The Kekchi spirit world THE KEKCHI SPIRIT WORLD
Ruth Carlson and Francis Eachus
Summer Institute of Linguistics
To understand the Kekchi1 on anything more than a superficial level, one must know something of the deities to whom he relates and of those entities in the Kekchi universe which possess souls. Literature on the subject2 is sketchy at best. Therefore, the present paper attempts to present an in-depth study of the Kekchi spirit world which is based on prolonged personal observation and interchange with the Keckchi3.
Our investigation of the subject has led us to abandon the widely-held assumption (e.g. Satterthwaite, 1965:605) of a multitude of supernaturals, at least insofar as they are yielded obeisance by the contemporary Kekchi. The concept of a pantheon of gods may be nothing more than the result of a foreigner's "etic" view of the Kekchi universe. To the outsider, deities indeed appear numerous, but to the Kekchi, there is only one deity with which he must be vitally concerned: Cu:l Taq'a, the "Earth God."
While the Kekchi does acknowledge the existence of other deities, he nevertheless feels that their effect on earth-dwellers is marginal, if not nil. This attitude very probably stems from the bifurcation of the universe by the Kekchi into two jurisdictional areas: ?osa "sky" and ru?i?'o?'' "earth." The vast distance which separates the deities of the sky from the physical world of earthlings effectively weakens any possible influence of Qawa' Saq'e "Our Lord Sun," Qana' Po "Our Mother Moon," and Kaq Cahim "Red Star" (Venus).
But Cu:l Taq'a, the earth god, is ever present. To him man directs prayers and offerings to obtain life, health, rain, permission to work the land, good crops, and the well-being of his family and animals. The sky gods (the Christian God has been added to this roster) may occasionally have their names invoked along with that of Cu:l Taq'a, but they are seldom, if ever, the only deities approached in a given petition.
While Cu:l Taq'a is the only deity that really matters to the Kekchi, there are other entities that, while not deities, have a profound influence on his life because of their peculiar ability to possess a spirit. These entities, the majority of which are etically classifiable as inanimate objects, fall into three categories, according to the kind of spirit which they possess. The three different types of spirits are: (1) muhel, (2) diosil, and (3) wi:nqul (see Figure 1). The deity Cu:l Taq'a, however, does not have a spirit, but possesses the unique distinction of being yo'yo "alive."4
The Kekchi's health, wealth, and longevity are dependent on his being a dutiful subject in a world of beings super-sensitive to being slighted. He recognizes three types of service which he must perform if he is to maintain a felicitous relationship with them: (1) mayexak "to give offerings" or uc'uk "to worship," (2) wa'tesi:nk "to feed," and (3) rawasinkil "to counteract." These ritualistic services will be discussed in more detail as they relate to the specific areas under discussion.
In order to confine the scope of this study, we shall not be treating specters (lax q'eq), demons (kok' ul), apparitions (li anum), and water ghosts (ulel ha'). These are not deities to be worshipped but supernatural beings whose principal effect on man is to frighten him.
Cu:l Taq'a, the earth god
The deity, Cu:l Taq'a (literally, "mountain-valley") has power over man and all nature: the earth, rocks, trees, plants, and wild animals. He is frequently referred to as Lax Ilol Re (literally, "the seer of it") "the one who takes care of" the people, animals, and crops. Every mountain is viewed as a manifestation of Cu:l Taq'a and is thought to have jurisdiction over all that pertains to the area surrounding it; however, there are two principal mountains in the area which are considered to be more powerful than the others: Qawa' Sukaneb' "Our Lord Sukaneb'" which is near San Juan Chamelco, and Qana' Ic'am "Our Mother Ic'am"5 which is near Lanquin. The rest of the mountains of the area are considered by some to be the offspring of these two eminences.
The powerful Cu:l Taq'a makes use of natural phenomena for his own purposes. He uses shooting stars to send messages between mountains, and he sends rain, wind, and lightning to mete out punishment to those who displease him. Wild animals, birds, and insects are also referred to as lax taq "servants" of Cu:l Taq'a and are sent to punish man when he fails to fulfill his obligations to the deity.
The crosses which are always found at the tops of mountain-.' and at the entrances of caves are representations of Cu:l Taq'a. The local belief's surrounding the krus "cross" are remarkably similar to those observed by Vogt in Zinacantan (1969:375), b\ Oakes in Todos Santos (1951), and by Guiteras-Holmes in Che nalho (1961:194). 6 'rile cross is considered to be especially sacred and powerful because "It existed before the world wa created. 'rile cross was the first to see the light of day when the world was born."
The ritual of mayexak-uc'uk, "giving offerings and worshiping"
Whenever one comes to a cross by the wayside, he must mayexak "give offerings" of flowers, incense, pine boughs, and candles to the deity as a sign of his veneration. The first time a traveler passes a cross at the top of a mountain, he leaves a stone as a substitute for his muhel "soul." There he must also offer a dance to Cu:l Taq'a, and if there is no musical instrument, he will whistle his own accompaniment. Before continuing his journey, he will switch his feet with a small branch, reportedly "to ensure that his feet will not get tired." Then the traveler prays to Cu:l Taq'a, thanking him for his protection thus far and asking for help on the rest of the journey. At this point lie completes his demonstration of respect by bidding the deity farewell, just as he had formerly greeted him. Only then can he leave with some assurance that he has gained the good graces of Cu:l Taq'a.
