Infancy And Childhood

  Panajachel, Guatemala This information is taken from my conference notes. The paper, Being A Kid Again: A Cultural and Biological Examination of Childhood Identity, was given by anthropological archaeologist Dr. Amanda Harvey, professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Gratefully, she provided consulting on the topic of health when I was writing The Path Of The Jaguar trilogy. While the information here mostly applies to the contemporary Maya across a variety of communities, it suggests patterns that have a deep history in the culture. Following Dr. Harvey, I use the present… Read More

Copal Incense

Copal (Pom) tree with bamboo growing alongside it The process of making copal incense begins by scraping the bark with a blade. When the sap comes out it’s collected on a piece of bark or corn husk. The resin, which wards of insects from the tree, is thick and sticky and has a white to yellow color. In contact with the air, it becomes hard like a shiny rock, so saliva is applied to keep it malleable. It was traded locally as a resin in maize husks, and for long-distance transport, it… Read More

Dowsing / Divination

Xunantunich, Belize Dowsing is a type of divination, used to locate ground water, buried metals, gemstones, oil and gravesites without the use of scientific instruments. It’s consider a pseudoscience and there is no scientific evidence that it is any more effective than random chance. The dowsing rod only moves due to accidental or involuntary movements of the person using it. As practiced today it probably originated in Germany in the 16th century. So says Wikipedia. I used to believe that its effectiveness was due to random change combined with the mental state… Read More

Bloodletting

Photo courtesy of Justin Kerr The theme of the past three posts was initiation, specifically the trials an initiate goes through in order to become a “man of the community.” Following on that ceremony would have been another rite of passage for individuals who would enter the brotherhood of elites. Typically for the Maya this involved bloodletting. More than a ritual of endurance, the symbolism around blood was complex and powerful. It signified noble lineage and descent based on blood, which was perceived to be the rarified essence or “breath” of the… Read More

The Maya Celestial Realm (3rd Initiation)

Photo courtesy of Justin Kerr Similar to the Maya Underworld, the Upperworld was populated with demons. Instead of nine levels, however, the celestial realm had thirteen, each with a ruling god. Not much is known about the levels, but there’s an indication that the fifth was a “Place of Fire” inhabited by fire serpents who emitted comets and meteors. One group called that level the Na Ho Chaan or “First Five Sky,” portrayed in art as long, twisted cords— an association with the umbilical cord and the cords wrapped around a pointed… Read More

Xibalba: The Maya Underworld (2nd Initiation)

Rollout vase photo courtesy of Justin Kerr The Maya Underworld, called Xibalba (She-balba), “The Place of Fright,” was the realm beneath the surface of the Earth and under water. It was perceived to have nine descending levels arranged like an inverted pyramid, was ruled by the Bolontik’u, “Nine Lords of Death” and was often depicted on vases as a giant conch or snail shell which enclosed a mysterious other reality interpreted by some to be an infinite, eternal and bloody ocean of bliss. The Underworld was always pressing upward through portals—volcanoes, floods,… Read More

Deer Hunting and Initiation Trial One

Vase rollout courtesy of Justin Kerr They joined together in companies of fifty and roasted the flesh of deer so it would not be wasted; they make presents of it to their lord and distribute the rest among friends.                                           Fray Diego de Landa, Bishop Inquisitor of Colonial Yucatan Deer were treated like gods because their main god had appeared to them in that form. In some places there were deer parks… Read More

Termination Rituals

  Caracol Structure B5 For the ancient Maya the most important interaction was not between persons, objects or buildings, it was their relationship with the spirits that resided in them. While everything was perceived as being alive, only those things that were useful were ritually ensouled with a guardian spirit—or a god in the case of temples, palaces and sacred places. When a ceramic vessel was made or a house built, a och’ k’ak’ “fire-entering” ritual was held to invite a spirit, often a deceased ancestor, to take up residence in it…. Read More

Sacred Spaces

For the ancients, there was no separation between the secular and the sacred. Everything of the Earth was sacred, ensouled with a vital source that comes from the sun. Outside it was chaotic space, peopled by ghosts, demons, spirits and “foreigners” who were considered demons. Because human beings couldn’t live in chaos, life and living was all about maintaining order. And the model for it was (and remains) nature and the cosmos. In both, they and we observe constancy, beauty, pattern and cyclical motion, apparent features of absolute reality. Modeling these in… Read More

The Dancing Maize God

Vessel of the Dancing Lords (A.D. 750/800)  Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Maya Image Archive This vessel was produced in the Naranjo, Guatemala workshop for Lord K’ahk’ Ukalaw Chan Chaahk. At the top, above a band of symbols indicating the sky (a “sky band”), the hieroglyphs read: “His painting, (artist’s name?), artist sage, Lord Maxam, child of woman, Holy Lady Water-Venus, Lady Lord of Yaxhá (title?)(title?), child of man, Three Katun (60 year) Sacrificer, Lord Flint Face, Holy Lord of Naranjo, pure artisan.” The Classic Period name of the… Read More