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There are several types of signs that may indicate that a person is chosen, but none of them seem to be definitive proof. The possible signs have to be evaluated in relation to other possible signs and requirements by one or several existing ajq’ijab. These will then need to use means such as counselling and divination to reach a conclusion. If the person is told that he or she may be chosen, he or she still has a choice of whether he or she will accept it or not - but signs can be unpleasant, and they will not stop until the person has accepted. The choice is between becoming an ajq’ij or to live with and endure the signs.


Perhaps the most common sign is that a person becomes ill, often with a severe illness. The person may have been ill several times. This includes the majority of the interviewees and their friends who are ajq’ijab.

Byron once asked the members of one of the groups he frequents how they became ajq’ijab.

And so, [my group] asked all the ajq’ijab who were present: “Why did you become an ajq’ij? Is it because you wanted to, or for money, or ..And so, the majority said that it was because of illness. [---]

Sometimes, there are persons who are [meant to be] ajq’ijab; they get sick a lot, they get sick and they can’t get well. So they go to a guia,[1] [2] right?

[They say] “Why [am I sick all the time]?”

[The guia answers:] “Well, it’s because [you] have a strong energy, so if you get your ceremony,11 you’ll be cured. With a ceremony you’ll be fine.”

[Also, these people often] have a lot of dreams. Yes, they are predestined.

- Byron

I was explained that because a person does not do what he or she is supposed to do - that is, become an ajq’ij - her or his nahual will keep bothering her or him until he or she does become an ajq’ij. This is why illness is such a common sign, and why becoming an ajq’ij may be a permanent cure for a returning illness. Some people may go to ajq’ijab and be cured of their illnesses temporarily several times. Several interviewees explained that this is only curing the symptoms, but not the underlying cause, which is their don, their calling or their responsibility of serving the world and of serving others.

Isabela told me she was chosen by God to become an ajq’ij, but she didn’t realise it before she got sick. Isabela’s illness was so severe that she practically had no choice but to accept that she was chosen.

Well, I was sick. You see, I received[3] because of illness. [If I wasn’t sick] I wouldn’t have received. My husband went to the altars[4] [and the ajq’ijab said] “It is [her] don. [She] won’t get out of bed until [she] kneels.”[5] The [ajq’ijab] said to me: “If you receive, then you’ll live. If not, you’ll die.” They also said “If you receive, you may also die, because there will be more enemies”[6]

I had only to receive, because what else could I do? “[If this is my choice] it is better if I receive,” I said. And so I received because of illness. Because of that situation I received.

- Isabela

Sometimes illnesses and other problems may return even after the person has become an ajq’ij, but according to Rosa, there will be less of them and they will be easier to handle.

[Before I became an ajq’ij, I was sick and] I went to the doctors without result. In the end, I consulted with an ajq’ij and he told me that yes, I had a don that I needed to maintain. And I have worked [as an ajq’ij] since then, without problem. They disappeared. Or, well, there are always problems, but not like before, let’s say.

- Rosa

Isabela became severely ill right after receiving her vara, and she told me that this was a test that she eventually passed. Because of becoming an ajq’ij, she had a newfound spiritual strength that saved her.

Only two years after I received, the illness [came back]. I was bedridden once more.

My teacher said “Get up, stand! This is your test!” and I got up again! Many problems followed, [but] the spirituality [helped me overcome them]. So, it is the spirituality that helps one. Because I knew that it would help me.

- Isabela

Among the Mam-speaking interviewees, the returning illnesses were considered particularly strong signs. In their communities, it is normal to receive a cross[7] [8] as an intermediary step to ward off illnesses. If the illness returns, one can receive more crosses, and if one receives three or four crosses, one becomes an ajq’ij}7 The ajq’ijab in these communities are sometimes described as “people who have received their crosses.”

  • [1] An ajq’ij.
  • [2] Here: to become an ajq’ij.
  • [3] She became an ajq’ij. See also Chapter 8 below.
  • [4] He went to a sacred place and talked to the ajq’ijab who were there.
  • [5] Here: not before she becomes an ajq’ij.
  • [6] There was a chance that she might die even if she received, because of the increasedburden. As explained in Chapter 6 above, the ajq’ijab are believed to “carry the burden” of other people. Since Isabela was weakened by illness, this burden might be toomuch. Essentially, she had the choice of certain death by her nahual or possible deathby her new burden.
  • [7] These are crosses like the ones on Carlos’ altar, described in Chapter 5 above.
  • [8] Teresa received several crosses, and I will look at her story in the next chapter. ThomasHart also describes the practise of receiving crosses as a step on the way to becomean ajq’ij in Mam communities. However, in his descriptions, three crosses seem to bethe number of crosses an ajq’ij has, while some of my interviewees told me four wasthe correct number. There are probably variations from community to community;cf. Hart, Ancient Spirituality: 91.
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