A principal function of Cu:l Taq'a is the giving of counsel to the Indian leaders. Before a man begins his term of service as a cinam (head of the religious brotherhood), the deity speaks to him in a dream, telling the cinam-elect whom he should appoint to serve in each office of the brotherhood. He reiterates general principles concerning the merits of appointing the poor and humble to brotherhood offices, and reminds him that the crops (especially corn) and animals which are under his jurisdiction should be treated with respect. He promises to help the cinam if he will obey his commands.
The ritual of rawasinkil, "counteracting evil"
The rawasinkil ritual must be performed whenever anything pertaining to nature is disturbed without having first obtained special permission. Ideally, permission is asked of Cu:l Taq'a before moving a large stone, cutting a tree, clearing a planting site, harvesting, or hunting. These rites must be performed at certain crosses or in mountain caves as well its at the site of the activity for which permission is being sought. With a cross as the worship center, he offers flowers, cacao and turkey soup to feed (wa'tesi:nk) Cu:l Taq'a. In a planting ceremony, for example, an animal may he sacrificed and the blood sprinkled on the seed corn, the cross, and the ground. While offering his prayers, the devotee burns candles and incense to obtain permission to stick the sharp planting slick into the ground (the "back" of the earth god). A good description of the Keckchi corn-planting ritual has been. given by Carter (1969:71-76).
If' the permission is not properly requested or certain sex and food taboos are not observed, Cu:l Taq'a does not hesitate to retaliate. A hunter who has been derelict in his duty may well find himself without any game, bitten by a snake, or minus his soul. In the preparation of the cornfield, similar penalties may be imposed on one who fails to ask permission from the deity. For improper attitude and / or improper performance of the planting
ceremony, he may send animals or birds to destroy the corn seed or plants; he may withhold rain or may send wind and a pelting downpour to fell the tender plants. In addition, if he is not "fed" properly he may claim his "food" by allowing the planter to fall into one of the numerous sink-holes in the area.
Not only must man perform the proper rituals and show re spect for Cu:l Taq'a and his domain but he must also live a good life. Fighting, especially with a wife, will result in the ruining of his cornfield by wind and hard rain, which are emissaries of Cu:l Taq'a. Arrogance is susceptible to similar punishment, and sensuality may bring on temporary soul loss. A man is responsible not only for his own behavior, but also for that of his wife, children, and even his dog; if he does not keep them in line, he can expect to be punished by the earth deity. Whatever the offense the only means of preventing or arresting punishment is by performing a ritual of rawasinkil "counteracting evil."
Turning now to the types of Kekchi spirits, the first category which we shall discuss is that referred to as the muhel (a term derived from muh "shadow," s- = third person possessor, -Vl = unique or intimate possession, where V = vowel). The muhel almost exclusively pertains to humans, although sonic believe that images of saints and certain domesticated animals may possess a muhel-type soul or spirit as well. One of the outstanding characteristics of this kind of a soul is its "light attachment" to its owner, with the attendant danger or its being lost. Loss of the muhel may be temporary or permanent, the latter resulting in death and the departure of the muhel from the holy to go to its final abode in the mountain with Cu:l Taq'a.
Temporary soul loss may he manifested by physical illness, mental illness, or loss of speech. A child's muhel is apparently less firmly "fixed" than that of an adult; accounts are frequent of children who have fallen and whose souls have been subsequently lost. As a result, the child becomes sick. He call be cured only by taking him hack to the place where he incurred the loss and whipping him there with a switch, after which the ground is whipped, and the child's name is called three times. Hopefully, the soul is thus restored to the child's body and he recovers from his illness.
Men whose souls have been taken as punishment for sensuality become insane or dumb. T'heir muhel are imprisoned in the cave where C:ul Taq'a dwells and may be reclaimed only by performing rawasinkil, the counteracting ritual, before the deity.
The journey of the muhel after death requires that various provisions be made for it. A man must be buried with his shoes, jacket, hat, cup, and perhaps his machete or hoe. A woman's muhel requires that a comb, cup, and the ceremonial gourd which is used for the cacao beverage accompany her. In both cases, a good quantity of allspice and a candle are placed in the coffin. The custom of including a candle has also been noted among other Maya groups. Among the Achi,7 the reason given for the candle's "going with the adult" (or a corncob's being placed in the coffin of a child) is: "it is its mother who goes with him." Among the Tzotzil of Chenalho, Guiteras-Holmes (1961:141) states that adults are buried with a candle in the right hand symbolizing the husband or wife accompanying the deceased. Tax and Hinshaw (1969:99) observed that "in the case of a Panajachelena with surviving children, sprouts of cane and two large candles are placed in the coffin to represent the children and thereby dissuade the departed from returning for her loved ones." The desire for companionship makes a dead person dangerous to the living; the muhel is reluctant to leave the earth unaccompanied, so may consequently call the soul of a relative to go with him.
