Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Uaxactun, a Mayan archeological site near Tikal, for the Spring Equinox ceremonies with a friend of mine.
The main ceremony began at 4 a.m. in the grand plaza. One the west side of the plaza is a pyramid; in the center is a large stone altar; and on the east side are three temples in a row: the left one aligns with the Winter Solstice, the middle one with the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, and the right one with the Summer Solstice. Each temple has been built in such a way that on the day of its associated event, the sun will illuminate the interior of the temple and shine down onto the altar.
My friend and I were invited to help with the preparation of the altar for the ceremony, so we arrived at the site around 2:30 a.m. Some of the shamans created a design on the altar in salt, and then we placed pieces of copal on top of the design. Once the design was covered, all the remaining areas of the top of the altar were covered with the rest of the copal. Then we spread wood chips and wood slats on top of the copal. The shamans then lay candles across the top of the wood chips, aligning the colors with the directions: red for east, white for north, black for west, yellow for south, and green and blue for the center. Along the perimeter, we then placed flower petals that aligned with the colored candles: red, white, and yellow rose petals and purple flowers. Finally, we encircled the perimeter with hay.
With the altar ready, we each were given some white candles, and after lighting them, we placed them on the altar to start the fire ceremony.
One shaman took a conch shell and blew into it to call in the ancestors and guides and signal the start of the ceremony. As the fire started to take hold, another shaman guided us through honoring each of the directions, and then we all turned to face the fire.
One by one, each of the shamans spoke of their gratitude for Mother Earth, the animals and food provided, for the wisdom and history of the sacred site, for the Mayans and Guatemalans, for the sun and moon, for the planet, and for each other. As each shaman finished, he or she would make an offering to the fire of candles, bread, cacao, honey or sugar.
Around 6 a.m., the shamans stopped their offerings and everyone turned to the east and waited for the sun to come up and illuminate the interior of the middle temple. I climbed up the pyramid, where a large group of people had gathered, to watch.
And then it happened. The sun broke free of the horizon and began its ascent into the sky. The sky shifted from pink-gold to orange and as I watched, the sun lit up the inside of the temple. One long sunbeam shot out from the temple directly into the fire on the altar while another went straight up into the sky. It was as if the universe was saying, “We accept your offerings and your gratitude and bring them to a higher level and higher place.”
I smiled and silently thanked the universe for giving me the opportunity to be here.