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Contemporary Maya Spirituality

Contemporary Maya Spirituality

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    Contemporary Maya Spirituality
    Book Description:

    Since the mid-1980s, when Guatemala returned to civilian rule and achieved relative peace and stability, the Maya have begun openly expressing their spiritual beliefs and practices. Jean Molesky-Poz draws on in-depth dialogues with Maya Ajq'ijab' (keepers of the ritual calendar), her own participant observation, and inter-disciplinary resources to offer a comprehensive, innovative, and well-grounded understanding of contemporary Maya spirituality and its theological underpinnings. She reveals significant continuities between contemporary and ancient Maya worldviews and spiritual practices.

    Molesky-Poz opens with a discussion of how the public emergence of Maya spirituality is situated within the religious political history of the Guatemalan highlands, particularly the recent pan-Maya movement. She investigates Maya cosmovision and its foundational principles, as expressed by Ajq'ijab'. At the heart of this work, Ajq'ijab' interpret their obligation, lives, and spiritual work. In subsequent chapters, Molesky-Poz explores aspects of Maya spirituality-sacred geography (the reciprocal relationship between the earth and humans, sacred places, and the significance of the cross or quatrefoil map), sacred time (how the 260-day sacred calendar is "the heart of the wisdom of the Maya," the matrix of Maya culture), and ritual practice (the distinct way and method of ancestral study, with special attention to fire ceremonialism). She confirms contemporary Maya spirituality as a faith tradition with elaborate historical roots that has significance for individual, collective, and historical lives, reaffirming its own public space and legal right to be practiced.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79581-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    In seven chapters that reveal the ancestral and contemporary shape of the sacred geography of the Maya soul, Jean Molesky-Poz has elegantly interwoven the cosmic identity of our Maya culture. This culture that originated some fifteen or twenty thousand years ago believes and understands that humans and all that exists are part of an indivisible whole.

    Jean Molesky-Poz’ spirit and literary talent, which illuminates contemporary ancestral Maya spiritual beliefs and practices through ethnographic work with today’s Ajq’ijab’ in dialogue with archaeology, anthropology, political history, mythology, philosophy, and recent science, suggests a mythic-historical dance very much in keeping with the aesthetic...

  4. Portal: At the Dawn
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The highlands of Guatemala and of southern Mexico, a predominately indigenous region, are unique in terms of relationships between religion and indigenous populations. These communities, with legacies of traditional Maya¹ beliefs and practices for tens of thousands of years, have been the objects of many religious projects in the past five centuries: the long tyrannical shadow which passed from the north in Pedro de Alvarado’s invasion in 1524; the imposition of Spanish Catholicism during the colonial period; the introduction of Protestantism during the anticlerical liberal years of 1870–1926; projects of Catholic Action in the 1950s; and the more recent...

  7. PART 1: The Florescence of Maya Spirituality

    • CHAPTER 1 A New Cycle of Light: The Public Emergence of Maya Spirituality
      (pp. 11-33)

      At dawn at a selected altar in the Guatemalan highlands, a gathering of people, led by Ajq’ijab’, encircle a fire and in prayer remember the names of ancestors, recalling their suffering, silence, persistent patience, and endurance. They lift up their hearts and voices in thanksgiving to petition and procure strength before the rising flames and incense. Nearby in the city of Quetzaltenango, on 4 K’anil, the day of the 260-day sacred calendar on which the new proprietors decided to open their small cafe, the invited Ajq’ij directs the owners to place red, black, white, and yellow candles and flowers in...

    • CHAPTER 2 Maya Cosmovision and Spirituality: Selecting, Examining, and Stretching Out Filaments of Light
      (pp. 34-54)

      “The themecosmovisionis very significant in the life of the Maya today,” writes Kaqchikel author José Mucía Batz Lem, “because our cosmovision opens a way to understand those around us. It teaches us how to be with all created beings that inhabit the cosmos” (1997, 9). In the Maya determination to survive, they are taking up the advice of their elders: “Don’t forget the teachings of the ancestors. In their paths we will find hope for the future” (Montejo 2002, 127). In this revitalization, they turn to ancestral worldviews, expressed in a multiplicity of forms.

