* * MAYAN EMPIRE * *
The Maya : are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize. Building on the inherited inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations such as the Olmec, the Mayans developed astronomy, calendrical systems and hieroglyphic writing. The Mayans were noted as well for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools. They were also skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, building sizeable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater. The Mayans were equally skilled as weavers and potters, and cleared routes through jungles and swamps
to foster extensive trade networks with distant peoples.
Many people believe that the ancestors of the Mayans crossed the Bering Strait at least 20,000 years ago. They were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Evidence of settled habitation in Mexico is found in the Archaic period 5000-1500 BC - corn cultivation, basic pottery, stone tools.The first true civilization was established with the rise of the Olmecs in the Pre-Classic period 1500 BC -300 AD. The Olmecs settled on the Gulf Coast, and little is known about them. The Mayans are regarded as the inventors of many aspects of Meso-American cultures including the first calendar and hieroglyphic writing in the Western hemisphere. Archeologists have not settled the relationship between the Olmecs and the Mayans, and it is a mystery whether the Mayans were their descendants, trading partners, or had another relationship. It is agreed that the Mayans developed a complex calendar and the most elaborate form of hieroglyphics
in America, both based on Olmec's versions.
Mayans seem to have entered Yucatan from the west. As usual with ancient nations, it is difficult in the beginning to separate myth from history, their earliest mentioned leader and deified hero, Itzamná, being considered to be simply a sun-god common to the Mayan civilization. He is represented as having led the first migration from the Far East, beyond the ocean,
along a pathway miraculously opened through the waters.
The second migration, which seems to have been historic, was led from the west by Kukulcan, a miraculous priest and teacher, who became the founder of the Mayan kingdom and civilization. Fairly good authority, based upon study of the Mayans chronicles and calendar, places this beginning near the close of the second century of the Christian Era. Under Kukulcan the people were divided into four tribes, ruled by as many kingly families: the Cocom, Tutul-xiu, Itzá and Chele. To the first family belonged Kukulcan himself, who established his residence at Mayanspan, which thus became the capital of the whole nation. The Tutul-xiu held
vassal rule at Uxmal, the Itzá at Chichen-Itzá, and the Chelé at Izamal.
To the Chele was appointed the hereditary high priesthood, and their city became the sacred city of the Mayans. Each provincial king was obliged to spend a part of each year with the monarch at Mayapan. This condition continued down to about the eleventh century, when, as the result of a successful revolt of the provincial kings, Mayapan was destroyed, and the supreme rule passed to the Tutul-xiu at Uxmal. Later on Mayapan was rebuilt and was again the capital of the nation until about the middle of the fifteenth century, when, in consequence of a general revolt against the reigning dynasty, it was finally destroyed, and the monarchy was split up into a number of independent petty states, of which eighteen existed on the peninsula at the arrival of the Spaniards. In consequence of this civil war a part of the Itzá emigrated south to Lake Petén,
in Guatemala, where they established a kingdom with capital
and sacred city of Flores Island in the lake.
Mayan Classic Period : 300-900 AD
Most artistic and cultural achievement came about during the Classic period 300 - 900 AD. The Mayans developed a complex, hierarchical society divided into classes and professions. Centralized governments, headed by a king, ruled territories with clearly defined boundaries. These borders changed as the various states lost and gained control over territory. Mayansn centers flourished in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. The major cities of the Classic period were Tikal (Guatemala), Palenque and Yaxchilán (Chiapas, Mexico), Copán and Quirigua (Honduras). For most of this period, majority of Mayans population
lived in the central lowlands of Mexico and Belize.
The Northern Yucatan (where present day Cancun is located) was sparsely populated for most of the Classic period with only a few cities such as Dzibilchaltún (near Mérida) and Xpuhil, Becán and Chicanná (near Chetumal). During the 9th century the population centers of the central lowlands declined significantly. This decline was very rapid and is attributed to famine, drought, breakdowns in trade, and political fragmentation. Fragmentation from large states into smaller city-states focused resources on rivalries between cities including not just wars, but competitions of architecture and art between rival cities. As the cities in the lowlands declined, urban centers sprung up in the Northern Yucatán, including Uxmal (near Mérida).
Anthropologists used to contrast the "peaceful" Mayans with the bloodthirsty Aztecs of central Mexico. Although human sacrifice was not as important to the Mayans as to the Aztec, blood sacrifice played a major role in their religion. Individuals offered up their blood, but not necessarily their lives, to the gods through painful methods using sharp instruments such as sting-ray spines or performed ritualistic self mutilation. It is probable that people
of all classes shed their blood during religious rites. The king's blood sacrifice was the most valuable and took place more frequently. The Mayans were warlike and raided their neighbors for land, citizens, and captives. Some captives were subjected to the double sacrifice where the victims heart was torn out for the sun and head cut off to pour blood out for the earth.
The Mayansn civilization was the height of pre-Columbian culture. They made significant discoveries in science, including the use of the zero in mathematics. Their writing was the only in America capable of expressing all types of thought. Glyphs either represent syllables or whole concepts and were written on long strips of paper or carved and painted on stone. They are arranged to be red from left to right and top to bottom in pairs of columns. The Mayansn calendar begins around 3114 BC, before Mayans culture existed, and could measure time well into the future. They wrote detailed histories and used their calendar to predict the future and astrological events. Fray Diego de Landa, second bishop of the Yucatán ordered a mass destruction of Mayansn books in 1562 and only three survived.
Post Classic Period :
1000 - 1500 AD
Growth and Ruin
After the Classic period, the Mayans migrated to the Yucatán peninsula.
There they developed their own character, although their accomplishments and artwork are not considered as impressive as the Classic Mayans. Most of the ruins you can see South of Cancun are from this time period and are definitely worth a visit. Chichen Itza (near Valladolid), Uxmal (near Merida) and Mayanspán (west of Chichen Itza) were the three most important cities during the Post Classic period. They lived in relative peace from around 1000 - 1100 AD when Mayanspán overthrew the confederation and ruled for over 200 years. In 1441 the Mayans who had previously ruled Uxmal destroyed the city of Mayanspán and founded a new city at Mani. Wars were fought between rival Mayansn groups over the territory
until the region was conquered by Spanish.
Chichen Itza was first populated between 500 and 900 AD by Mayans and for some reason abandoned around 900, the city was then resettled 100 years later and subsequently invaded by Toltecs from the North. There are numerous reliefs of both Mayan gods including Chac and the Toltec gods including Quetzalcoatl. For some reason the city was abandoned around 1300. If the Spanish did not make it a policy to kill all of the Mayan priests and burn books when
they arrived in Mexico, we would all have a few more answers.
Post Columbian Period
Conquest and Rebellion ( 1500 AD )
On his second voyage Columbus heard of Yucatan as a distant country of clothed men. On his fifth voyage (1503-04) he encountered, south-west of Cuba, a canoe-load of Indians with cotton clothing for barter, who said that they came from the ancient Mayan civilization. In 1506 Pinzon sighted the coast, and in 1511 twenty men under Valdivia were wrecked on the shores of the sacred island of Cozumel, several being captured and sacrificed to the idols. The Spanish colonization of the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba allowed them
to launch exploratory forays around the Caribbean.
Córdoba discovered Isla
At the height of their revolutionary success, the Mayans inexplicably withdrew to their villages -reputedly to plant corn for the season. The war with the US ended in 1848 and reinforcements were sent to the Yucatán, where they drove the Mayans back to Chan Santa Cruz. The Mayans resisted for several years, but disease and weapons shortages forced them to surrender in 1901.
After 50 years of independence, their lands became federal territory. In reality, the Southern and Eastern half of the peninsula remained a virtual no man's land to outsiders where the Mayans lived as they pleased. This changed in the late 1960s when coastal development began.
