Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Indigenous News & Issues

Xultún And The Baktun

In honor of the approaching end of the 13th baktun on December 21, per the famous Mayan calendar, I’d like to write about a piece of ironclad historical evidence contradicting the “Mayan doomsday” nonsense.  That particular piece of evidence lies in the ruins of Xultun.

Xultun was once a flourishing Mayan metropolis, and its importance continues to the present day as the site of a series of murals of great significance to clearing up an archaic misunderstanding of the great calendar.  More specifically, painted on the walls in a house that appears to have been a workshop for scribes and astronomers, is a series of complex astronomical tables  extending well past the end of 2012.  In other words, the Mayan astronomers of the ninth century C.E. most certainly didn’t think the world would end when the thirteenth baktun did, but instead carried on with their work charting planetary and stellar activities well beyond the supposed end of the world.  “So much for the supposed end of the world,” quips William Saturno, one of the present-day (re) discoverers of these scientific calculations.

Another of Saturno’s comments sums up the contrast between Western pop culture’s misconceptions and Mayan thought nicely, in my opinion —  “We keep looking for endings… the Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change. It’s an entirely different mindset.” (National Geographic, 5/10/2012)

After the above excerpts, you might be interested in getting a look at Xultun and these murals for yourself.  If so, you’re in luck!

If you click HERE, you can view National Geographic’s “Giga Pan” high resolution photographs of some of the murals.

If you’d like to explore the beautiful stone stelae (carvings) that dot the city, you can click HERE to visit the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard’s website cataloguing a bit of the site’s history, its carvings, and their locations around the town.  (The diagrams of the carvings are in the list on the lefthand side of the page.)

Finally, National Geographic has also prepared a short video on the discoveries at Xultun for your viewing pleasure, which you can view HERE if you have trouble viewing the embedded version below.

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Joe Laycock & Santa Muerte

I’ve been keeping an eye on the alleged human sacrifices in honor of Santa Muerte (Saint Death) in Nacozari, Mexico, since the news first broke a bit over a week ago.  Since the initial story hit, it’s been a rather vexing (if not surprising) slog through the misinformation and tedious sensationalism, with the usual suspects coming out of the woodwork to push a new version of the tired “Satanic Panic” trope.  I’m pleased to inform however, that a friend of mine, Joseph Laycock, just posted a story regarding the killings on the Religion Dispatches.  With his usual wit, Dr. Laycock deconstructs that bit of irritating nonsense, and provides a nice bit of work tracking how this meme is rapidly developing.  I highly recommend popping by and giving it a read.

If you’re wondering why I’m taking a moment to post news relating to human sacrifices offered to a Catholic saint, you might want to swing by Dr. Laycock’s other article on Santa Muerte.  Among other interesting data of note, he comments on the theory that Santa Muerte is a syncreticism of Catholicism with Mictlancihuatl (aka Mictecacihuatl), the pre-Columbian consort of Mictlantecuhtli and Queen of the Dead.  (Her names translate literally as “Lady of the Land of the Dead” and “Lady of the Deadlands People,” respectively.)  The first time I came across information relating to Santa Muerte, I had the exact same thought come to mind.  Both entities appear as skeletal feminine figures draped in sacred garb.  While Santa Muerte’s dress most obviously echoes a combination of Saint Mary (and by extension, the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is herself a syncretism of Tonantzin) and popular depictions of the Grim Reaper, her functions remind me far more of Mictlancihuatl.  Both grim ladies have power over material blessings and fortunes, as well as life and death.  This combination of dominion over material wealth and death is a signature of the Aztec earth/death deities (the powers of the earth and the force of death are inseparable in this cosmovision, when one gets to the root of it) such as Mictlancihuatl, Tonantzin, Cihuacoatl, and Tlaloc, among many, many others.  The offering of blood and human life to Santa Muerte seems to hint that at least some others see this connection between the new saint and the ancient goddess, the tragic manifestation of this understanding in the case of the Nacozari murders aside.

With that said, I do encourage you to check out Dr. Laycock’s informative articles on Santa Muerte HERE and HERE, and give the ill-informed and sensationalistic tripe from non-experts floating around on the web a miss.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post to stay with the subject of death while linking back to my prior post on the two major anthologies of Aztec poetry.

White Santa MuerteThe White Santa Muerte, Courtesy of Daemondice and Cuautlis


Breathing Room For Wirikuta

I’ve got an update on the threat to Wirikuta, a sacred site of the Wixarika (Huichol) people I blogged about the other day, and the news is good!

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The judiciary grants the Wixarika people a suspension to detain mineral exploitation by the La Luz project in the Catorce municipality of San Luis Potosí

Feb. 26, 2012

The federal courts have definitively granted the suspension of the violations claimed by the Wixarika (Huichol) People in order that no exploitation permit be granted for the La Luz mining project, in the Municipality of Catorce in San Luis Potosí, so long as the core issue remains unresolved… Click HERE to continue the article on the Wirikuta Defense Front site.

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This is an important step in resolving this problem for good, but the fight’s not over yet. The pressure to do the right thing here needs to stay on First Majestic and the Canadian and Mexican governments, whether it’s in the courts, on the streets in peaceful protest, online, or in your prayers. Keep it up!


