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D. Alejandro Cirilo Pérez Oxlaj, mayan elder, about 2012 | Pictures and videos of mayan ceremonies | The mayan cosmovision | The Ajq'ij, mayan spiritual guide | The ceremony | Bibliography | Links

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      The Mayan Ceremony : en français | en español | in english


      In Mayan language Maltioxinel means : grateful. How to express gratitude through the ceremony (from Maltioxinel)

      1. Where can ceremonies take place
      2. Who performs the rituals
      3. The meaning of Kojow kotzij, Xukulem,
        Mejelem (of the Maya ceremony)

        - The meaning of the colorsThe flowers
      4. The materials which are used in the
        ceremony
      5. How the ceremony unfolds
      6. The importance of Fire
      7. Who is the Ajaw and who are the Grandparents (Ancestors) ?

      Pictures of the ceremony : Wayeb in Rabinal - Los Encuentros (2008)



      2. Where can ceremonies take place

      The cave, a place of ritual and gathering, symbolizes the absolute purity, within it one breathes its calmness and tranquility, its silence and peace.

      The hills were almost generally a subject of worship, as the seat of the gods. The Mayans with their gigantic volcanoes might have been also the initiators of this vision, since their huge craters and hot springs in the surroundings entirely met their needs.

      The sacred cave represents the womb of the world, it has been the source of life. Its moisture, its darkness, its purity, the breath that it lifts, all remind us of a woman’s womb. The cave and mountain as symbols of deity are not opposite but complementary, like a man and woman. This concept of duality appears throughout the entire Mayan culture and many other worldviews (cosmovisions). (5)

      The mountain seen as an environment of endogenous Education
      In the mountains tops there are small plains where ancient altars can be found, a place where grandparents or the elderly come to make their offerings (Toj) and prayers (Mejelem/Xukulem). Such places are sacral and natural environment, in which certain types of education are made (initiation) (6).

      In fact, a ceremony can be performed anywhere, but there are special centers where power is concentrated, holy places, called altars, Quemaderos.

      They are generally places that are at the top of the hills, where the energy converges, and often there nawales, like stones that our Ancestors left us. There are countless altars in our country, some altars are more energetic than others, they can also be into caves.

      Among those include: The Chikaj, The Hunahpú, The Pecul, The Yaxkanul, The Macamob, The Uliznab' The Sampual, ElBatzibal, The Pulchich, Iximché, Mixco Viejo, Tikal, Piedras Negras, Uaxaktun, Kaminal Jiyu, Takalik Abaj, Saqulew, Gumarkaj, Kabawil, Chwikabal Laguna, Atitlan, The Ajaw, etc.

      Smaller altars where positive energy resides, places to ask for strength
      There is a great number of shrines of all sizes and in various locations in our country, many are dormant because nobody gives them maintenance, or are not known to exist, but little by little altars are being reactivated granting access to many of our brothers since every day there are more of us who want to know about and live our spirituality.


      3. Who performs the rituals

      The feeling of being one with nature makes us manifest our gratitude to the Ajaw for various reasons or due to events of our daily life (family, individual or community reasons), to thank, to ask.

      There are countless types of ceremonies, and according to each case different elements are used to state what will be offered. The Ajaw receives any amount since he knows the status of each one, but the most important is the intention of saying thanks and to offer something from each person. The amount of the offering depends on the willingness of the person making the offering.

      When a person goes deeper into the Cosmovision, its entire life begins to revolve around spirituality. The calendar begins to guide one’s life completely and each moment is one of gratitude. The times on the calendar indicate when to perform formal ceremonies (for specific spiritual or physical needs, diseases, giving thanks, asking for money, improved health, travel, or a wedding, a baptism, receiving the power stick after a ritual, or a birthday.

      An agreement is reached with the Ajqij (spiritual guide) in order for him to consult the site, a suitable day and the offerings one must carry there. Generally, when it is a family ceremony everyone in the family goes, when it is a personal ceremony only the one interested goes with the Ajq'ij to perform his ceremony.

      For large Mayan festivities as indicated on the calendar, celebrations such as as Wajxaqib’ B’atz’, Mother Nature’s day, Women’s Day, Man’s day, a New Year for the agricultural calendar, switching the carrier, etc. for these, generally many people gather and it is turning into a big feast where food is made, marimba, Tum and Chririmilla are played, fireworks and pyrotechnical bombs are exploded and people dance to the beat of the Son (local dance), making it a real communal living.

