How the Mayas Join Two Families
Desde tierra vinimos, hasta la tierra regresamos.
We come from the earth and we will return to the earthMaya Priest Don Edgar
The Mayas have lived in regions of Southern Mexico, Yucatan, Chiapas, and numerous present day countries in Central America. They are classically known for their snake pyramids, star tracking, and calendar system. We all remember the Maya end of the world when the last originally written calendar ended and they next was suppose to start. If they had not been interrupted the Maya civilization would have written those calendars and continued to plant MILPA. While there are still wisps of Maya civilization the end of those calendars truly rung a bell in the world of Maya descendants. Time continues to march on and we change year after year.
Maya belief is based on respect. It starts with respect for the earth and continues to water and wind and fire and all the ether. There are a number of gods and stories that I can not go into for the purpose of this history, but most everything is related to the earth, the cycle of planting, and lessons we should all learn. Simply remember every being, plant, or material is offered it’s respect and given it’s space. To give you another perspective, while not without rules and punishments modern day libertarians have much in common with the wisdom of the ancient Mayan civilization.
With that basic (uber-simplified) understanding, a union of two spirits likewise is done with great mutual respect.
(if you are interested, you can lean more here)
We choose to have a Maya ceremony because while Mike and I do not believe in a christian god we do believe in the power of respect and of the universe. I follow a path of Buddhism and all that I have learned from interactions with Maya descendants chimes well with Buddhist practice. Furthermore, we both spend time as environmentalist protecting water and the earth and respecting other beings that live around us through our veganism.
A Maya union was the perfect fit to ceremoniously join our two families as one. Take in mind we had already, unannounced to most everyone outside of direct family, unceremoniously signed our paperwork in city hall months before. This was without shame, to celebrate the life we have to come.
The first step in the ceremony our Maya priest Don Edgar, set up an altar with many offerings, roped off the ritual space by old geometric parameters, set up flowers, candles and other offerings to each cardinal direction, located where the sun rose and set and cleaned the energy, setting up the intention of our union.
The ceremony started by him guiding us in as equals together entering and passing each direction and the alter as a whole. Next our respected guides were asked to enter and equally passed into the space as Don Edgar lead them to where they would stand on either side of us. My guides were on Mikes sides and his on mine to symbolize the duality and the joining of families we were about to undergo.
Firstly Mike and I were asked out intention being there and if we came to join ourselves together. In our best practiced Mayan we in turn both agreed that we were there to join our spirits and families.
Next we washed and dried each other’s hands in a hicara of water. This was symbolizing washing away each others past and forgiving one another. We were encouraged to remember to do this often, a union is only as strong as it’s forgiveness.
Next began the offerings of various foods and drinks ranging from sweet to bitter to bittersweet and even salty. Each step through the elements was to teach us a different lesson of marriage. Often things begin sweet and then turn bitter, but the lesson was that there is always a way to correct things. Mixing the flavors or even saving them through salt.
For the Mayas honey symbolizes hard work, a little bit of honey is the cumulative effort of a whole colony of bees and isn’t just the sweetness of life but all the hard work that comes behind it and goes into it. You also must remember you aren’t alone, not even as a couple. Similar to the idea “it takes a whole village.” However this knowledge continuously came with the reminder “Dirty laundry is washed at home.” remember “Dirty laundry is ALWAYS washed at home.” The priest reminded us of this numerous times throughout the proceedings.
Many songs were sung throughout the ceremony as we were taught new lessons and given new items.
One of the lessons included that of salt. It was especially poignant for us two chefs but the analogy went something like, when you cook at home, even when you cook the most delicious meal with the best ingredients you can find you will always be missing something. You will find that something isn’t right, something isn’t coming out. The answer is salt. Salt will correct the dish and allow all of its flavors to come out and to be fully enjoyed. However, if you eat a big fingerful of salt, as we did, it will be overpowering and too much to bear. The lesson here is about balance and finding the right amount of time, energy, restraint or whatever might be needed at the time for the relationship to flourish.
