A part of the universe - holism and immanence

Many of the interviewees explained that life is sacred, that everything has life, and therefore everything is sacred. This makes everything and everyone part of a sacred whole. Martin claims it is one of the central thoughts that every ajq’ij has in common. Both he and Juan think this is something that may be difficult to understand for non-practitioners of Maya spirituality.

Everything is alive. Everything in nature being alive is something I think is shared across all communities and all people who practise Maya spirituality. And by everything I mean the trees, the stars, the dogs, the people, the air, the wind, stones, and ... Everything that’s in nature, everything that’s in the universe has a soul and has life. And I think that’s something that we very often - those of us who practise Maya spirituality - tend to take for granted, that it’s obvious, but it’s clearly not necessarily obvious, for people of other belief systems. [.]

As far as I’m concerned, my understanding of Maya spirituality is that the sacred, or God if you like, is everything. It’s everything that’s in existence. And that’s why at least in English it’s very hard to talk about the god of corn or the god of rain or whatever. They’re all elements of the sacred. Just as I’m part of God and you’re part of God and the dog is part of God. But no one of us or them is a god.

It’s a kind of holistic view of the sacred. And the sacred - the deity, the divinity if you like - is everything which has life, and that is the whole of everything that’s in existence in the universe. So it’s a little difficult to try and sort out the theology sometimes, but it’s like God is immanent, God is in everything. God exists in everything.

But at the same time, once we accept the idea of God as the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, that means that we can also apply to God as something external to ourselves. I’m sure I’m not explaining it properly at the moment, but it also means that I can pray to the whole, knowing that I may be one part of that whole, but I’m not a whole. And the whole that I’m praying to isn’t external to me, it’s part of everything, I’m part of the world.

- Martin

One of our nahuales is the nahual Toj. The newspaper writes that this day is a special day,[1] but that is a lie, because to us all the days are special. The newspaper also says we’re “going to our sacred places,” but to us all places are sacred! The whole earth is our home, it’s our vessel in space!

- Juan

Both Odilia and Teresa, like Martin and Juan, claim to see life and sacredness in everything around them. They both emphasise that such a holistic, immanent worldview is one of the defining differences from Catholicism.

[In Maya] spirituality, we have an importance - for example, to be an ajq’ij we have a nahual that gives us a great importance, that we can feel in the body and in the blood. We have a great importance, because as [practitioners of Maya spirituality] we have to value our mother Earth, we have our father Tepeu and the mother Gucumatz;[2] and the heart of the air, the heart of the water, our mountain, our hill, our nahuales, we have a potential in our body from when we were born. Therefore, that is what we have as Maya and as ajq’ijab.

Now, in the other religion, the Catholic religion, they are only worshipping the Virgin as a mother; and the lord Jesus Christ; and the Heavenly Father. They are only worshipping those. But they are not worshipping, for example, the heart of the air, nor the heart of the water, nor the four cardinal points. They do not take them into consideration, because to them, they don’t exist. So that is, in a few words, the difference between the Catholic religion and the Maya, as ajq’ijab.

- Odilia

[Another thing I feel is different from Catholicism] is more contact, like I said earlier, right? It’s the contact with the energies and the contact with the nahuales, with the Maker and Modeller.[3] [...] I rely on the nahuales, the spirituality, the energy, with the sacred fire and all that we focus on when we are working, right? One focuses more, one is more centred, and one notices the answers that are given. Also, the energies from sickness and all of that, then. That’s where the focus is, therefore, as a part of the universe. [...]

That’s the difference, as we say, because in the Catholic Church, you go to listen to the word of the Lord, right? And that’s what they explain to you. However, for an ajq’ij, it’s not like that. It’s the energy of the Cosmos, that’s the difference.

- Teresa

The word “sacred” is normally used as an opposite to “the profane.” It is interesting to note that most of the interviewees imply that to them, the profane may not exist. This is because to them, everything has life, and all life is sacred.

There’s an awful lot to do with the concept of life and the living. Everything that has life is sacred, and [the sacred is] the totality of life - so the whole business of a holistic vision or a holistic view means that I would recognise as being sacred everything which has life, everything which has had life.

And how would I define life? I couldn’t define life at all, I wouldn’t try to reduce it at all. I could give you an endless list of examples of things that have life. You have life, and so you have your sacred element. Everyone that have ever lived has a sacred element and has some level of existence yet, no matter how long ago they died, and despite how they might be reformed and reshaped in different elements today.

Time itself has life. Part of that is because time is in movement, it’s not static, it’s not fixed, it’s not still - and that’s how it’s able to be counted by a calendar or by a clock. Certainly, the cosmic elements of the universe, let’s say - whether we’re talking about the Milky Way, or Venus, or the Sun, or the Moon - and whether we’re talking about the shifting patterns of carbon, or quarks. They’re all part of things which are in movement, in flux, and therefore can be said to have life.

Is it possible for you to give examples of things that don’t have life?

No, I’d have to think long about that. Basically, if you asked me to agree with the statement that “everything in the Universe is alive” - I’d probably say yes! “Everything in the Universe is sacred as a result of that?” - I would say yes. [.] “Is God part of everything that is alive?” - Yes. Yeah. I would say so.

- Martin

  • [1] Many newspapers in Guatemala run a column on “today’s nahual” much like horoscopes in many European newspapers.
  • [2] Deities mentioned in Popol Vuh.
  • [3] Creador y formador, a deity from Popol Vuh. Like with Tepeu and Gucumatz the twonames are used together and normally refer to the same deity. The translation “Makerand Modeller” is borrowed from Dennis Tedlock, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of theDawn of Life (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996).
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