Lesson 1: The Cardinal Directions

The foundation of Mayan cosmovision and astrology is the concept of the four cardinal directions and the center. The oldest known Mesoamerican glyph, the quincunx, depicts the four points of the compass and the center.

Finding the center was vital for the ancient Maya and remains so for us today. Without knowing the center, you become unbalanced and out of rhythm with the world and cannot live in harmony with planet Earth, our galaxy or the universe.

East, the primary cardinal direction, is the direction of the rising sun. It was shown at the top of a compass or map by the ancient Maya, as seen in the colors of this modern-day “glyph.” The four small dots are the four corners of the world.

The Cardinal Directions (East at top, North on left)

Each direction exerts a distinct energy and rhythm, which sets the stage for the day. It is always the same direction as that of the day’s nahual, or Lord of the Day, which provides the script, actors and props for the next act in the theatre of life on the stage set by the cardinal directions.

Influences and Colors of the Directions
Direction        Energy                                     Color
East                  Initiation, Unity                    Red
West                 Adjusting, Duality               Black
North               Reduction, Diminishing    White
South               Increase, Harvest                Yellow

When interpreting a Mayan day sign, it is helpful to note the cardinal direction of a person’s main day sign, that of Adulthood (whose influence is in effect throughout life. This, along with the Year Bearer and trecena ruler, is one of the influences that forms the foundation of the person’s chart.

Relationships and Activities
Each of the nahuales is associated with one of the four directions. People get along best with others of the same direction. More on compatibility and relationship charts will be posted when we reach that stage of this online tutorial.

When scheduling activities according to the Sacred Calendar, knowledge of the cardinal direction of potential dates (as well as of the Lord of the Day) can make it easier to choose the most effective date.

Finding the Center
At the center of the four directions, a vertical axis runs between the zenith above and the nadir below. With the four directions and the center, three dimensions are established and a structured world is the result. The ridge pole raised by First Father to lift the sky up from the Earth in the Popul Vuh is a metaphor for this vertical axis.

The Quincunx

The four directions and the center form a quincunx, the oldest glyph found in Mesoamerica. It is also one glyph for the nahual Seed (Q’anil/Lamat) and similar to some glyphs for Knife (Tijax/Etznab). It is also an aerial view of a pyramid.

The color for the center is green or blue-green. Blue-green is associated with Quetzalcoatl/Kukuklan in the Books of Chilam Balam.

Cardinal Directions in a Ceremony
As with rituals of many other cultures, Mayan ceremonies begin by invoking the spirits of East, West, North and South. Candles of the corresponding color are placed in the four points of the compass during Mayan ceremonies. A green candle, or blue and green candles, are placed in the center.

If the candles and sacred fire are arranged so the people attending can be in the center, they will receive the combined energy of all four directions flowing inwards.

My next post will introduce the cosmic meanings of the 20 nahuales (nawals) and the 13 numbers that, together, form a Mayan day sign. Future posts in this online tutorial about Mayan astrology will show how to create and interpret Mayan astrology charts, do composite charts and reveal other esoteric knowledge and techniques.

Shay Addams
9 Dog (Tzi/Oc), June 2012
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala



  1. I am no longer sure where you are getting your information, howevger good topic.

    I needs too spend some time learning more or figuring out more.
    Thanks for fantastic information I used to be on the lookout for
    this info for myy mission.

    1. My sources are Maya day keepers and scholars here in Guatemala, where I have studied and followed the Sacred Calendar for seven years. These include Ki’che’ and Kaqchikel, Tzutujil and Mam Maya in particular.

      I have also studied books by many non-Maya scholars on Mesoamerican cosmovision and astrology, which I first read about in 1963 in a book by Thompson. My research continues here and in Chiapas Mexico.

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