The Mayan Ceremony for the New B’ak’tun

The spiritual energy was in the air last night. For the first time in 394 years, the Mayans in Guatemala brought in a new b’ak’tun.

Ceremonies were held across the country, and in San Pedro la Laguna was no exception. That afternoon, the locals unveiled a replica of a Mayan freize, then played music with an instrument that resembled a xylophone. When the sun went down, that’s when a crowd began to form around the fire pit.

Two women light the fire for the b’ak’tun ceremony. The colored candles represent the four elements of Earth: fire, air, water and earth.

The set up for the fire is elaborate. Smaller candles and incense are placed into the fire pit before the larger candles are placed on top. These larger candles represent the four elements of Earth: air, fire, water and earth.

Two women lit the fire. The small flames grew larger before encompassing most of the fire pit.

A shaman then led the ceremony for the new b’ak’tun. The man appeared to smoke something that resembled a cigar before slowly rising to his feet. His red headdress symbolized his leadership over the ceremony.

In a low voice, he spoke in Kaqchickel to begin the Sacred Count of the Days. This is done to summon the spirits of the nawals, which represent the day-signs that make up part of the Mayan calendar.

Once finished, participants joined the shaman and counted from one to 13. The chanting would get louder, and it seemed as if something was present at the ceremony. The wind would pick up and cause the flames to dance, bringing a bit of warmth on an otherwise chilly night.

The ceremony lasts for hours, and I watched as the crowd shifted from tourists to locals. Occasionally, they would walk up to the fire pit to toss in candles. I would later learn this is done when the shaman calls a person’s day-sign. Throwing the candles into the fire pit is said to forever change a person’s life.

The fire ceremony lasts for hours. At times, the wind would pick up and cause the flames to dance.

As an observer, I apparently derived no benefit from last night’s ceremony, but I did lock eyes with the shaman. For just a few seconds, I felt like he was speaking directly to me. Although I didn’t understand the language, I did feel a bit more at peace and comfortable enough to leave having seen a particular b’ak’tun ritual that will never be performed again in my lifetime.

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