After others have left for the cemetery, one of the older women remains at home in order to sweep the house. As she sweeps with a branch of a tree (an ordinary broom is never used at this time) she says, "Go! Go! Go!" so that the muhel will not remain in the house.
When the funeral procession reaches the crossroads at the entrance of the cemetery, the muhel marks its final separation from the body with a parting reprimand: "Lucky you! You are going to rest," it scolds, "but I have to wander around paying for your sins!"
Those who attend the funeral must be careful to protect their own souls. As the grave is being filled, each person throws three handfuls of dirt into the hole as a "substitute" for his muhel; otherwise it may be interred in the grave.
The muhel of the deceased frequents his favorite places for a minimum or three days after death. Since home holds the greatest attraction for the muhel, the family provides a lighted candle and a glass of water at the spot where death occurred and keeps a fire burning to assure a warm welcome for the returning one. Evidence of the return of the soul is found in strange noises which are heard: "Surely the muhel of the deceased is handling her grinding stone or water jug, his hoe or machete."
If the muhel remains in the vicinity more than three days, various reasons are given for its dalliance: perhaps the body was not bathed properly; perhaps the burial clothes were dirty; perhaps too many personal effects were placed in the coffin so the load was too heavy; or perhaps there was a special task left uncompleted or a debt left unpaid. For these reasons, a muhel may return and frighten the relatives. In order to persuade the muhel to leave permanently, the relatives must go to a lax q'e "diviner" who will talk with the muhel of the deceased to discover the reason for his restlessness.
Once the muhel leaves his home permanently, he attempts to enter the mountain abode of Cu:l Taq'a. However, his removal of the large rock which blocks the entrance to this place is contingent upon his recitation of the proper prayer. In lieu of the prayer, the muhel's only recourse is to attempt to dart in quickly, but since "he still has not paid for his sins," a servant of Cu:l Taq'a drives him away, using a big snake as a whip. These details support observations made by D.E. Sapper (1925:192):
The Kekchi Indian imagines his god Tzultacaj (Cu:l Taq'a) lives in the mountains. There he lies in a hammock whose hangings are big snakes (icvolai) (rattlesnake). These snakes are his servants and he uses them to punish the sinners. The minor sins are punished with snail bites, whereas the major ones with terrible wounds made by poisonous animals, particularly the icvolai snake, whose bite is almost instantly fatal.
The muhel of a person who dies either by accident or murder (referred to as kaqi mu "red shadow"), must wander about in the world until the appointed time when he should have died. Anyone who encounters a kaqi rnu immediately becomes drained of his strength and is unable to talk. Death may result if the proper ritual is not performed on his behalf.
The muhel of the lax tu:l "sorcerer" (literally, "the person who curses") is never allowed to enter the final abode, but "must wander around in the air forever."
A second category of Kekchi spirit-souls is that referred to a diosil. (This term is derived from dios "god," and like the term muhel is affixed by the possessive form s ... Vl.). These spirit-souls arc characterized by benevolence in contrast to the malevolent wi:nqul spirit described below. The diosil do not retaliate if offended; they just "become sad." Surprisingly, Cu:l Taq'a takes upon himself the surveillance and protection of entities with diosil.
Among those items that have a diosil, the Kekchi include certain cultivated food crops which are "sacred" to them - corn, beans, and sugar cane - as well its certain items used in worship - the cross, incense, candles, and the harp. If the diosil of one the items in this category is offended, Cu:l Taq'a avenges it. He punishes the offender by taking the diosil away from the mistreated object, and the miscreant is the loser. There is a definite advantage in retaining the diosil of food products when stored the home, since the presence of their diosil contributes to the happiness and good fortune of the family as well as to the preservation of the product. The extreme importance of corn in the life of the Kekchi demands that special precautions be taken to protect its diosil. In the event of its loss, the corn loses its power protect itself against weevils and rats, and it will not germinate when used as seed. Some offenses which will cause the diosil the corn to leave are:
(1) Pulling up corn plants.
(2) Wasting corn or corn products.
(3) Selling the corn.(When the corn is sold, part of its diosil leaves. The Kekchi say, "How fortunate is the one who has the corn that he himself has harvested from his own land!")
(4) Unnecessary moving or touching of the corn or corn product. (This can be counteracted by hopa li ruq' "blowing on the hand" before helping oneself to tortillas.)
(5) Roasting coffee below the rafters where the corn ears are stored.(The smell is offensive to the diosil of the corn.)
(6) Leaving an e:b' "notched log used as a ladder" standing against the house. (The diosil will wander down it and get lost.)
