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How to build yourself a ceremony

July 1, 2010

Practitioners of Mayan spirituality get the short end of the stick when it comes to translation. The Mayan term for these men and women, who often attend both to the spiritual and medical-physical needs (as these are intertwined) of their community, is ajq’ij. Aj is a prefix that’s used to indicate profession, someone who works with a certain element, or authority. Q’ij means day (or sun). So an ajq’ij is someone who works with, or is an authority on, the days. This is a reference to the nature of the practice, which draws on ancestral knowledge of the sacred Mayan calendar. In order to help the people who seek their services, an ajq’ij must know the day that that they born and be able to work with the energies of the sacred calendar.

This matrix of meaning is often reduced in English or Spanish to the terms “shaman” or “Mayan priest.” I myself have been guilty of using such terms, since they’re familiar to non-Mayan speakers. The closest accurate equivalent is in English, in which ajq’ij is sometimes translated as “Daykeeper.” But tell someone who isn’t familiar with the profession that you’re interviewing Daykeepers, and they think you’re talking to nannies. Most people settle on the term “spiritual guide.”

Ajq’ija’ perform various tasks in their profession, one of which is a ceremony.

The central element of a ceremony is the fire. Viewed as both a way to communicate with ancestors and as a divining tool to assess the problem of the person for whom the ceremony is realized, the fire at the center is what drives the event as all participants gather around.

Giving thanks and communicating with ancestors are important goals in this practice. Many different elements are used, including pine resin, incense, aromatic herbs, colored candles, sugar, honey, chocolate, bread, soda, moonshine, flowers and many other permutations. Each have different meanings and different intentions. Of course, these elements must also burn easily and are often aromatic. This is due in part to the belief that this offering is a meal for the ancestors, so of course it’s desirable to offer tasty things like honey and chocolate!

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