Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21 and the Mayan Long Count Calendar

(But first, a note. I was going to pepper this post with lovely images of Mayan ruins that I took on my trip to Mexico a couple years ago, but I can't find the digital versions of said images anywhere! I have a mere seven that I printed out that I will scan and post when I get home this evening. Until then, I'll tell you where the image will go and what it will be and you can use your imagination! Yeah. I know. Onward!)

It's not the end of the world.

Really, it's not.

The thing that people say is the Mayan prediction of the end of the world is a calendar. It's a very long calendar (a very. long. calendar), but it's still a calendar. What do you do when you get to the end of a calendar? You probably get a new calendar, right? That's all that's going on here. That's not even what's going on here. There is still more to the calendar. I'll get to that.

The Long Count Calendar is pretty cool. It's based on earlier systems of counting days and allowed the Mayans to ascribe a unique identifier to every day. Their first system was only good for 52 years before identifiers started repeating. It's exactly like the Gregorian calendar we use today, the system is only good for 12 months, and then those identifiers would start repeating. The Mayans had two early calendars, a 365 day solar calendar, called Haab' (not unlike the Gregorian calendar we use), and a 260 day calendar based on 13, which was a number sacred to the Mayans, called Tzolk'in.

{Insert picture of El Caracol, the observatory in Chichen Itza}

The starting date of the Long Count Calendar is the day that their mythology says people were created, which is 13 b'ak'tuns after the world was created. A b'ak'tun is 20 groups of 20 groups of 18 groups of 20 days, or something close to 394 years; 13 b'ak'tun is roughly 5122 years. Because people were created 13 b'ak'tuns after the creation of the world, the Mayans expect great things to happen after the next 13 b'ak'tuns. According to them, we are in the fourth world, so at the end of this cycle of 13 b'ak'tuns, we will be in the fifth world.

But wait, there's more, the Long Count Calendar doesn't actually end after 13 b'ak'tuns, it counts 20. So, after December 21 2012, we start a 14th b'ak'tun in the current Great Cycle (a Great Cycle is 20 b'ak'tuns, or 2880000 days which, not accounting for leap years, is something close to 7890 Gregorian years). We are in Great Cycle 0 (remember when we're talking calendars, the very first is always 0). There will be 6 more b'ak'tuns before we hit Great Cycle 1, somewhere around October 13, 4772.

{Insert picture of El Castillo, the main temple in Chichen Itza}

Now, what does that mean for us? Nothing, really. One b'ak'tun ends and another begins on December 21st. But if you want to feel neat, and it's ok to do so, everyone alive on December 20 will see the end of the 13th b'ak'tun, and everyone born on December 21st and after will be born in the 14th b'ak'tun. The 15th b'ak'tun won't happen until March 26, 2407! When you're shouting at those kids to get off your lawn, remember you weren't born in the same b'ak'tun!

Why did the Mayans need such a long calendar anyway? Beats me. The very first explanation I heard in one of my anthropology classes (where I admit I focused on Incas instead of Mayans for that class) is actually rather ridiculous. It was said that the Mayans just hated turning the calendar over, and they hated repeating days, so they created a very long calendar that would give each day a unique identifier for a very long time so they would not have to change it so much. Yeah, that's kind of silly. Another reason I heard was because they were fascinated with the stars, they were always observing, always looking, always calculating what would happen next. Things, like meteor showers and eclipses, that happened in the skies would not have surprised the Mayans like they did some other early peoples. They tracked comets, calculated eclipses, and built amazing works of architecture based on how it would look when the sun hit it on a certain day. If you are going to take the time to work out all of that, you might as well write it down, right?

The architecture is pretty interesting. That main temple in Chichen Itza is pretty fascinating. The structure we can see dates around the 9th century. The feathered serpent on the north staircase was carved in such a way that the sun hitting the temple on the equinoxes casts a series of shadows that make it look like the serpent is crawling down the stairs. I wasn't there for an equinox, so I did not witness this, but the temple itself was quite impressive. It is believed that the observatory, an far earlier structure, was used in part to design El Castillo so that it would be properly oriented to the equinoxes. Additionally, El Castillo was actually built over a smaller pyramid that was not discovered until the 1930's, but I digress. The 91 steps on each of the four sides of the pyramid, together with the temple platform at the top, equals 365 steps, the number of days in the Haab', that solar calendar that I mentioned earlier.

