Emilie Teresa Smith: Maya calendar celebrations are far from the doomsday nonsense
There are four days left until the Oxlajuj B’aktun, the completion of the Maya calendar. I live in the centre of the K’iche’-Maya nation, in Santa Cruz del Quiché, in the high mountains of western Guatemala, and everything is quiet here. We are blissfully free from the kooks, both kinds—those waiting, licking their lips, for the end of the world, and those twirling in a circle, sure that this time, it really is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Sigh.
Maya thinking about time is beautiful, mysterious, and complex. The completion of the 13th cycle of 400 years—5,200 years—is nigh, and now we are coming to the turning over of the calendar. Nowhere in any site, or in the few fragments of books that survived the Spanish invasion, is there any mention of natural catastrophes or the end of the world or a new era of peace and harmony. Time is cyclical, eternal, a living thing, which walks in the heavens. It moves, sweeps down, and around again.
The celebrations have begun in Quiché, mostly quietly, far off the tourist trail, at Q’umarkaaj, the ancient K’iche’-Maya city that was burned by the Spaniards in 1524. We gathered at dawn on Waqxaquib’ B’atz’ (December 11) for the completion of yet another lunar year—the moon steps fulfilled their 260 days and begin again. We celebrated a great burning circle, of the six colours, the six directions. The Ajq’ijab’ (guardians of the days) tended the roaring flames, and Don Juan Ixchop was given the staff of authority. Kneeling and then in moving circles of dance, we remembered the ancestors, the multiple names for the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and all the holy places in this most holy land. Five hours later we returned, in the hundreds, to Peace House, where I live, to share food and stories.
I have no authority to speak about the great knowledge and stubborn, indestructible faith of the Maya people among whom I live. But I am a companion on their walking journey, a witness to what they have suffered, and how they have fought to survive. But I bristle in annoyance and outright anger at the nonsense being trotted out about the Maya and their sacred calendar. Hot topic in these days, but forgotten the rest of the time.
In the 1980s, the Maya people suffered what the UN has identified as the greatest genocide of the western hemisphere in modern times when government forces murdered 250,000 of their own people, more than 90 percent of these Maya men, women, and children. Currently, the Maya in the Guatemalan countryside are undergoing what they themselves describe as another invasion, the wrestling of their territories and sacred land, for the exploitation of gold and silver.
The Oxlajuj B’aktun is indeed a holy time, and, as one Maya scholar told me, what is being celebrated is the ongoing survival of his people. This has everything to do, he said, with the care and protection of our living Mother Earth. This isn’t supernatural magic that will wordlessly change the world, for worse or for better, but the reassertion of a way of being and living in the world, based on balanced living with all creation and with one another, frail, needy human beings that we are.
This Friday (December 21), as we move into Kijab’ Ahpu (incidentally, also my Maya birthday), I will be with my friends all night in the freezing mountain air, thick with the scent of the bearded pine trees among the old rocks, warmed by a fire taller than me, remembering my ancestors too, and recommitting myself, eternally, to the fight, against all human monsters—greed, violence, love of money, and filthy, unbalanced power. I will be committing myself at the sacred fire to life.