Monday, December 10, 2012
The Mesoamerican Moment
Eleven days until Winter Solstice. And especially exciting because it marks the end of a five thousand one hundred and twenty five year cycle in a Mesoamerican calendar. No one is quite certain who might be responsible for this particular understanding of a person's place in the world. It could be Mayan, five hundred years AD. It could be Olmec, fifteen hundred years BC. It could be earlier. Nor is modern scholarship comfortable with any part of a conclusive interpretation of what it was this long count calendar meant to those who devised it. This state of inconclusiveness, allows wandering imaginations to indulge preoccupation with "renewal" by Horsemen of Armageddon, or Black Hole at the center of our Galaxy, or by change in the magnetic arrangements within the planet Earth that will turn us all into wonderfully calm and peaceful creatures devoted to the fulfillment of others. And, it also permits a comparative view of the manner in which disparate groups of people, spread across the planet, have preferred to conceptualize their place in the world, in relation to time. It's a familiar pattern, from an external beginning through a middle, to an end. All of which is why in our own Kentucky celebration of the moment of Winter Solstice, there will be a circle of 'nuts' from the Hickory Tree.
I'm told Chinese script is ideographic, Japanese and our own script is more syllabic. Ideographic is an idea contained within a diagram or symbol, for example a no smoking sign. Syllabic is where symbols reflect sounds within spoken words. The original Latin script had twenty three characters, and it gained a few more over the years, but to be functionally literate in Chinese a mind has to be familiar with up to four thousand characters. And as far as I understand it, Mayan script has both syllabic and ideographic elements as well as a large degree of latitude in technique between and amongst those whose role it was to record meaning, idea, history and so on, into written form. All of which is why, what the Mayans themselves actually meant by their long count calendar will probably always be as speculative now days as it probably was two or three thousand years ago. And here, I am very tempted by an argument that might offer a legitimate role to a script which is both ideographic and syllabic, in the very early morning celebration on December 21st. Assyrian cuneiform contains both syllabic and ideographic elements. The pictures today are of two ways an ancient Assyrian might have written the idea "wheat."