The Grotto of Chicoy The Grotto of Chicoy is the site of many important Mayan rituals in the course of the year, including the Mayan "new year" - the first day of the sacred 260-day almanac. This day - Cuaxaquib (8) Batz (Monkey) - will occur next on: September 11th, 2003; May 28th, 2004; February 12th, 2005; October 30th, 2005; July 17th, 2006; April 3rd, 2007; December 19th, 2007, September 4, 2008, May 22, 2009.
The celebration of Cuaxaquib Batz takes place in a circle around a large fire, and is led by Mayan priests wearing bandanas. As the spirit moves the participants and the leaders, they throw things into the fire: candles, copal incense, fruit, bread, aguardiente and boj (the local liquors). The silhouettes of musicians playing the chirimiya (like a clarinet) and drums, in a monotone but plaintive rhythm, are visible through the veil of smoke against the sky at the cave entrance up above. The priests bless people with candles, touching them on the head, chest, thighs, and feet, and then throwing the candles into the fire. Often people circle the fire, three times clockwise and then three times counter-clockwise. Sometimes the priests pick up a child and wave him or her above the flames. Sometimes the priests take a drink of aguardiente and spit / spray it in someone's face and across their body, and the sprayed person then circles the fire.
The ceremony is free-form, no special order or set ritual guides it. Every now and then the priests lead a countdown in Pokomchi Mayan to 13: e.g. 1 dog, 2 dogs, 3 dogs, etc. up to 13 dogs; or 1 cow, 2 cows, 3 cows, etc. up to 13 cows. Presumably this is an invocation of the 13 Mayan gods of the upper world. Now and then the priests give a speech about intelligence, education, careers such as engineering, law, medicine, architecture (perhaps as a blessing upon indigenous youths studying in the Ladino educational system). Now and then the priests call down blessings upon crops, businesses, livestock, as well as the local municipalities.
The ceremony lasts about 5 hours. As it winds down, the priests do a son (slow dance) around the fire, and everyone is invited to draw a cross in the embers with a stick. At the end, the priests explain that they are Mayans; that they are celebrating their sacred year of 260 days; that their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have performed this ritual from time immemorial - and that their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will perform it forevermore.
When it ends, tamales and soda pop are passed out to all participants. It is a hypnotizing, cleansing, and renewing experience for all concerned.