Walking the Path: How to Perform a Personal Mayan Ceremony

Shay Addams

A key part of “walking the path” of the 260-day calendar, of living in sacred time, is performing a personal ceremony on all twenty days of your nahual, from 1-13, in each 260-day round. Even more important is to do so on your Mayan birthday, such as 7 Sun. In this article, the first of a series, I will provide the basics of performing an authentic Mayan ceremony as done in the Guatemalan highlands today.

You can begin as early as sunset the day before, when the energy of the next day’s nahual begins to fade in. Midnight, noon and sunrise are also favored times.

This Mayan Sacred Fire ceremony celebrated the first day of the haab, the 365-day solar calendar, on the shore of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and featured Tzu’tujil, Ki’che’ and Caqchikel shamans and daykeeers.

Setting Up the Ceremony

You will need candles for the cardinal directions: red (east), white (north), black (west) and yellow (south). If you feel that black is associated with black magic, substitute a blue candle.  If you are not burning a sacred fire, use a green or blue candle in the center. Place the candles outside the fire pit if using a fire.

For major ceremonies, a big sacred fire inside a circle of stones is very important. But for a personal ceremony, you can get by with a small fire or even a pile of burning copal incense on a flat rock. Flowers and other items of the directional colors should be arranged outside the fire pit or candles.

Find due east (according to sunrise, not a compass) and place the candles in their appropriate directions. Arrange flowers, crystals and other items around the area. The Caqchikel Maya often spread individual petals on the ground to form a floral carpet.

Copal or pine incense should be burned either in the middle of the candles or on an altar. Stand or sit facing east.

Place the four candles far enough apart so that you can stand or sit in the center, with a blue or green candle. Now the energy of the four directions will be focused directly on you.

Shay Addams at a Caqchikel Mayan hearling ceremony in La Antigua, Guatemala.

Today’s Maya personalize their ceremonies so they fit in with local society. At Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, last year, I watched the celebrants place banana halves, orange halves and other local fruits around the fire pit. They also poured rum around it, moving counter-clockwise in both cases.

I personalized a recent ceremony by placing vivid red flowers from the palo de pito tree, whose bark is used to make a tea that causes sleep and visions, around the fire. Any special artifacts, such as crystals or jade figures, can be placed on the west side of the candles, so they face east, the direction of the rising sun.

Starting the Ceremony

Begin by lighting the candles in counter-clockwise direction, starting with the red one in the east. (The reason for doing things counter-clockwise is the Mayan belief that time moves in this direction, as do the planets and the solar system itself.) Then fire up the incense. Cakes of copal may be hard to set aflame; if so, drop candle wax on them or use pine, which ignites easily.

Counting Out the Days

On your feet, face east with arms outstretched to make yourself into a living Mayan cross. Focus on the energy of the east (initiation) and ask for guidance from it. Then do so with north (minimization), west (cooperation) and south (growth). Now you may sit or continue to stand, still facing east.

Aloud or to yourself, say the name of the nahual to invoke the spirit, prefaced with the word “Ahau,” or ruler, as Ahau 1 Sun. Then count the 13 days associated with it: Ahau 2 Sun, and so on. English or any other language is fine, but it makes sense that using Mayan will be more effective.

At the same time, focus on the energy of the nahual, which for Sun would be things like illumination, nourishing and authority. Candles and incense can be thrown into the fire throughout the ceremony.


Toss sacraments like sesame and corn seeds, chocolate, cacao or medicinal herbs like Sweet Marigold, Sage and Manzanilla into the fire or the burning incense. Their essence will drift up in the smoke, through the portal and into the heavens. Before throwing them into the fire, hold them in one hand and blow on them while repeating the name of the nahual.

Any object may be blessed by passing it through the incense smoke. Move it counter-clockwise, either seven or thirteen times, over the incense.

If all goes well, a portal will open up over the ceremony, while another opens in the heavens. Then Ahau, the central deity, will pour itz, a sacred substance, down through it to nourish you, humanity and life in general.

Things to Give Thanks For and to Ask For in Ceremonies for Each Nahual

Crocodile: Protection from negative energies; nourishment.

Wind: Wind to carry away illness and sins.

Night:  Dawn, the sun it brings, and intuition to see things not apparent.

Net: Collective harmony, fertility, material and spiritual growth.

Snake: Justice and wisdom, protection from forces of nature.

Death: Guidance from the ancestors, peace, love, money.

Deer: Possessions, business and money.

Seed: A successful planting of any nature; fertility.

Water: Justice and balance; protection from disease and accidents; that one’s sacrifices be effective.

Dog: Authority, guidance, harmony; for good to win over evil.

Monkey: Knowledge from the ancestors, possessions, success in new beginnings.

Road: Employment; protection for crops and projects.

Corn: Help from the ancestors, money, success in business.

Jaguar: Thanks for all that comes from the Earth, and for the work of women.

Eagle: Money, success in business.

Vulture: Forgiveness for sins and crimes; health and money.

Earth: Wisdom of and guidance from the ancestors; one’s own ideas and intelligence.

Knife: Only for protection from disease and accidents; forgiveness for sins.

Storm: The women in your life and the contributions of women to the world; success in business.

Sun: For all that you have received; happiness at home, money, strength; to comprehend the lessons of the ancestors.

How Long Does a Ceremony Last?

As long as you want. Public ones in Guatemala often go on for most of the day. You can conclude it by reciting the 13 days of the nahual, as above, and throwing any remaining incense and candles into the fire.

Sources: Excerpted from a chapter from Shay Addams’ book, The Mayan Calendar Users Guide: How to Apply Mayan Astrology to Your Daily Life, this article is based on participation in ceremonies of the Ki’che’, Caqchikel and Tzu’tujil in Guatemala. It also relies on El Tzolkin es mas que un Calendario, and Fundacion Centro Cultural y Asitencia Maya C.C.A.M.


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