The diosil of the seed corn is made productive by having part of the planting ritual performed for it (the rest of the ritual being directed to the tools of planting, the cornfield, etc.). An all-night festival referred to as a yo'lek "wake" (with many of the characteristics of a funeral wake) forms part of the ritual. The Kekchi classifies the ceremony functionally as a wa'tesi:nk "feeding ritual": cacao, turkey soup, tortillas and b'ox (the native liquor made from sugar cane) are "fed" to the seed; blood from a sacrificed turkey may be sprinkled on the seed; the smoke from candles and incense is offered to it and the music from a marimba and prayers complete the "feeding." The prayers express concern that the diosil of the corn might remain in the ground instead of yo'lak "being born."
Certain items in the diosil category - for example, the cross, incense, and candles - are employed in nearly all rituals. Possessing great supernatural power, they are especially efficacious in the rawasinkil "counteracting" ritual, whether performed to nullify the power of the Cu:l Taq'a or of the wi:nqul (spirits of the things that retaliate when they are offended by man). Two other objects of this category that are prominent in the Kekchi festivals arc the harp and the saq cc', a decorated arch made of tree branches and leaves which is erected at the entrance of the place of the fiesta. Both of these items are considered sacred by the Kekchi, and must be ceremonially "fed." For example, the harp will not play well unless it is given its b'ox "liquor."
A third category of Kekchi spirits is that referred to as wi:nqul (wi:nq "man" plus the possessive affix s, plus VI). In contrast to the "sacred" nature of the diosil, these spirits are considered "profane." Items which possess a wi:nqul seem to be peculiar to man's domain (instead of God's). In contrast to the passive benevolent nature of the diosil, the wi:nqul are capable of actively punishing man and are therefore considered to be malevolent.8 Man, therefore, must be careful to show proper respect to objects with a wi:nqul by using them and caring for them: a tree should not be cut and left to decay without being used, nor should a hammock be left swinging free if no one is using it. If the wi:nqul of one of these objects is offended, he will retaliate by causing bodily harm to the offender or causing his soul (muhel) to be lost. Nullification of such action is obtained only through rawasinkil. As a preventative against such maltreatment however, the wa'tesi:nk "feeding" ritual is scrupulously performed for the wi:nqul of the object, offering such "foods" as: meat, blood, liquor, cacao, tortillas, candles, and incense.
The wi:nqul li kab' "spirit of the house" is one of the more powerful, therefore the most feared, of the wi:nqul. The Kekchi have a plausible reason for its awesome strength: "If it takes many trees to build a house, and each tree has its own wi:nqul, the combined power of all is indeed to be respected!" It therefore behooves the owner to perform elaborate feeding rituals to procure protection for his family against the wi:nqul of the very house he has built. As he puts it:
If it is not fed, the house will eat you. It wants its meat. It is fed because, otherwise, it is possible it will kill a child; it is possible it will kill an adult [to obtain its "meat"].
The feeding ritual begins simultaneously with construction of' the house. When the post holes are dug the family sacrifices fowl or a small pig and puts meat into the holes; following this, the posts are sprinkled with blood so that they will "be sturdy and withstand the wind." Again, at the completion of the construction, candles are burned, one in each corner of the house and one in the center. A turkey or chicken is killed and the blood is smeared on the rafters and the door "to give the wood its meat." At this point the owner circles the house swinging a lighted censer to mark off his new domain. The neighbors and relatives are invited in, not only to participate in the feeding ceremony, but also to lend moral support to the host family.
"We gather ourselves together. If we have relatives, we bring them in. We gather ourselves together well when we feed our house. We are gathered together because of our fears. The trees just fell and we have killed our precious trees. We are afraid because of the spirit of our house. That is why we do this."
Preceding the meal, liquor is provided for the guests, and cacao is served from a small hand-painted (red and yellow) ceremonial gourd which is reserved especially for this drink. Last in the ceremony comes the meal of soup (made from the sacrificed animal), tortillas and poc (small amounts of corn dough cooked in banana leaves). "Only in this way, by performing the feeding ceremony, man need no longer fear the wi:nqul of the house."
Bridges, too, have spirits: wi:nqul li q'a. A construction such as this requires much more meat than a house; a cow or a pig is chosen to "feed" a bridge. Until the fairly recent past it is said that human sacrifices were used for the wa'tesi:nk "feeding" of a bridge, the body being buried while the heart was still beating. Insight into the purpose of the "feeding" (providing strength the framework of a construction, in this case) was given when a friend remarked that he had heard that there was now iron reinforcement available to keep a bridge from falling and that he thought this would perhaps do away with the need for human sacrifice. If the bridge is not "fed" at the beginning of construction, it will claim Its "meat" by causing the death of some unsuspecting mortal passing over it. Again at the completion of construction, a fiesta must be held and liquor served to complete the wa'tesi:nk ritual.
When a funeral procession reaches a bridge, the body must be carried across very slowly, giving the muhel li kamenaq "soul of the dead" time to pay proper respects to the wi:nqul li q'a by bidding it a formal farewell.
Tradition has it that the muhel of images of saints are enemies of the wi:nqul li q'a so that when a procession carrying an image reaches a bridge, sky rockets are shot off as a means of placating the spirit of the bridge. Placating this spirit not only prevents soul loss of the image, but also assures a safe crossing for the image bearers.
