The Moon and its Weeks in Ancient Mexico*

by Bruce Scofield

The peoples of ancient Mexico knew the sky well. They observed the motions of the Sun, Moon, and planets and charted them using a sophisticated kind of mathematics. This sky knowledge was used for time-keeping and making almanacs and calendars, which were produced for astrological purposes as well as. As in other cultures, points in the sky were linked to gods, goddesses, myths, and fables. Most of us know something about the gods and myths of ancient Egypt or Greece. Few know much about ancient Mexico, the land of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples even though they have left us an equally rich mythic and astrological tradition.

The Moon played an important role in folklore, calendars, and astrology in ancient Mexico. In the West, the Moon has long been associated with the feminine aspect of life. In Mexico it had associations with both sexes. For example, the Moon was linked with a number of goddesses including Mayahuel, a beautiful young goddess of the useful maguey plant. This plant was the source of many practical household items and also a powerful alcoholic beverage. This drink, called pulque, is made from the milky sap of the plant that oozes out when one of its many thick and pointed leaves is cut. Like the many "milk-giving" leaves of the plant, Mayahuel herself is sometimes depicted as having 400 breasts, certainly an indication of the nurturing properties of this goddess.

An important mythic story about the Moon links it to a male deity. The tale begins with all the gods converging at the end of an age and debating as to how they will make the world start again. For the world to start, the Sun must rise -- but there was no Sun. Two gods volunteered to sacrifice themselves in a communal bonfire in order to start the new age. One, Tecciztecatl (Tek-kiz-tay-catl), fasted and did penances. After the fourth cycle of penances he rushed at the fire. As he approached it he felt the intense heat and backed away. Four times he attempted this self-immolation and failed. At this point the other gods became concerned and turned to Nanauatzin (Na-now-ot-zeen), the other volunteer. His response was immediate. He shut his eyes and ran into the flames. Tecciztecatl, now humiliated, followed him on his successful fifth attempt. As they burned in the fires an eagle flew down into the flames and joined them. Then an ocelot came by and it too entered the fire. The rest of the gods waited to see what would happen now.

After a long time the dawn came. After another long wait the Sun rose in the east -- and the gods knew that this was Nanauatzin who had been transformed by his sacrifice. Next came another sun, equally bright, that the gods knew was Tecciztecatl. They conferred amongst themselves and decided that there could be only one bright Sun. One of them grabbed a rabbit and threw it in the face of the second sun, wounding it and darkening it. And so, the Moon became the lesser of the two orbs and it still shows its blemishes from the impact of the rabbit. Throughout ancient Mexico people never saw a man-in-the-Moon, they saw a rabbit. As for the eagle and the ocelot, they became the patrons of the two military orders. The eagle warriors were the most daring and fought by day, the ocelot warriors were stealth fighters who operated during the night.

The Moon played an important role in ancient Mesoamerican (middle America, i.e. Mexico and northern Central America) astrology. The astrologers of this region noticed that blocks of time had different and specific qualities. They recognized that the rising and setting of the Sun every day establishes the basic time unit -- the day. Their great discovery was a 20-day cycle, similar in many ways to a biorhythm. Each day in the 20-day cycle has specific qualities, similar to the signs of the Western zodiac. Each has a name, a symbol, and a delineation.(1) They also noticed how fast the Sun and Moon moved across the sky. In one day, the Moon moves as far as the Sun does in 13 days. Also, in one year, the Moon cycles with the Sun 13 times. These are two major reasons why the number 13 came to be the most powerful number in ancient Mexican astrology.

The most powerful calendar of ancient Mexico was one that had 20 "weeks" of 13 days, a total of 260 days. This astrological calendar, or almanac, was (and still is) used for interpretation and forecasting, not for ordinary use. The twenty 13-day "weeks," known in Spanish as the Trecena (13ths), are basically lunar in nature since they represent the time taken for the Sun to match the Moon's daily travel. Each of the twenty 13-day periods has a specific meaning that is "generated" by the named solar day (the day-sign) that begins the period. These "first days" are numbered 1, followed by the name of the day.