      4. The meaning of Kojow kotzij, Xukulem, Mejelem (of Maya Ceremony)

      Our grandparents always said that it all resides on our knees. This means that it depends on how often or how long we kneel, which tells us how extensive our gratitude is by kneeling with deep respect before our parents and grandparents, our ancestors and the Ajaw. Since the more we remember Him, the more we kneel down, the humbler we will be and the more grateful we will be for everything that we receive, therefore we will receive more in our lives. Because here comes what is called the law of compensation, which means that whatever we will receive depends on whatever we do ; if you do good , you will receive good, if you do evil, you will receive evil.

      Mayan spirituality is concrete not abstract, and uses concrete things that exist in nature as concrete symbols. (7)

      The meaning of colors

      The colors are taken from nature.

       Red 
      The idea, the path that lights the way, the sun, the blood, the fire, the force, it is the red corn. When we get up, as an anthropological attitude, we always look eastward at the sunrise, our first impulse is to see the sun.

       Black 
      It is compared to the black corn, it means darkness, death, bad ideas, meaning the night and also it means the time rest ; it is used to regain/recover energy, that’s why it means hope, to recharge one’s batteries worn out during the day ; it gives hope for those actions you were not able to fulfill during the day, for you finish them tomorrow, giving you a sense of continuity, no ending.
      And in our body, black can be found in moles, in the black of our eyes, our black hair. One explanation is that a black candle goes out quicker than the others, due to its black paint, this being a natural phenomenon since black attracts more heat and burns out faster.

       White 
      Compared with white corn, represents purity, the color of life, the color of semen, egg white, the seed, the air, the breath of life, the bones, the white of our eyes.

       Yellow 
      Is Q’anil, maturity, being the core, the seed, wealth ; illness, if the seed does not germinate it is sterility. One must make payment to the Q’anil for reproduction to happen. Yellow can be found in the skin, in the muscles.

       Green 
      It's the environment, plants, nature and that’s why one has to ask permission for everything that takes place. There are many values that we have lost resulting in what we are suffering now.

       Blue 
      The atmosphere, the water, the air.



      The Spanish invader did not understand the reason behind so many elements and many colors in our spirituality, and quickly determined we were polytheists. When they saw that there were six colors and twenty days, they quickly drew the conclusion that there were 26 gods, therefore labeled us as polytheists.

      Heart of the Sky, Heart of the Earth, Heart of the Air, Heart of the Sea
      The one who always has to be with me in reality.
      In other religions people say Father, when do we see him ? It is abstract, it's like an irresponsible dad, because he does not show himself, it’s unreal, he’s up there meanwhile we are suffering down here. The difference between the Christian God where dad is up there contrasts the Mayan, where He is The Heart of Sky, the Heart of Earth, the Father Sun, the Air, the Water, the Earth, the Fire, being not abstract, but real.

      The flowers

      Our grandparents said that flowers are to be recognized as presents or offerings. In The Pop Vuh, the flowers helped to save Hunahpu and Ixbalanke from Xibalba, using 4 baskets of flowers. So those born on a day Ajpu should have a pot of flowers at home since it's their Nawal.

      5. The materials used in the ceremony

      The materials that are used to perform a ceremony are diverse, depending on the type of ceremony, also depending on the will of the person offering or their economical means.

