The Ritual Practice of Time as a Symbolic Ceremonial of the Cosmogony

As we have seen, the creation enterprise of 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u) of the classic Maya took place on the last “period-ending date” of the former Long Count. It is thus reasonable to assume that this date may have operated as the symbolic model for later ritual practices of time. But there were different creation accounts containing independent locations, deities and events. The fundamental features of the heterogeneous classic Maya creation stories being established have prepared us to investigate the hypothesis of a re-creating of the world and a renewal of time through the ritual practice of time. In order to explore the theory of a symbolic-ritual emulation of the creation process, with the object to recreate the world and renew time, a systematic analysis must be carried out of the relation between:

  • 1. The ritual space
  • 2. The ritual actors
  • 3. The ritual dates
  • 4. The ritual practices (e.g. techniques)

of the “period ending stations” of the Long Count calendar and the cosmogonic narratives.

Cosmogonies and the Spatial-Temporal Ritual of the Long Count calendar

There was not a ritual spatial-temporal re-actualisation of the creation stories. The ritual practices of time of the Long Count calendar cannot be recognised celebrated at the various places of creation. Moreover, a polycentric creation not concerned with one location took place at Quirigua. A symbolic spatial ritual imitation is therefore rather difficult to execute. We can accordingly, without further elaboration, dismiss a symbolic link between the locations of creation and the ritual practice of time.

As we shall see, the structure and ritual practice of time of the 260-day calendar, the 365-day calendar and the 52-year calendar has a quadripartite character. The cyclic 819-day calendar was definitively affiliated with the four cardinal directions of the world but a corresponding ritual practice of time cannot be detected (cf. Pharo 2006). Conversely, the Long Count calendar does not comprise a quadripartite structure.[1] [2]

For that reason, a philosophy of defining space in the religious ritual practice of time of the Long Count calendar cannot be identified from the ceremonial-symbolical architectural context. Stelae and stone discs associated with ritual practices of time were usually placed in front of monuments, structures, in plaza etc. as part of larger architectural designs. But these sculptural programs do no indicate that the ritual practice of time of the Long Count calendar had any symbolic spatial-temporal meaning. For instance, the extant sources suggest that the pattern of an erecting and wrapping of three stones as told in the creation inscription on the east side of Stela C, Quirigua were not replicated in the later ritual practice of time. The three stones do not mark space of the four cardinal directions or the pillar of a centre since they constituted only three and not as expected four or five (four stones representing the four cardinal directions whereas one stone represent the centre) cosmological stones. It has been suggested that the three stones at Quirigua appear respectively to symbolise the earth, underworld (sea), and sky, which indicates that the Maya conceived space as both a three-part vertical and a quadrilateral structure of horizontal space.47 But no sources can corroborate this theory. Moreover, it is a question whether the Maya or Mesoamerican cultures conceived space as divided between three vertical parts before the European-Christian arrival. It appears that the (night) sky was conceptually not so distinct from the underworld. This can be perceived in the Aztec Codex Borbonicus lam. 16, where the sky seems to be a part of the water border; or in the Codex Borgia lam. 42, where the interior of the Land of the Death is painted exactly the same as the night sky. Furthermore, in Nahuatl the sea is called ilhuicatl, (“celestial water”), and contemporary ethnographic sources (i.e. of the Huichol or Wixaritari) indicates that the night sky is ontologically different from the diurnal sky (cf. works by Johannes Neurath).[3] [4]

  • [1] The signs, of the four cardinal directions, are known from the written primary sourcesof the classic Maya. Cf. Pharo (2006) and Hopkins and Josserand (2011).
  • [2] Comment by anonymous reviewer.
  • [3] Comment by anonymous reviewer. Diaz (2009) and Nielsen and Sellner (2009)endeavour to demonstrate a European Christian influence in the vertical perception of thecosmos.
  • [4] Identified from the creation accounts recorded on Stela C, Quirigua, Stela 1, Coba,Monument 34, Tonina, Altar 1, Piedras Negras, and probably the ceramic vessels K2796 andK7750. In 1976, Peter Mathews first noted that the Paddler Gods partook in “period-endingevents”. Stuart has identified the name signs of the Paddler Gods, but they have not beendeciphered phonetically. One of the Paddler Gods, who has a jaguar ear and headdress, istherefore simply referred to as “The Jaguar Paddler”. The other, who carries a stingray spineblood letter piercing the septum of his nose, has received the nickname “The Stingray Paddler”. Stuart has detected that their “portrait signs” are substituted with ak’ab (night; darkness) and k’in (day; sun) signs (Stuart 1988: 190-191, fig. 5.19; Schele 1998: 43-44).
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