Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part VI

Continuing with Brant A. Gardner’s rationale of John L. Sorenson’s skewed Land of Promise directions, along with our responses.
Gardner: “The Mesoamerican system is not a replica of our Western understanding of cardinal directions, even though it is often described using Western directional terms.”
Response: It is interesting that only LDS Mesoamerican scholars and theorists discuss a different directional system for pan-Mesoamerica; however, other scholars working in this area do not. As an example, Dr. Lars Kirkhusmo Pharo (left), a Norwegian Research Associate at the Moses Mesoamerican Archive, Harvard University and Research Associate at the Institute for Signifying Scriptures (ISS), Claremont Graduate University, and associated with the project "Globalization of Knowledge" at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (MPIWG) in Berlin, and also a professor at the University of Oslo, is an expert in culture, history, languages, writing systems and religions on the American continent, as well as deciphering of the Mayan writing systems.
    She is also considered proficient in Latino and African American cultural history, Judaism in America, mission, religion and politics, translations of the New Testament, indigenous cultural history in North and Latin America. In short, her credentials are above reproach.
    In her book The Ritual Pratice of Time: Philosophy and Sociopolitics of Mesoamerica, she states: “In Mesoamerican cosmology the world is oriented after four cardinal directions, represent the north, south, east and west where every cardinal point was respectively symbolized by a color as in The Codex Pèrez and The Book of Chilam Balam of Mani.” In addition, much of the ritual, rights, ceremonies, days, events, etc., are associated with the four cardinal directions, “where the Burners are associated with the world directions and the winal (4th digit on the Maya Long Count) and the unial (unit of time).” The bearer of the uinal to the east, or the one to the north, or the one to the west, and the one to the south, which are the four cardinal points or directions of the world. Thus, according to Robert Redfield and A. Villa Rojas “the world, the village and the milpa (crop growing system used throughout Mesoamerica) are thought of as squares with four corners lying in the four cardinal points of the compass and with defined central points” (Robert Redfield and Alfonso Villa Rojas, “Chan Kom, a Mayan village,” Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication, 448. 1934; Redfield, “A Village that Chose Progress: Chan Kom Revisited, University of Chicago Press, 1957).
    This is also acknowledged by Barbara Tedlock in a landmark book of the ethnographic study of the Maya and their ritual and cosmology among the contemporary Quiché Indians of highland Guatemala, in which her work on the four-directional “authoritative symbol” or “root metaphor” of Mesoamerican religion and world view and the world directional system are outlined (Barbara Tedlock “Time and the Highland Maya,” University of New Mexico Press, 1982).
    Also found in Gabrielle Vail and Matthew G. Looper’s works in which shifts in directional affiliations are from east to north, not in common cardinal points, referring to “sun god K’inich Ahaw and the jaguar” for east years, and “creator Itzamna and the maize god” for north years, “death god” for west years and the “god of lightening and sustenance K’awil” for south years (Vail and Looper, World renewal rituals among the Postclassic Yucatec Maya and contemporary Ch’orti’ Maya,” in Estudios de Cultura Maya, New College of Florida and California Sate Universsity, 2015 , p126).
    There is, by the way, no mention throughout any of these works of these four cardinal points of the world being anything other than those commonly understood. Nor is there mention of a pan-Mesoamerican directional system being different in any way from that commonly understood.
Gardner: “While both systems are used to describe the real world and share some base characteristics, there is an incomplete overlap in meaning between the two systems. That incomplete overlap in meaning is too often hidden when we use the terms from the Western system of cardinal directions to describe the Mesoamerican system.”
Response: As shown above, that is simply the Mesoamericanist way of interpreting things. The works cited are quite clear and deal with the agricultural development of early man in the area, in which cardinal compass points are extremely important since alignment with sun, solstices, equinoxes, etc., can mean the difference between life-sustaining crops and death from failure.
    In fact, in My cities, ceremonial buildings were precisely aligned with compass directions. At the spring and fall equinoxes, for example, the Sun might be made to cast its rays through small openings in a Maya observatory, lighting up the observatory's interior walls. Other alignments might relate to the exteriors of temples and palaces.
The observatory at Chichén Itzá. In addition, the one at Tulum, was originally named Zama, which means “sunrise” and faced east out over the sea