Father Alonso Gonzalez, who accompanied this expedition, found opportunity at one landing to explore a temple, and bring off some of the sacred images and gold ornaments. In 1518 a strong expedition under Juan de Grijalva, from Cuba, landed near Cozumel and took formal possession for Spain. For Father Juan Diaz, who on this occasion celebrated Mass upon the summit of one of the heathen temples, the honour is also claimed of having afterwards been the first to celebrate mass in the City of Mexico. Near Cozumel, also, was rescued the young monk Aguilar, one of the two survivors of Valdivia's party, who, though naked to the breech-cloth, still carried his Breviary in a pouch. Proceeding northwards, Grijaba made the entire circuit of the peninsula before returning, having had another desperate engagement with the Mayans near Campeche. After the conquest of Mexico in 1521, Francisco de Montejo, under commission as Governor of Yucatan, landed (1527) to effect the conquest of the country, but met with such desperate resistance that after eight years of incessant fighting every Spaniard had been driven out. In 1540, after two more years of the same desperate warfare, his son Francisco
established the first Spanish settlement at Campeche.
In the next year, in a bloody battle at Tihoo, he completely broke the power of Mayans resistance, and a few months later (Jan., 1542) founded on the site of the ruined city the new capital, Mérida. In 1546, however, there was a general revolt, and it was not until a year later that the conquest was assured. In the original commission to Montejo it had been expressly stipulated that missionaries should accompany all his expeditions. This, however, he had neglected to attend to, and in 1531 or 1534, by special order, Father Jacobo de Testera and four others were sent to join the Spanish camp near Campeche. They met a kindly welcome from the Indians, who came with their children to be instructed, and thus the conquest of the country might have been effected through spiritual agencies but for the outrages committed by a band of Spanish outlaws, in consequence of which the priests were forced to withdraw. In 1537 five more missionaries arrived and met the same willing reception, remaining about two years in spite of the war still in progress. About 1545 a large number of missionaries were sent over from Spain. Several of these - apparently nine, all Franciscans - under the direction of
Father Luis de Villalpando, were assigned to Yucatan.
Landing at Campeche, the governor explained their purpose to the chiefs, the convent of St. Francis was dedicated on its present site, and translations were begun into the native language. The first baptized convert was the chief of Campeche, who learned Spanish and thereafter acted as interpreter for the priests. Here, as elsewhere, the missionaries were the champions of the rights of the Indians. In consequence of their repeated protests a royal edict was issued, in 1549, prohibiting Indian slavery in the province, while promising compensation to the slave owners. As in other cases, local opposition defeated the purpose of this law; but the agitation went on, and in 1551 another royal edict liberated 150,000 male Indian slaves, with their families, throughout Mexico. In 1557 and 1558 the Crown intervened to restrain the tyranny of the native chiefs. Within a very short time Father Villalpando had at his mission station
at Mérida over a thousand converts, including several chiefs.
He himself, with Father Malchior de Benavente, then set out, barefoot, for the city of Mani in the mountains farther south, where their success was so great that two thousand converts were soon engaged in building them a church and dwelling. All went well until they began to plead with the chiefs to release their vassals from certain hard conditions,
when the chiefs resolved to burn them at the altar.
On the appointed night the chiefs and their retainers approached the church with this design, but were awed from their purpose on finding the two priests, who had been warned by an Indian boy, calmly praying before the crucifix. After remaining all night in prayer, the fathers were fortunately rescued by a Spanish detachment which, almost miraculously, chanced to pass that way. Twenty-seven of the conspirators were afterwards seized and condemned to death, but were all saved by the interposition of Villalpando. In 1548-49 other missionaries arrived from Spain, Villalpando was made custodian of the province, and a convent was erected near the site of his chapel at Mani. The Yucatan field having been assigned to the Franciscans,
all the missionary work among the Mayans was done by priests of that order.
In 1561 Yucatan was made a diocese with its see at Mérida. 1562 - the famous Diego de Landa, Franciscan provincial, and afterwards bishop (1573-79), becoming aware that the natives throughout the peninsula still secretly cherished their ancient rites, instituted an investigation, which he conducted with such cruelties of torture and death that the proceedings were stopped by order of Bishop Toral Franciscan provincial of Mexico, immediately upon his arrival, during the same summer, to occupy the See of Mérida. Before this could be done, however, there had been destroyed, as is asserted, two million sacred images and hundreds of hieroglyphic manuscripts - practically the whole of the voluminous native Mayans literature. As late as 1586,
a royal edict was issued for the suppression of idolatry.
In 1575-77 a terrible visitation of a mysterious disease, called matlalzahuatl, which attacked only the Indians, swept over Southern Mexico and Yucatan, destroying, as was estimated, over two million lives. This was its fourth appearance since the conquest. At its close it was estimated that the whole Indian population of Mexico had been reduced to about 1,700,000 souls. In 1583 and 1597 there were local revolts under chiefs of the ancient Cocom royal family. By this latter date it was estimated that the native population of Mexico had declined by three-fourths since the discovery, through massacre, famine, disease, and oppression. Up to 1593 over
150 Franciscan monks had been engaged in missionary work in Yucatan.
The Mayans history of the seventeenth century is chiefly one of revolutions,
viz., 1610-33, 1636-44, 1653, 1669, 1670, and about 1675.
Of all these, that of 1636-44 was the most extensive and serious, resulting in a temporary revival of the old heathen rites. In 1697 the island capital of the Itzá, in Lake Petén, Guatemala, was stormed by Governor Martín de Ursua, and with it fell the last stronghold of the independent Mayans. Here, also, the manuscripts discovered were destroyed. In 1728 Bishop Juan Gomez Parada died, beloved by the Indians for the laws which he had procured mitigating the harshness of their servitude. The reimposition of the former hard conditions brought about another revolt in 1761, led by the chief Jacinto Canek, and ending, as usual, in the defeat of the Indians, the destruction of their chief stronghold, and the death of their leader under horrible torture. In 1847, taking advantage of the Government's difficulties with the United States, and urged on by their "unappeasable hatred toward their ruler from the earliest time of the Spanish conquest", the Mayans again broke out in general rebellion, with the declared purpose of driving all the whites, half-breeds and negroes from the peninsula, in which they were so far successful that all the fugitives who escaped the wholesale massacres fled to the coast, whence most of them were taken off by ships from Cuba. Arms and ammunition for the rising were freely supplied
to the Indians by the British traders of Belize.
In 1851 the rebel Mayans established their headquarters at Chan-Santa-Cruz in the eastern part of the peninsula. In 1853 it seemed as if a temporary understanding had been reached, but next year hostilities began again. Two expeditions against the Mayans stronghold were repulsed, Valladolid was besieged by the Indians, Yecax taken, and more than two thousand whites massacred. In 1860 the Mexican Colonel Acereto, with 3,000 men occupied Chan-Santa-Cruz, but was finally compelled to retire with the loss of 1,500 men killed, and to abandon his wounded - who were all butchered - as well as his artillery and supplies and all but a few hundred stand of small arms. The Indians burned and ravaged in every direction, nineteen flourishing towns being entirely wiped out, and the population in three districts being reduced from 97,000 to 35,000. The war of extermination continued, with savage atrocities, through 1864, when it gradually wore itself out, leaving the Indians still un-subdued and well supplied
with arms and munitions of war from Belize.
1868 - fighting broke out again in resistance to the Juarez government. 1871 - a Mexican force again occupied Chan-Santa-Cruz, but retired without producing any permanent result. 1901 - after long preparation, a strong Mexican force invaded the territory of the independent Mayans both by land and sea, stormed Chan-Santa-Cruz and, after determined resistance, drove the defenders into the swamps. 1910 - Mexican troops put down a serious
uprising in the northern part of the peninsula.
Mayans are around today In spite of the invasion of foreign tourism, Mayan culture has remained amazingly intact. Many of the Yucatan Mayans whose ancestors were hunters, chicle farmers and fisherman now work in hotels and other tourist related businesses. More than 350,000 Mayans living in the Yucatan speak Yukatek Mayans and most speak Spanish as a second language, primarily learned in school. The clothing worn is as it was in the past. It is relatively easy to determine the village in which the clothing was made by the the type of embroidery, color, design and shape. Mayans women can be seen wearing huipils, simple cotton dresses decorated with embroidery. The designs in their embroidery and weaving can be traced back to pre-Columbian times. Although Mayans in other parts of Central America choose to limit contact with outside influences, Mayans working in the tourist industry are generally open to conversation with polite strangers and if asked will teach you a Mayan phrase or two. In the Indian communities, as it was with their Mayan ancestors, the basic staple diet is corn. Mayan dialects of Qhuche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, and Mam are still spoken today, majority of Indians also speak Spanish.