Wirikuta

Today I came across some interesting news articles documenting the ongoing struggle of the Huichole (Wixáritari) people to protect one of their holiest sites in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico.   The site in question is a beautiful mountain region named Wirikuta in the Huichol tongue, which Spanish-speakers call Cerro del Quemado.  In English, the name is roughly translated as “Burned Mountain,” a fitting name for the place where the sun ascended from the Earth’s surface to the skies in traditional belief.

Despite being considered an internationally-recognized protected site by UNESCO and the Mexican government, Wirikuta is currently under threat from foreign mining interests.  In 2009, the Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver Corp., bought mineral rights to the area, and plans extensive extraction of silver, a process which will consume a significant portion of the area’s limited water supply, as well as expose the countryside to dangerous chemicals used in silver mining, such as cyanide, which have a deadly tendency to seep into the groundwater and render it undrinkable.  This threat to the mountain and the fragile aquifer rooted at it is all the more horrifying when one recalls that mountains were and still are considered to be hearts of earth and water, or “houses of mist” all across Mesoamerica, a belief uniting the imperial Mexica-Tenochca with their present-day Huichol cousins.  Viewed through this lens, it’s not at all surprising that a threat to Wirikuta is a threat to the aquifer and all life in its nourishing influence.

In addition to the physical destruction that mining unavoidably brings, there will be spiritual destruction.  Wirikuta is home to many sacred plants, such as peyote, animals, and divine beings, particularly deities associated with rain.  Destroying the mountain will destroy these creatures and desecrate the site, which will sever the Huichol from their spiritual root.  Drawing a Judeo-Christian-Islamic parallel, Dawn Paley likened digging up Wirikuta to “bulldozing Eden for a golf course” in her detailed coverage of this issue in This Magazine.   Furthermore, this mountain is not only a place to gather vital religious supplies, but it is also a natural temple, a place to conduct ceremony.  Cerro del Quemado, the sacred center of Wirikuta, is the destination of a traditional 800 kilometer yearly pilgrimage conducted by the Huichol people to renew bonds of community and deity.

This February, the journey had an additional goal of seeking guidance in protecting the holy ground from destruction, and by extension, themselves — the Huichol view themselves as inseparable from the sacred site so intimately intertwined with their culture and ancestry, and have stated they view First Majestic’s plans to dig as a “war of extermination” against them.  The Esperanza Project has a beautiful account of the ceremony held on February 6-7th, 2012, complete with numerous photographs and interviews with several Huichol community leaders and observers about the meeting and the ideas and hope flowing from it.  They were kind enough to allow journalists to record some footage of song and ceremony from this holy gathering, which you may watch below.

Courtesy link to Mysticalfrequency’s original YouTube posting

To view video statements by the Huichol against this impending desecration and in support of their traditional spirituality and lifeways, please click HERE.  The linked site, www.nierika.info, also contains many interesting articles on this matter if you would like to read more, both in English and in Spanish.

Below, for those who wish to learn more, I’ve included a short video discussing this crisis and calling for action.  I can’t seem to get it to embed properly, so please click the link below to check it out.

Click to watch on Venado Mestizo’s Vimeo page

You may be wondering where you can go to read and watch more, and learn how you can get involved in putting pressure on First Majestic to abort their plans for this site.  I would like to highlight the Wirikuta Defense Front’s excellent site (click for English or Spanish).  They are an action group composed of people from the Huichol community, as well as local and international allies, and are seeking volunteers to help.


As The Dust Settles

It’s taken a few days, but I’ve finally got the site fully restored and running again, including cleaning up all the links.  Fun fact — importing an old WordPress blog onto a new domain, still using their software, doesn’t auto-update links to pages and posts, internal or external.  When you realize that is when you also realize just how many links you’ve built up over the course of two years.  Good times.  On that note, if you spot any broken links while navigating the site, please shoot me a comment or email (cehualli <AT> hotmail <DOT> com), it’ll help me fix anything still wrong faster.

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Matters of housekeeping aside, I’d also like to point out that I’ve opened the Post-Colonial Modern History page in the History section with its first entry, a collection of John P. Schmal’s papers and research on the numerous indigenous nations within Mexico in the modern era, hosted on Somos Primos.  It’s valuable beyond its core informative value as it also serves to highlight the very important fact that, yes, the Aztecs (Mexica), the Maya, the Huaxtecs, and all the other indigenous peoples one frequently reads about in the past are not gone, they are still here, even if the Conquest and incorporation into a modern, European-style Republic has left its mark on their lifeways.  This might seem like an odd thing to make a big deal about, but it’s a serious issue when discussing First Nations people, as they’re so often stereotyped as archaic, vanishing, or extinct, creatures of the past, and these aren’t harmless cliches.  They hurt people, real, living people.  If you’d like to get a bit of an intro on the issue of damaging stereotyping, check out Adrienne K.’s recent posts on her blog, Native Appropriations, HERE and HERE.  If you’d like to dig deeper and read a concise paper on the results of a 2008 Stanford University study by Dr. Stephanie Fryburg, please go HERE for a downloadable PDF.


Templo Mayor: Offering #126

Shock kindly shared the link to this story with me recently, and I thought I would highlight it here as an interesting archaeological discovery. I look forward to when they publish their full findings.

Most Important Offering in Past 30 Years Discovered in Great Temple

Presidencia de la República
go to original

Mexico City – President Felipe Calderón toured the House of the Bows and Bells of the Great Temple Archaeological Zone, where the largest, most important offerings recorded in 30 years of excavations in this zone were recently discovered…

(Click here for the full story in English)