As Tourists Stream In, Mayan Leaders Barred From Sacred Sites

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 7, 2012 — 11 Comments

December 21st, 2012. That’s the date when the Mesoamerican/Maya Long Count calendar is supposed to end, and a new era begin. Various New Age and “end-of-days” doomsday peddlers have created a cocktail of various belief systems to invest this date with some looming significance, either for a new dawn, or an end-times scenario. This is despite the fact that actual Mayan spiritual leaders (and the academics who study Mayan culture) have long disputed the pop-cultural consensus, and the appropriation of their cultural heritage for profit.

“Guatemala’s Mayan people accused the government and tour groups on Wednesday of perpetuating the myth that their calendar foresees the imminent end of the world for monetary gain. “We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” charged Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop.

Ruins of Chichén Itzá (Photo National Geographic)

Ruins of Chichén Itzá (Photo National Geographic)

Now, as a flood of tourists stream in to see various Maya sacred sites before and on December 21st, Mexico has barred present-day Mayan spiritual leaders from performing rites at Mayan ruins and temples.

Despite the generally festive atmosphere at the ceremony, there was some discontent that the government won’t allow Mayan priests and healers to perform their ceremonies inside archaeological sites like Chichen Itza, Coban and Tulum that their ancestors built. “We would like to do these ceremonies in the archaeological sites, but unfortunately they won’t let us enter,” Manrique Esquivel said. “It makes us angry, but that’s the way it is … we perform our rituals in patios, in fields, in vacant lots, wherever we can.” Francisco de Anda, the press director for the government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, which oversees archaeological sites in Mexico, said there were two reasons for the ban on ceremonies. “In part it is for visitor safety, and also for preservation of the sites, especially on dates when there are massive numbers of visitors.”

John Ahni Schertow at the indigenous activist/news site Intercontinental Cry disputes the Mexican government’s reasoning, saying that it has far more to do with tourist money than preservation.

“The government would much rather keep the Maya on the sidelines since they are orchestrating a massive commercial spectacle for tens of thousands of people, many of whom are are clinging to delusional hopes and irrational fears about what’s going to happen at the end of 13 Baktun–December 21, 2012.”

In short, modern-day Mayan will have to visit their heritage like everyone else, as tourists. While some Maya will be involved in official state-run events, they are not the ones who are making decisions, nor are they directly benefitting from the growing number of unscrupulous individuals who are profiting from their exploitation.  As Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Florida, said: “To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting is a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

“The 21st is for giving thanks and gratitude and the 22nd welcomes the new cycle, a new dawn.” – Pedro Celestino Yac Noj

For those modern Pagans who wish to pursue a course of solidarity, communication, and friendship with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, we have to take extra care to listen to actual Mayan voices during this time. To reject the profiteering and exploitation of the New Age and survivalist industries, and chart a course that privileges authentic wisdom over wishful thinking. I have seen too many of my co-religionists get entrapped in the 2012 hype, and I would remind them of the many “awakening” or “doomsday” moments we’ve survived in the last 20 years, and note that the world will still be here on December 22nd, and that it will be up to us to save or destroy it.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Kathryn Price NicDhàna

    Thank you for this, Jason. Here’s a bit I wrote about the newagers trying to appropriate and overrun these sites (it’s been going on for a while now), that features one of our favorite death-dealing shameons, James Arthur Ray:

  • PhaedraHPS

    I am a fan of the “Wear a Red Shirt on 12/21” movement, ’cause if we’re going to go, we’re gonna go the way Gene Roddenberry wanted us to go. That and the global Pancake Breakfast on 12/22.

    Seriously, it’s tragic that the actual Mayans aren’t allowed at the site. Can you imagine Catholic priests not being allowed in an ancient church because of tourists? Oh, wait, that happens at Stonehenge and the Parthenon, too. I won’t say explicitly that it’s religious discrimination, though, because it looks like it’s more about continuity of possession. If the contemporary world has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that sacred sites are hard to reclaim.

    • AndrasArthen

      Unfortunately, one of the complications involved in this situation is
      that a lot of the “actual Mayans” aren’t what they claim to be,
      especially when they profess to be “elders” and “leaders.” I am writing
      this from Mexico, & as a matter of fact I was just talking with a couple of Wixarrica activists from Jalisco,
      who were telling me about the sudden proliferation of “Mayan elders”
      coming out of nowhere, giving interviews to the American & European
      media and trying to organize gatherings at sacred sites in anticipation
      of the 2012 Winter Solstice hoopla. In the past few months I’ve been
      personally invited to four of those gatherings which, upon closer
      investigation, turned out to be little more than New Age events posing
      as “real traditional” and “not for tourists,” in order to lure the
      gullible. Now some of these people, realizing that most of the interest
      is going to die down after the Solstice, are trying to extend the
      deadline, claiming that 2012 was the wrong year in the first place. The
      whole thing has become a big joke down here.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        You can find that in any disorganised system. Hardly surprising it is happening there, also.

      • PhaedraHPS

        Sound more and more like “Druids” at Stonehenge.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Of course, the Druids are seriously outnumbered at Stonehenge, these days.

          • PhaedraHPS

            Kinda my point.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In fairness, there is no actual historical connection between Druid/Celts and the ancient stone circles of Britain.

            Mind you, it still irritates me when I hear people asking for the Druids to be stopped from holding their seasonal rites at Stonehenge as they ‘get in the way of revellers’.

  • Rachael Watcher

    Tata Apolinario, the elder in the video, is hosting a gathering of indigenous people from all over the Americas, both north and south, sponsored by the Mayan confederation. I have been invited to attend as well, possibly as the only non indigenous person there. We will be at sacred sites, that are not sufficiently romantic to draw tourists. While there we will participate in a 36 hour ritual (among others during our days in Guatemala) during which we will discuss some of the following ideas:
    A) Mayan sacred ceremonies
    B) Ceremony of the Feminine and masculine Day.
    C) Waqxaqi’ B’atz’.
    D) Messages for the Milenium
    E) Cosmovision (a discussion of the various cosmologies among the indigenous groups present)
    F) Confederations of the Eagle, Condor and the Quetzal. (feathered serpent)
    G) The Spanish invasion and the wars suffered.
    H) The Mayan calendar, Carriers, days, years and their sacred ceremonies.
    I) Health, Pollution and GM (transgenic)
    J) The sacred numerology
    K) The importance of the mother tongue
    L) The hierarchy and authorities of the native people
    M) Talking and Walking Sticks
    N) The seven children of the sun
    Ñ) our sacred books
    O) The urgency of teamwork and community
    P) Contributions on challenges and progress of the meeting.

    I will be reporting on this event on behalf of the Covenant of the Goddess on when I return from the trip toward the end of December.

    In Her service
    Rachael Watcher

  • Kathryn Price NicDhàna

    I’m not personally familiar with the Guatemalan people involved in this, but a heads-up: The newage woman in that video, Lydia Trauttenberg, is involved in the Crystal Skulls Scam:

    Googling her turns up associations with what look to me to be exploitative and appropriative practices. Actual Indigenous Elders live in their tribal communities and help their own people. While a few will occasionally travel to speak at interfaith events, they do not regularly travel to other countries to sell ceremony or instruct non-Indigenous strangers in the “medicine ways” of their people. Again, I do not know all the details of the particular people Trauttenberg has hooked up with, but I would be very wary of any event that has her as an interpreter or organizer.

  • This is bullshit.

    Let’s bar practitioners from attending mass at St. Patrick’s cathedral, or Notre Dam, or anywhere that is still currently in use on Christ’s Mass and see how they like it. You know, so all the tourists can get their pretty photos.