The Maya were resourceful in harnessing energy, creating amazingly sophisticated works of art and engineering and sustaining a civilization for approximately 1,500 years. It has been shown that the Maya had attributes of the supernatural, and were masters of their environment. Their secret wisdom remains unknown, some people attributing it to extraterrestrials races,
whose space ships are seen to this very day in Central and South America.
As with ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, Mayan rulers filled vast cities with sky high pyramids, ornate and lavish palaces personifying the power of great kings and their connections to the gods, and astronomical observatories which helped created their calendars and plan their lives.
The cause of the Mayan collapse came over decades with no one quite sure what happened. There is no one single explanation for this implosion, but some scholars seem to believe that environmental catastropy lead to a full blown meltdown - lack of food and polluted water which produced malnutrition and disease. As with all civilizations, we discover that their Gods - like those some people worship today our Gods - did not help - as they do not exist - only our own consciousness to guide us in the wastelands of realities. Mayan archaeology is coming into it's Golden Age with the help of satellite imagery and photography. There are innumerable Mayan cities, temples, and settlements still to be discovered. We have learned that the Maya were an innovative, creative, and majestic people with their own particular taste for violence. The allure of the Maya is coming to the fore. Like the mystique of Egypt, people are drawn to the land of the Maya, each year. There is something they are guided to find, perhaps linked
to major planetary grid points that awaken consciousness.
Could other attractions to the land of the Maya include :
Mayan architecture with its serene palaces and temples the intricacies of hieroglyphs and art in a complex writing system the astounded comprehension of astronomy and mathematics with a concept of zero unparalleled in antiquitys it simply because these remarkable people carved magnificent cities, not just villages and towns, right out of some of the most inhospitable landscape in the entire world? In the rain forest between Honduras and the Yucatan, there are literally thousands of Maya sites that remain untouched. In Palanque alone there are approximately 1,550 buildings that lie un-excavated with endless
archaeological reasures yet to be found.
The ancient Maya had diverse and sophisticated methods of food production. It was formerly believed that shifting cultivation (swidden) agriculture provided most of their food but it is now thought that permanent raised fields, terracing, forest gardens, managed fallows, and wild harvesting were also crucial to supporting the large populations of the Classic period in some areas. Indeed, evidence of these different agricultural systems persist today: raised fields connected by canals can be seen on aerial photographs, contemporary rainforest species composition has significantly higher abundance of species of economic value to ancient Maya, and pollen records in lake sediments suggest that corn, manioc, sunflower seeds, cotton, and other crops have been cultivated in association with deforestation in Mesoamerica since at least 2500 BC. The Mayans were skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, building sizeable underground reservoirs
for the storage of rainwater.
The Maya were equally skilled as weavers and potters, and cleared routes through jungles and swamps to foster extensive trade networks with distant peoples. While the Maya diet varies, depending on the local geography, maize remains the primary staple now as it was centuries ago. Made nutritionally complete with the addition of lime, the kernels are boiled, ground with a metate and mano, then formed by hand into flat tortillas that are cooked on a griddle that is traditionally supported on three stones. Chile peppers, beans and squash are still grown in the family farm plot (milpa) right along with the maize, maximizing crop's nutrients,
sun, shade and growing surface.
Agriculture was based on slash and burn farming which required that a field be left fallow for 5 to 15 years after only 2 to 5 years of cultivation. But there is evidence that fixed raised fields and terraced hillsides were also used in appropriate areas. The Maya farmer cultivated corn, beans, cacao, chile, maguey, bananas, and cotton, besides giving attention to bees,
obtaining both honey and wax.
Various fermented drinks were prepared from corn, maguey, and honey. They were much given to drunkenness, which was so common as hardly to be considered disgraceful. Chocolate was the favorite drink of the upper classes. Cacao beans, as well as pieces of copper, were a common medium of exchange. Very little meat was eaten, except at ceremonial feasts, although the Maya were expert hunters and fishers. A small "barkless" dog was also eaten. Chocolate-food of Gods ... Such statement of our ancestors still holds true today Pravda - May 5, 2004 Contemporary Maya peoples still practice many of these traditional forms of agriculture, although they are dynamic systems and change with changing population pressures, cultures, economics, climate change, and availability of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
The study and observation of plants has been of high importance to the Maya for centuries. However, the study of medicinal plants was limited to the priestly class. Plants and herbal remedies were often used in collaboration with other techniques to cure disease and sickness. Knowledge of the effects of certain plants on human beings was often used to prescribe an anecdote to a particular ailment, but it is also important to note that medicine men also frequently relied on the color of a plant or other remedy in certain situations. For instance, yellow plants and fruits were used in curing jaundice ; red for problems characterized by blood ;
burned feathers of red birds in curing yellow fever.
In cases of skin irritation, wounds, bruises, and headaches, fresh vegetation was often used in the form of plasters applied directly to the skin. Plasters were also rubbed on the skin to shield evil spirits. Depending on the ailment, plants were boiled and used in herbal drinks and/or baths, eaten raw, snorted, smoked, or inserted into one of the body’s orifices. Common plants used for medicine include, but are not limited to, chili peppers, cacao, tobacco, agave, and the pitarilla tree. In addition, animal parts, such as those from the crocodile, insects, fish, and birds were combined into the herbal concoctions. In most cases, a mixture of plant and animal product was prepared to cure a specific ailment. The Maya medicine men were not simple healers through plant medicine. Listed below are a description of broad sicknesses and diseases by Roys, for which medicine men used their plant remedies. These categories also contain subcategories
to specialize the mixtures used even further.
HERBAL REMEDIES : for Aches and Pains ; Asthma ; Colds ; Disease of the Lungs and Breathing Passages ; Birth and Obstetrics ; Diseases of Women ; Bites and Stings of Animals and Insects ; Bleeding ; Bowel Complaints, Abdominal Pain and Vomiting ; Burns ; Charms and Magic ; Chills and Fever ; Convulsions, Nervous Complaints - Irritability, Depression, Loss of Sleep, Nightmares, Vertigo, Insomnia ; Dislocations and Complaints of the Bones ; Earaches ; Eye Complaints ; Fainting and Unconsciousness ; Falling ; Hair and Disease of the Scalp ; Headache ; Hiccoughs ; Inflammation ; Insanity ; Jaundice ; Mouth and Tongue Problems ; Nosebleed and Excessive Sneezing ; Poisoning ; Skin Diseases, Ulcers, Abscesses, Cancer and Tumors ; Sunstroke ; Sweating ; Teeth and Gums ; Urine (bladder problems) ; Wounds, Cuts, Bruises.
Use of Mind-Altering Substances
For the most part, mind-altering substances were used in ceremony or ritual by medicine men to achieve a higher state of consciousness or trance-like state. However, the common Maya citizen used these substances for the same reasons, in a controlled environment. For the most part, these substances were used for mental and spiritual health purposes. Flora such as peyote, the morning glory, certain mushrooms, tobacco, and plants used to make alcoholic substances, were commonly used. The smoking of tobacco mixed with other plants produced a trance-like state. Alcoholic substances were used at rituals and were extremely strong and mind-altering. Hallucinogens were used to communicate with the spirit world. A number of these substances were used not to cure sickness or disease, but instead for pain relief. In addition, as depicted in Maya pottery and carvings, ritual enemas were used for a more rapid absorption and effect of the substance. In contrast to modern culture, these remedies were used
to restore balance and harmony to the body.
Mayan Art and Architecture
As unique and spectacular as any Greek or Roman architecture, Maya architecture spans many thousands of years; yet, often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as Maya are the fantastic stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. Being based on the general Mesoamerican architectural traditions these pyramids relied on intricate carved stone in order to create a stair-step design. Each pyramid was dedicated to a deity whose shrine sat at its peak. During this "height" of Maya culture, the centers of their religious, commercial and bureaucratic power grew into incredible cities, including Chichen Itza, Tikal, and Uxmal. Through observation of the numerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions, remnants of Maya architecture have become an important key to understanding
the evolution of their ancient civilization.