The wi:nqul li nima' "the spirit of the river" is said to be rami:g (Sp., amigo) "friend" of the wi:nqul li q'a, the spirit of the bridge. While the spirit of the river also steals human souls the preventative feeding rituals are not performed for him, possibly because of' his eternal nature (not having been made by man) or because of his changing course (having no fixed places of worship such as crosses to represent him as does the Cu:l Taq'a. Instead, counteracting rituals (rawasinkil) must be performed as sacrifices offered as substitutes for the muhel of affected people. Babies are especially susceptible to the wi:nqul of the river since "their muhel are not strongly attached and do not have strength to defend themselves." When a baby is taken across a river for the first time, three stones are thrown, into the river "as a substitute for the muhel of the baby."
If an adult falls into the river, his muhel remains there in the water until the individual performs the counteracting ritual. He must make an image of himself out of incense, including bits of his hair and fingernails. He then takes the image to the river to the spot where he fell in; there he either buries it in the bank or throws it into the river as a substitute for his soul. Incense is burned at the spot and the muhel is called back. Some feel that this ritual must be performed three times to be fully assured that the spirit of the river has been sufficiently placated.
The wi:nqul li suq' "spirit of the walking stick" is unique in that it is benevolent to its owner, but malevolent to anyone else. (This is also true of the silver-headed cane which is used as the symbol of civil authority.) For protection during sleep the owner may stick his cane into the ground beside him.
The wi:nqul li suq' "spirit of the cane" gives notice of a thief. It accuses him. It wakes the owner and shows him who the thief is. The cane is a very faithful companion who saves his owner. The muhel of the owner has communion with the wi:nqul of his cane. They talk to each other. The wi:nqul li suq' does only good to its owner, but it does only harm to others.
The wi:nqul li q'oxyi:n "spirit of the night/darkness" is distinguished by having a wider sphere of malevolent influence than any other wi:nqul. While other wi:nqul are capable of affecting the muhel of persons who have offended them, the spirit of the night has the added power of affecting the wi:nqul of objects left unattended at night. For instance, if a hammock is left hanging free with no one resting in it, the spirit of the night will "desecrate" it. Likewise, the wi:nqul li mesleb' "spirit of the broom," if left outside overnight, will be desecrated by the spirit of the night. The danger of such desecration or contamination, however, is ultimately to the owner of the neglected object. It said that those who contract illness, for example, from clothing left outside at night, are "practically impossible to cure."
The wi:nqul li q'oxyi:n "spirit of the night / darkness besides having a deleterious effect on objects with a wi:nqul, may also find susceptible victims in individuals. If an expectant mother walks out into the night air, the fetus will become sick or deformed; if she looks at a new moon, the child will have some thing wrong with its eyes. The father must also be careful; if he whistles at night, the fetus will "try to die" or if it lives, it will cry all the time.
A man must be especially careful not to have impure thoughts when he is out at night for the wi:nqul li q'oxyi:n can appear as a woman to tempt him and cause him to lose his soul. As a result he may become mute, paralyzed, or insane. If he finds it necessary to sleep outside at night, he should make a cross of wood or twigs and stand it in the ground beside him to protect himself from this spirit of the night.
There is a sinister affinity between the wi:nqul li yax " spirit of sickness" and the wi:nqul li q'oxyi:n "spirit of darkness ." The lax tu:l "sorcerer" is well acquainted with the spirit of sickness and has power to use it to cast evil spells or to restrain in one of his clients. The whole system of awas "sickness caused by malevolent spirits" is related to the wi:nqul of sickness. The Kekchi believe that medical science has no power over either sicknesses caused by the wi:nqul of sickness or awas; only a lax tu:l "sorcerer" can prescribe and perform the proper rawasink "counteracting ritual" to relieve such illnesses.
The wi:nqul li ab' "spirit of the hammock" is not to be lightly regarded by its owner. It is general knowledge that a man who is "thinking of other women" while resting in his hammock will be shaken violently by the wi:nqul li ab'. He may lose his soul and become ill or even die because of his offense to the spirit of the hammock. A baby is even more susceptible to soul loss if left alone in a hammock, unless the family takes the proper precautions and places garlic near the hammock and forms a cross of two machetes beneath it.
The wi:nqul Ii mesleb' "spirit of the broom" is also a very powerful and easily offended spirit. It not only has power to remove the soul of a deceased member of the family from the house as noted before, but it also has power over living souls. For instance, the broom's spirit may strike a person dumb (a symptom of soul loss) if a broom is left beside that person's bed instead of in its proper place in the corner. The broom should be used early in the day. If one finds it necessary to sweep late in the afternoon or at night, the sweepings should be kept inside the house until the next morning; otherwise the spirit of the night will desecrate the sweepings and thereby bring misfortune upon the occupants. When a householder goes on a trip, the servant must not sweep for three days; if he does, the wi:nqul li mesleb' "spirit of the broom" may steal the muhel of the owner. Finally, the wi:nqul li mesleb' has power to encourage the departure of visitors who have worn out their welcome. To effect the ouster, the owner stands the broom upside down behind the door and covertly throws salt on the fire, saying, "Go!" Army ants, also, may be driven out by the spirit of the broom, never to return to that house again.
