Performative Pilgrims and the Shifting Grounds of Anthropological Documentary

  • Luis A. Vivanco
Part of the Religion/Culture/Critique book series (RCCR)


On the day of the spring equinox every March, one of the pyramids at the renowned Maya archaeological site of Chichén Itzá in Pisté, Yucatán, Mexico, experiences a phenomenon in which the sun casts a serpentlike shadow on one of its balustrades. In any given year, this phenomenon attracts thousands of Mexican, North American, and European tourists, professional and amateur archaeologists and archaeo-astronomers, practitioners of New Age religions, ambulant vendors, and state authorities. Most of these people come, at least ostensively, to acknowledge and celebrate the genius of the ancient Maya, although, importantly, many also come to maintain control over the tourist masses or to make money selling souvenirs and food. In 1995, the equinox event drew more attention than usual, attracting record numbers of visitors, among them conspicuously large numbers of New Age religious practitioners, who came because of the apparent calendrical significance of that particular year. For New Agers, this equinox was to usher in the “Age of Aquarius,” and they had converged on Chichén Itzá because of their belief in the propitious coincidence of this event with a cyclical renewal on the Maya calendar, itself apparently marking the arrival of the “Age of Itzá.”


Religious Activity Cultural Knowledge Spring Equinox Maya Culture European Tourist 
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Copyright information

© S. Brent Plate 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luis A. Vivanco

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