With the decipherment of the Maya script it was discovered that the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artists attached their name to their work. The art of the Maya has been called the richest of the New World because of the great complexity of patterns and variety of media expressions. Limestone structures, faced with lime stucco, were the hallmark of ancient Maya architecture. Maya buildings were adorned with carved friezes and roof combs in stone and stucco. With large quantities of limestone and flint available, plaster and cement were easily produced. This allowed the Mayans to build impressive temples, with stepped pyramids. On the summits were thatched- roof temples. Evidence show that the early Maya architects were using the corbel vault principle, which is arch like structures with sides
that extend inward until they meet at the top.
Another matchless feature of the Mayans was the use of colorful murals. It is also noted that most of the Maya cities were built by being divided into quarters by two avenues which cross-cut each other at right angles. Roofs were flat and made with cedar beams overlaid with mortar. The walls were plastered and painted with great gods and other mythological features.
Tombs were often encased within or beneath Mayan structures. Frequently new temples were built over existing structures. The Mayans also expressed themselves artistically. Their ceramics were made in a large variety of forms and decorated with complex scenes. The Mayans also designed works of art from flint, bone and shell, along with making decorated cotton textiles. Even metal was used for ceremonial purposes. Items made with metal
include necklaces, bracelets and head dresses.
It is evident that all of the structures built by the ancient Mayans were built in honor of the gods. Compounds were built with large open areas, from which all the citizens could view the religious ceremonies taking place on the platforms elevated above the city. On the other hand, the construction of the Castillo, seems to relate to the ancient Maya's obsession with the calendar. For example, each stairway in the temple has 91 steps, making a total of 364 steps in the four staircases, which, counting the platform at the top of the pyramid, equals the total number of days in the solar year. Even more so, each side of the pyramid has nine stepped terraces divided by a stairway, for a total of eighteen sections on each side, consequently, the number of months in the Mayan calendar. A honeycombed roof comb towered above many structures, providing a base for painted plaster that was the Maya equivalent of the billboard. In addition to temples, most Maya sites had multi-roomed structures that probably served as royal palaces
as well as centers for government affairs.
Historically significant events, such as accessions, the capture or sacrifice of royal victims and the completion of the twenty year katun cycle, were recorded on stone stelae and tablets. Without metal tools, beasts of burden, or even the wheel the Mayans were able to construct vast cities across a huge jungle landscape with an amazing degree of architectural perfection and variety. They were noted as well for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools.
As Maya cities spread throughout the varied geography of Mesoamerica, site planning appears to have been minimal. Maya architecture tended to integrate a great degree of natural features, and their cities were built somewhat haphazardly as dictated by the topography of each independent location. For instance, some cities on the flat limestone plains of the northern Yucatan grew into great sprawling municipalities, while others built in the hills of Usumacinta utilized the natural loft of the topography to raise their towers and temples to impressive heights. However, some semblance of order, as required by any large city, still prevailed. Classic Era Maya urban design could easily be described as the division of space by great monuments and causeways. Open public plazas were the gathering places for people and the focus of urban design, while interior space was entirely secondary. Only in the Late Post-Classic era did the great Maya cities develop into more fortress-like defensive structures that lacked, for the most part,
the large and numerous plazas of the Classic.
At the onset of large-scale construction during the Classic Era, a predetermined axis was typically established in a cardinal direction. Depending on the location of natural resources such as fresh-water wells, or cenotes, the city grew by using sacbeob (causeways) to connect great plazas with the numerous platforms that created the sub-structure for nearly all Maya buildings. As more structures were added and existing structures re-built or remodeled, the great Maya cities seemed to take on an almost random identity that contrasted sharply with other great Mesoamerican cities such as Teotihuacan and its rigid grid-like construction.
At the heart of the Maya city were large plazas surrounded by the most important governmental and religious buildings, such as the royal acropolis, great pyramid temples and occasionally ball-courts. Though city layouts evolved as nature dictated, careful attention was placed on the directional orientation of temples and observatories so that they were constructed in accordance with Maya interpretation of the orbits of the heavenly bodies. Immediately outside of this ritual center were the structures of lesser nobles, smaller temples, and individual shrines; the less sacred and less important structures had a greater degree of privacy. Outside of the constantly evolving urban core were the less permanent and more modest homes of the common people.
A surprising aspect of the great Maya structures is their lack of many advanced technologies that would seem to be necessary for such constructions. Lacking metal tools, pulleys and maybe even the wheel, Maya architecture required one thing in abundance: manpower. Yet, beyond this enormous requirement, the remaining materials seem to have been readily available. All stone for Maya structures appears to have been taken from local quarries. They most often utilized limestone, which remained pliable enough to be worked with stone tools while being quarried, and only hardened once removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt, and mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and was used just as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar. However, later improvements in quarrying techniques reduced the necessity for this limestone-stucco as their stones began to fit quite perfectly, yet it remained a crucial element in some post and lintel roofs. In the case of the common Maya houses, wooden poles, adobe, and thatch were the primary materials; however, instances of what appear to be common houses of limestone have been discovered as well. Also notable throughout Mayan architecture is the false arch, whose limitations kept their structures generally weighty rather than airy.
Ceremonial platforms were commonly limestone platforms of typically less than four meters in height where public ceremonies and religious rites were performed. Constructed in the fashion of a typical foundation platform, these were often accented by carved figures, altars and perhaps tzompantli, a stake used to display the heads of victims
or defeated Mesoamerican ballgame opponents.
Palaces were large and often highly decorated, and usually sat close to the center of a city and housed the population's elite. Any exceedingly large royal palace, or one consisting of many chambers on different levels might be referred to as an acropolis. However, often these were one-story and consisted of many small chambers and typically at least one interior courtyard; these structures appear to take into account the needed functionality required of a residence,
as well as the decoration required for their inhabitants stature.
E-groups are a classification given by Mayanists to certain structure complexes attested in quite a few Maya sites of the central and southern lowlands - Petén region. Complexes of this type consist of a stepped pyramid main structure, which appears without fail on the western side of a quadrilateral plaza or platform. It has been theorized that these E-groups are observatories due to the precise positioning of the sun through the small temples when viewed from the pyramid during the solstices and equinoxes. Other ideas seem to stem from the possible creation story told by the relief and artwork that adorns these structures.
Pyramids and Temples Often the most important religious temples sat atop the towering Maya pyramids, presumably as the closest place to the heavens. While recent discoveries point toward the extensive use of pyramids as tombs, the temples themselves seem to rarely, if ever, contain burials. Residing atop the pyramids, some of over two-hundred feet, such as that at El Mirador, the temples were impressive and decorated structures themselves. Commonly topped with a roof comb, or superficial grandiose wall, these temples might have served as a type of propaganda. As they were often the only structure in a Maya city to exceed the height of the surrounding jungle, the roof combs atop the temples were often carved with representations of rulers,
that could be seen from vast distances.
Observatories The Maya were keen astronomers and had mapped out the phases of celestial objects, especially the Moon and Venus. Many temples have doorways and other features aligning to celestial events. Round temples, often dedicated to Kukulcan, are perhaps those most often described as "observatories" by modern ruin tour-guides, but there is no evidence that they were so used exclusively, and temple pyramids of other shapes
may well have been used for observation as well.
Ball Courts As an integral aspect of the Mesoamerican lifestyle, the courts for their ritual ball-game were constructed throughout the Maya realm and often on a grand scale. Enclosed on two sides by stepped ramps that led to ceremonial platforms or small temples, the ball court itself was of a capital "I" shape and could be found in all but the smallest of Maya cities.
Pyramids of Mexico
The Maya were resourceful in harnessing energy, creating amazingly sophisticated works of art and engineering and sustaining a civilization for approximately 1,500 years. It has been shown that the Maya had attributes of the supernatural, and were masters of their environment. Their secret wisdom remains unknown, some people attributing it to extraterrestrials races,
whose space ships are seen to this very day in Central and South America.
