Photo Credit: Aaron Burden

Modern Maya

Aren't some traditions just a litle too much?

In suburban homes and in rural communities, clusters of ‘seekers’ have resurrected the religion of the Ancient Maya. I stumbled upon them by accident and they have chosen me to plead for them that the persecution by the people they work with and by the governments they elected stop. The Maya demand equal right to live in the open with every other citizen.

Mayan civilization was successful a millennium before Europeans found the ‘New World.’ Given their advanced development of writing, mathematics, and astronomy, the Maya were a superior race that if not for a surprise, instantly eradicating cataclysm, could easily have dominated the Americas. With so much to admire, fin de siecle North Americans chose to emulate the Mayan vigorously. Today, seeing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms liberating minorities of every kind, they’ve decided to now shine a light on their beliefs, to demand fairness and equality. Moreover, they are confident that once we see the beauty and power of the Mayan option, we will embrace it ourselves.

Canada is, of course, advanced well beyond that of the last Ancient Maya. Our society offers much that no citizen would give up: liberty from tyrants; safety from the wild and others who would do us harm; housing and indoor plumbing; 300 television channels all showing M*A*S*H at some point during the day; and plenty of consumable options. So there’s no real comparison in that respect. But the Ancient Maya would have undoubtedly evolved their 10th-century ways with continuing technological advances. One way or the other, the Modern Maya believe these features only enhance Mayan culture.

The surviving civilizations and religions are fundamentally unchanged over the centuries. So Mayan devotees are certain that their religion, too, would have survived largely intact. It defines who they, the Modern Maya, are today. They keep faith with this timeless truth and wisdom of the ages. As a matter of spiritual integrity, they have no choice but to uphold all symbols and rites, catechisms and rituals of their glorious forebearers. It is critical to both individual well being and to the organization’s strength.

Sadly, they have long-suffered hostile, anti-Maya persecution. Canada, in particular, deeply disappoints them. Canada, the one place in the world where any and all deeply historic rights and the freedom to practice a religion are not merely accepted but incorporated into society for all. Even here though, too many others gawk, critique, and interfere in Mayan ceremonies, customs, and recreations. Try as they might to privately and separately uphold their religion in all its forms, the New West persecutes them. Consider a few examples.

The thousand year-old rituals that Maya perform throughout their lives are the sacred root of their enduring strength. Unlike the mainstream religions, the Mayan belief system is tied inextricably to nature and the power of the natural world. Rites are conducted in harmony with nature and in large open, typically public, spaces.

Male Maya are unjustifiably stopped from enjoying public transportation and spaces while carrying the ceremonial Maya Machete – despite their taxes supporting these facilities. A man’s lifelong pact with the Sun god is bound in that instrument, and although today not as practical as in the harsher Ancient time, today the Machete is a critical symbol, utterly essential to religious conformance. The men don’t display this burden and duty, except for when it must be drawn in the cause of piety. Still, no go from Air Canada, Via Rail, or Parliament. Why, the Maya want to know, must a man give up his identity just to ride the bus? After all, they were – the Maya, that is – here long before anyone else.

Before taking his place among the wise warriors and carrying a Machete, a young man coming of age must prove himself by a test of faith. The priest takes the young warrior-to-be and, after opening the skin, drives a three-foot wooden shaft through both shoulder blades pinning the stick firmly across his back. The boy is then attached to a post to stand facing the sun for seven days. The Sun god blesses the faithful and strong young man, and on the seventh evening the shaft is pulled out of the proven warrior’s back and he is presented with his custom-made Machete. The family and community bestow other symbols of great admiration on him. Today’s Maya emulate the rite as best as possible. A hockey stick or javelin is used instead of a sapling trunk and the boy is attached to a flagpole on the family’s property, not in the middle of the community. Yet, unless the ceremony is done in secret, Child and Family Services always disrupts the Sun god’s work.

As far back as the Mayan memory extends, nature has been appeased by sacrifice. The traditional approach, made more horrific than beautiful in movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was to rip out the heart of an enemy warrior or mature virgin at the edge of a live volcano vent. The priest would eat the heart as it still beat and the sacrificial body would be cast into the earth’s fire. That’s obviously a little harder to do here, now. Finding an eighteen year old virgin is almost impossible and in place of valiant warriors the Maya have to use lawyers or accountants. And because volcano vents are uncommon in the top half of North America, the Maya make do with manholes. In any event, it is mystic religious ritual that the dominant North American culture does not understand, can’t possibly appreciate, and will not respect. So it does everything it can to stop the tradition.

It may not be well known that Maya women belong to the family, one defined by the spiritually-dominant Maya warrior. By custom, women are blinded upon maturity so that they see the world through the family, making the family and the whole community stronger. The women understand this; they like and prefer it. Being blind makes it much easier to live a virtuous life in a decadent and often immoral world. One Maya woman, standing with her husband and his brothers nearby for support, told a group of neighbours how much easier life is when the difficulties and complexities are in the rightful hands of the spiritual warrior Sun god. Thoughts of the time before she saw through the eyes of the Sun god, her warrior and the family, make her weep. As figurative tears flow from the sockets where eyes once were, neighbours hurled abuse at the Mayans. Why, they asked me later, do these people – their friends mostly – judge and interfere with others’ historical beliefs? Why do they impose their own culturally-based laws on a perfectly proper way of life?

Even simple things like sports are held to an unfair standard. Hockey players draw blood and maim opponents in fights, and boxers beat each other into comas, but the Maya play one game of community basketball and the police get involved. The Mayan game of basketball has deep historical and religious import. Not only is it a pastime, but it tests the important character traits of a man: strength, endurance, commitment, team play, and unswerving belief. A true, god-fearing man is prepared to die or to kill for his team. So what if the losing team is literally slaughtered? It’s tradition and part of the game.

The Maya are tired of living with these double-standards. Islamic fundamentalists will martyr themselves in suicide bombing, and ‘terrorism’ scares everyone. More security, more precautions, less liberty for all is not accepted but welcomed. That’s OK. Still nobody stops Muslims from being Muslims and doing Islamic things. In fact, Islamist living is cosseted to preserve their culture and religion as perfectly as we can make it here, both actually and spiritually far away from the Prophet Muhammad’s stomping grounds. Yet when the Mayan ball players hurt only themselves, the law demands that they stop—committing a sacrilege. Stay out of their game if you can’t understand it, they say.

Ultimately, the Maya only want to be treated fairly. They want the Charter rights afforded to everyone else. They want only that the prevailing system and those who follow it accommodate their admittedly unusual but crucial needs. Pretty simple stuff. It’s not like anyone is demanding that the traditional human altars be erected at the centre of every village for the sacramental eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood. That would be asking too much, they concede.

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