Places of Emergence: Sacred Mountains and Cofradía Ceremonies


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Pre-Columbian Landscapes of Creation and Origin


This fascination for the origin of things carries over into the more public Maya ritual offerings, processions and ceremonies. Nearly all their major ceremonies deal with creation and rebirth in one way or another. The world in which the Maya live is difficult, sometimes cruel. It is a source of great hope that through prayer, sacred ritual, and offerings, the world and its sacred guardians can return to the moment of their first creation in order to be reborn to new life in a pure, uncorrupted form. It is this periodic renewal, which allows life itself to continue. If these rituals are not performed in the proper way and under the proper circumstances, the Maya believe that they and all creation would simply slip back into primordial darkness, chaos and perpetual death. For the Maya who continue to practice their ancient traditions, storytelling and sacred rituals in the night are not simply the idle retelling or reenactment of events from long ago. Words and movements that follow ancient precedent have the power to make those present witnesses and participants in the events described. As Houston and Stuart note with regard to the ancient Maya, kings who performed sacred drama clothed in the garments of deity were not merely engaged in mummery, but shared in the divinity of those gods. They were not “theatrical illusion but a tangible, physical manifestation of a deity” (Houston and Stuart, 1996:299). When the modern Maya storyteller begins his tale with the phrase, “let us spend this night with our ancestors,” in a sense, he or she means it quite literally. Such experiences have the power to transport those present back to the moment of first beginnings. The darkness of the room and the silence of the sparsely populated mountain terrain of such communities resonate with the soft sounds of the storyteller’s voice—leaving the listeners with the almost palpable sense that they are in an ancient place that once existed before the first dawning of the sun.

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