As with ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, Mayan rulers filled vast cities with sky high pyramids, ornate and lavish palaces personifying the power of the great kings and their connections to the gods, and astronomical observatories which helped them created their calendars and plan their lives.
The cause of the Mayan collapse came over decades with no one quite sure what happened. There is no one single explanation for this implosion, but some scholars seem to believe that environmental catastropy lead to a full blown meltdown, lack of food
and polluted water which produced malnutrition and disease.
As with all civilizations, we discover that their Gods, like those some people worship today our Gods - did not help - as they do not exist - only our own consciousness to guide us in the wastelands of realities. Mayan archaeology is coming into it's Golden Age with the help of satellite imagery and photography. There are innumerable Mayan cities, temples, and settlements still to be discovered. We have learned that the Maya were an innovative, creative, and majestic people with their own particular taste for violence. The allure of the Maya is coming to the fore. Like the mystique of Egypt, people are drawn to the land of the Maya, each year. There is something they are guided to find, perhaps linked to major planetary grid points that awaken consciousness.
Could other attractions to the land of the Maya include : Mayan architecture with its serene palaces and temples the intricacies of hieroglyphs and art in a complex writing system the astounded comprehension of astronomy and mathematics with
a concept of zero unparalleled in antiquity
is it simply because these remarkable people carved magnificent cities, not just villages and towns, right out of some of the most inhospitable landscape in the entire world? In the rain forest between Honduras and the Yucatan, there are literally thousands of Maya sites that remain untouched. In Palanque alone there are approximately 1,550 buildings that lie unexcavated
with endless archaeological treasures yet to be found.
Maya art is considered by many to be the most sophisticated and beautiful of the ancient New World. The distinct style of Maya art that developed during the Preclassic period (1500 B.C. to 250 A.D.) has influences from the Olmec civilization. Other Mesoamerican civilizations, including Teotihuacan and the Toltecs, affected Maya art, which reached its zenith during the civilization's Classic period (c. 200 to 900 AD). The Maya are well known
for their use of jade, obsidian and stucco.
Many pieces of Maya art are spiritual in nature, designed to appease or curry the favor of the gods. Most Maya art that survives today is in the form of funerary and ritual objects. The Maya did not have metal tools or potter's wheels, however they managed to create highly detailed and beautiful pieces of art. Most Maya art depicts gods, great rulers, legendary heroes, religious scenes and, occasionally, daily life. The focus of Maya art pieces is on human figures (whether gods or mortals). Animals and stylized designs were used as decoration on pottery and other objects. The Maya script, which could be considered an art form itself, is featured on most statues and carvings. Maya art takes many forms, from tiny pieces of carved obsidian to gigantic pyramids and stelae. The dominance of the Maya religion can be seen through all of these
art forms ; most objects have a spiritual or religious purpose.
The art of the Maya, as with every civilization, is a reflection of their lifestyle and culture. The art was composed of delineation and painting upon paper and plaster, carvings in wood and stone, clay and stucco models, and terra cotta figurines from molds. The technical process of metal working was also highly developed but as the resources were scarce, they only created ornaments in this media. Many of the great programs of Maya art, inscriptions, and architecture were commissioned by Mayan kings to memorialize themselves and ensure their place in history. The prevailing subject of their art is not anonymous priests and unnamed gods but rather men and women of power that serve to recreate the history of the people. The works are a reflection of the society and its interaction with surrounding people.
One of the greatest shows of Mayan artistic ability and culture is the hieroglyphic stairway located at Copan. The stairway is an iconographical complex composed of statues, figures, and ramps in addition to the central stairway which together port ray many elements of Mayan society. An alter is present as well as many pictorial references of sacrifice and their gods. More importantly than all the imagery captured with in this monument, however, is the history of the royal descent depicted in the heiroglyphs and various statues. The figurine of a seated captive is also representative of Mayan society as it depicts someone in the process of a bloodletting ceremony, which included the accession to kingship. This figure is of high rank as depicted by his expensive earrings and intricately woven hip cloth. The rope collar which would usually mark this man as a captive, reveals that he is involved in a bloodletting rite. His genitals are exposed
as he is just about to draw blood for the ceremony.
One of the most common themes painted on Maya vases is the royal audience. The ahau, seated characteristically with legs folded, receives visitors. At times the names of the ahau and his visitors are given in glyphs. Most interesting are the details: clothing styles and decorative patterning, face painting, masks worn, gestures made and so forth. Many vases show vases as well as indicate the style of interior decor with its curtains, pillows, and thrones. Hats were of crucial importance to Maya social identity. Often the ahau receiving visitors wears a conical turban hat with a large flower in front of it and quetzal feathers behind ; sometimes
a hummingbird or fish is attached to the front of that large flower.
The elements on the head of this dragon are supposedly instruments of self-sacrifice They are found at the base of the supernatural tree displayed as a "cross" on Palenque temples.
Many examples of Maya pottery survive today. Along with clay vessels, the Maya created many earthenware figures of humans and animals. Several examples of the Teotihuacan fresco technique of applying paint to a wet clay surface have been found at Maya sites, showing the influence that civilization had on Maya art. Most pieces of pottery were decorated with images of humans, animals , or mythological creatures. Many highly detailed clay figurines were made by the Maya, portraying humans and gods. These were made with molds and by hand. Many of these figures were buried with rulers, which is how they survived to the current day.
The Maya created a great number of scupltures, many of which can be seen at Maya sites and museums. A common form of Maya sculpture was the stele. These were large stone slabs covered with carvings. Many depict the rulers of the cities they were located in, and others show gods. The stelae almost always contained hieroglyphs, which have been critical to determining the significance and history of Maya sites. Other stone carvings include figurines, similar to the earthenware ones described earlier, and stone lintels which show scenes of blood sacrifice. The Maya used a great deal of jade in their art. Many stone carvings had jade inlays, and there were also ritual objects created from jade. It is remarkable that the Maya, who had no metal tools, created such intricate and beautiful objects from jade, a very hard and dense material. An excellent example is the death mask of Lord Pacal, ruler of Palenque. A life-size mask created for his corpse had "skin" made from jade and "eyes" made from mother-of-pearl and obsidian.
Due to the humid climate of Central America few Maya paintings have survived to the present day. Some murals have been discovered at Bonampak. The paintings at Bonampak were preserved when a layer of calcium carbonate covered the paintings, preventing moisture from destroying them. The murals, which date from 790, show scenes of nobility, battle, and sacrifice. At San Bartolo, murals were discovered in 2001. These paintings date from 100 A.D., and are the some of the oldest Maya paintings discovered. These paintings, which depict the Corn god myth, made scholars realize that the myth was older than previously believed.
Maya Gods and Goddesses
The ancient Mayans had a complex pantheon of deities whom they worshipped and offered human sacrifices. Rulers were believed to be descendants of the gods and their blood was the ideal sacrifice, either through personal bloodletting or the sacrifice of captives of royal blood. The Mayan vision of the universe is divided into multiple levels, above and below earth, positioned within the four directions of north, south, east and west. After death, the soul was believed to go to the Underworld, Xibalba (shee bal bah), a place of fright where sinister gods tested
and tricked their unfortunate visitors.
As with all Myths about Gods and Goddesses - Mayan creational mythology discuss connections with being from other realms who came to Earth to seed the planet. Many people connect the story of the Popol Vuh with a story of extraterrestrial Gods who came to earth and made man in their own image. When they first created man, he was perfect, living as long as the gods and having all of their abilities. Fearing their 'creation', the gods destroyed them. In the next evolution, a lower form of entity was created, 'human', as he exists today. Within Mayan culture they have legends of visiting Gods from outer space. As in all creational myths, religions,
and prophecies, the gods promise to return one day.
Kukulcan - Winged God Feather Serpent
Pyramid of the Sun
Kukulcan was identified to Atlantis [ Tehuti ] - Egypt [ Thoth] - Sumer [ Ea or Enki ] - then later to Mesoamerica & Peru as Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl ("feathered snake") is the Aztec name for the Feathered-Serpent deity of ancient Mesoamerica, one of the main gods of many Mexican and northern Central American civilizations. The name "Quetzalcoatl" literally means quetzal-bird snake or serpent with feathers of the Quetzal (which implies something divine or precious) in the Nahuatl language. The meaning of his local name in other Mesoamerican languages is similar.