      Maya cosmovision, marked by...

  8. PART 2: A Cultural Inheritance

    • CHAPTER 3 Ajq’ijab’: ʺTo Enter the Mystery Is Our Realityʺ
      (pp. 57-90)

      The Ajq’ij understands his or her spiritual work, undergoes training, offers petitions and thanksgiving in rituals, and illuminates according to the Maya sacred calendar and worldview. “To be an Ajq’ij, in our Tz’utujil language, is to be ‘of the days,’ ‘in charge of the days,’” explains María del Carmen Tuy, from Sololá. “It is much better to say ‘Ajq’ij,’ not Maya ‘priest’ or ‘priestess,’ as these are Spanish terms. They don’t express what we are. It is a person with the destiny to serve the community.” Other K’iche’-speaking villages, such as Santa María Chiquimula, use the termchuchqajaw,¹ meaning Mother-Father,...

  9. PART 3: The Aesthetics of Space, Time, and Movement

    • CHAPTER 4 Sacred Geography: Reciprocity, Ritual Sites, and Quatrefoil Mapping
      (pp. 93-126)

      Contemporary Ajq’ijab’ conceptualize their interrelation with the earth and with Ajaw (Owner of the Earth, or Earth Lord) and render mappings of their sacred geography. Ancient referents and modern Maya configure places and landscape features differently. Some continuities remain, but they are transformed. Glyphs, murals, and architecture in conjunction with the Popol Wuj narrations show how reciprocity was central to Maya ancestors long before the Spanish invasion.

      Geological formations are sacred places. These designated sites, places of encounters and revelations, and accompanying mythic narratives, with their ritual practices, were long hidden because of Western religious constructions and impositions, but are...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Calendar: Unbundling, Interpreting, and Appropriating the Chol Q’ij
      (pp. 127-153)

      If there exists a contemporary, living embodiment of ancient Maya understanding and discernment, it is the 260-day calendar, known in K’iche’ as the Chol’ Q’ij. At one time this 260-day calendar was in use in much of Mesoamerica,¹ but it is now utilized only throughout the Guatemalan highlands, and in some communities in Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas (B. Tedlock 1982). The calendar has been recorded in the memories of ancestors, who conserved the calendar over the centuries, transmitting it from generation to generation, helping persons who have sought and looked for peace for themselves or for their people. This lunar...

    • CHAPTER 6 Ceremony: The Fire Speaks
      (pp. 154-168)

      Catarina grew up in a family where she learned ancestral knowledge systems. While young indigenous women and men in Guatemala, today more than ever before, have access to high school and university studies which are Western in mode, people also continually seek to understand ancestral ways and consult with elders to recuperate them. “Many people of Maya blood are encountering the way and the method of the studies of the ancestors,” writes José Mucía Batz Lem (1996, 6).

      Lem, as you can see in the paragraph below, used the method of study of the ancestors. This is how he describes...

  10. PART 4: Thinking, Contemplating, and Acting into the Future

    • CHAPTER 7 The Ancient Things Received from Our Parents Are Not Lost
      (pp. 171-176)

      In Quetzaltenango, hosts of the fiesta invite guests, one by one, to dance theson. Hosts and dozens of guests position themselves across the room, forming two complementary rows. Women face women on the right, men face men on the left. Each side bows and greets each other, then slowly dances forward toward the opposite side in the deeply felt rhythms ofsonestapped on the marimba. Women, their full skirts pulled slightly out, gently sway in unison as they inch, three steps forward, two steps back, toward the other side; men, their hands grasped behind their backs, parallel this...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 177-182)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-192)
  13. Index
    (pp. 193-202)