Cosmogonies and the Ritual Practice of Time and Space

Let us now examine the influence—the stories about the creation of the world (cosmogonies) and pre-human time and in addition the related concept of how the world or space (cosmology) were perceived organised— may have exerted upon classic Maya philosophy or philosophies of the ritual practice of time of the Long Count calendar. In this section the major focus will be upon the cosmogonies. Moreover, I will attempt to identify spatial maps encoded in these narratives and how these models and codes shaped the Long Count calendar.

Sir Eric Thompson has argued that there existed a Maya idea of celebrating creation at the various time stations within the Long Count calendar:

The resting places, the lub, of the eternal march of time were of transcendent consequence to the Maya. Each birthday of creation was celebrated, were it the end of a tun, a katun, or a baktun, the importance of the event naturally depending on the length of the period which was concluded (Thompson 1978: 181).

We see that Thompson associates the rituals of the various time units of the Long Count calendar—pik (bak’tun), winikhaab (k’atun) and haab (tun)—with creation (the longer the time period the more important was the ceremonial event). The history of the creation of the world constituted therefore the “mythical ideology” behind the rituals of time, where these periodic ritual undertakings were re-enactment ceremonies of the cosmogony. Inspired by Thompson, various Mayanists maintain that the “mythological past” was the conceptual foundation for the ritual practice of time of the classic Maya. In Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens

(2000), which explores eleven dynasties of classic Maya cities, Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube allege that at every major station in the Long Count calendar the Maya ruler re-enacted “smaller-scale remaking’s of the world” with offerings and sacrifices. The universe in Mesoamerica was dynamic, with repeating creations and re-creations after destruction. The act performed by the deities at the cosmogony was the foundation for the calendar rituals (e.g. “period-ending ceremonies” or rather ritual practice of time) of the classic Maya ruler (Martin and Grube 2000: 221). Also Christie has sought to explain the nature of the ritual of classic Maya “period-endings” on the background of the story of the creation of the world. She proposes that the ruler (k’uhul ajaw) with his/her auto-sacrifice of blood and the erection of stone stelae renewed the world and time at ““period-ending dates” ”. Christie’s argument implies a hypothesis about an eschatological motivation of the ritual practice of time by the classic Maya. The world was symbolically recreated in rituals of time because the Maya feared that the termination of the major time units of the Long Count calendar might also mean the destruction or annihilation of the world and humanity. The crisis that arose at the completion of a time unit was resolved by the k’uhul ajaw, who is ritual-symbolically recreated and rebuilt the Maya universe. Christie perceives the erection of structures at ““period-ending dates” ” in the classic period as a ceremonial recreation of space and time (Christie 1995: viii-ix; 327-328).

The theory of a symbolic recreation of the world through ritual action— as argued by Thompson, Martin, Grube and Christie—is in fact founded upon the classic mythic-ritual theory of the Romanian historian of religions, Mircea Eliade. Eliade recognise ritual as a re-enactment of the cosmogony. All rituals stem from a repetition of supernatural actions performed at the beginning of time and the world. Creation stories and ritual is therefore closely interconnected. In Le mythe de l’eternel retour. Archetypes et repetition (1969), Eliade writes that he was struck by traditional societies’ “revolt” against concrete, historical time and their nostalgia for a periodical return to the time of the beginning of the world to great time, (“Grand Temps”). ‘History is regulated by archetypes and the repetition of those archetypes (Eliade 1969: 9). Human practices are connected to and are a reproduction of primordial acts in mythical time or illo tempore (“time of origins”). The primordial events of the transcendent reality are repeated because they were consecrated in the beginning by the deities, the ancestors, or the heroes. It is from the repetition of paradigmatic gestures (archetypes) that human objects and ideas acquire its reality and identity

(Eliade 1969: 15-16). The myth of the eternal return is a repetition of the cosmogony. Every creation or construction act repeats the creation of the world and every ritual has a divine model or an archetype. Through repetition of the cosmogonic act, concrete time is projected into sacred mythical time (when the creation of the world occurred) in illo tempore (Eliade 1969: 31; 33). Eliade maintain that there is a fundamental need to regenerate the world periodically through an annulment of time. These regeneration rituals are performed through repetitions of archetypical or cosmogonic proceedings (Eliade 1969: 104).

The hypothesis of Thompson, Christie, Martin and Grube—that time and the world have to be ritually renewed or recreated—represents a theoretical paradigm in Maya and Mesoamerican studies. This theory generates the following questions:

  • 1. Did the symbolic actions of the ritual practice of time refer to primordial exploits of the deities at the cosmogony, i.e. the creation of the present Long Count?
  • 2. Did the ritual of time of the Long Count calendar symbolically renew or reconstruct time and/or the world (space)?
  • 3. Did the classic Maya have a ritual-eschatological philosophy, which can psychologically explain the ritual practice of time of the Long Count calendar?

In order to answer these questions, the primary sources to the cosmogony must be examined and in so doing a reconstruction of the stories of creation of the classic Maya civilisation needs to be executed.

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