The most famous example of this kind of alignment can be observed at Chichén Itzá the principal Maya city of the Yucatán Peninsula. People still gather there each year, as they have for centuries, to observe the sun illuminate the stairs of a pyramid dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent god. At the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the Sun gradually illuminates the pyramid stairs and the serpent head at its base, creating the image of a snake slithering down the sacred mountain to Earth.
Gardner: “Unlike our four cardinal directions, the Mesoamerican system had five “directions.” Four have similarities to our north, south, east and west, but the fifth “direction” was the center (which has no Western counterpart). To our Western understanding, the center doesn’t seem like a direction, but it was nevertheless a very important part of the Mesoamerican method of orientation in the world.
Response: This is not entirely true nor accurate. In the Mesoamerican Compass Rose, which is based on the Mesoamerican map of the world discovered in the Codex Fejéváry-Mayer. The fifth direction is home (not a separate cardinal direction), or more accurately their maps “included a central section that relates to where home is.” From there, “extending outward from the center are the cardinal directions that we know with representations of life within them, which also include temples, altars, dots to mark the 260-day-calendar (20 named days counted thirteen times), and gods. These gods, with Zipe-Totec, or Flayed One, presided over the East, which is the most sacred direction (god of gold, vegetation, and seasons); Huitzilopochtli, the Hummingbird, presided over the South (god of war and sacrifice); Quetzalcoatl, or Flying Serpent, presided over the West (god of wind, light and justice); Texcatlipoca, or Smoking Mirror, presided over the North (god of earth, day, and night), and Ehecatl, one of the creator gods (god of all cardinal directions and wind).
    These words and hieroglyphs of the Classic Maya, the Colonial Maya, and the modern Maya for the “four directions,” have been a subject of study and interest ever since Martínez Hernández discovered them 1926. Sixteenth-century sources provided the words used by the Yucatec Maya for the directions. The terms were East, lik’in or lak’in; North, xaman; West, chik’in; and South, nohol. These are still the terms used by Mayas of the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan family (Barrera Vásquez, 1980, in The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs: The Classic period inscriptions, by Macri and Looper, Vol.I, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2003, p291)
There are four directions in the Maya directional system and each is associated with specific colors: East is ‘red’, North is ‘white, West is ‘black’, and South is ‘yellow’. The fifth color term, ‘blue/green’ is associated with the ‘Center,’ or home

The color terms were critical to the decipherment of the directional glyphs, because while Léon de Rosny (1876) identified the glyphs as standing for directions, he did not know which glyph stood for which direction. Once the color terms were deciphered, the relationship between colors and directions that pervades the Colonial sources made it possible to assign specific directions to each of the glyphs. There are also directional relationships with Moon (north), Night (west), Venus (south), and Day or Sun (east).
    However, the extreme chaos of terms for ‘north’ and ‘south’ reinforces the idea that these “directions” were almost irrelevant since directional orientation was based on the movements of the sun, east to west, and the other two “directions” of lesser importance.
    In the cardinal directions ‘east’ and ‘west,’ ‘East’ is the entire section of the horizon where the sun rises during the year, from solstice to solstice and back again. This quadrant is represented in site layout by the E-group complexes found at Uaxactun and elsewhere (Sylvanus G. Morley, The Ancient Maya,  Stanford: Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1946/1968, Fig. 3)
    The center of home of the directional quadrant or system has a location, but not a directional meaning. That is, the center is like home, or where on is at the time. It is a term used by the Maya to suggest the center of a quadrant, such as “the center of the sky” when looking at the sky in directions, i.e., the North, the East, the South, the West, and the Center of those four cardinal directions(Nicholas A. Hopkins and J. Kathryn Josserand, “Directions and Partitions in Maya World View,” Florida State University)
(See the next post, “The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part VII,” and the continuation of directions in Gardner’s rationale of Sorenson’s skewed Land of Promise, along with our responses)

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