The Maya knew him as Kukulkna; the Quiche as Gukumatz. The Feathered Serpent deity was important in art and religion in most of Mesoamerica for close to 2,000 years,
from the Pre-Classic era until the Spanish Conquest.
Gukumatz was a culture hero who taught the Toltecs, and later the Maya, the arts of civilization, including codes of law, agriculture, fishing and medicine. He came from an ocean, and eventually returned to it. According to Mayan legend, Gukumatz will return to the Earth during the End Times. He also represents the forces of good and evil, similar to the ying-yang paradigm of Oriental religions. Gukumatz was a god of the four elements of fire, earth, air and water,
and each element was associated with a divine animal or plant :
Air -- Vulture
Earth -- Maize
Fire -- Lizard
Water -- Fish
The worship of Quetzalcoatl sometimes included human sacrifices, although in other traditions Quetzalcoatl was said to oppose human sacrifice.Mesoamerican priests and kings would sometimes take the name of a deity they were associated with, so Quetzalcoatl
and Kukulcan are also the names of historical persons.
In the 10th century a ruler closely associated with Quetzalcoatl ruled the Toltecs; his name was Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl. This ruler was said to be the son of either the great Chichimeca warror, Mixcoatl and the Colhuacano woman Chimalman, or of their descendant.
The Toltecs had a dualistic belief system. Quetzalcoatl's opposite was Tezcatlipoca, who supposedly sent Quetzalcoatl into exile. Alternatively, he left willingly on a raft of snakes, promising to return. When the Aztecs adopted the culture of the Toltecs, they made twin gods of Tezcatlipoca and Quetalcoat, opposite and equal; Quetalcoatl was also called White Tezcatlipoca, to contrast him to the black Tezcatlipoca. Together, they created the world ;
Tezcatlipoca lost his foot in that process.
The Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II initially believed the landing of Cortez in 1519 was Quetzalcoatl's return. Cortes played off this belief to aid in his conquest of Mexico. The exact significance and attributes of Quetzalcoatl varied somewhat between civilizations and through history. Quetzalcoatl was often considered the god of the morning star and his twin brother, Xolotl was the evening star (Venus). As the morning star he was known under the title Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, which means literaly "the lord of the star of the dawn". He was known as the inventor of books and the calendar, the giver of maize corn to mankind, and sometime as a symbol of death and resurrection. Quetzalcoatl was also the patron of the priests
and the title of the Aztec high priest.
Most Mesoamerican beliefs included cycles of worlds. Usually, our current time was considered the fifth world, the previous four having been destroyed by flood, fire and the like. Quetzalcoatl allegedly went to Mictlan, the underworld, and created fifth world-mankind from the bones of the previous races (with the help of Cihuacoatl), using his own blood to imbue the bones with new life. His birth, along with his twin Xolotl, was unusual; it was a virgin birth, born to the goddess Coatlicue. Alternatively, he was a son of Xochiquetzal and Mixcoatl. One Aztec story claims Quetzalcoatl was seduced by Tezcatlipoca but then burned himself to death
out of remorse. His heart became the morning star.
Quetzalcoatl was a god of such importance and power that nearly no aspect of everyday life seemed to go untouched by him. Secondly, as a historical figure, his actions would nor could not be contained by the History and thus eventually evolved into myth. As a legend, he would signal the end of mortal kingship. An interesting phenomena that distinguished Quetzalcoatl is that despite the fact he is not the most powerful of gods within the Mesoamerican pantheon, or one of the eldest, he is nonetheless an integral part of the system. This was partially accomplished by his ability to integrate himself so securely to attributes of his fellow brethren, to such an extent that it is virtually impossible to tell if Quetzalcoatl was the true originator or vise versa. Hence, to establish a single definitive personality to a god is extremely difficult.
In Maya mythology, Chac (sometimes spelled "Chaac") was the god of rain and thunder, and important as a fertility and agriculture god. Like some other Maya gods, Chac was sometimes thought of as one god, and other times as 4 separate gods based in the four cardinal directions: "Chac Xib Chac", Red Chac of the East; "Sac Xib Chac", White North Chac;
"Ek Xib Chac" Black West Chac", and "Kan Xib Chac", Yellow East Chac.
In art, he was sometimes depicted as an old man with some reptilian or amphibian features, with fangs and a long nose, sometimes tears coming from his eyes (symbolizing rain) and carrying an axe (which caused thunder). He was associated with the frog. Other Maya terms used to refer to Chac include Ah Tzenul, ("he who gives food away to other people"), Hopop Caan ("he who lights the sky"), and Ah Hoya ("he who urinates").Names for the Rain God in other Mesoamerican cultures include Cocijo (Zapotec) and Tlaloc (Aztec).
While most of the ancient Mesoamerican gods are long forgotten by the descendants of the original inhabitants today, prayers to the Chaacs, most generally as a routine and not in times of drought, are documented in Yucatán as continuing into the 21st century among nominal Christian Maya farmers. Anthropologists have documented other prayers still in use which are identical to pre-Columbian prayers to Chac except that the name Chac has been replaced by that of Saint Thomas.Chac should not be confused with the Maya-Toltec figure Chac Mool.
Another Sun God :
Kinich Ahau or Ahaw Kin
Kinich Ahau was the Sun god. He was the patron god of the city Itzamal. Supposedly, he visited the city at noon everday. He would descend as a macaw and consume prepared offerings. Kinich Ahau is usually shown with jaguar-like features (ex. filed teeth). Kinich Ahau also wears the symbol of Kin, a Mayan day. Kinich Ahau was also know by the name Ah Xoc Kin,
who was associated with poetry and music.
The Maize god is representative of the ripe grain which was the base of the Mayan agriculture. In certain areas of Mesoamerica, like Yucatan, the Maize god is combined with the god of flora, Yumil Kaxob. The Maize god is principally shown with a headdress of maize and a curved streak on his cheek. He is also noticeable from other gods throug his youth. Despite this youth, the Maize god was powerless by himself. His fortunes and misfortunes were decided by the control of rain and drought. The Rain god would protect him. However, he suffered
when the Death god exercised drought and famine.
The death god was called Yum Cimil. He also could be called Ah Puch, the god of the Underworld. His body is predominantly skeletal. His adornments are likewise made of bones. Yum Cimil has also been represented with a body covered with black spots (decomposition). He also wears a collar with eyeless sockets. This adornment was the typical symbol for the Underworld.
The suicide goddess was called Ixtab. She is always represented with a rope around her neck. The Mayans believed that suicides would lead you to heaven. Hence, it was very common for suicides to happen because of depression or even for something trivial.
In Maya mythology, Yum Caax ("lord of the woods") was the personification of maize and a god of agriculture and nature.Alternative names: Yum Kaax, God E.Perhaps having origins in ancient northern hunting tradition, Yum Ka'ax, also called U Kanin Ka'ax, is known to indigenous peoples of North America. The one invoked by hunters, he is owner of all the game. He can appear to hunters in an instant, and possesses songs that will allow a hunter success
or allow his arrows to come back to him.
Ix Chel, the Lady Rainbow, in Maya mythology, Ixchel or Ix Chel was an earth and moon goddess, patroness of weavers and pregnant women.One myth states that the sun was her "lover," but that her grandfather was very upset with this and he threw lightining at her out of jealousy which in turn killed Ix Chel. In the story it stated that dragonflies sang over her for 183 days and then she awoke again only to follow the sun to his palace. But the sun soon after too started to become jealous of Ix Chel, thinking that she was having an affair with the morning star, who was the sun's brother. The sun threw her out of heaven and then persuaded her back home, but soon after her return he became jealous again. It is said that Ix Chel became annoyed with the bahavior of the sun and so she went off into the night and remained invisible whenever the sun came around. At her new place in the night it is said that Ix Chel spent the nights nursing women of Earth through their labor ( during the stint of their pregnancy and birth ).
