“The main purpose of Mayan Religious practices is to ensure that the Sun, stars, moon, and planets continue on their paths. In the greater scheme of things man has his part: through following a rigid schedule of rituals he can help to keep the gears greased. If someone doesn’t do the rituals on the proper time and in the correct manner the cycle will be broken and the world will end.
The Cofradias or Brotherhoods provide this function. Although set up by the Spanish priests to promote Christian ideals, they were soon subverted to the Native religion.”
They’re semi public/private groups to practise religious works. The associations are governed by “The Code of Canon Law” (Código de Derecho Canónico). However, they practise modern mixture of Catholic and Mayan cultures, to create bridge between Christianity and Mayan beliefs, by giving voice to indigenous people.
Many of the indigenous ceremonies of brotherhoods involve activities that are considered controversial from Christian point of view. For example, like cults of Maximón (a puppet God of some indigenouses), offering liquor to the pictures of Saints, dancing to the rhythm of celebrations and continuously drinking rum.
In K’iche culture, ceremonial specialist is called Chuchq’ajau and acts full time in the main guild. Sacardotes (Mayan priests/shamans) also work closely with Cofradias, since they maintain the spiritual life of natives.
Each cofradia is named for the Saint that they are dedicated to. They are responsible to take care of the image of the Saint that they worship, including celebration of his feast day. The image is kept in the altar of guild leader’s house. It is taken to the church for only ceremonies.
The house has to open it’s doors daily to public, for gifts of candles, flowers, rum, cigar, etc to the image. Also, people ask for favors from the Saint.
In cofradia of Santo Tomas, greater candles are lit continuously for day and night. It’s said that, he’s hungry for candles and punishes his butler if he’s not fed.
K’iche translation of cofradias is Chaq P’tan, which means “Service Work”. Being an official member is strictly limited, filled by appointment and rank graduation. In Chichicastenango, there are 14 cofradias, each having 6 to 8 members.
They are emerged during the Middle Ages in Europe and arrived to America in 16th century. During the expeditions to the New World, they were used to convert religions of Indians. Indians were grouped in 8-10 people and assigned to serve a Catholic Saint.
After the intense missionary-conquest era, there was about 200 years of abandon of clergy, during which time Mayans adopted their beliefs into cofradias, by interpreting Catholic beliefs in their own way.
The statues in churches are identified as Mayan guardian spirits. So, little remains from their Catholic counterpart, except their names and feast days.
Until the dictator Ubico, cofradias were governors of the village. The leaders of the most powerful cofradias also acted as judges and decision makers.
It is ironic to consider that, cofradias were brought by Spaniards to aid the Church. But now, from the views of Mayan people, they are now equally or more important than the Church.