The Semiotics of Maya "Co-Essences" and the Doctrine of Signatures
Nawales, a set of twenty “co-essences” that influence the “nature of things,” are a central feature of Maya spirituality. The cycle of days, ruled by the nawales, imbues time with a set of qualities and endows each person—by virtue of the day of her birth—with those same qualities. The nawales structure space as well as time, so that everything in the phenomenal world has its “co-essence” with a particular nawal. One of the ways that Maya ritual specialists learn about the world is by determining which nawal “owns” or “rules” an object or place. This determination is aided by material signs and resemblances expressed by the nawales, a notion similar to the “doctrine of signatures” in the European tradition. In this poster, I juxtapose the identification of nawales by Maya ritual specialists with the doctrine of signatures—best known through the work of Paracelsus but more recently developed by Foucault and Agamben—in an attempt to understand how cognitive predispositions related to the phenomena of pareidolia (i.e. “seeing faces in the clouds”) and apophenia (attribution of meaning to randomness) influence humans’ understanding of the natural world.
Semiotics; Maya; Ritual; Landscape; Geosemiotics
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Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies, 2013