Archives For Mayan

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.

The beginning of a new calendar year usually means a flurry of predictions. These prognostications can be educated guesses, fervent hopes, pessimistic fears, or, in some cases, spiritual messages via divination, omens, or other supernatural methods. One widely reported instance of a yearly divination tradition is the Ifá predictions from Cuba’s Santeria priests, who’ve been gathering for 26 years to make predictions and recommendations. Last year they were eerily accurate in their readings, predicting “abrupt changes in political systems”, intense drought, and “dangers of war and conflicts.” This year the reigning deity is Oya, and they are predicting a year of “war and confrontation, social, political, and economic change, and a dangerous increase in temperature.” However, the mainstream press seems to have positioned this as a Babalawos vs Mayas prophesy-off thanks to the ubiquity of New Age “Mayan Prophesy” books that predict a great ending/beginning in 2012.

Believers around the world have furthered the theory, which stems from a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco that describes the return of a Mayan god on that date, similar to the story of Judgment Day. But Cuba’s priests say that “what needs to die is not the world itself, but rather the ways in which the world has lived until now: confrontations, wars, misery and discrimination,” said Lazaro Cuesta, one of the island’s leading Santeria priests, or babalawo. “For us, an old world must end so that a new world is born …. It is not a physical end.”

Despite the Mayan “2012″ theory being debunked again, and again, and again, and again, and again, some still think something momentous will happen when that calendar runs out. As Mayan Elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun says, “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff”. I suppose the popularity of 2012 as an end-date made such a comparison inevitable, but still, I would have liked to see more on the Ifá predictions instead of having them comment on the popular Mayan trend. In any case, here are their events of social concern for 2012.

  1. This is a sign of war and confrontation.
  2. This is a sign of transition, and social, political, and economic change.
  3. Loss through old age (aging population).
  4. Increase in seismic movement.
  5. You should pay attention to all household issues.
  6. Serious marital problems.
  7. Seek nimble solutions to any existing problem.
  8. Dangerous increase in temperature.

And here are the recommendations from the 2012 reading.

  1. Improve hygiene in hospitals.
  2. Improve apprenticeship in the manual trades.
  3. Special attention to agriculture and the organized distribution of products.
  4. Attention to your children.
  5. Grant consideration to women in every aspect.
  6. Better the organization of public economic management.
  7. Use music as social therapy.
  8. Organize a campaign of general sanitation against environmental contamination in order to avoid epidemics.
  9. Make offerings to ASOJUANO.
  10. Take advantage of the properties of the following plants for their respective uses: albahaca (basil), hierba de la sangre (blood plant), caisimón, quita maldición (remove curse), ciruela (plum), algodón (cotton) and bledo blanco.
  11. Control the increase in promiscuity.
  12. Preserve the environment.
  13. Avoid false accusations and defamations.
  14. Change and revise penal laws, bringing them up to date.

 

As for good omens from other sources, I would like to think launching of a new Pagan community center in Washington DC is a particularly good one. What omens, predictions, and visions do you have for the year of Oya?

I know this was blogged by Boing Boing yesterday, but I can’t help but mention the story of how Mayan priests are planning to purify the holy site of Iximche in Guatemala after a visit from US President George W. Bush.

“Mayan priests will purify a sacred archaeological site to eliminate “bad spirits” after President Bush visits next week, an official with close ties to the group said Thursday … [Juan] Tiney said the “spirit guides of the Mayan community” decided it would be necessary to cleanse the sacred site of “bad spirits” after Bush’s visit so that their ancestors could rest in peace.”

Looks like Bush’s visit there to prove he isn’t ignoring Latin America is already starting to backfire. Even the spirits are giving him the cold shoulder.

Can a conservative Catholic accurately portray pre-Christian Mayan culture in film? Can you make a film that honestly portrays their society while trying to use that culture as a metaphorical critique on your own? While Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” has been getting some good reviews, academics with knowledge of Mayan history, and the current descendants of the Maya are speaking out about the supposed “accuracy” that the film portrays. Anthropologist Traci Ardren, writing for Archeology magazine, thinks the film borders on the pornographic.