The story of Ix Chel and Itzamna shows both interesting similarities and differences with the Japanese myth of Izanagi and Izanami. The names and personalities are reversed in one version of the story as compared to the other. Izanami is the female, and she is the one who violently attacks her husband. Ix Chel was said to pay special attention to the pilgrims who visited Cozumel, which was her sacred island. Isla Mujeres was also devoted to her worship.
In Maya mythology, Ixbalanque or Xbalanque was originally a son of Hun Hunahpu and the virgin Blood Moon. His twin was Hunahpu. The two were the Maya Hero Twins and together their story forms a large part of the Popol Vuh, documenting the Mayan creation myth. Xbalanque and his brother Hunahpu were quite inseperable in their lives, together outwitting arrogant gods and the lords of the Mayan underworld, Xibalba. Although it is not explicitly stated in the Popol Vuh, Hunahpu seems to have been the dominant one among the brothers, often the one to do the talking and the planning, although Xbalanque was not merely a hapless sidekick. Xbalanque is credited with saving his older brother's life at least once. Xbalanque ascended to the heavens after his death and became associated with the full moon. Xbalanque is sometimes referred to as the Mayan moon goddess, having switched genders in those versions of the myth.
Hunahpu - Hun-Apu
In Maya mythology, Hun-Apu or Hunahpu was a son of Hun Hunahpu and Blood Moon, and an older twin to Xbalanque; the two were the Maya Hero Twins. The story of Hunahpu and his brother are told in the Popol Vuh. The pair were apparently well favored by the greater Mayan gods, and over their lifetimes had a long career of defeating their enemies
through trickery and great powers.
Hunahpu and his brother were conceived in an unusual fashion, when their mother Blood Moon spoke with the decapitated head of their father Hun Hunahpu. The skull spat upon the maiden's hand, and it was this act that caused the twins to be conceived in her womb. Blood Moon sought out Hun Hunahpu's mother, who begrudgingly took her in after
setting up a number of trials to prove her identity.
Even after birth, Hunahpu and Xbalanque were not well treated by their grandmother or their older half-brothers One Monkey and One Artisan. Immediately after their births, their grandmother demanded they be removed from the house due to their crying, and their elder brothers obliged by placing them in unusual places to sleep; on an anthill and among the brambles. Their intent was to kill their younger half-brothers out of jealousy and spite, for the older pair had long been revered as fine artisans and thinkers, and feared the newcomers
would steal from the attention they received.
The attempts to kill the young twins after birth were a failure, and the boys grew up without any obvious spite for their ill-natured older siblings. During their younger years, the twins were made to labor, going to hunt birds which they brought back for meals. The elder brothers were given their food to eat first, in spite of the fact they spend the day singing
and playing while the younger twins were working.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque demonstrated their wit at a young age in dealing with their older half brothers. One day the pair returned from the field without any birds to eat, and were questioned by their older siblings. The younger boys claimed that they had indeed shot several birds but that they had gotten caught high in a tree and were unable to retrieve them. The older brothers were brought to the tree and climbed up to get the birds, when the tree suddenly began to grow even taller, and the older brothers were caught. This is also the first instance in which the twins demonstrate supernatural powers, or perhaps simply the blessings of the greater gods ;
the feats of power are often only indirectly attributed to the pair.
Hunahpu further humiliated his older brethren by instructing them to remove their pants and tie them about their waists in an attempt to climb down. The pants became tails, and the brothers were transformed into monkeys. When their grandmother was informed that the older boys had not been harmed, she demanded they be allowed to return. When they did come back to the home, their grandmother was unable to contain her laughter at their appearance,
and the disfigured brothers ran away in shame.
At a point in their lives not specified in the Popol Vuh, the twins were approached by the god Huracan regarding an arrogant god named Seven Macaw (Vucub Caquix). Seven Macaw had built up a following of worshipers among some of the inhabitants of the Earth, making false claims to be either the sun or the moon. Seven Macaw was also extremely vain, adorning himself with metal ornaments in his wings and a set of false teeth made of gemstones.In a first attempt to dispatch the vain god, the twins attempted to sneak upon him as he was eating his meal in a tree, and shot at his jaw with a blowgun. Seven Macaw was knocked from his tree but only wounded, and as Hunahpu attempted to escape, his arm was grabbed by the god and torn off.
In spite of their initial failure, the twins again demonstrated their clever nature in formulating a plan for Seven Macaw's defeat. Invoking a pair of gods disguised as grandparents, the twins instructed the invoked gods to approach Seven Macaw and negotiate for the return of Hunapuh's arm. In doing so, the "grandparents" indicated they were but a poor family, making a living as doctors and dentists and attempting to care for their orphaned grandchildren. Upon hearing this Seven Macaw requested that his teeth be fixed since they had been shot and knocked loose by the blowgun, and his eyes cured (it is not specifically said what ailed his eyes). In doing so the grandparents replaced his jeweled teeth with white corn, and plucked the ornaments he had about his eyes, leaving the god destitute of his former greatness.
Having fallen, Seven Macaw died, presumably of shame.
Seven Macaw's sons, Zipacna and Cabrakan, inherited a large part of their father's arrogance, claiming to be the creators and destroyers of mountains, respectively. The elder son Zipacna was destroyed when the twins tricked him with the lure of a fake crab, burying him beneath a mountain in the process. More detail regarding Zipacna's deeds and his defeat
can be found in the article about Zipacna.
The Mayan god Huracan again implored the young twins for help in dealing with Seven Macaw's younger son, Cabrakan, the Earthquake. Again it was primarily through their cleverness that the pair were able to bring about the downfall of their enemy, having sought him out and then using his very arrogance against him; they told the story of a great mountain they had encountered that kept growing and growing. Cabrakan prided himself as the one to bring down the mountains, and upon hearing such a tale, he predictably demanded to be shown the mountain. Hunahpu and Xbalanque obliged, leading Cabrakan toward the non-existent mountain. Being skilled hunters, they shot down several birds along the way, roasting them over fires and playing upon Cabrakan's hunger. When he asked for some meat, he was given a bird that had been prepared with plaster and gypsum, apparently a poison to the god. Upon eating it, he was weakened, and the boys were able to bind him and cast him
into a hole in the earth, burying him forever.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque played ball in the same court that their father and his brother had played in long before them. When One Hunahpu and his brother had played, the noise had disturbed the Lords of Xibalba, rulers of the Mayan underworld. The Xibalbans summoned them to play ball in their own court. Doing so was a trap, however, as the Xibalbans used a bladed ball which was used to kill and decapitate the young men for disturbing their peace.When the twins began to play ball in the court, once again the Lords of Xibalba were disturbed by the racket, and sent summons to the boys to come to Xibalba and play in their court. Fearing they would suffer the same fate, their grandmother relayed the message only indirectly, telling it to a louse which was hidden in a toad's mouth, which was in turn hidden in the belly of a falcon. Nevertheless the boys did receive the message, and much to their grandmother's dismay set off to Xibalba.
When their father had answered the summons, he and his brother were met with a number of challenges along the way which served to confuse and embarrass them before their arrival, but the younger twins would not fall victim to the same tricks. They sent a mosquito ahead of them to bite at the Lords and uncover which were real and which were simply mannequins, as well as uncovering their identities. When they arrived at Xibalba they were easily able to identify which were the real Lords of Xibalba and address them by name. They also turned down the Lords' invitation to sit upon a bench for visitors, correctly identifying the bench as a heated stone for cooking. Frustrated by the twins' ability to see through their traps, they sent the boys away
to the Dark House, the first of several deadly tests devised by the Xibalbans.
Their father One Hunahpu and his brother had suffered embarrassing defeats in each of the tests, but again Hunahpu and Xbalanque demonstrated their prowess by outwitting the Xibalbans on the first of the tests, surviving the night in the pitch black house without using up their torch. Dismayed, the Xibalbans bypassed the remaining tests and invited the boys directly to the game. The twins knew that the Xibalbans used a special ball that had a blade with which to kill them, and instead of falling for the trick Hunahpu stopped the ball with a racket and spied the blades. Complaining that they had been summoned only to be killed,
Hunahpu and Xbalanque threatened to leave the game.