Does the Trecena really work? Does it correlate with our lives and the trends of the time like the Western zodiac does? Those who are researching Mesoamerican astrology believe it does. They report that news events tend to reflect the nature of the 13-day period that is currently active. For example, when the period called 1-Reed occurs, people with strong and rigid opinions make news. A few years ago when 1-Reed began, opinionated radio host Rush Limbaugh appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. When 1-Vulture, a sign of politics, occurs we hear stories of complex political maneuvering in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. It also seems to be apparent that certain kinds of activities prosper in some periods but not in others. Ancient Mesoamerican astrologers used this astrological calendar when choosing the best times to do things -- what is called electional astrology in the West.

Below is a listing of the Trecena 13-day periods for 1997 with some delineations. I have included both the Aztec and Mayan names for the signs. The date given is the date the period begins. Remember, each period lasts for 13-days and functions like a zodiac signs. Each also has one of the ancient gods or goddesses as its ruler (according to Aztec tradition). Because many of the gods and goddesses have names difficult for Westerners to pronounce, I have only referred to them by name where appropriate. (2) The Trecena not only offers a description of current trends, but it is an index into personality. A birth occurring during a 13-day period is influenced by it. In fact, this was one of the uses of the Trecena in ancient Mexico. The 13-day periods were signs that described character and destiny. Close observers will notice that persons described by a specific 13-day period will often make news during its 13-day span of influence.

The Trecena in 1998-1999:

November 14: 1-Water/Muluc. It seems that in ancient times this period was considered to be difficult, if not just plain unfortunate. It appears today, however, that this is a time when we must deal with the messy aspects of life and also our own negative emotions. Those who are most unstable emotionally will be affected the most. There is a need for collective ventilation now.

November 27, 1998: 1-Wind/Ik. A fickle and restless period, one during which spiritual, strange, and even unstable people make the news or influence events. It is a time when control is weak, experiments are undertaken, and barriers are smashed.

December 10: 1-Eagle/Men. A time that favors self-interest. Rash decisions and actions, usually proven later to be problematic, are often in the news. Everyone seems to do a lot of thinking and talking about details, few see the big picture.

December 23: 1-Rabbit/Lamat. This period was said to be ruled by the goddess Mayahuel, the Moon goddess. It is a positive, productive period, a time when the public is moved or very enthusiastic about something. Popular heroes make the news.

January 5, 1999: 1-Alligator/Imix. This is a time when people struggle for security. Nationalism, schools, children, and family issues are often in the news. Creativity is enhanced during this period which was ruled by the creator god/goddess of the ancient Mexicans.

January 18: 1-Ocelot/Ix. Control over the passions seems to be the issue during this period. Reckless and prideful behaviors create problems, but psychological and technical insight finds solutions.

January 31: 1-Deer/Manik. In ancient times, when might and power ruled, this was said to be a time of peaceful, even timid, behaviors. Today, it appears that sensitivity to others, and the equality of the sexes, are important theme.

February 13, 1999: 1-Flower/Ahau. This is a time for demonstrating commitment to an ideal. It is a time of social progress and the settling of scores. People tend to respond to their feelings more during its influence making it a fine time for religion and the arts. This period was ruled by a coyote-like god known for wild dancing and irresponsible sexual activities.

February 26: 1-Reed/Ben. Strong minded people are born under this period. It is a time for rulings and decrees, treaties, judgments, promoting ideas, airing opinions, and debating policies. In ancient times it was considered an unfortunate period, probably because expressing your own ideas was not a good idea in a tightly controlled society. Its ruler was a goddess of storms and chaos.

March 11: 1-Death/Cimi. This is one of the periods ruled by the Moon itself. Its patron deity was Teccizcatl, the self-sacrificer who actually became the Moon when the present age was created. It is a time when people display devotion and dedication to collective causes and populist leaders. It is a powerful time for the common people.

March 24: 1-Rain/Cauac. In ancient times this period was feared and considered very unfortunate. It was said to be the time when sorcerers were born and demons came to earth. Typically, crashes, bombings, and takeovers make the news during this period. Openness to nature and the universe is a more positive interpretation. Tlaloc, the great rain god, was its ruler.

April 6: 1-Grass/Eb. The healing of rifts and settling of differences between individuals and nations, and health/illness issues often arise during this period. It is a time for healing and understanding. The ruler was the goddess Mayahuel and the general tendency during the period is for nurturing and healing to occur. Women or women's issues are prominent now also.