The wi:nqul li sam "spirit of the fire" is maddeningly mischievous. It loves to try the patience of people, thus proving it has wi:nqul.
The fire has its wi:nqul because there are times when we want it to light and it won't light. We need to cook and it won't burn. When we don't need it, it burns. It gives us our anger [makes us angry]. When there is no more work for it, then it lights and burns.
The spirit of the fire may be reprimanded by throwing a little water or salt on it.
When the fire crackles and pops, its wi:nqul is warning the owner of impending distress. "Maybe the husband will come home angry and scold the wife. Maybe she will have a fight with someone else, or maybe it is a warning to them of an enemy."
The wi:nqul li sam knows it if the owner is not "sincere and happy" when he burns the underbrush from his field before planting. As a consequence, the fire may punish him by getting out of control and starting a forest fire. Another danger arises if he uses the fire to dry his corn for storage while thinking of things which are not pleasing to the wi:nqul li sam; if he does not change to better thoughts his house may catch fire. If he shows disrespect when gathering firewood (by the act of urinating on it) the spirit of the fire will not allow the firewood to burn.
The fire should not be wasted nor allowed to burn without purpose, but it may be banked at night so it will start easily the next morning. The wi:nqul li sam is content when it is respected and appreciated by the people:
The fire is like our fathers, our mothers,
because if we have no fire, we die.
When we get wet and cold, the fire warms us.
When we want to fix our food, the fire does good for us.
We can't eat it if it isn't cooked, they say.
If we don't have a fire, we die.
The fire, it is precious.
If we don't have a fire, what can we do?
Certain important tools also have a wi:nqul: specifically the c'i:c' "machete," the asaron "hoe," and the mal "axe." If their owners do not show proper appreciation for them, their wi:nqul is grieved. Tools must always be kept sharp and in their proper places, remembering that the wi:nqul li q'oxyi:n "spirit of night / darkness will desecrate them if they are left outside overnight. When these items have been in disuse for a time, the
ritual of wa'tesi:ink "feeding" must be performed on the eve of their being used again. The "food" for this ritual consists of turkey soup, incense, liquor, and cacao.
If they are fed, they will be happy. The owner gives them whatever they want so they will serve "in truth" [without deception, wholeheartedly]. Then, nothing will happen to the owner. He will not be cut, and a tree will not fall on him. He will work in truth. That is why they must be fed.
The wi:nqul li waxb' "spirit of the musical instruments" pertains to the instruments used in the religious festivals: the so:lb' "reed flute;" the cirimia, a wooden flute with a double reed mouthpiece; the marimba; and the tambor (Sp.) "drum." In order to assure a good performance, the wi:nqul of these instruments must be fed before using them. If the instruments and all the guests present are not fed, the wi:nqul li waxb' will be sad and will not perform well - the cords of the marimba will break, or one of the bars will crack and the music will be spoiled. There is danger that the wi:nqul li q'oxyi:n "spirit of night / darkness" will begin to disturb the people who are dancing: they will become disgruntled and begin to fight among themselves.
Where the marimba is, there are many people. The wi:nqul li marimba calls the people. The marimba is also accompanied by the devil because when they hear the marimba, the people's heads "get hot" and there is lots of fighting. The wi:nqul li marimba feels it if it is loved by its owner. If it is fed, it is happy. They pour on the marimba a little bit of their food and their drink. They drink the cacao; they pour some on the marimba. The wi:nqul li marimba is then happy, and it will play well.
The wi:nqul li saxleb' "spirit of the (drama) dance" pervades the various dances (for example, that or the Moros (Sp.) "Dance of the Moors," Conquistadores (Sp.) "Dance of the Spanish Conquerors," the kex "deer dance," and lax sik' or lax ca "devil dance"). The appurtenances of the dances (the k'ox "mask," the raq' "costumes" and the specialized equipment for a particular dance, e.g., in the wakas po:p "dance of the bull," a bull made from a woven straw mat strung with firecrackers) all posses wi:nqul li saxleb'. When the time of practicing the dances begins, a fiesta initiates the proceedings and everyone must eat and drink; the spirit of the dance is offered food and drink as are the invited guests.
The dancers must observe sex taboos during this time or they will lose their muhel. When a person puts on the dancing costume and mask, he ceases to be a human being; nothing else exists during the dancing period but the wi:nqul li saxleb' "spirit of the dance." The costumes and masks must be properly "fed" to keep them from taking away the soul of the dancer. For example, in the dance of the bull, before the firecrackers can be ignited, the host for the fiesta must request that the lax k'atol li wakas "the one who burns the bull," first "feed" it. Lax k'atoc re "the burner" begins the feeding ritual three days before the time of burning by refraining from sexual relations. He must procure turkey soup, a gourd of cacao beverage, a cigar, and incense which he places at the mouth of the wakas po:p "straw-mat bull" as an offering. He then burns incense, enveloping the "animal" with the smoke. At the appointed hour for burning the bull, guests are served from the food prepared for the offerings.
