The Temporal Ritual Practice by Male Religious Specialists

Various inscriptions and iconography indicates that the ruler sometimes with aid from subordinated members of the aristocracy, e.g. military and political officials below the rank of the k’uhul ajaw in the socio-political hierarchy, conducted the rituals. The nobles were, however, also publicly outlined to perform this pivoted ritual without the presence of the k’uhul ajaw.[1] We are facing a dilemma in the interpretation of the ritual practice of time executed by individuals with titles other than k’uhul ajaw. Was the ritual practice of time observed by the individual in power (e.g. the sovereign) or do the examples of political and social subordinates celebrating ritual practice of time suggest a dissolving of the central power, a weakening authority of the k’uhul ajaw? Surely, this depends upon the city(-state) and at various times on the quite heterogeneous socio-political order and history of classic Maya civilisation. Due to the lack of written and archaeological primary data we cannot consistently establish whether the religious specialists simply usurped religious (and socio-political) authority of the k’uhul ajaw or whether they were entrusted to perform this important ritual structure on his/her behalf. The political status and social position, of the sajal are unfortunately in most of the cases, unrecognised but some can be acknowledged with assurance. For instance, it is quite certain that the ajaw K’ihnich Yo’nal Ahk [II] was in power (Martin and Grube 2000: 147) when sajal K’an Te’ conducted the haab-ending according to the inscription on Stela 5, Piedras Negras.

Marc Zender argues that there was a particular category of religious specialists in the late-classic period (Zender 2004c). The classic Maya societies comprise a hierocracy, apparently autonomous of the political and military authority of the sovereign lord. Religious specialists are acknowledged, from the beginning of the late classic period (c. 600 ad), to have been inaugurated into various offices. Zender has recognised the following religious officials from the written sources, which he claims had independent functions:

  • 1. The male ajk’uhuun and the female ixajk’uhuun, translated by Zender as “worshipper”. The ajk’uhuun was a propitiator of deities, a scribe and keeper of codices, and probably a teacher in writing and the calendar (Zender 2004c: 164-195).[2]
  • 2. Yajawk’ak’, “fire’s vassal, was a warrior religious specialist. He conducted incense and fire rituals (Zender 2004c: 195-210).
  • 3. Ti’sakhuun, “speaker of/for the white headband”, a mediator between the deities and human beings. As spokesman for the ruler, he had various political duties (Zender 2004c: 210-221).
  • 4. Other not clearly identified religious experts like a-na-b’i and b’aajajaw
  • (Zender 2004c: 222-226).

Recruited from the noble lineages, these groups of religious specialists, besides their religious status and function, also held considerable political and economic power. They commissioned their own monuments and religious structures, headed lineages and could be regents or stewards for underage heirs to the title. Moreover, Zender argues that there was, despite loyalty and subordination to the k’uhul ajaw, opposition to this ruler-ideology, which is manifested in the sources. There was no fundamental disparity between military-political and religious authority. Religious status and functions were obviously shared by a number of people in these complex societies (Zender 2004c: iii-iv; 80-81; 221-226; 367-381). The organisation of the civil-religious hierarchy is not clear and is evidently complicated. Zender’s (comparative) analysis and interpretations raise many interesting questions. But what preoccupies us here is whether the various religious specialists were engaged in the ritual practice of time of the Long Count calendar.

The religious specialists did not passively participate, witness or conduct temporal rituals under the authority of the k’uhul ajaw. They could control these ceremonies. Monument 165, Tonina announces that the ajk’uhuun and yajawk’ak’ K’elen Hiix officiated the “period-ending” of when he probably acted as regent when Ruler 4 was still too young to rule. The ajk’uhuun and yajawk’ak’, Aj Ch’aaj Naah is said—together with another ajk’uhuun called “Bird Jaguar” by epigraphers—to oversee (yilaj) the “period-ending” ritual (stone-binding and incense-casting) of the thirteen year old Ruler 4 on according to Monument 110, Tonina (Zender 2004c: 342-346). Furthermore, tisakhuun’o’b were presiding over the ritual prac?tice of time in Comalcalco, Pomona, Tikal and Tonina (Martin and Grube 2000: 110; Zender 2004c: 220-221; 374).

