Emilie Teresa Smith: Maya calendar celebrations are far from the doomsday nonsense

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      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.

      Emilie Teresa Smith, a Canadian Anglican priest, writer, and community activist, has worked for almost 30 years with Guatemala. She lives in Santa Cruz del Quiché, department of Quiché, Guatemala.


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      Dec 17, 2012 at 10:36pm

      after reading this article i am even more convinced this world really needs to end december 21st with a beautiful solar flare ending like in the "knowing" movie. can't wait for the end of the world. nothing will be lost.


      Dec 18, 2012 at 12:45am

      the writer of this article would be better off reading the tablet of abdul-baha abas (bahai faith) which says

      "Consider how there are thousands of heedless souls who are asleep, while there is one who is conscious and awake! This world is a prison for heavenly souls, and this earthly world is but a cage, and not a nest, unto the divine birds. A prisoner who is awake and conscious will certainly seek for freedom, and a mindful bird will certainly wish for deliverance from the cage. When the heart becometh free from attachment unto this world, it will crave for the world of the Kingdom and seek for eternal life."


      Dec 18, 2012 at 4:17am

      Lovely article, dear Em, and such a deep comprehension you have of my country's people, among with which you live and share. A big hug for you, peace.

      Greg Kemp

      Dec 18, 2012 at 12:28pm

      Indeed, for the Maya of Guatemala, it is a time for affirming a new dawn that may bring a better future for them. They have proven their tenacity and resilience, I personally hope the future for the Maya will bring an era of something more than survival and even move toward prosperity and abundance. They are already wealthy in culture and spirit, and in my opinion it would be wonderful if they could relax in the necessities of life.


      Dec 24, 2012 at 2:40pm

      The Maya should first evict and deport the Foreign Missionary trying to Destroy their Culture via conversion to worshipping a guy who walked on water in his sandals from Bethlehem which is a long way from any Maya.

      Stop converting and interfering with native culture you religous fundamentalist instead help the poor in your Country of Canada.

      Mario Benitez

      Jan 3, 2013 at 8:09am

      Gracias por el envio de nota tan cultural e importante.