“We’re the real lords of the jungle, the plains, the desert, the mountain – wherever we roam, we’re the kings where the light meets the darkness.”
Note: This Craft is mentioned as a member of the Disparates in M20 but is not given a full writeup. It was previously mentioned in Sorcerer Revised, but the content there was brief and in some ways culturally inaccurate, particularly concerning the extent of the Mayan diaspora, especially to the United States. We have given it a full M20-style writeup for you here, and filled in the blanks to develop it in line with the M20 theme. The Itz’at were likewise mentioned as a Mayan Craft linked to the Disparates; as they had no previous writeup, they have been written here as joining forces with the Balamob.
The Maya are not extinct. Not even close. The Spanish had to wage two centuries of brutal warfare in order to subdue them, despite their technological advantage. Though the last independent Mayan city fell to the Spanish in 1697, the Conquistadores were not able to eradicate their ways or extinguish their languages. Mayan dialects are spoken by over eight million people as their first languages in southern Mexico and Central America. The Mayan calendar is still in use. Mayan enclaves are well established in numerous cities abroad, especially the United States. No, the Mayans are a vibrant, living people. They lost so much to the Spanish, but they preserved even more. For centuries they have pushed back against the colonial yoke, fighting fierce revolutions, hanging on to their identities, demanding recognition as the people who were there first.
The Mayan people suffered through a brutal genocide in Guatemala, endure discrimination and poverty, face continuing attempts to extirpate their culture and identity, and weather ongoing demands to assimilate themselves more fully into post-colonial cultures. They persist. Some people know when they are conquered; those people are not Mayan. Their languages have been recognized as official in the provinces of Southern Mexico, where they are now being taught in schools and through digital education programs. And leading that fight are the inheritors of the legacy of the Mayan religion: the Balamob, the Jaguar spirits who protect the Mayan people and their ways.
The Balamob don’t see themselves as “shamans” or “preservationists” or anything so quaint and antiquated. They’re warriors and priest-kings, crowned mystics who lead by example, fighting the way a jaguar does; savagely and cunningly. The Mayans were not backward savages; they were technologically advanced scholars, architects, and scientists, a highly literate people who had learned how to make paper and illuminate manuscripts long before Europeans put their first boot on American shores. When the Balamob first encountered the Traditions, the Jaguar spirits took their measure and simply melted away. The traditionalists were quick to put others in a box, often the wrong box, and the Balamob had no interest in being herded into the Dreamspeakers because they were indigenous peoples.
In the modern day, the Balamob cloak the extent of their Craft and their own practices in deception. The jaguar’s spots break up his shape so you can’t see him amidst the light and shadows, and the Mayans did the same during their diaspora, adopting the dress, language, and behavior of Mexicans to slink past ignorant authorities who couldn’t tell the difference. The modern Balamob will arrange things so their enemies perceive them exactly the way they need them to, adopting social camouflage until they show their teeth and claws.
Like many indigenous people, when the missionaries came to convert them to Christianity, many Mayans syncretized their traditional beliefs with the new faith, both adopting it as cover and seeing the commonalities between what the Spanish preached and their own religion. What’s done is done, and the group counts religious traditionalists, syncretists, and devout Christians among its numbers. What the Balamob won’t tolerate are efforts to cheat Mayans of their identity, culturally or religiously. The evangelistic efforts of Orthodox Christians among the Mayans of Central America is a problem that needs to be dealt with, as does ongoing neglect and civil strife. But the Balamob are still strong in their homelands of Southern Mexico and Central America, with hidden temples no colonizer has ever seen and ties to the tribe of secretive werecats who share their name.
Abroad, the Balamob are active in areas where strong Mayan enclaves have been established, particularly in California, where Los Angeles is considered the international capital of the Guatemalan diaspora, but also in greater Mexico, New York, Florida, and Texas. At home or abroad they advance the goals of their people in politics, business, religion, and crime, adopting whatever guise they need to in order to achieve their goals. Adaptability to one’s circumstances or environment is a requirement for the Balamob; Whether he is in the jungle or the desert, the jaguar is the real king of beasts.
