Can I See a Ritual in Santiago?

Many people ask if they can come and “see” a Mayan ceremony. It’s an understandable and a totally okay question to ask. It’s a reality, too, that it’s difficult for visiting folks to understand how personal ceremony and ritual really live here.

So, the answer to the question is “yes, no, and maybe.” The yes means you might be fortunate to visit one of the Cofradias (Original Ceremonial Houses) while a Shaman is there doing ceremony. The no happens when there is no one there doing ritual. The maybe is that there are no scheduled or set times that personal ritual happens. You can’t plan for it.

Here’s the other thing that is helpful to understand. Ritual is part of life for Tzu’tujil Maya Traditionalists here. It’s lived in and determined by need. This is much the same as when and why you’d visit a doctor, accountant, therapist, or other specialist. You go, innately, when you need to ask for wisdom, healing, or support.

Shamans & Ceremony: Private & Public

Shamans work upon request of their clients. The reasons for ritual include all of life. For example, a client might come and ask to have a ceremony done for the healing of an illness, birth of a baby, a partner, gratitude, business, protection, care of marriage and family, the birth of a baby, or the death of a loved one. It’s infinite and unfolds within and along side life being lived each day.

Most who ask this question do so out of curiosity and a desire to feel and see what this wonderful, sacred world is about. Yet it’s also really important to understand that ceremony is deeply personal, holy, and, in a literal way, private to those carrying it out. While there is a “public” element – meaning the rituals are done
openly in the Cofradias – it’s a tender and more complex truth when one wants to “see” a ceremony.

It’s helpful to think of it this way. If you were at church or another public place for a baptism, wedding, funeral, or a service, people who are not invited or involved might come through. But it’s a different thing if they were to stop to watch, wish to participate, or take photos.

In comparison, if there is a community event, like a Powwow or other public Procession, then others are often invited to witness. This is very different from a private ceremony. The same is true here.

Here in Santiago there are many amazing public Processions and other larger customs carried out by the members of the Cofradias throughout the year. There are too many to list here.

Each of the 12 Cofradias and Ceremonial Houses have and determine certain dates, times, and places of where elements of these are enacted. If you want to experience these beautifully vibrant and sacred public Traditions, Feria in late July, Holy Week (the week of Easter), and around Christmas are the times to come.

A Changing World

It is a happy truth for our community that people come to see and experience what lives here. While this brings many good things, in my personal perspective, this also lends towards a spectator and commercial aspect that’s not always best. To be frank, the world here has changed a lot here over recent years. The same as it has everywhere. Modernization and opening the Traditions to others is complicated.

To “see” a ceremony is one thing – to do and participate is wholly another experience. So, the most succinct answer to this often asked question of “seeing” a ritual is, if you want to witness a ritual it’s best to come and do your own. You can do this individually, as a small group, and as a larger group.

You might want to do a simple blessing and offering or you can create a full ceremony. You can also schedule with us to visit one or more of the Cofradias and learn about the traditions, meanings, and stories without doing a ritual. This will gift you insight, the beauty of bits of the oral traditions, and a lovely, still very intimate experience of what lives here.

How to do a Blessing or Ritual

A blessing and full ritual are, at the heart, much the same. The outer difference is the depth of the ceremony and length of time. Blessings are more concise and rituals are more involved. How to:]

  1. Arrange a Shaman to do your ceremony or blessing.
  2. Buy or have them purchase the candles, incense, and other offerings.
  3. Go to the Ceremonial House that is best aligned for your ceremony. Think of it again like a specialist – health, love, journeys, children, family, work, healing. While most only know of Maximon, there are total of twelve Cofradias and Ceremonial Houses (alters of the last living Nawals, wise ones).
  4. Your blessing / ritual, on average, will take an hour to an hour and a half. However, it is first-come first serve. If there are others doing ceremony or waiting, you take your place in line upon arrival. There is no predicting or scheduling your spot. If you are coming for the day plan extra and flexible
    time for this. If you have to wait it’s a great time to share and learn while you sit.

Schedule Ahead for Ritual or a Cultural Tour

If you want to do a blessing or ritual, please give us a heads up. It takes time to arrange, purchase, and coordinate. This allows us to have everything ready for you when you arrive. The same is true of a Cultural Tour, but we can do these a bit more on the fly.

For a blessing or ritual we like to exchange messages or chat with you prior to your coming. This let’s us get a sense of what you want to create and make it specific and special for you. We’re happy to answer questions or provide more info. Feel free to contact me, LeeAnn.

Dress & Respect

Santiago Atitlan is a Traditional Tzu’tujil Maya community. As we’ve mentioned in other articles, please be aware of your attire. Especially if visiting the Ceremonial Houses and Church. In short, follow the three B’s and three S’s. No buns, boobies, or bellies. No shoulders, sloppy-slouch, or sexy. Applies equally to males and females. So, no short shorts, low cut shirts, open arm tanks, yoga pants, half tops, swimsuits,
slouchy shorts/pants, miniskirts, and no hats inside. Keep it simple, covered, and comfortable.

You will see other visitors not following these more respectful ways. Again, it’s because they’re either not aware or not properly informed by their guides who often come from other towns. It’s just good practice here and anywhere to be mindful of the cultural norms. Each town around the lake is different.

Please also, no taking photos of other people or Shamans doing ceremony or private church gatherings. You’ll see other tourists do this too. If in doubt, flip it around and ask yourself if you’d be comfortable having someone take your picture or your family or child’s picture in the same situation. Public processions and general pics inside of the Cofradias are fine to photograph with, of course, respect.

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One Comment

  1. Great information, guidance and recommendations as a means for ‘outside’ visitors and tourist groups to maintain the sacred meaning, value and relevance of the pre-, post-, and modern-day Maya traditions, ceremonies and ways of living in Santiago, GU.
    With your personal wisdom, first-hand experience and true love for the Naya culture and nature…coupled with your innate sense of humor, creativity, story-telling, love of cooking culture dishes and your ability to spread joy, fun and relaxation, I’m sure business will ge booming for your offerings to others. You go girl!!!

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