It’s Not the End of the World as We Know It

Mexico – December 2012

It’s December 21, 2012 and we’re in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. Today is the day many say is when the Mayans have prophesied the end of the world. Of course, in reality today marks the end of the previous Mayan calendar and there are no more Maya around to start the next one, but what’s a decade without at least one predicted apocalypse? Besides, it’s given me a good excuse to come to the Yucatán Peninsula.

It’s a rainy day and we’ve joined a small group heading out to San Juan Chamula, located in the Chiapas highlands, known for its rebels. In fact, we pass truckloads of rebels driving into San Cristobal while we are heading out, replete with masks and rifles and an uncertain purpose. San Juan Chamula enjoys unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village and Chamulas have their own police force.

We’re dropped off in front of a small cemetery and walk through the rain into the center of town. While visiting their church, home to a unique blend of traditional Maya beliefs with Catholic practices, we are witness to a shaman’s sacrifice. None of the locals seem to notice—they pass along to find the altar they are looking for, the one that will hear their prayers. I sit to the side and watch the shaman. He is kneeling, chanting, and rocking gently back and forth all while holding a very passive chicken. After going into a trance-like state, the shaman cleansers the chicken over the smoke from the rows of candles lit in front of him before twisting the bird’s neck. The chicken convulses a few times before becoming still and being placed back into the plastic bag it was brought in. After a few more chants, the shaman rises and leaves.

We follow this with a home visit in neighboring San Lorenzo Zinacantán, though this home is also a market and cafeteria. It’s good to know that on the last day of the world, after the sacrifices have been made, one can still get in a little shopping.

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