Last December 15-19, I attended a Symposium on Mayan History and Religion in Malmö University, Sweden. One of the most outstanding components of the program was the offer of three-day courses, among which featured one on Paleography of Colonial Texts. It was offered by John Chuchiak, Director of both the Honors College and the Latin American, Caribbean, and Hispanic Studies Program at Missouri State University (photo above). Dr. Chuchiak has focused most of his research on the Franciscan Missions, the Inquisition and the Catholic Church in Colonial Yucatán, Mexico.
Author of The Inquisition in New Spain 1536-1820. A Documentary History, Dr. Chuchiak has translated and examined hundreds of documents of inquisitorial proceedings made against traditional Mayan priests who were trialed and sentenced to death or to jail by the inquisidores of New Spain.
Mayan priests were severely punished for performing ritual ceremonies that had been systematically executed for at least three thousand years. The highly conservative character of ceremonial protocols can be attested by comparing ceremonies depicted in Mayan codexes with those described during inquisitorial trials and those still performed by traditional Mayan priests today.
Rituals are propitiatory for the well-being of socio-ecological systems, where human beings are conscious of how their thoughts and actions facilitate or disrupt the web of life. Priests carry out ceremonies to help maintain harmony in the world at all scales of the time-space matrix. They do this because they abide by the original instructions and laws of co-evolution that were set in place by the first Father-Mother who made life spring from Mother Earth, the Green Turtle (indeed, the same term as Turtle Island for northern first nations).
The thriving landscapes that invaders first saw was the unfolding process of peoples interconnected to the web of life through year-round ceremonies under very elaborate protocols that included fasting and abstinence.
For most Mayan families and communities, the violence perpetrated to their complex living systems at the symbolic, psychological, moral, emotional and physical level is still patent. Undeniably, their spiritual and ecological integrity is under threat today as harshly as in yester days. This is because the Doctrine of Discovery and its logic are still at work: idle lands must be taken and exploited for the sake of capitalism, and dispossessed inhabitants must be forced to accept new laws, be of service, keep a low profile and remain obedient.
Idolatry has been a deeply stigmatizing accusation and a violation to the integrity of original peoples whose way of living is defined by a spirituality of the collective soul. Every ceremony has many prayers, songs, dances and spiritual foods for the continuity of life processes and death processes. The belief that many spiritual forms of the Great Spirit manifest among us because of the diverse and creative ways of expressing love to us, must be respected without prejudice. The reciprocal practices that we have consistently seen are well received by the Great Spirit, must be respected too. Such practices entail sympathetic magic and a great deal of symbolic interplay with the pantheon of spirits –both good and evil. The mastery lies in knowing how and when to acknowledge each kind of spirit, and how to make the ones that give life and love prevail. Life and love, the most potent co-creative energies in all realms of Earth and the cosmos, must be fed with thoughts and intentions of ongoing life and love. That is how good spirits and the goodness of the Great Spirit, prevail.
Accusers of idolatry must have had close encounters with evil forces, most probably because of the impurity of their minds and illness of their intentions as they set foot on Turtle Island with granted authority to vanquish, enslave and kill. Traumatizing experiences of evil is the only explanation of their phobia for ancestral traditional ceremonial practices and practitioners. To see today accusers of idolatry within Mayan towns is not surprising: wise Mayan priests persevere in their practices because, to them, connection with divine forces of creation and life is how the continuing evolution of Mother Earth’s life can be maintained.