I’ve been a student of Mesoamerican cultures since my first visit to Belize in 1967. My wife had taught English in San Ignacio, Cayo District, as a missionary volunteer, and on one of our excursions into the bush, I asked about an obvious “bump” on the horizon. “That’s a Maya ruin,” she said.
That was the first time I’d heard the word. Back home, I stumbled upon a book in the library by explorer-archaeologist Sylvanus Morley entitled The Ancient Maya. (The latest edition is by Robert Sharer). It lit a flame that grew into a lifelong passion, a master’s degree with an emphasis in anthropology and archaeology, attendance at annual meetings with leaders in these fields, correspondence with them, and frequent visits to Maya sites.
It was only years later that I understood the reason for my passion. More than any other people, the ancient Maya—from kings to commoners—modeled and expressed their perception of the cosmos and the natural world in every aspect of their lives.
A philosophy common to indigenous people around the world, is “as above, so below.” The ancient Maya took it to heart. They believed their survival, welfare and prosperity depended on the order of the cosmos. To understand it—so the rulers could effectively negotiate with the celestial and calendar gods—they observed and recorded the movements of celestial bodies over hundreds of years.
The information they gathered from these observations was reflected in their clothing, adornments, rituals and regalia, art, architecture, civic planning, burial practices, hieroglyphic writing and more. And they incorporated these in performance spectacles where the rulers imitated, and in some cases identified with the gods. Many of their perceptions and expressions—cultural traits—are unique among civilizations, for instance their language, its hieroglyphic expression, their manners and customs, clothing styles, architectural features, monuments, and iconography.
In June of 1998, I spent an entire night and morning imagining, then outlining The Path Of The Jaguar, a series of stories that would feature these people, their places and history. Literally overnight, I found a use for my databases and set out to learn how to tell a compelling story. Twelve years later, I self-published Jaguar Rising.