As a compromise, the Lords of Xibalba allowed the boys to use their own rubber ball, and a long and proper game ensued. In the end the twins allowed the Xibalbans to win the game, but this was again a part of their ruse. They were sent to Razor House, the second deadly test of Xibalba, filled with knives that moved of their own accord. The twins however spoke to the knives and convinced them to stop, thereby ruining the test. They also sent leafcutting ants to retrieve petals from the gardens of Xibalba, a reward to be offered to the Lords for their victory. The Lords had intentionally chosen a reward they thought impossible, for the flowers were well guarded, but the guards did not take notice of the ants,
and were killed for their inability to guard the flowers.
The twins played a rematch with the Xibalbans and lost by intent again, and were sent to Cold House, the next test. This test they defeated, as well. In turn, Hunahpu and Xbalanque by purpose lost their ball games so that they might be sent to the remaining tests, Jaguar House, Fire House, Bat House and in turn defeat the tests of the Xibalbans. The Lords of Xibalba were dismayed at the twins success, until the twins were placed in Bat House. Though they hid inside their blowguns from the deadly bats, Hunahpu peeked out to see if daylight had come, and was decapitated by a bat.The Xibalbans were overjoyed that Hunahpu had been defeated. Xbalanque summoned the beasts of the field, however, and fashioned a replacement head for Hunahpu. Though his original head was used as the ball for the next day's game, the twins were able to surreptitiously substitute a squash or a gourd for the ball, retrieving Hunahpu's real head
and resulting in an embarrassing defeat for the Xibalbans.
Embarrassed by their defeat the Xibalbans still sought to destroy the twins. They had a great oven constructed and once again summoned the boys, intending to trick them into the oven and to their deaths. The twins realized that the Lords had intended this ruse to be the end of them, but nevertheless they allowed themselves to be burned in the oven, killed and ground into dust and bones. The Xibalbans were elated at the apparent demise of the twins, and cast their remnants into a river. This was, however, a part of the plan devised by the boys, and when cast into the river their bodies regenerated, first as a pair of catfish, and then as a pair of young boys again.Not recognizing them, the boys were allowed to remain among the Xibalbans.
Tales of their transformation from catfish spread, as well as tales of their dances and the way they entertained the people of Xibalba. They performed a number of miracles, setting fire to homes and then bringing them back whole from the ashes, sacrificing one another and rising from the dead. When the Lords of Xibalba heard the tale, they summoned the pair to their court to entertain them, demanding to see such miracles in action.The boys answered the summons, and volunteered to entertain the Lords at no cost. Their identities remained secret for the moment, claiming to be orphans and vagabonds, and the Lords were none the wiser. They went through their gamut of miracles, slaying a dog and bringing it back from the dead, causing the Lords' house to burn around them while the inhabitants were unharmed, and then bringing the house back from the ashes. In a climactic performance, Xbalanque cut Hunahpu apart and offered him as a sacrifice, only to have the older brother rise once again from the dead.
Enthralled by the performance, One Death and Seven Death, the highest lords of Xibalba, demanded that the miracle be performed upon them. The twins obliged by killing and offering the lords as a sacrifice, but predictably did not bring them back from the dead. The twins then shocked the Xibalbans by revealing their identities as Hunahpu and Xbalanque, sons of One Hunahpu whom they had slain years ago along with their uncle Seven Hunahpu. The Xibalbans despaired, confessed to the crimes of killing the brothers years ago, and begged for mercy. As a punishment for their crimes, the realm of Xibalba was no longer to be a place of greatness, and the Xibalbans would no longer receive offerings from the people who walked on the Earth above.
All of Xibalba had effectively been defeated.
With Xibalba defeated and the arrogant gods disposed of, Hunahpu and Xbalanque had one final act to accomplish. They returned to the Xibalban ball court and retrieved the buried remains of their father, One Hunahpu, and attempted to rebuild him. Although his body was made whole again he was not the same, and was unable to function as he once did. The twins left their father there in the ball court, but before doing so told him that he would be prayed to
by those who sought hope, and this eased his heart.
Then finished, the pair departed Xibalba and climbed back up to the surface of the Earth. They did not stop there, however, and continued climbing straight on up into the sky. Hunahpu was immortalized as the Venus, the morning star, while Xbalanque became the full moon.
While not directly revered as gods themselves, Hunahpu and Xbalanque played an integral role in the Mayan creation story as being of superhuman stature, perhaps demigods or minor deities themselves, always favored by the greater gods. Although many of their acts and successes came about as a result of trickery and deceit, this was viewed more as cleverness than dishonesty, and their roles in defeating the vain and arrogant gods as well as the evil lords of the
underworld Xibalba solidifies their characters as being that of good.
Ah Kinchil : the Sun god.
Ah Puch : the god of Death.
Ahau Chamahez : one of two gods of Medicine.
Ahmakiq: a god of Agriculture who locks up the wind
when it threatens to destroy the crops.
Akhushtal : the goddess of Childbirth
Bacabs : the bacabs are the canopic gods, thought to be brothers, who, with upraised arms, supported the multilayered sky from their assigned positions at the four cardinal points of the compass. (The Bacabs may also have been four manifestations of a single deity.) The four brothers were probably the offspring of Itzamn·, the supreme deity, and Ixchel, the goddess of weaving, medicine, and childbirth. Each Bacab presided over one year of the four-year cycle. The Maya expected the Muluc years to be the greatest years, because the god presiding over these years was the greatest of the Bacab gods. The four directions and their corresponding colours east, red ; north, white ; west, black ; south, yellow played an important part
in the Mayan religious and calendrical systems.
Mayan god of rain, especially important in the Yucatan region of Mexico where he was depicted in Classic times with protruding fangs, large round eyes, and a proboscis-like nose. In post-Classic Mayan and Toltec ruins, reclining figures known as the Chacs Mool are thought to represent the rain god. Following the Spanish conquest, the Chacs were associated
with Christian saints and were often depicted on horseback.
Cit Bolon Tum : a god of Medicine.
Cizin (Kisin) : "Stinking One"; Mayan earthquake god and god of death, ruler of the subterranean land of the dead. He lives beneath the earth in a purgatory where all souls except those of soldiers killed in battle and women who died in childbirth spend some time. Suicides are doomed to his realm for eternity. He may possibly have been one aspect of a malevolent underworld deity who manifested himself under several names and guises (e.g., Ah Puch, Xibalba, and Yum Cimil). In pre-Conquest codices, or manuscripts, the god of death is frequently depicted with the god of war in scenes of human sacrifice. One aspect of the dualistic nature of the Mayan religion is symbolically portrayed in the existing codices, which show Cizin uprooting or destroying trees planted by Chac, the rain god. Cizin is often depicted on pottery and illustrated in the codices in the form of a dancing skeleton, holding a smoking cigarette. He is also known by his death collar, the most prominent feature of which consists of disembodied eyes dangling by their nerve cords. After the Spanish Conquest, Cizin became merged with the Christian devil.
Ekahau : the god of Travellers and Merchants.
Itzamn : "Iguana House" - Principal pre-Columbian Mayan deity. The ruler of heaven, day, and night, he frequently appeared as four gods called Itzamn·s, who encased the world. Like some of the other Mesoamerican deities, the Itzamn·s were associated with the points of the compass and their colours (east, red; north, white; west, black; and south, yellow). Itzamn· was sometimes identified with the remote creator deity Hunab Ku and occasionally with Kinich Ahau, the sun-god. The moon goddess Ixchel, patroness of womanly crafts, was possibly a female manifestation of the god. Itzamn· was also a culture hero who gave humankind writing
and the calendar and was patron deity of medicine.
Ixtab : the goddess of the Hanged. She receives their souls into paradise.
Kan-u-Uayeyab : the god who guarded cities.
Kinich Kakmo : the Sun god symbolised by the Macaw.
Kisin : see Cizin
Mitnal : Mitnal was the underworld hell where the wicked were tortured.
Nacon : Nacon was the god of War.
Tzultacaj (Tzuultaq'ah) : For the Mayan Indians of central Guatemala,
known as Kekchl, this was the god of the mountains and valleys.
Yaxche : Yaxche is the Tree of Hea
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