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7 STARS, THE MILKY WAY, COMETS, AND METEORS This chapter explores Precolumbian Maya imagery of temporary celestial phenomena , stars, constellations, and the Milky Way. We have surprisingly little information on comets, meteors, and supernovas. Comets and meteors seem to be of secondary importance, appearing not as gods themselves, but as their cigars. Metaphorical images allude to the multitude of stars as jaguar spots, flowers, fireflies, and the ‘‘eyes of the night.’’ Topographical features such as sacred trees represent cross constellations that serve as signposts in the celestial landscape. More often the constellations are starry animals appearing as companions to the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. A Postclassic ‘‘zodiac’’ from Yucatán helps to identify thirteen constellations , including bird constellations, a jaguar or ocelot, two snakes, a peccary, a turtle, and various other creatures. Some of these Precolumbian Maya constellations have at least one first-magnitude star that could be tracked even in bright moonlight. Individual stars were also named, but we are able to identify only a few from Colonial period sources. Architectural orientations help to identify which constellations were important to the Classic Maya. Constellations located at the intersection points of the Milky Way and the ecliptic seem to be especially important in Precolumbian Maya cosmology. The Pleiades are represented by the rattlesnake’s rattle in Yucatán, an image that is also found in central Mexico. Orion’s Belt represents a turtle constellation, but other stars in Orion may be linked with the Hearthstones of Creation. Scorpius is a scorpion in the northern Maya area, but to the south it may be a skeletal serpent known as the White-Bone-Snake. There is a fish-snake constellation in the region of Sagittarius, a star group associated with the Quadripartite God forming the rear head of the Cosmic Monster. The Cosmic Monster itself seems to embody the Milky Way, and the two areas where it intersects the ecliptic represent opposite seasons. Itzamna, described extensively in Colonial period accounts, may symbolize the entire sky, his four bodies formed by the two sides of the Milky Way and the two sides of the ecliptic. A similar configuration is suggested by the four roads of the Popol Vuh. The relationship of the stars to the seasons has shifted slightly due to precession, but the starry sky we see today is not too different from that of Classic and Postclassic Maya times. Although we look for precise events, such as a star’s heliacal rise date, most probably the Maya looked for a more general association with the seasons . I should note that the Precolumbian constellations are not configured with the same stars as our Western constellations. Even though I use the European designations for convenience, the reader should be cautioned that I refer only to stars in stars with different colors. For example, the Perseids have a marked yellow cast. Viewed over long periods of time, meteors undergo changes in intensity that can be connected with comets, such as the Leonid shower that has a period of intensity related to the 33.17-year period of the comet Tempel-Tuttle from which it derives (Trenary 1987–1988:110, fig. 7). Some contemporary Maya accounts say that obsidian is the excrement dropped from shooting stars, but more commonly the meteors themselves are described as excrement of the stars, paralleling accounts recorded in recent Mixtec and Náhuatl texts (Chapter 1; Trenary 1987–1988, table 1). The ancient heritage of this image is evident in graphic scenes of star excrement in Mixteca-Puebla codices (Codex Borgia 26; Trenary 1987–1988, fig. 2). Parallel scenes involving star excrement in the Maya codices are not apparent; however, Maya images involving obsidian, cigars, and torches should be studied for a possible relationship with seasonal meteor showers. Contemporary Maya people say that meteors are connected with discarded celestial cigars and cigarettes, torches, and ancient arrowheads made of obsidian (Chapter 1). A number of contemporary Maya terms do not distinguish between comets and meteors (Tedlock 1992b:181). This may also have been true in earlier times. The Colonial period term chamal dzutan (cigar of the devil) is interpreted as a comet, but Jesús Galindo (1994:111) suggests that when these cigars are discarded, they are transformed into meteors. The Colonial period Maya dictionaries do not contain an entry for meteors, but Ulrich Köhler (1989: 295) notes that there are a few entries under cometa that seem to refer to meteors. Among these he includes u halal...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780292797932
Related ISBN
9780292752252
MARC Record
OCLC
55941076
Pages
382
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-11
Language
English
Open Access
No
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