April 19: 1-Serpent/Chicchan. This period favors merchants and warriors -- it's a good time for traveling, for launching an expedition, or for going "boldly where none have gone before." In ancient Mexico soldiers marched to distant battles during this period. What you find today are confrontations, daring discoveries, and revelations of secrecy making the news.

May 2: 1-Knife/Etz'nab. Demonstrations of competency occur during this period. It was considered to be a time when skillful leaders emerged, or were born -- this still seems to be true. It is certainly a time for making choices and decisions. It was during this Trecena (August 15 - 28, 1998) that President Clinton made a public admission of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. This was certainly a challenging time for him regarding leadership.

May 15: 1-Monkey/Chuen. This is a time favorable for artists, musicians, dancers, and other creative types. Likewise, it favors creative activities. It is also a time of posturing and drama in politics. Traditionally, a second theme has to do with the diagnosis of disease and healing.

May 28: 1-Lizard/Kan. According to ancient Mexican sources this was one of the more positive periods. It does seem to favor youth and also great performances. People born now are said to be lucky and able to prosper without much effort. There is a premature side to its influence, however, and for all the show, strong actions taken now tend to fail.

June 10: 1-Earthquake/Caban. A more serious time, this period was said to be favorable only to those who did their penances. Tlazolteotl, a confession goddess, was the patron deity. Today it seems to be a time when political conditions become destabilized -- reforms are in the works and boundaries are shifting and changing. It was during this Trecena (January 6 - 19, 1998) that President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky became public knowledge.

June 23: 1-Dog/Oc. In ancient times this period was considered quite fortunate, a time when successful people were born. This seems to be (more or less) the case today, making it a good time for celebrations and cooperation.

July 6: 1-House/Akbal. A darker period, this one was said to be a time of trouble and vice. The patron deity was a goddess who haunted people in their sleep. Secret financial dealings, spy cases, group paranoia, and other such things may come to light during this time. It's probably a good time to come clean with the truth and not hide anything.

July 19: 1-Vulture/Cib. This is a time of tough decisions and testing, easy for those who are realistic and self-controlled, not so good for the sensitive or weak. It is a time of hard-ball politics. During this period we come to realize what is real and what is not. Some get depressed, others get to work.

August 1: 1-Water/Muluc. It seems that in ancient times this period was considered to be difficult, if not just plain unfortunate. It appears today, however, that this is a time when we must deal with the messy aspects of life and also our own negative emotions. Those who are most unstable emotionally will be affected the most. There is a need for collective ventilation now.

After 1-Water the cycle continues with 1-Wind. Water is not the first sign of the sequence, this just happens to be the order from the time this article was prepared for the website. Most believe that the Trecena actually begins with 1-Alligator and ends with 1-Rabbit. If this is so, then January 5th begins the cycle in 1999. Below are the dates for the rest of the Trecena in 1999. See above for descriptions.

August 14: 1-Wind/Ik

August 27: 1-Eagle/Men

September 9: 1-Rabbit/Lamat

September 22: 1-Alligator/Imix

October 5: 1-Oceltot/Ix

October 18: 1-Deer/Manik

October 31: 1-Flower/Ahau

November 13: 1-Reed/Ben

November 26: 1-Death/Cimi

December 9: 1-Rain/Cauac

December 22: 1-Grass/Eb

*This article originally appeared in Llewellyn's Moon Sign Book for 1997.

(1) See the author's book "Day-Signs: Native American Astrology From Ancient Mexico" in which each of the Day-Signs is delineation and the astrological calendar explained. (One Reed Publications, PO Box 561, Amherst MA 01004). See also "The Aztec Circle of Destiny," by the author and Angela Cordova, which explores the day-signs from a divination perspective. This divination kit, with book and cards, is published by Llewellyn Publications. A new edition is scheduled for release late in 1996.

(2) The author's book "Signs of Time: An Introduction to Mesoamerican Astrology" organizes what is known about the day-signs and trecena, their ruling deities, and many other little-known aspects of ancient Mexican astrology. (One Reed Publications, PO Box 561, Amherst MA 01004).