Santuário San Rafael Ascension Catholic church

An independent ministry in the Catholic Tradition

Introduction to the Mayan Calendar and Mayan Spirituality

             Many North Americans are surprised to learn that the Mayan peoples have survived until the present in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, yet there are over 33 different indigenous ethnic groups in Central America who continue to speak languages in the Mayan family. 

             Religiously, the Mayan peoples are historically Roman Catholic since the colonization begun by the Spanish in the 16th century, yet modernly, as many as one third of the Maya have now become  Pentecostal or some other variety of evangelical Christian.  Still, many of the indigenous Mayan people—both Catholic and Protestant—continue to hold a number of traditional beliefs which trace their roots to the pre-Conquest spirituality of their ancestors, specifically the Sacred Calendar or Cholb’al Q’ij

             Often, these traditional beliefs have become mixed with various Christian beliefs and practices.  This “mixing” of religious belief is known academically as syncretism.  Yet, for the traditional Mayan believer, there is no overt awareness of “mixing” since the belief system is experienced by the person as one unitary faith-experience. 

             In much the same way that American missionaries to the Native American tribes sought to extinguish indigenous beliefs, the same thing has occurred in Guatemala, first by the Spanish Catholics, and later by both the Catholics and the Protestants.  Yet, this effort has been less than completely successful, and in many traditional Mayan communities, particularly in the highlands of Guatemala, traditional practices have survived and are often syncretized with popular devotions in the Catholic context. 

             For many centuries, a debate continued within Spanish Catholicism about tolerance for these “customs.”  Oftentimes, a more zealous or inquisitorial European Catholic priest would try to “purify” the indigenous practices, usually with little success.  Most Catholic priests were in fact tolerant and encouraging of traditional expressions of faith, and sought to “evangelize” them, bringing them more and more into what they regarded as a “Christian” understanding.  Many Evangelicals and Pentecostals are repeating the same experiences as their Spanish counterparts in the modern era, as are a number of ultra-traditionalist Catholics. 

             Yet as Christianity stands at the beginning of a new century and the Mayan Calendar moves into a new age of the world, an interesting development has taken place—the traditional Mayan beliefs have begun to speak to Christianity in an interesting and new way.  One of the major issues for Catholics and Christians in this new situation is the struggle to incorporate the earth and all creation into religious consciousness.  This is important if we are to have a new ecological ethic to protect the survival of the planet.  Additionally, issues of fertility, sexuality, and gender have become important to the emerging agenda of Christian peoples.  Both of these topics are deeply involved with the spirituality and religious practices of traditional peoples, including the Mayans. 

             Just as in its first centuries, Christianity was able to synthesize a new point of view from the religious consciousness of Judaism in its encounter with the Greco-Roman world, often incorporating elements of both streams, today we are able to look to traditional and indigenous religions for some prophetic sparks which have been, in the past, excluded from religious consciousness. 

             One of the important Mayan contributions to this discussion is the spiritualization of Time itself which takes place through a meditation on the sacred cycles of time embedded in the Mayan Calendar.  Historical Christianity also has its way of celebrating the Sacred Cycles of Time through the monastic prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Agpeya of the Coptic Tradition, and through the liturgical seasons and Calendar of the Saints.  An understanding of the Mayan calendar can enrich this process by incorporating the goodness of Mother Earth into the meditation.

             Santuário San Rafael offers a periodic study group on Mayan Calendar spirituality for those who wish to learn more about indigenous Mayan spirituality.  Email us at for more information.