Ancient Maya Shamanism And Ancestor Veneration
The word shaman for most people, carries an aura of mystery and perplexity. Yet, it is a spiritual practice that began with early human societies. For people unfamiliar with at times perplexing practices, shamanism is often veiled in an obscure and foreign domain. Contemporary respected priest-shamans Tat Rigoberto, Tat Antolin and Tat Nicolasa, from Momostenango in the highlands of Guatemala, explore the ancient origins of this domain and lift its veil of mystery. The qualifier Tat is affectionately granted to highly respected lifetime priest-shamans in Maya- K’iche’ and Tzutu’jil communities, the bearers of rituals that may affect their people’s well-being and economic security.
Maya shaman invoking their ancient gods of rain and fertility. Beside him is an altar of sticks and boughs of the sacred Maya herb, jabin. On the alter are calabashes of food and drink including balatic, the ceremonial alcoholic drink of the Maya for 2000 years. (Wellcome Images / CC BY-SA 4.0)
The study of ancient religious practices reveals common attributes in terms of beliefs and other fundamentals. Most rituals, ancient and historic, affirm the mythical existence of another side of life at the end of human life on earth. The fundamentals of shamanism rest on the nature-culture dichotomy, a duality correlated with the field of opposites in literature. Shamanic rituals are found in traditional communities throughout the world, including the Mayas in Guatemala’s highlands.
Ring Of Fire
Over 100,000 years ago humankind had to compete for survival with the claws, teeth, speed and power of the animal world. Humans defenses were restricted to a powerful brain and the nascent kinship of peers. For the sake of survival cooperation was crucial. Millions of generations ago, the ring of fire was the first awakening of hunter-gatherers to a world beyond their awareness. In the dark of night, the fire lit a circle beyond which everything was threatening.
Prehistoric Family Of Hunter-Gatherers Within The Ring Of Fire ( Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock)
Overcoming the fear of a different world, paid for dearly through trial and error, was the task of select people that mastered the nature-culture duality. The awakening to a spiritual world was grounded in the unshakable conviction that a group’s spatial location is what stood it apart and affirmed its uniqueness to the exclusion of others. At first, the binary spiritual world was identified through daily repetition of natural events such as day-night.
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Georges Fery addresses a number of topics, from history to daily living, architecture and people of various countries and cultures. He is a fellow of the Institute of Maya Studies and also a member in good standing of the Maya Exploration Center, as well as the Archaeological Institute of America.
Top Image: Ancestor Veneration (Image Courtesy Georges Fery ©georgefery.com)
By Georges Fery