But a religious specialist of the nobility did not necessarily have to be a temporarily regent for the indisposed k’uhul ajaw to be celebrating these rituals. For instance, a sajal both, an ajk’uhuun and an a-na-b’i (Zender 2004c: 222-223), was according to the inscription on Kuna-Lacanha Lintel 1 conducting a ritual practice of time on In addition, a stela excavated by INAH at Tonina, Mexico contains an inscription where a religious specialist, ajk’uh’un, is said (he is also portrayed in performing the described ceremony) supervising the ritual “period-ending” of 3 Ajaw 3 Suutz’ (Zender 2004c: 253-254; 257-258). There is an example of two aj k’uhuun, whom witness a temporal ceremony performed by an ajaw, according to Monument 110, Tonina (Jackson and Stuart 2001: 219). Yok Ch’ich Tal, theyajawk’ak and ajk’uhuun of K’ihnich Ahkal Mo’ Naahb’ [III] of Palenque, probably assist his lord in a ritual practice of time on according to the Pier Panel of Temple XIX, Palenque (Zender 2004c: 315). Stela 11, Piedras Negras illustrate Ruler 4’s overseeing of the “period-ending”

  • 9.15.0. 0.0. The side of this stone monument show religious specialists who apparently supported Ruler 4 in this ritual. One of these religious specialists are named as Ahiin Chak and bearing the title ti’ sakhuun (Zender 2004c: 323-324). Stela 7 of Pomona, Mexico depict and outlines a temporal ritual of the Long Count,, conducted by the ruler K’ihnich Ho’ Hiix B’ahlam and his assistant ti’ sakhuun Jewel Jaguar. They are accompanied by K’ihnich Kan B’ahlam [III] of Palenque (Zender 2004c: 328-329). K’elen Hiix of Tonina was at the same time a ti’sakhuun and an ajk’uhuun. He aided various lords in ritual practices of time according to Monument 8, with Ruler 2,; Monument 140, with Kihnich B’aaknal Chaahk,
  • 0 where also the ajk’uhuun and yajawk’ak’, Aj Ch’aaj Naah participated (Zender 2004c: 342-346).

These cited examples demonstrates that people with diverse religious titles, could conduct ritual practices of time and not only the k’uhul ajaw. But a definite ritual practice, and this is indeed a serious weakness with Zender’s argument in his quite confusing classification, did not distinguish religious specialists since they all conducted or assisted in the ritual practice of time. It is indeed remarkable that individuals with a certain religious title—a human being could have various religious titles—did not hold an exclusive prerogative to perform temporal ceremonies. In addition, various categories of religious specialists had identical accession formulas (chum and k’al sak juun) and also time titles in common with the k’uhul ajaw. The ruling lord could then not be considered to be an exclusive temporal being and ritual performer since he/she shared these features with members of other social groups.

But was the exhibition of the mastery of rituals of time by members of the aristocracy a demonstration of a growing challenging influence upon the city(-state) at the expense of the k’uhul ajaw or does this circumstance show that other religious specialists, than a presumably autocrat, had the privilege to conduct ritual practice of time? This depends upon the historical socio-political context of the individual city(-state) and can accordingly not be answered in a general analysis of classic Maya civilisation. The practices, the performers and the media—i.e. stelae, stone discs and monuments with public inscriptions and iconography—indicates that ritual practices of time of the Long Count calendar was part of the temporal philosophy of the aristocracy and the institution of the k’uhul ajaw. As noted above, a notion of linear time is especially associated with (sacred) rulership and do not functions as a calendar tool for the farmer. Rather, the cyclical 260-day calendar and the cyclical 365-day calendar, maybe the seasonal and solar (agricultural) 365-day calendar in particular, was associated with the life and temporal experience of the classic Maya commoner.

  • [1] Alexandre Parmington has made a survey over monuments delineating sajalo’b’ andajawo’b’ within a ritual context (Parmington 2003: 48, Table 1).
  • [2] ш Ajk’uh’un, translated by Jackson and Stuart as “he of the hold paper”, “one who obeys,venerate”, or “one who keeps”, is never associated with k’uhul ajaw only with subordinatelords (Jackson and Stuart 2001).
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