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Balancing the World

Contemporary Maya "ajq’ijab</I> in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Daniel Croles Fitjar

In Balancing the World, the author illuminates what an ajq’ij, or «daykeeper», is by presenting material he collected in a series of interviews with practitioners of Maya spirituality. Frequently labeled as Maya priests, shamans, spiritual guides, or even witches, the men and women called ajq’ijab do a variety of work to help their visitors, their ancestors, the spirits and the world itself. Nine interviewees from the Quetzaltenango area in the Guatemalan highlands tell about how they cure and avert illness, perform divinations, communicate with the ancestors and do their part in balancing the world. Most of them agree that they have been chosen for this responsibility and they see it as both a gift and a burden.
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Chapter 3 – Common terms


Before presenting the ajq’ijab and their work, I will briefly discuss some of the terms that I use when presenting the material, including “ajq’ij,” “Maya spirituality,” and some key concepts that the interviewees tended to refer to in our conversations. I will also use the opportunity to discuss why I have chosen to use Maya spirituality, and to discuss what I mean by that term. My choice of terms is largely based on the choices made by the interviewees, and therefore I see this discussion as fitting within the empirical part of this text.

Look, religion is like … like a compromise, it’s coloured. But spirituality is a conviction, it’s general, it’s not partisan, not specified, it’s more open.

- Manuel

During my fieldwork, I encountered a problem. My interviewees were all ajq’ijab themselves or closely connected to the ajq’ijab – a group of people that normally fits within the religious specialists-category one often finds within the comparative study of religion. Yet it was clear from the start that calling what they were working with religión, ‘religion,’ simply would not do.

In Guatemala, both among the interviewees and other people that I met, well-known terms are used in a different way than they often are within the study of religion. In everyday language, religión often means Christianity, especially Catholicism.1 Culto, ‘cult (meeting),’ is used to talk about an Evangelical meeting or Protestantism2 in general, and espiritualidad, ‘spirituality,’ can mean...

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