{Insert image of a Cenote, the Blessed Well, because it's pretty and I swam in it!}

Now, that observatory, El Caracol, is really awesome. I was more fascinated by that than El Castillo (everyone knows El Castillo anyway). Anthropologists believe that there were twenty-nine astronomical events that the Mayans were interested in studying (to include the solstices and equinoxes, movements of planets, eclipses, and the like). The dome of the observatory included sight lines, openings cut into the dome at specific places for the purpose of observing a specific astronomical event, for twenty of them. Some of the tower is missing, though, so it is possible the other nine were there. This means there is an opening for observing where the sun rises on a solstice day, where Venus appeared on the horizon at the start of its cycle, the position of the sun in the afternoon on an equinox day. It is fascinating.

Anyway, my point is the Mayans weren't predicting the end of the world. They just wrote a very long calendar. But, this end of 13 b'ak'tuns might be worth considering. The Mayans believed something big would happen, something that would end the fourth age and start the fifth age. Priests reported it would be something large and drastic, mystics said it could be subtle, like a simple shift. Remember, the calendar doesn't end for another 2760 years. It could be compared to changing from August to September on our calendar, there are still three more months to go before you need a new calendar.

Will something big happen that causes the end of the fourth age? Probably not. Will something subtle happen? I doubt that too. For all the ages Mayan mythology says we are in, this is still only the second time in Mayan history that 13 b'ak'tuns have passed. Who knows what will happen. I say we should all throw one awesome new b'ak'tun party!

Party like it's!

Monday, December 10, 2012

What and How and Where and When

I'm splitting this topic up a bit, and I apologize in advance if the next few posts seem disjointed or repetitive. I think they may.

I thought I would go into the specific styles that I've previously mentioned, but that will have to wait until next time. Instead, I want to talk about the veil: what it covers and what it doesn't, some styles available for borrowing, and where and when I choose to veil. Remember there are no rules in modern paganism practices to dictate these things, so where you go from here, how you incorporate veiling into your path, is completely up to you.

What gets covered?

The short answer is: it depends. Some Amish and Mennonite communities allow hair to be pinned up a certain way with a sheer prayer cap on top. Essentially nothing is covered from view, but the hair is not displayed either. Some other communities encourage full bonnets that cover all hair from view. Jewish tichels cover all hair. Muslim hijabs cover hair and neck and, depending on the style, some cover the face also. My Plain Quaker friend Valerie had this lovely thing to say about how she observed other Plain Quakers' dress, "We don’t have a Quaker Hat Store, so women solve that problem by selecting a kerchief, a veil, a prayer cap used in other Plain communities, or make their own, or use a scarf, or adapt until they are comfortable.  I’ve seen braids hanging down behind the prayer cap, hair all the way up (like mine), a tiny veil the size of a spread hand pinned on top of loose curls, and everything in-between."

There are no rules in paganism about hair covering, so my guidelines are completely my own - and that which I sense I am called to do. Really, my point is not to cover my hair (though some days I may), but to cover my crown chakra. Valerie's observations made a great and valid point to me. Even in a community where plain dress might be prevalent, they had no rules. "Adapt until they are comfortable."

As a pagan feeling the need to cover my head, this completely applies. My main drive is to cover my crown chakra, but what to do with my hair? I could leave it loose, so it shows under my veil, or tie it all up in a bun, or leave a braid hanging down. I have bangs that I could keep out or brush back under my veil. I could cover with very opaque fabric or very sheer fabric. There are no rules and no guidelines. This part is completely up to me. And with no guidelines of my own, I take a lot from the other cultures that do have a veiling practice, while trying to keep appropriation in mind.

Let me talk about that for a moment. I've touched on it before, in that people often get mistaken for being a member of a group of which they actually are not. That may not be a bad thing, but it might mean they have to deal with prejudice born of ignorance that they otherwise would not experience. As an anthropologist, I try to be very mindful of how I present myself, trying not to allow myself to be mistaken for following a practice I don't actually follow. I'd be lying if I said I was not trying to avoid any unpleasant reactions from a random stranger on the street, but my main reason is respect. Veiling traditions in most cultures that have them come from something special or sacred, like a religious text, or guidelines set forth by religious and/or community leaders. It is those traditions, those faith practices no matter how they began, that I must respect. Do I know if any of those groups would consider it an insult if a non-follower adopted their practices for entirely different reasons? Of course not, though some people I spoke to at the start of my research did express not being bothered by it. That being said, in many ways paganism is late to the veiling party, and a pagan choosing to veil has little choice than to borrow the styles and practices that have already been adopted by other traditions. It's an amusing and perhaps fitting turn, as other traditions have been borrowing pagan traditions for centuries (consider the "Christmas" tree, that has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ. And there are so many other examples). This is the way the world works, cultures are constantly borrowing from other cultures- borrowing from traditions, languages, styles -  and I don't see this as a bad thing at all. It promotes cultural evolution. [I will say that it becomes a bad thing when the borrowing culture suddenly claims exclusive ownership of the borrowed tradition (consider the "Christmas" tree again) but that's a completely different discussion for another time.]

