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Overview of the Mayan Fire Ceremony
Many of us are mesmerized by fire, and as we spiritually mature, we must ask why. Fire ceremonies are the center of all spiritual practices and common among all ancient and native cultures. A fire ceremony is the most powerfully transformative of all rituals. Each fire ceremony offers us the opportunity to use the source of all light to amplify our intentions and oblations. The divine lives in the fire. The ritual feeds and nurtures her. As one teacher puts it "fire is living spirit, not a symbol of God but God herself."
Mayan fire ceremonies are elaborate and powerful. The effects may not be fully realized for days or months. The experience is essential to understanding Mayan cosmology and involves us in their heartfelt way of worship.
The Maya Aj q’jab are adepts at fire ceremonies, probably doing thousands of them in their lifetime as an Aj q'ij. They use the sacred calendar to find the right day based on the purpose for ceremony. The ingredients are selected based on the same criteria. The Aj q'ij possess the ability to magically light the fire with the flick of the wrist, not using matches or lighter. There is also a science behind their reading of the licks of the flames and the glimmer of the coals. This ascertains if and how the nawales respond to the petitions. Their power and eloquence in calling forth the Nawales rivals any charismatic public speaker in the Western world. Hearing an Aj q'ij do this is enough to put lightening in your blood.
Mayan fire ceremonies are major events, lasting from 2-4 hours, not counting the set-up time. It begins with the invocation of the four directions, then the ancestors, other living Maya clans, places in nature, the elements and, sometimes, every conceivable spirit guide in the universe, regardless of faith, culture or location. Sometimes the tone of the ceremony is somber, other times it may be fun-filled and light. This depends on who is the ceremonial leader, the group of participants and the intention for the ceremony.
Preparing the Fire Pit
Smoke from ceremonial fires can be seen all over the countryside in Guatemala, on the mountainsides, cave floors and river banks. Mayan fire pits can be found in front of the catholic churches in the center of town and in the market (testament to how the Maya have been able to syncretize their belief system within Hispanic culture). The pit is wiped clean before a single ingredient is placed within it. Usually the Daykeepers spit a mouthful of sacred alcohol drink onto the pit to cleanse it. The sacred bundles (vara) are unfolded and spread out to the side of the pit. Each ingredient is meticulously placed on the vara so that the Aj q’jab know where to find it in the heat of the ceremony.
Many of the ingredients are procured at the ubiqitous “shaman shops,” either portable clapboard push carts or permanent market stalls which brim over with ceremonial supplies. Most of the ingredients all handmade and carefully tied together with little strings that are never cut with a knife or scissors. At least two different sizes of color-coded candles, larger ones for the four directions and smaller tapers for the 20 Day Signs, are laid out on the vara in order of usage. The large color-coded candles represent the four directions and ancestors. Yellow colored candles symbolize peace, red symbolizes love, green is for the Earth, white is purity, baby blue is for little boys and pink is for little girls, royal blue is the sky, purple for the ancestors and black is for the offering.
Several different types of incense are used: small nuggets of copal packaged and tied up in corn husks; rax-pon, a large round ball of pine sap, ocote, small bits of myrrh, frankincense, herbs and sesame seeds. Florida water, flower petals, corn meal, sugar, cacao beans, home brewed rum and puros (rolled cigars of pure tobacco) all make fine offerings to the deities.
An artful masterpiece is created when everything is arranged, perfectly fit for pleasing the deities.
Everyone present usually would know their Mayan day sign before the ceremony and is given a couple of candles that matches the color of their Day Sign. To begin, the smudge person begins to cleanse the energy fields of everyone in the circle. This continues throughout the ceremony.
Watch Video of Francisca Cruz smudging Mayan Elders Before Fire Ceremony with her incensario, Unificacion Maya, 2010
The candles for each of the four directions are lit as their presence is called into the circle. Next the Aj q‘ij begins the Sacred Count of Days beginning with the nawal of that day. As eloquently and as passionately as possible, both men and women Aj q‘jab articulate the attributes of the nawal. When the Aj q'ij complete the request for the nawal to be present, s/he will ask the participants to count from 1-13 in unison. The count gets louder and more adamant with each number. A number of languages may be used.
The full count of 260 ( 20 Nawales x 13 Numerals) must be done from the heart and in earnest, otherwise the nawal will not show up. That, as you can imagine, is a very bad sign. As this whole process pogresses, passions mount and the energies rise. The heat and light from the fire alone are enough to capture everyone’s attention. Each participant may step up to the fire when their personal Day Sign (nawal) is called. Whether the person realizes it or not, by doing so they step into their power and are forever changed.
The fire is a living, breathing organism that is essential in the web of life. Out of respect for her, no one walks away until the last ember has turned to ash. The intentions and prayers that were infused into the candles, copal and other offerings begin to seep into the souls of all who participated. The Mayan fire ceremony enlivens one's sense of Mayan cosmology, the Mayan Cross and enables the embodiment of all 260 nawales. All of this unlocks the cosmic code and the divine messages found within.