      • The Pom or copal that is made from the resin of trees is the gift par excellence, with a very fragrant smoke, having different kinds and sizes, usually comes in threaded weavings.
      • The tree shell is very fragrant.
      • The nine colors of candles summon all the colors in nature; they are organized according to the needs of the giver. The wax candle is there to remember our deceased ones, the candles are offered to call them and tell them our grievances and needs.
      • The Cuilcos as paying coins to pay before of the nawal each day until the twenty nawales are covered.
      • Incense with its natural aroma pleasing to Ajaw ; there are different kinds.
      • Chocolate is used to thank and ask for some important need.
      • Sugar to sweeten the bitter, also used to read in the fire for what Ajaw or the ancestors (Abuelos) want to say.
      • The cinnamon sometimes chewed and offered in the fire to get the bitterness out from the one that is giving.
      • Ocote fire wood (Pinus montezumae), is very significant since that according to the Popol Vuh, it was the ocote that saved our ancestors (Jun Ajpu and Ixbalamke) of the danger that lurked in Xibalba.
      • Firewater spirit liquor (aguardiente) is a good offering to our ancestors, to quench the thirst of those arriving at our request, since the liquor is medicinal for them, just as long as it is consumed in moderation. Problems have arisen due to exaggerations and misuse, so now many guides do not use it, but sometimes it is necessary.
      • The firecrackers and bombs serve to announce the joy of the holiday, also to give some notice of what is going on in the council and consensus that is taking place with our ancestors, since that by invoking our ancestors, they attend the event at the fire, and there it is by the movement of the flames, the sparks jumping out of the fire and going to different cardinal points, which meaning depends on the direction.
      • Egg : this is important, as it is generally used to make a query or question, depending on whether or not it bursts, the cardinal point in which it bursts...
      • Roosters, chickens or pigeons are used to sacrifice for major requests, offering their blood as their throats are slit, sometimes the whole body of the animal is thrown into the fire for it to be consumed by the flames, and in other occasions it is cooked and shared by eating it.
      • Cigars and cigarettes are special to ask questions and inquiries and sometimes a cigarette is needed to accompany the ancestors.
      • Weeds : the main function of some plants is to saturate the audience to extract the bad they have on the body, negative energies and the fatigue they bring ; it is to cleanse us from our ills, of the negative. Among these are the Chilka, the Laurel, chamomile and others.
      • Myrrh is also a plant that serves to throw into the fire to ask for positive energies.
      • The sesame is very good to ask for the economical well being before the nawal Tz’ikin.
      • The flowery water (agua florida) is used to cleanse and neutralize all the negative, depending on the type of ceremony the color would be chosen. It also serves to purify before the ceremony.
      • Honey to sweeten things that are bitter.

      All that pleasant aroma together goes into the offering and gratitude, and is used to ask the Ajaw for our needs and to thank all the favors he provides. Everything is natural and extracted from nature, just as we are one with nature.

      6. How does the ceremony unfolds

      This is how our ancestors prayed

      O thou Tzaqol , Bitol ! Look at us, hear us ! Do not leave us, do not abandon us, O God, who are in Heaven and on Earth, Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth ! Give us our descendants, our succession, just as long as the sun travels and there is clarity ! May the dawn, arrive ! may the aurora arrive, give us many good roads, flat roads ! May people have peace, a lot of peace and be happy ! And give us good life and a useful existence ! Oh you, Hurricane, Chipi Caculhá, Raxa Caculha, Chipi Nanauac, Raxa Nanauac.

      Oh you beauty of the day ! You, Hurricane, you the Heart of Heaven and Earth ! You, Giver of wealth, giver of daughters and sons ! Turn your glory and wealth toward us ; grants life and glory to our children and vassals, may those who will feed you and keep you, multiply and grow, those who call you on the roads, in fields, on the edge of the rivers, ravines, under the trees, under the vines.

      Give them sons and daughters. May they not encounter disgrace and misfortune, may the deceiver not enter behind or in front of them. May they not fall, may they not be wounded, may they not fornicate, nor may they be condemned for justice. They do not fall either uphill or downhill. May they not encounter obstacles before or after them, or be anything that strikes. Give them good paths, beautiful flat paths. May they not find misfortune, or adversity, because of you, due to your sorcery.

      May there be a good existence for those who give you sustenance and food in your mouth, in your presence. You Heart of the Sky, Heart of the Earth, wrapping of the Majesty. And you Tohil, thou Avilix, thou Hacavitz, vault of Heaven, Sarth surface, You the four corners and the four cardinal points.

      May there only be peace and tranquility before your mouth, in your presence, O God ! (8)


      Fire was considered sacred, because they believed fire served as a way to communicate between God and man, for this reason fire was lit by using rolls of resin called Pom, but before the beginning of the liturgy, they knelt looking eastward and kissed the Sun, for which threw the palm of the hand toward the sun and returned it to kiss the front of the fingers, so did they that way facing also the other cardinal points around the primitive altar.

      After this was done, the flame was lit and fanned by throwing more pom, candles, sugar, chocolate, and sometimes alcohol.

      During their prayers, complaints, appeals, they were directed towards the flame, because they thought that by this means of communication, God hears their prayers.