“I am not a compulsively politically correct type who sees the Maya as the epitome of goodness and light. I know the Maya practiced brutal violence upon one another, and I have studied child sacrifice during the Classic period. But in “Apocalypto,” no mention is made of the achievements in science and art, the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities. Instead, Gibson replays, in glorious big-budget technicolor, an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans and thus they deserve, in fact they needed, rescue. This same idea was used for 500 years to justify the subjugation of Maya people and it has been thoroughly deconstructed and rejected by Maya intellectuals and community leaders throughout the Maya area today. In fact, Maya intellectuals have demonstrated convincingly that such ideas were manipulated by the Guatemalan army to justify the genocidal civil war of the 1970-1990s. To see this same trope about who indigenous people were (and are today?) used as the basis for entertainment (and I use the term loosely) is truly embarrassing. How can we continue to produce such one-sided and clearly exploitative messages about the indigenous people of the New World?”

Actual Mayans aren’t too happy with the film either.

“Activists are angered by the depiction of their ancestors as a savage race with a penchant for spear-hurling and human sacrifice. “Gibson replays, in glorious, big budget Technicolor, an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans and thus they deserved, in fact needed, rescue,” argued Ignacio Ochoa, director of the Nahual Foundation that promotes Mayan culture.”

Topping all this is the anachronistic arrival of the conquistadors (bearing a big ol’ cross naturally) at the end of the film. Here is what Gibson had to say about the ending in an interview with MTV News.

“…how did the conquistadors take power? I think that the majority of the populace was really discontented with what was going on. They didn’t dig it. Twenty-thousand people being bumped off? It was like, who’s next? And they began to rebel. I think the conquistadors led more of a revolution with the help of the people. But many of these conquistadors were pretty wild guys – you weren’t getting the cream of the crop from Spain, okay? They considered the people to be animals, without souls. And so indiscriminate killing was also part of what they did. And they actually recorded that it was the Franciscans baptizing these people that saved them from being killed – the conquistadors wouldn’t kill them because they figured they must have a soul. I think that Christianity gets a bum rap a lot of the time in the history books. But you’ve got to consider who’s writing them.”

Did Christianity get a “bum rap” here? Leaving aside the complications of portraying the fall of the Maya, the violent society that Gibson portrays had been gone for hundreds of years by the time the Spanish arrived. A point made by several critics.

“…who really cares that the Maya were not living in cities when the Spanish arrived? Yes, Gibson includes the arrival of clearly Christian missionaries (these guys are too clean to be conquistadors) in the last five minutes of the story (in the real world the Spanish arrived 300 years after the last Maya city was abandoned). It is one of the few calm moments in an otherwise aggressively paced film. The message? The end is near and the savior has come.”Traci Ardren, Archeology

“Maybe the Mayans really did bounce human heads down the steps of their pyramids but, being as their civilization collapsed hundreds of years before the Spanish conquest, how would we know? “A lot of it, story-wise, I just made up,” Gibson confessed to the Mexican junketeers who visited his set last year. “And then, oddly, when I checked it out with historians and archaeologists and so forth, it’s not that far [off].” Or far out, for that matter. Irrational as it may be, Mel’s sense of history does have a logic: JP’s trip to hell ends when the Christians arrive.”J. Hoberman, Village Voice

“The Spanish conquistadores (who were historically savagely violent in their own regard) are presented as mere bystanders to Jaguar Paw’s persecution; religious symbolisms such as crosses and bibles in the hands of friars indicate that the Spanish have arrived to Christianize the heathens in order to save them from the savagery they inflict on each other.”Gabriela Erandi Rico, U.C. Berkeley

Even respected Mayanist Richard Hansen, who was a consultant on the project, is starting to distance himself from the film (which won’t open in Mexico until next year).

“there were things I didn’t like that they went ahead and did anyway…there was a lot of artistic license taken…I’m a little apprehensive about how the contemporary Maya will take it.”

So what is the take home message? Just that any film headed by Mel Gibson can never be trusted to get history right (see: Braveheart, The Patriot, The Passion of The Christ) no matter how many subtitles he uses. The fact that he felt the need to add the blatant Christian triumphalism at the end of the film only proves that Gibson is more interested in selling a “message” than giving us an nuanced view of complex points in history. As Latin American scholar Dr. Kathryn Lehman asks, who benefits?

“So if you show this film, give students the basic facts about indigenous peoples TODAY and ask students who benefits from this representation TODAY?”