The semester, and with it class visits to Special Collections, are in full swing. One book that is a popular choice for a whole range of classes ever since it was purchased with support from the Vinyard Fund in 2012, is Portable Mayan altar : pocket books of Mayan spells.
The 2007, multi-author, Mexican publication stretches our conception of what constitutes a book. The bibliographic record describes the portable altar’s elements in some detail: three miniature volumes of spells, hexes and charms based on incantations by Mayan women shamans from Chiapas and illustrated by contemporary Mayan artists are issued in a ‘hut-shaped cardboard case [that] resembles an ancient Maya thatched house and opens up to a Mayan altar inside, [containing] twelve small rainbow-colored candles, two clay candle holders in the form of animals, and an incense burner,’ which are the objects ‘needed to celebrate the traditional rituals of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas.’
As is the case with many artists’ books, the Portable Mayan Altar was issued in a limited edition, printed on handmade paper, and binding and endpaper bear decorative features. What makes it unusual though is the incorporation of artifacts into the texts’ message. It enhances the books’ interactive quality by stimulating us to examine the connections between words, illustrations and objects. Furthermore, the act of setting up the altar and clay figurines adds a changing variable to a more traditional reader’s experience – and in this case sets the stage for magic!