead—with the awareness that all thought and act become a germ and principle of life and regeneration. It cannot be otherwise, or there will be dire consequences.

Almanacs, carved stones, pyramids and ceremonial centers, bequeathed by the Otomí-Toltec and Maya cultures, integrated a system of coordination with Mother Earth and celestial bodies, a guideline for thought and action. Every act must be previously consulted: the germ of thought must be presented before the table or the altar of the family house. This table represents the generosity, abundance and unconditional love of Mother Earth, as well as her all-encompassing consciousness, in which ours expands.

The biggest problem among ‘modernized’ native populations is demeaning the ability of foremothers and fathers to interpret nature’s signs, and not being able to read and interpret almanacs anymore. It is our responsibility to cultivate knowledge and perform traditional ceremonies, as well as to agree to and enforce laws based on the mandates of Mother Earth. Along with allies with open minds to listen to and respect the wisdom of Peoples, the vast majority of society—already emancipated from patriarchy—has an immense responsibility to prevent disasters from having such destructive effects that there may no longer be an opportunity for ecosystems and biomes to regenerate.

On June 5, 2020 we are living an entire eight-year cycle of Venus with the same effects as those brought about by the transit of Venus in 2012. Due to the lack of an ethical and civil attitude at the height of the teachings of the ancestors for the care of life, the effects are being much more serious than in 2012. Furthermore, the phenomenon of the Moon eclipsed on the same June 5, 2020 has come to exacerbate the way in which conflicts are perceived and responded to. Even more, the eclipse of the Sun on June 21 will also affect, particularly because the relation of the Earth with the Sun will be one of maximum separation, and they will be aligned not only with the Moon, but with several planets. These are ideal conditions for earthquakes.

Those who head institutions that have allowed the outcome of disasters (contaminated waters, lack of water, hunger, plagues and civil confrontations) to states of irreversibility will be removed (Figure 8). Such is the forecast for the Morning Venus Almanac of the Otomí and Mexica presented here.

Everything we are experiencing would have been avoided if the orders of domination, extermination and evangelization had been suspended; if the impulse of war and violence did not exist; if the Aristotelian object-subject binomial had been discarded; if the Cartesian methods of variable control had been ruled out. Everything we are about to live will depend on the collective human dignity to put a stop to the institutions that do not work to ensure a harmonious living with Earth.

Figure 8. Table 4 of the Morning Venus Almanac, page 53 of the Borgia Codex. The omen is for all dates that are separated by eight years, on which morning Venus rises on day Ácatl. On June 10, 2012, when morning Venus dawned, it was 2 Ácatl (box in red). The omen was misfortune and the end of rulers. Eight years later, on June 10, 2020, morning Venus dawns on day 10 Ácatl (box in blue). The omen is reiterated: misfortune and end of rulers.

The time has come to renew the contract with Mother Earth, to once again adopt her mandate. Only in this way will Bacabs, the supporting trees of the sky and the earth, stand up and bring a sense of biocultural harmony once again. Our consciousness and energies must come together to prepare for the ceremony to be held at the rising of the five Bacabs on May 3, 2026. There are Maya communities who have been rehearsing this ceremony for thousands of years. Our responsibility is that it be done with all the protocol and due respect to the ancient tradition.

It is a task that is based on the Unification Process, where the agencies of communities, nature, institutions and the cosmos unite in the purpose of caring for life, guided by the law of origin, the law of nature and the law of Mother Earth.

[1] This knowledge was applied by the Maya between the pre-Classic (600 B.C.) and the Terminal Classic (around 1,100 B.C.), retaining some of the elements until around 1820, as can be seen in historical documents of the Yucatan Peninsula.

[2] Both dates were recorded for year 1544 (also a year 13 Reed – 1 Flint) by Friar Diego Durán (Durán 1570; 1967, Vol. I:105).

[3] The five counted days are: 11 Water, 12 Dog, 13 Monkey, 1 Grass, 2 Reed.

[4] After this time the almanac is recalibrated, since the heliacal risings of Venus occur a month earlier when compared to those of 104 years ago.

[5] Kennett, D.J. et al. (2012) “Development and Disintegration of Maya Political Systems in Response to Climate Change.” Science, Vol. 338, No. 6108, pp.788-791, 9 November 2012. The authors propose “that anomalously high rainfall favored unprecedented population expansion and the proliferation of political centers between 400 and 600 C.E. This was followed by a drying trend between 600 and 1000 C.E. that triggered the balkanization of polities, followed, followed by population by population collapse in the context of an extended drought between 1020 and 110 C.E.”