The one who burns the bull requests that the bull be fed then food is given to the wakas po:p. What he does not eat is distributed to the people so that they may participate in the feeding. "The burner" must smoke the cigar. He does this so nothing will happen to him when he burns the wakas po:p. He won't fall down and be burned. When he begins to dance, his name must not be spoken. Then no other wi:nqul will molest him.
If a person fails in some way to observe the taboos, or someone has not partaken in the ritual meal, the wi:nqul li saxeb' "spirit of the dance" becomes unhappy and snatches muhel of one of the dancers. Signs of soul loss include immediate depletion of strength, paralysis, and aphonia. The rawasinkil "counteracting rite" is performed by the person who did not partake of the ritual meal. He is required to step three times over the prone body of the stricken dancer. Only thus call the wi:nqul li saxleb' be appeased.
The Kekchi structure their universe around one major deity, the Cu:l Taq'a "earth god," who is capable of both benevolence and malevolence. The spirit-owning entities are (1) a set of sdioisil-possessing entities (incapable of malevolence), (2) a set of wi:nqul-possessing entities (capable of malevolence), and (3) man, himself, who possesses a muhel "soul."
The Kekchi must fulfill three requirements in order to maintain the proper relationship with the Cu:l Taq'a and the spirit-owning entities. First, he must have art attitude of humility and must be pure of thought. Such an attitude will be demonstrated by a good relationship to his family and fellowman. Second, he must have reverence and respect for the Cu:l Taq'a and for all that is in his jurisdiction, and must routinely dedicate to him the prescribed rituals of mayexak "offerings" and uc'uk "worship." He must meticulously seek permission for disturbing or using anything which pertains to the world of nature. Third, he must not offend the entities which possess a diosil or a wi:nqul; both classes of spirits must be wa'tesi:nk "fed," but those possessing a wi:nqul (hence capable of malevolence) must be placated, as well, through the rawasinkil "counteracting" ceremony.
If this relationship is violated by man's not fulfilling the requirements, the Cu:l Taq'a may send his servants (lightning, rain, wind, insects and wild animals) to punish man physically or, if the offense warrants, lie may take man's soul. If objects with a wi:nqul are offended, the disturbed objects may not serve their purpose, their wi:nqul may do physical damage to man, or they also may take man's soul. The relationship between man and either Cu:l Taq'a or a wi:nqul may be restored by his performing the rawasinkil "counteracting ritual."
In conclusion, the "feeding" is the one ritual that is performed by man for all three types of "living" entities: (1) Cu:l Taq'a (2) objects with a diosil, and (3) objects with a wi:nqul as illustrated below:
DIOSIL f____w'atesi:nk___ Man ____w'atesi:nk___g WI:NQUL
not capable of (muhel) capable of
The rawasinkil "counteracting" ritual, on the other hand, is performed only for the benefit of those two powers (Cu:l Taq'a and objects with a wi:nqul) capable of malevolence.
Man ____rawasinkil___g WI:NQUL
The ritual of mayexak "giving offerings" and uc'uk "worship" are reserved for deities, among whom Cu:l Taq'a is paramount:
Comparison with other indigenous groups of Mesoamerica
A study of the Kekchi spirit world seems incomplete without comparing certain aspects of their cognitive system with apparently related aspects found in other indigenous groups of Mesoamerica. Foster (1944:97) states that among the Aztec of Catemaco, Veracruz, the sombra (Sp.) "shade, shadow" (compare Kekchi muhel "shadow") joins the individual at birth, stands guard at night and appears to be a general protector. This sombra can be kidnapped by the nagual (a witch with powers of metamorphosis) just as the Kekchi muhel can he abducted by the Cu:l Taq'a "earth god." Foster further observes that if the sombra is mortally wounded, outright death of its owner is inevitable; on the basis of this he concludes that the sombra is the current designation for the old Aztec tonal / tonalli "companion spirit" (a dual spirit which indwells both an individual and his companion-animal).
The apparent absence of the concept of the Aztec companion spirit (tonalli) and malevolent transformer (nagual) among the Kekchi, along with the widespread presence of a well-developed system of soul-possessing entities, make it tempting to propose that the Kekchi cognitive system more accurately reflects the pre-Aztec Mayan views than do the systems of the Maya groups which have lived closer to Aztec influence.
An example of a Maya group which reflects something of the ancient Aztec system is that group of Tzotziles so lucidly described by Guiteras-Holmes (1961). A superficial comparison of that system with the Kekchi system brings to light interesting similarities between the Tzotzil ch'ulel (indestructible soul of humans) and the Kekchi muhel. The Tzotzil wayhel (animal counterpart), which is comprised of two contrasting classes personified in the evil poslob (jaguar) and the good totilme'il (hummingbird), are likewise similar in character and function to the nonhuman spirits of the Kekchi - the wi:nqul (malevolent spirit and the diosil (benevolent spirit).