For a long time the Balamob were discounted as a “lost” or “minor” Craft; this was by design, as the social camouflage of the Craft screened its activites, influence, and true numbers from outsiders. The Jaguar spirits chose to join the Disparate Alliance because they saw a chance to win new allies on their own terms, without having to accept a lesser role as a member of one of the Traditions. The Balamob approached the Alliance through contacts in the Bata’a, and brought vital intelligence on the Traditions and Technocracy in Mexico and Central America with them.
When striking at the Alliance’s enemies, the Balamob embody the Jaguar – a careful, patient hunter willing to stalk their prey for as long as it takes, feinting, pretending to be run off, then doubling back to strike from another angle. More than one arrogant foe has fled from a Disparate attack only to find that their Uber driver or the housekeeper at their hotel bolt-hole was a Balamob waiting to make the kill as soon as the prey let down their guard.
Once upon a time the Balamob were the elite of Mayan society; the priesthood and the nobility were bound together like a braid, and the high priest and the king were often one and the same. The Spanish conquest gutted the old system and brought down the nobility, but the Balam have retained some of the old hierarchy among themselves. A high priest is called ahau can mai, the awakened priests below them are called ah k’in (plural ah k’inob). Balamob who specialize in divination or seeing are called chilam. Members of the Craft who take a martial role are called ah nakom, from an old title for the lower ranking priests who carried out human sacrifices.
Unawakened sorcerers who are part of the craft are called chac; though they do not have the same rank as awakened mages, they are highly respected – the original chac were wise old men selected to assist the priests in carrying out their duties. Common paths among the chac are Divination, via Geniorum, Spirit Chasing, Herbalism, and Animal Psi.
Of special note among the Craft are the Itz’at, a secretive sect of diviners and astronomers who disappeared just as the Spanish conquest of Central America was ramping into high gear, disappearing without a trace, only to reappear after the Reckoning, completely as they were in the 1500s when they originally vanished. Having predicted their own violent eradication at the hands of the Spanish, the Itz’at chose to defy fate by moving themselves outside of time with a great rite, with the spell of their return entrusted to the Balamob – except that the Jaguar Spirits given that secret were themselves violently murdered by Spanish Conquistadores, causing it to be lost for centuries until the Balamob rediscovered it and were able to call the Itz’at back to Earth. The Itz’at are men and women out of time, still playing catch-up with the modern world, and most remain hidden in the Craft’s Central American homelands. As a group, the Itz’at are more reclusive and less combative than the Balamob, but some of these seers have begun to travel abroad to take the measure of the world. They practice elaborate systems of divination relying on Astrology and Astronomy along with other forms of magic similar to their Jaguar Spirit allies, but are fascinated with modern science, particularly modern astrology. They have begun their first steps toward experimenting with Technomagick as a result.
Initiation: The first and most important quality that the Balamob look for is a desire to connect with the chain of their people’s history. An interest in Mayan culture, history, or religion provides the spark that can be fanned into a roaring fire. From there, initiations bring the Jaguar spirit into the fold and unleash their roaring soul. Ceremonies where blood is ritualistically let from the earlobes and tongue symbolize the opening of the Balamob’s senses to the supernatural and the gift of the ability to work Magick through their words.
Character Concepts: City councilman, Catholic priest with a secret, Mechanic, Housekeeper to the rich and powerful, UCLA compsci student, fearsome biker, priest of San Simón.
Affinity Spheres: Entropy, Forces, Spirit, Time
Some traditionalist Balamob want to Bring Back the Golden Age, though most accept that what’s done is done and know they exist in A World of Gods and Monsters. They believe Creation is Divine and Alive, of course; the ancestors and gods and the Earth are all one. They might believe It’s All Good, Have Faith, especially if Christian or syncretist, but they also know that to survive in a World of Darkness, you must be fierce, so Might is Right.
The costumbre (‘custom’) practiced by the Balamob is a highly intricate religion of Faith-based High Ritual Magick propitiating legions of gods, spirits, saints and angels (especially if the Balamob is syncretist or predominantly Christian), but many Balamob link this with Ancestor Worship or Animalism; Balamob literally means “Jaguar Spirits.” To further evoke the Jaguar within, many Balamob also work magick through Martial Arts. A balam hunts through stealth, deception, and manipulation of their prey, so some Balamob also practice Animalism, Dominion and the Art of Desire/Hypereconomics. The Taftani’s plan to push back against the Technocracy by stealing its paradigm intrigues the Jaguar spirits, and they’re also beginning to poke at Hypertech and other Technomantic paradigms, though this remains in its infancy. Some Balamob work costumbre through syncretist practices the same way a user of Voudoun would. This syncretistic religion is common among Guatemalan Balamob, who revere the folk saint Maximón, also known as San Simón, a trickster figure and protector.