At the end of this blog, the author posed this lovely question, "for those who say it’s cultural appropriation… whose culture? If most cultures covered their heads at some point, then who is offended, exactly?" A valid question. Even some ancient pagan traditions involved head covering. The neo-pagan movement seems to lack it on a large scale, but it is an old practice that we can draw upon.

Now that we've been through that, what gets covered? Whatever it is that you need to cover in your personal practice. If you're called to cover your head and all hair, do that. If you want to cover your neck too, do that. If it's just the crown chakra and showing hair is okay, do that. If any given day it can be any of these things, do that too. It's completely up to you and your gods (assuming your gods care if you cover or not).

How do you wear that?

I don't mean 'how to tie a tichel' here, I'm talking options- what styles and traditions exist that could be applied to my practice. After the bunches of links (worth following and exploring), this blog post has several lovely photographs of different styles and touches on their associations with different practices (followed by a ton more links- though I honestly haven't gone hopping through any of them yet). I would love to post all the images here for you and talk about them, but they do not all mention a source and I'm not willing to start claiming images I find randomly on the web. But if you follow none of the links I post here, check that one out, if simply for the pictures.

Style means I still want to look good, I still want to look like myself, and I want to appear in a way that respects the culture from which I'm borrowing a style. In relation to this, here is a fantastic post from a blogger responding to a comment someone made about borrowing styles. She said she found as long as it is not something that is just fashion, that there is some meaning to it, people of the other cultures are mostly accepting. I'm inclined to agree with her, and in my research I have found this opinion to be true. Remember why we veil, whatever that reason may be, and use whatever style works for you.

In that regard, I'll probably never wear something in a hijab style. I feel no need to cover my neck except when it's cold, so that style doesn't resonate with me. Also a prayer cap doesn't really suit me. I love the tichel style. I love the look of it (not saying I don't love any other look; for example I think hijabs are quite beautiful- in fact, there's no style I've yet seen that I absolutely don't like aesthetically), I love how versatile it is, and how easy to tie while looking so complicated. I'm also a big fan of snoods, so I expect I'll be wearing those a lot when the weather is warmer. I wear small, triangular bandana type cloths or kerchiefs sometimes, usually when I'm doing chores around the house (I'll get to this). I'll probably never just loosely drape a square or rectangle of fabric over my head as is seen in many depictions of the Virgin Mary. It would work if I needed something temporary and had no reason to use my hands, but I'm more of a tie it on and leave it there kind of person. Most often, I leave my bangs out and have the rest of my hair tied up in some way.

I was and then I wasn't going to talk about the topic of this article. When I was first researching, I just glanced at this page and it looked like someone was using the Bible as a reference for why covering does not apply to Christians in this age. Further reading and really looking at the information being presented shows that it is just the opposite. That makes it apply to my previous topic of oppression: "The Bible says so!" Ok, maybe that is so (hear that, Christians, get your heads covered! I'm kidding.) but further down on this article one realizes that it's actually quite liberal. The part I want to draw your attention to is in what the author has called Myth number nine: "It is significant that God does not specify a style of head covering or give details about how the head should be covered. Should it be a hanging veil, or a hat or cap style? God doesn't specify. Should all the hair be covered? God doesn't specifically say. The emphasis is on a verb, covering the head, rather than on a noun, the head covering. This is significant. By not specifying a style, God gives freedom for a variety of styles and colors of head coverings to be used. God gives freedom for the headcovering to be creative and attractive. It does not have to be old-fashioned, a drudgery, or an embarrassment." Even in the Christian source for head covering, how the head gets covered is open, and communities that follow the practice interpret it in their own ways.

So how do you wear that? Whatever works. Whatever does what you need it to do. If you need a full hijab to cover everything you need to cover, go for it. If a small cloth pinned to your hair covers what you need to cover, go for that too. If one day a wide headband serves your purpose and the next day a bunned tichel does, that's okay.