The Chorti (Wisdom, 1940:390) have a group of supernatural beings called wink-ir (an obvious cognate of the Kekchi wi:nqul which also has as a chief distinctive feature a malevolent nature. Wink-ir is translated variously by Wisdom as due?o "owner" and "guardian spirit." Wisdom also observes that the passive maize spirit is closely identified with the active earth god. This statement reveals two similarities between the cognitive structure of the Chorti and that of the Kekchi: (1) in both groups, maize conceptualized as having a spirit; and (2) in both groups, the maize spirit is passive in contrast to the wink-ir (Chorti) or swi:inqul (Kekchi) who actively punishes or benefits.
A study of the Kekchi spirit world seems incomplete without comparing certain aspects of their cognitive system with apparently related aspects found in other indigenous groups of Mesoamerica. Foster (1944:97) states that among the Aztec of Catemaco, Veracruz, the sombra (Sp.) "shade, shadow" (compare Kekchi muhel "shadow") joins the individual al birth, stands guard at night and appears to be a general protector. This sombra can be kidnapped by the nagual (a witch with powers of meta-morphosis) just as the Kekchi muhel can he abducted by the Cu:l Taq'a "earth god." Foster furthcr observes that if the sombra is mortally wounded, outright death of its owner is inevi-table; on the basis of this he concludes that the sombra is the .current designation for the old Aztec tonal / tonalli "companion spirit" (a dual spirit which indwells both an individual and his companion-animal).
The apparent absence of the concept of the Aztec companion spirit (tonalli) and malevolent transformer nagual among the Kekchi, along with the widespread presence o(' a well-developed
Because the Kekchi are the largest contemporary Maya group which live in close proximity to the region of the great floresence of the Classic Maya Civilization in Peten, they are of special interest. A comparison of their spirit world with those of all of the other Maya groups inferred to be in the Peten region at the time of the classic Maya (see McQuown, 1967) should enable one to derive a proto-system of cosmology directly relevant to the religion of the Classic Maya of that region.
1 Kekchi (q'eqci') phonemes include ten vowels and twenty-three consonants. Those symbols within parentheses provide a more exact representation or a clarification of the preceding symbol (also charted in the frontispiece). When more than one symbol occurs within parentheses, they show allophonic variations of a given phoneme found in different dialects. The vowels, a, e, i, o, and u represent quantitatively short vowels; a:, e:, i:, o:, and u: are their quantitatively long counterparts. Consonants are: p, b' (be ), t, t', k, k', q, q', ' (?), c, c', ? , ?', s, , h, x, m, n, l (l in final position), w (gw, kw, w), r, y. Stress falls on the final syllable of the word.
Words borrowed from Spanish (generally marked "(Sp.)") employ voiced stops and other phonemes atypical of Kekchi.
We are grateful to Dean Arnold and Mary Shaw for reading the manuscript and offering many helpful suggestions for its improvement, and to Helen Neuenswander for assistance in the composition and editing of the paper.
2 Besides references cited in the body of this paper, source material includes: Dieseldorff (1928-1929), J.E.S.Thompson (1930, 1954, 1965), Eachus and Carlaon (1966, 1971), and Villa Rojas (1969b).
3 While research has been in progress during most of the authors' twenty years of residence, data for this paper have been supplemented by observation of rituals, tape-recorded texts, and direct questioning of people of both sexes and representative age groups.
4 Villa Rojas (1969a:202) states that the Tzeltal refer to the hill near the ceremonial center of Oxchuc as "a living hill,"
5There are frequent references to a deity with a similar name in literature concerning the ancient Maya. Roys (1965:674) refers to Itzamna (lizard house) as the head of the pantheon and the sky god. D. E. Thompson (1954:7) refers to a deity of the same name as being a sky deity who was depicted in the form of a two-headed reptile (snake, lizard, or alligator). In Itzam Kanac, the Chontal capital of Acalan, the main temple was dedicated to the Mayan serpent god (Roys 1965:677). These references demonstrate functional as well as linguistic similarities to the Kekchi mountain, Qana' Ic'am, which is certainly a chief god and associated with reptiles (see Sapper's description in the section on muhel).
6 Vogt states that the "krus" in Zinacantan symbolizes a "doorway" or means of communication with either the ancestral gods who live in the mountains or the earth god who lives beneath the surface of the earth. Oakes states that the cross, in Todos Santos, is addressed as Santo Mundo (Holy Earth) as "he" is petitioned on the table of the native priest. Guiteras-Holmes also relates the cross to the earth, stating that the Tzotzil of Chenalho conceptualize it as "a prolongation of her." The cross receives prayers and offerings on hilltops, in caves, and at waterholes during agricultural rites. Crosses are feared at night "because devourers of souls gather there to request food of them."
7 Prom an unpublished text recorded by Helen Neuenswander and Mary Shaw in Cubulco, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala in 1955.
8Compare the Jacaltec, Cubulco Achi and Joyabaj Quiche concepts of malevolent diseases being "man-caused" and curable only by ritual aimed at removing the curse, in contrast to "God-caused" diseases which are curable through the administration of medication (see articles in this volume on the Jacaltec Nawal and the Hot-Wet-Dry Syndrome among the Quiche of Joyabaj).
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