Divination is especially important to the Jaguar spirits. In addition to reading the stars, the Balamob use carefully prepared drugs and alcoholic brews to bring on altered states of consciousnes, allowing the ah k’in to extend their senses, speak with the spirits, and read the past and the future for secrets. The Mayans developed an intricate calendar, practiced Astronomy and Astrology, and sacrificed animals and humans to divine the secrets of the universe and proptiate the gods; Turkeys are an especially favored animal sacrifice. San Simón favors money, tobacco, liquor, and coca-cola, along with offerings of corn and fresh flowers. Human sacrifice is no longer widely practiced, though some Balamob will still take the heart of an especially cruel or hated enemy or ritualistically behead them in line with the old ways, both to make a statement to their enemy’s allies and to demonstrate a spiritual triumph over their foe. The Balamob place a great weight on sacred texts in their works, including the Popol Vuh, the books of the Chilam Balam, and other sacred texts the jaguar spirits secretly preserved. Other practices include weather-work, and elaborate systems of magickal demarcations and wards to protect villages and important locations from enemies.
“When we saw the blank look in their eyes and the quaint smiles on their faces, we knew they wouldn’t be good allies. We are more akin to their great wizards or warriors than their spirit-talkers, but they could not see us as such.”
“So arrogant; they think they are too good to watch for the jaguar, and so they never spot it.”
“They need real leaders. Perhaps we can be that for them.”
“An evil god would convince its slaves that it is alien and moribund, not vital and aware; it would trick them into believing that they are more clever than it is, that it knows not their hearts, and that their nihilistic ends are its indiffierent ones. Of course it would. The best predators deceive their prey, all the way to the kill.”
“Once, we warred with the wicked Tlaciques and the withered children of Huitzilopochtli. They tried to invade our homelands and subvert our kings, and we called down the light and fire of the stars and drove them back into the wasteland where they belonged. The white wise men seem to have relaxed their vigil, and now the Kindred are everywhere. There are too many to drive into the desert, at least in this age, but protect who you can from their vile ways.”
The Balamob in Los Angeles:
Los Angeles is the capital of the Guatemalan diaspora, with the largest centralized population of individuals of Mayan descent outside of their homelands in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. Like the Mayans from which they come, the Balamob can be found in greater numbers in L.A. than anywhere outside of Central America. They operate in the city as a hidden force, protecting those of Mayan blood against those who would persecute them, from drug dealers to ICE. The Craft organizes and operates through IXIM, the Center for the Integration of Indigenous Mayans, and its heart is in L.A.’s Pico-Union district, where its Mayan population has concentrated. The Balamob are tightly-allied with the Bata’a in Los Angeles, and share the operation of the Templo San Simon Botanica in the Pico-Union district with them, one of the largest and best-equipped Occult shops in the city, that caters to the needs of both Crafts and is frequented – and protected – by members of both Crafts.
During the 1990s the Balamob seized control of the Mayan Theatre in the heart of Downtown L.A., a beautiful movie theater that featured Francisco Cornejo-designed pre-Columbian Mayan stylings. Porn magnate Carlos Tobalina had owned the theater for 20 years before the Balamob purchased it after his death, and while he did reduce the structure to showing pornographic movies, he also kept the vast majority of its lavish ornamentation intact. The Balamob converted the theater into a nightclub and music hall, but when they choose to gather for group rites it also serves as their temple, as they use Cornejo’s stylings to connect them to the braid of their history and the theatre’s prime position in the city’s downtown to draw on its rich flow of Quintessence.
The current ahau can mai of Los Angeles is Father Rogerio Vidrio, a Catholic priest in his early 60s who keeps his practices as a Balamob secret from the church. Father Vidrio considers himself both devoutly Catholic and wholly Balamob, syncretizing Catholic practice and Balamob ritual together into a powerful blend of Faith and High Ritual Magick. As he gets older Father Vidrio is preparing to step back, but before he can do that he needs to find a Balamob he can train to be the next ahau can mai.