Where and when do you veil?

You're heading out to buy some groceries: you put on a shirt and some pants, grab a coat, and throw a scarf on your head. You're getting ready for work: you pull on your slacks, suit, or skirt, button up a shirt, and tie a tichel over your head. You're getting ready to do some house cleaning: you put on some grunge clothes, maybe an apron, and tie your hair back with a bandana  You're on your way to visit family: you might just throw a hat on for the journey but take it off for your visit, or pick a shear scarf or bandana  You're sitting at home reading a book: you might pick some lounge wear and leave your hair down. You're crawling into bed, you might don a night cap or just braid long hair so it doesn't strangle you in the night. Some practices encourage veiling at all times, some only when outside the home or not in the company of family, some are required only during active religious observance and ritual.

I've mentioned that one of the places I feel I really need to cover my head is at work. If my main reason for veiling is to protect my sensitive crown chakra from random office energies, that makes perfect sense. Along that same vein, I'm exposed to similar energies when I'm out in the world, so I need to cover then as well. When I am tending to my home, that's a direct communion with hearth goddesses that I have been drawn to of late, so I veil while doing chores around the house as a symbol of devotion (not exactly devotion to a deity specifically, but devotion to a path might be more accurate). Additionally, when I'm in ritual, I feel the need to utilize that same symbol of devotion. I know that some practices cover while sleeping, but I don't feel a need to do that. I do tend to braid my hair, but that's because it's long and I or a cat can easily get tangled up in it during the night. I thought I would be the kind of person who would not need to veil when I'm among family or very very close friends, but it hasn't worked out as I expected. I have different views than many of my family members and I find I need some covering when I'm around most of them for the same reasons I cover at the office. I tend to pick something more sheer and leave more hair exposed when I'm among family, but I have found that I need to cover with something.

I want to explore that last sentence a bit. I have discovered that the types of covering I choose does seem to relate to the situation. I wear no covering at all when I'm with my boyfriend. I don't need to be protected from his energy nor do I have any particular need to express devotion to my path (unless I'm currently doing some activity that relates to that, like washing dishes or making dinner. Even then, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't). Among family, I tend to pick small or sheer veils, or headbands, or hats. Things that usually cover just the crown chakra and not my hair, though sometimes I may do that as well. During hearth-tending activities, I also mostly use those small or sheer kerchiefs, often with my hair bunned or braided for practical reasons. Going out into the world or at work or among company that may be mixed with familiar and totally not familiar individuals, I tend to cover the most, picking opaque veils that tie up my hair as well as cover my crown chakra. In ritual, I have a hood I made for that specific purpose, and I wear it both when I'm practicing a ritual at home and with a group. At other times, not actively in ritual but with that group, the same guidelines apply as when I'm with family. I've noticed that I don't cover when exercising, whether I am alone at home or in my yoga class at the office. It started both because I want to be open and accepting of the energy around me during yoga and because wearing something on my head that will probably fall off after a few down dogs isn't very practical. There's also no real reason to cover when I'm alone at home (exercising or lounging), so I don't do it.

You're probably wondering, dear readers, what this means for you. Where do you veil? Wherever the thing that draws you to veil applies, whether your matron goddess says "all the time" or your compulsion leads you to only veil at work, or you are drawn to veil any time you are outside of your home. No rules means you practice it where you need it, for whatever reason you need to do it.

If you're feeling some kind of inclination to veil, I hope you can get some idea of why and how and when from my series. As pagans, we have so very little to go on, but it is gaining in popularity and I do hope that I've shown that it is not inappropriate for a pagan, or anyone, to choose to adopt the practice if they feel they need to. I hope also that my information might help some non-pagans who might have wondered if and how they could fit veiling into their own practice. If you are not drawn to veiling, I hope you learn a bit about your sisters and brothers of any faith practice who are.

But, I'm not done yet. Next time, I will try to define, describe, or otherwise illustrate the specific kinds of veils that I've talked about (like tichels and hijabs), as well as the specific veil styles that I choose. Likely after that, I'll point you to some great shops for buying a variety of veil styles, maybe share some videos I've found with instructions for tying. I'd also like to post some pictures and possibly videos of my own to help your journey. I understand that I've presented a lot of information in a boring text with links format, and some of you have been asking me to show you what I mean when I talk about certain things. I am happy to oblige and I will figure out how to make that happen, but it might take a bit of time.