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My Favorite Maya Mythology and Astronomy

You’ve already been hearing about how the ancient Maya didn’t predict the end of the world today, that’s just misinformation, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite accurate topics about the ancient Maya astronomy and mythology.

Dark Constellations

In western astronomy and western mythology we recognize constellations as dot-to-dot pictures made of stars. In other words, we make images out of “positive space” to use some art terminology. The ancient Maya are a completely different culture: several of their constellations are made of “negative space.” They recognize images in the dark spaces between the stars. Here is an enhanced image, you can easily see the llama across the middle (with a star for an eye), and the snake in the upper right-hand corner:

Andes-Milkyway-compressed [1]


I always love to use this as an example of how “different cultures are different.” Just because we think dot-to-dot pictures are the “normal” way to do constellations doesn’t mean every other culture everywhere also thinks that.


The ancient Maya place extreme significance on the planet Venus. Their calculations of exactly when it will rise, set, first appear after sunset, last appear before sunrise rival even today’s computers. And they didn’t have computers. We should spend more time observing natural phenomena ourselves.


Their calendar is AMAZING. It has cycles within cycles. There are several good java converters [2] out there that show you how it works.

Also, when you see a picture of the “Maya Calendar” it should be laid out in a rectangle. If it is in a circle and looks like a compass rose it is most likely the Aztec Calendar. (If it looks like gears cycling within each other, it might be the Maya Calendar after all).


Aveni, Anthony [3]. Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico (book)


~ A l i c e !