It goes without saying that one of the offerings was maize, we were given a cob of corn for each hand and told about how we humans were all made from corn, the Maya origin story. Corn is a cycle, the planting and growing, harvesting and eating. Cycles are well respected by the Maya culture and we were reminded of the time needed to plant and grow. Of course this is also a symbol of fertility and the priest was helping to bless our family with many children.
Next we were to count the cocoa seeds. This was about counting and dividing the family wealth and finances. We counted them together because as a unit we now share this joy and burden. To take care of each other in all ways and not expect the other to do more. We counted 13 in total, another Maya symbol in their sacred geometry and the number the entire ceremony was based on. This concept of 13 is in it’s a topic and can not be fully explained here, although it was important. Cocoa as well is a symbol of great power as it was from here in the Yucatan the seed first started it’s story.
It was important to end these offering with fresh, clean water. We drank this wash away all the other flavors but also as an offering its own. Water cleans all, heals all, is all. Without clean water we do not live.
Two candles are the final offering one for me and one for Mike. This is our most personally offering as our own candle is the light from within us, our heart, our guide, our beacon. He lit each of our candles and blessed us with more words and songs.
At this time we were looped with the holy cord that would bind together our spirits and families. As he draped us with the cord he reminded us in various ways and ideas that Mikes family is mine and that mine is his. Remember the ceremony was as much a story as a ritual and knowledge in the form of anecdotes poked in and out of the web of activities. Not unlike the riddles and Koans of many Buddhist monks that lead a practitioner to the truth through their own discovery and awareness.
However, all throughout we were reminded about the balance of our powers. At all times and in all matters during a union we are equals. We were given a scepter topped with bones of a deer and we held it together at the same time. Our hands had to be overlapping because we were equally sharing the duty of maintaining its position and sharing the power it bestows. As we build a house together it will be important for us to share duties and not fall into male and female habits. Not only is Mike responsible for growing food (as the Mayas firmly believe in sustaining crops, a traditionally physically difficult role) but I must also provide for the household. The same goes for child rearing, we were told Mike was to take as equal a part in the tasks and decisions, neither one should overpower the other’s opinions, and the work should not only fall to me. It was a moment in the ceremony that was unexpected, but we completely agreed with the concept. I was suddenly so proud to be having a Maya ceremony and allowing people to remember this knowledge. In a day where feminism is given a bad name we have the descendants of Maya teaching family equality and fair division of labor since prehistory.
Now that we have been looped together and held the power as one, we are officially bound, but there is still one more lesson.
As the priest sang he guided us around the circle this time our lit candles in hand, he asked me to be just in front of Mike. Don Edgar lined us and our guides up again so that his were on my side and mine on his. He sang and sang and prayed now with the shell of our rings in hand he sang over them as well. The beautiful Mayan words spilling out over the whole space, the altar, the garden and the guests.
It was time for us to share our rings, this was the only part not traditionally in the Maya ceremony. The candles are de facto in this case and rings were a carried in tradition from the colonial conquerors. One act, however, was truly Maya and it was a simple hand game.
Hold your hands together with the palms touching. Bend your second finger (the one between the pointer and the ring finger so that your knuckles and the front part of your fingers are pressed tightly together. This is your commitment to your partner, your decision to be bound to them. Move your thumbs apart, these are your parents. Move your pointer fingers apart, these are your siblings. Move your pinky fingers apart, these are your children. You can be separated from each of these, but now try to move your ring fingers apart. You can’t. As long as your promise, your commitment is held together strong in your second fingers you can not move your ring fingers apart. If you loosen your commitment in the second fingers even just a little then you can separate your ring fingers. I’ll let you puzzle this one by yourself as there are many more lesson to be learned from the symbols, stories and songs of a Maya ceremony.
We ended soon after with a final song and blessed then ultimately leaving the square entirely.
A kiss is also not a traditional part of the Maya union, but we couldn’t’ get away without one.
The guests all encouraged so much after all, “beso, beso, beso.”