      In the solemn rites, animals like roosters and other wild animals were sacrificed first with blood and then the body of the animal was taken and baked for food. ( 9)


      The ceremony begins when the materials are already in place. First thing to do, a circle of sugar is drawn, then a Mayan cross is made inside, indicating the four cardinal points, then all the pom is arranged properly making a pyramid. Other materials such as candles, ocote fire wood (Pinus montezumae), chocolate, honey, and herbs are then placed.

      When everything is set the Ajq’ij invites everybody to start the ceremony by asking concentration so what is going to be requested will be with great faith. The fire is lit in the center and from here on, the Ajq’ij opens his mind to see the signs and indications that he is given during the ceremony to share them with everyone either during or after the ceremony.

      The Ajq’ij begins to invoke the Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth, Tzaqol, Bitol, asking permission and kissing the earth with much reverence and inviting the audience to do the same.

      He goes on asking and thanking, inviting the ancestors to become present and form the consensus to help the needy who are kneeling in front of them, as the fire catches on, everyone’s energy begins to concentrate and that is when the fire starts talking.

      The Ajq’ij starts asking questions as the days go by, since he starts to pay Cuilco and often stops during the days because they give signals, but this is the experience of the Ajq’ij, questions can also be done with the Ocote fire wood (Pinus montezumae), with candles, with egg, or incense or sugar which is poured slowly.

      There comes a time in which the people present get saturated to remove from them their negative or evil or suffering from diseases, they kiss the herbs and launch them into the fire.

      There are also times when the spiritual guide (Ajq’ij) gives some incense to the ones present, Cuilco for them to ask and place it in the fire as an offering. This can also be done with the sesame seeds, myrrh.

      The Ajq’ij starts removing the fire when he sees the lowering of its intensity, to continue asking questions and reading signs. When one is concentrated enough and as their participation is more constant, one can go seeing signs on the fire.

      When the fire starts dying out and has already been removed many times, everything is left to be consumed and is put out and ended this way ; the one making the offering feels satisfied with having given the Ajaw and having had contacts with the ancestors and having satisfied their questions or needs.

      7. The Importance of Fire

      Fire has a vital importance in the life of man and that is how fire is also taken as vital for the ceremony.

      The Ajq’ij (spiritual guide), meaning the one who works on the counting of the days, is the guide who can make these offerings as an intermediary. According to his consecration he is the person who can and has the ability to read what is being said by the fire. It’s like a map that is placed in front of him,a map which he starts reading to us, for us to understand what our Ancestors want to say to us to about what we are asking.

      It really is impressive how, by means of fire, messages come out through the rotation of the tongues of fire, through the burning of sugar as well as by sparks coming out at a specific time, and there are many other signs that before our eyes are not possible, but in the eyes of the Ajq’ij are very clear, but this depends largely on the willingness of people who participate in a ceremony and mainly on the availability of the Ajq’ij, fasting and abstinence he has kept in order to be in tune and with the ability to perceive the slightest signs.

      8. Who is the Ajaw and who are the Abuelos

      It sometimes is intriguing to talk about the Ajaw and the Abuelos. it should not be so because the Ajaw is the higher Self, the owner of everything. Our Ancestors (Abuelos) are the ones who have gone through this life span and have now changed their state by death. We do not see a Heaven as the Christian, but we do feel the presence of our grandparents/ancestors, mainly the great ones who devoted their life to the welfare of the Community during their lives. They say that if a grandparent works well during his temporal life, he can continue working from the state he is in.

      We have faith that they live around us and are like assistants to the Ajaw, to look after their descendants, to ensure that nothing happens to them and that their paths are flat and straight as the Popol Vuh says, that is why it is customary to always offer them food or water at home for holidays, since it is conceived that they are all around us even if we cannot see them, but feeling their presence. Even in the ceremonies, you can feel the presence of some spirit, by some little gust of air or even a little touch somewhere in the body. There are different Ancestors who were great advisers during their time who respond to the calls made by their descendants to be able to give a hand and help with difficult issues or difficulties that arise in everyday life.

        (5) Edgar Cabrera. The Maya cosmogony, 1992.
        (6) AA. VV. Educational Reality Guatemala. Rigoberta Menchú, UNESCO, 1997. Foundation
        (7) Chkabil Mendez, Oscar. Ajqij Mam. Conference, June 99.
        (8) Adrian Recinos, The Popol Vuh, Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico 1947.
        (9) Chavez, Adrian Ines. Kiche Tzib, 1974.

      Source : Maltioxinel

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