The Structure of the Ritual Temporal Practice

The structure of the ritual reveals its content and character. The structural sequence of the ritual proceedings have been determined for the postclassic Yucatec 260-day period, the 365-day calendar and the Aztec 52-year calendar while such a structure cannot be deducted from the inscriptions of the ritual practice of the time units of the Long Count calendar.

A determined structure of the proceedings of the rituals of time of the Long Count calendar cannot be discerned in the classic Maya inscriptions. Consequently, the repeating rhythm of the structure of the ritual practice does not appear in the linear Long Count calendar as compared with the interval periods of the 260-day ritual and the cyclical ending and beginning of the 365-day calendar and the 52-year calendar.

The structure of the ritual sequence of the Burner rituals consists of intervals demarking the completion of four definite 65 cycles of 260 days. A fire is ignited and extinguished through four 65-day intervals. The Burner ceremonies hence comprise 16 rites divided into four groups of four rituals each within a 260-day period. In this manner, these ceremonies incorporate a quadripartite ritual interval (65-days) structure of a cycle of 260-days. The Burner rituals of the 260-day calendar thus embody a ritual sequence of 260 days.

In the case of the New Year ritual of the 365-day postclassic Yucatec and the 52-year calendar ritual of the postclassic Aztecs a certain structure of the ritual proceedings have been identified. These ceremonies follow the tri-partite sequence of a rite de passage. The 365-day calendar ritual of the postclassic Yucatec:

  • 1. The ritual of separation or the Sabacil Than ceremony of Paax, K’ayab and Kumk’u.
  • 2. The transition or liminal Year Bearer ceremonies of Wayeb.
  • 3. Rituals of incorporation of Pohp marking the inauguration of the new 365-day period.

The postclassic Aztec 52-year ritual:

  • 1. All the fires were extinguished and various preparation rites were observed inaugurating the transitional or liminal sequence.
  • 2. The lightning of the New Fire by the religious specialists marks the end of the psychological terror of the dark liminal period.
  • 3. A new 52-year cycle could be introduced with various incorporation rites.

Rituals of renovation and of renewing cyclical calendar time are logically subject to a rite de passage structure. Comparable renovation rituals of the postclassic Yucatec Maya 365-day calendar appear in the 52-year calendar ritual of the postclassic Aztecs. A rite de passage of calendar time signifies a termination and renewal marking an end and a beginning of a specific time-interval (within its cultural context).

The structuring of the 52-year calendar ritual into the model of a rite de passage has illuminated a terminological problem. There are different categories outlining the Aztec ritual, implying either a completion or a renewing of the 52-year cycle. One of the terms, which derive from Nahuatl sources, xiuhmolpilli or “binding of the year” outlines the ritual sequence of symbolically binding 52-years in bundles. This took place in the first sequence of the rite de passage. “The New Fire Ceremony”, on the other hand, is a name constructed by scholars for the 52-year calendar ritual. This refers to the closing of the liminal period when a new fire is ignited at midnight (Ome Acatl, 2 Reed). The new fire symbolises the introduction of the new 52-year cycle. These two names therefore designate two different rites within the complex 52-year calendar rite de passage. The term ‘52-year (calendar) ritual’ encompassing the different rites conducted during a quite extensive time span at the close of the old and at the beginning of the new 52-year calendar is therefore more correct in classifying this ritual practice of time.

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