Chaak and the Long Count Serpent
Jan 09, 2021
I have a great fascination for pre-Hispanic cultures and their astronomical knowledge, especially for the Mayan culture. They understood very well the the motions and cycles of the celestial bodies and could predict eclipses with great precision, even those eclipses that were not visible in their territories.
Proof of this is the Dresden Codex, a manuscript that includes tables of eclipses that occurred during a 33-year period in the 8th century. It also describes the synodic cycles of Venus and Mars, as well as the starting of the seasons and the Long Count cycles. No one knows exactly when it was written, or if there were earlier versions. The document has survived a crazy journey, and is currently in the Dresden library in Germany. It is painted on amate paper and the art and symbolism are as beautiful as they are enigmatic.
I thought that in the symbolism of the eclipses, the Mayans represented them as a deity being eaten by a great serpent. In my enthusiasm for painting something, I saw an image that caught my attention and it seemed to be the right one.
While I was waiting for my painting to dry, I began to read more about the Codex, and I learned that what I painted was not a representation of an eclipse, but rather it was Chaak, the god of rain and thunder, in its black representation, perched on the jaws of a serpent that indicated a date in which there would probably be storms and strong winds. The numbers on the side of the snake's body are that date (4 Eb in the tzolkin), although I have not found an equivalent in the calendar we currently use. The serpent also represents the Long Count, which is a unique feature in the Maya calendar system. They had a cycle of many many years, approximately 34,000 years. Some of you may remember that in 2012 the media spread the rumor that it was going to be the end of the world. Well, a long count cycle was being completed. Now, going back to the representation of Chaak, I am struck by the fact that he carries a shield, a spear, and what to me looks like a jaguar headdress. I am not an expert on codices or Mayan glyphs, but I would say that Chaak is ready for war.
This is my first painting with a pre-Hispanic style. I hope to do more, maybe using amate paper. There are so many things that I would like to paint. I do it with a lot of respect and admiration. If anyone knows more about this date in the Dresden codex, I would really appreciate if you leave a comment below. The original now belongs to a good friend :-)