The Twenty Day Names

by John P. Pratt
updated 29 Apr 2000

The following meanings for the twenty day names are based on an explanation given by Mayan priests, with phrases in quotation marks being taken from Mexican and Central American Mythology, by Irene Nicholson, pp 49-52. Each day symbolizes one day in mankind's life, such as the day of birth or death. Some may represent the day on which a sacred ordinance is performed. For example the day Jaguar represents being "washed clean" and several tribes had baptism ceremonies. Here are the twenty names and my best understanding of their meanings. The Mixtec glyphs, with their own coloring, are taken from the Codex Nuttall.

1. Light. The first day of the 20-day cycle represents the day on which man begins his journey, perhaps meaning the day of conception. The Mixtec glyph is an alligator or crocodile, which might represent the embryo in the womb. The Mayan name "Imix" apparently derives from Ix, meaning "womb," and their glyph is said to represent a water lily floating in water, which seems more esthetically pleasing. It is usually called "alligator" or "crocodile", but "light" seems better for the following reason.

The 20-day cycle apparently originated with the ancient Olmecs, over 1,000 years before the Mayans and Aztecs. Their first glyph was the sun. One of the modern day derivatives from the Olmec (the Tequistl), calls their glyph "light," which most likely was the meaning of the original sun glyph. "Light" might be the best interpretation, referring either to a pre-mortal stage as a "being of light," or perhaps to the day of conception when the "spark" of life ignited.

2. Wind. The wind symbolizes the spirit, and this day represents the day of quickening, on which the spirit enters the fetus in the womb. Virtually every tribe calls this glyph "wind."

3. Temple. This glyph is usually translated "house," but it is a picture of a temple, and a temple is a holy house. It represents the house of the spirit, or the body. In the cycle of life, it is the day of birth, when the spirit receives its house.

4. Dragon. This glyph is usually called "lizard" or "iguana". It was said by the Mayan priest to represents evil, with this day representing the day on which evil enters a child's life. Before that age, it was believed a child was pure and could not be tempted. The name "dragon" comes from the Cherokee name for it, which seems to capture the meaning better. They associate this glyph with the constellation of the dragon (Draco).

5. Serpent. The serpent apparently represents all of mortality, or at least all of adulthood. It was said to be the day when man "gathers together all the experience of life." The three days of Temple, Lizard and Serpent thus may each represent the beginning day of the three periods of life of childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

6. Skull. The skull represents death, and the day is the day of death.

7. Deer. The deer represents entrance into the spirit world. Perhaps the symbol of the deer was used to represent the fleeting life review which occurs there shortly after arrival in the spirit world, according to the recent literature on near-death experiences.

8. Rabbit. The rabbit represented the "struggle to overcome the material state." Apparently it was believed that even as a spirit, after death one is still attached to physical things, which is described in the recent near-death literature.

9. Water. Water represented the day on which one "reaps the reward of his effort" of overcoming materialism. Many ancient religions had the goal of controlling phyical desires.

10. Dog. At the lowest point of the circle, the dog (a guide through the underworld) represents the day one "enters fully into the uttermost depths of matter."

11. Monkey. The monkey, represents the day when one "burns without flame." It apparently is a purging or cleansing by fire.

12. Grass. The figure is of grass growing out of a skull, representing life coming from death. The Mayan priest was more vague on this and the remaining steps, saying only that on this day one "begins to climb the ladder" of progression. One could hardly imagine a better glyph to represent resurrection than grass growing out of a skull.

13. Reed. The reed is a continuation of the grass growing from the skull. The priest said only that it is another rung on the ladder. The reed was the kind used for making arrows. Some tribes used cane or aloe vera for this glyph.

14. Jaguar. The jaguar represented the day on which one is "washed entirely clean," apparently referring to baptism. It is also believed that the jaguar symbolized an order of priesthood, apparently the one associated with baptism.

15. Eagle. The eagle represents the day on which one "becomes perfect." It also symbolized a higher priesthood order than the Jaguar. It is opposite the serpent in the circle.

16. Condor. Most tribes saw this figure as a vulture, but originally it was probably a condor (in the vulture family), known also as the thunderbird and revered as the only bird which flies higher than the eagle. On this day one was endowed with the "full light of consciousness." Other tribes see this glyph as an owl.

17. Quake. This glyph symbolizes both earthquake and motion in general. It is the day when one "shakes of the last traces of ash clinging to him from the material world."

18. Flint. The flint knife represented sacrifice, which is another required step.

19. Lightning. This glyph is usually called "storm" or "rain", but further investigation reveals more meaning. It is said to be a rain of fire, representing the day when ones "divine nature is manifest." This glyph was also called "fire" by some tribes rather than "rain". In any case, it represents an opposite to the "water" glyph, which is directly across from it in the circle of days. The concept of "Lightning" seems to best capture the meaning of fire in the sky which seems to manifest divinity during a rain storm.

20. Flower. This glyph was called "flower" by some tribes and "lord" by others (including the Mayan). The meaning is the day when one "becomes one with divinity." This symbolism is similar to the lotus flower in Hinduism, which also represents unity with deity.