Letting Go Of Magical Thinking is proud to present a series of articles which serve to articulate the goals and positions of Yankwik Mexikayotl. Please subscribe to our site for more.

By Kurly Tlapoyawa

Not too long ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I held a deep appreciation for the beautiful symbolism of being “cleansed” with Copal smoke prior to participating in ceremony. I was trying to make the point that, despite views to the contrary we do not need to ascribe supernatural properties to our modern ceremonial practices in an attempt to have them appear more valid. Needless to say, not everyone was thrilled with this observation.

One individual in particular (I honestly don’t remember who it was) went so far as to tell me that not only was I wrong, but that Copal was a “living relative” that possesses its own “will.” Others made similar claims. Some were shocked that I would even dare suggest such a thing. Frankly, I found such a response to be unfortunate, If not entirely unsurprising. Though to be fair, a decent amount of people did agree with me.

hunbatzmenWell known fraud and “Maya Elder” Hunbatz Men holding up one of his favorite props

Let me be clear. I love participating in ceremony. I love the beauty of the music and song. I love the complexity of the ritual, the smell of copal, and the sound of the rattles. I love the symbolism and metaphor contained in the raw collective energy of our synchronized movements. Is this not enough? Isn’t the communal experience of coming together with our families and friends in order to participate in an act of cultural continuity enough? Can’t we just enjoy the inevitable array of food, music, and laughter that follows the ceremony without adding magical thinking to the mix? And what about the fact that participating in ceremony is FUN? Isn’t this enough? Why do we feel the need to associate mystical properties with something so characteristically human?

“But wait a minute, Kurly. Didn’t our ancestors have a supernatural view of the world?” Sure, at some point they most likely did. This is pretty common among ancient cultures. But let’s not allow our culture to remain frozen in time. To do so is to ignore the philosophical advancements that were taking place in Anawak at the moment of the Spanish invasion. In fact, historians such as Miguel Leon-Portilla have argued that the tlamatinimeh (teachers and philosophers) were actively moving their cosmovision away from myth and towards a more scientific worldview based on rational discoveries.

MayanHunabKuFrom Codex Magliabechiano, this distorted symbol is said to represent Hunab Ku (it doesn’t)

Theirs was a worldview based on a non-theistic pantheism, in which the language of myth was being adapted to explain philosophical observations about the world around them. (For an excellent examination of the Mexikah cosmovision, I highly recommend the book “Aztec Philosophy” by James Maffie). In fact, I honestly believe that left undisturbed, this worldview would have evolved into something resembling pantheistic atheism rather than the blend of new-age pseudoscience and Catholic dogma that permeates much of our community today. In our rush to appear more “legitimate” and satiate our thirst for “sacred” knowledge, we have embraced all manner of magical thinking while ignoring the fact that this is exactly what our ancestors were moving away from. Surely we can preserve our ritual and ceremony while also recognizing myth, symbolism, and metaphor for what they are.

Ultimately, the reality is this: it is entirely possible to have reverence for the interconnectedness of life and for the planet we live on, without being required to hold a worldview shaped by superstition and magical thinking. In fact, this should be the norm. Unfortunately, the allure of “sexing up” our worldview with mystical mumbo-jumbo in hopes of appearing deeply profound and “spiritual” has proven too strong for some to resist. Personally, I can think of no greater betrayal of the philosophical and scientific advances made by our ancestors than a blind embrace of superstition and magical thinking.

sfsfFake “Mayan” codices said to represent ancient acupuncture. Suuure…

The solution? We need to open our minds and drop the emotion-driven response to having long-held “traditional” beliefs challenged. I realize that nobody likes to be told that they are wrong. Especially when some of the “traditional” teachings they hold so dear to their hearts were passed along by someone they respect. But the fact is, quite a few of the so-called “traditional” teachings being bandied about today are relatively new inventions – many of which sprang from the new-age movement of the 1970’s. And we deserve to know what is what. As followers of Yankwik Mexikayotl we need to embrace a perspective that demands skeptical inquiry, critical thinking, and scientific literacy. This will bring us knowledge. This will honor our ancestors.


About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1011 Articles)

4 Comments on Letting Go Of Magical Thinking

  1. I was about to post a long-winded response about my stance on this, but suffice to say that I’m agreement with Kurly.

    However, I will make a brief comment regarding the fake acupuncture codices: Not too long ago, I attended a panel discussion about Danza by Danzantes, and I was introduced to the idea of the existence of Lakota codices that detail the feminine version of the Sundance, the Moondance. The idea of a moondance is not novel, but the notion that there exist Lakota codices was news to me and to anyone with cursory knowledge of the Lakota people. I’m sure they’re surprised as well.

    This demonstrates the lengths to which charlatans and posers will go to legitimate themselves at the expense of their followers, and it’s up us to challenge them on their contrivances.

  2. What I really find disturbing is the tendency to equate critical thinking and reason with “being white.” Talk about painting yourself into a corner of ignorance.

    • Yeah, that’s what I was going to say initially in my previous comment. My skepticism and critical thinking has been labeled as being “too Western” — hence “white,” and I’ve been accused of being colonized and an enemy of ‘our’ people. This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. This is the unfortunate state of affairs we find ourselves in, where magical thinking and anti-science rules the day. I tell some of these folx I encounter that, if they were ‘white’ and not into indigeneity, they’d be conservative fundamentalists; and of course, that upsets them. The truth always stings — lol!

  3. Yes, they would be fundamentalists. Of course, I’m sure these are the same folks who criticize conservatives for being anti-science when it comes to global warming. But tell them that there are no such thing as ghosts and they freak out.

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