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Maya Symbolism: rituals and religion

  • Who were part of the ceremony?

    Priests, pilgrims, and elderly women. Children or young women were not part of the ritual. The high priest was named Ahua Can (Serpent Lord) or Ah Kin (The Sun).

    The prophets were known as Chilamoob; the supreme leader received the name of Halach Uiniki, and the sorcerers, witchdoctors, and fortune tellers were named Ah meneoob. Also, the Nacomes were the sacrificers, and the Chacoob, the four elderly men that helped during the rituals.

  • Meaning of the Maya colors

    • • Green: used by kings. It was a symbol of power.
    • • Blue-Green: common between priests and associated with death. The ones who were about to be sacrified and the stone used for it, were painted in blue.
    • • Red and Black: related to warriors.
    • • Yellow: used by sorcerers and fortune tellers.
    • • White: related to the people from the village.

    • Colors related to the cosmic directions.
    • • Red: East.
    • • Black: West.
    • • Yellow: South.
    • • White: North.
    • • Blue-Green: Benter.

    • Ritual Colors
    • Participants used to paint their bodies according to the rituals.
    • • Black for fasting.
    • • White, yellow or blue for sacrifice acts.
    • • Red for war.
  • Maya Rites Structure

      There was an overall structure to perform the rituals which consisted of:
    • • Fasting or preliminary abstinence, as a symbol of the Pixán (soul) cleansing and other rites to connect with the sacred, featuring the sexual abstinence, insomnia, food privation, and painting their faces with soot.

    • • Selection by a priest divination in a determined moment of the ceremony. The oracle or priest set the date, time, and the guests at the celebration.

    • • Steam baths or in water currents using spring water, bloodletting, change of attire, public confession, and consecrating objects, as well.

    • • Perfuming the idols: This activity used copal resin, drinking alcoholic beverages such as Balché and Chicha, special food prepared with corn, cocoa beans, and dog or turkey meat, among others.

    • • Prayers according to the deity by using music, dances, chants, processions and dramatic performances.

    • • Sacrifice, if possible of a living being, animal or human. This was a ritual in which an offering to the gods is transformed from profane to sacred, to serve as a link between men and the divine. Its purpose is to approach that which is sacred, in order to show gratitude for its benefits and strive to bring them about , to fertilize nature, to atone guilt, to keep off evil, to communicate with the spirits of the dead, to integrate with the divine power through a communion and achieve its transfiguration.

    • • Offerings such as objects, food, plants, animals or the person itself. The Maya believed gods were invisible and intangible, they were sustained with subtle materials such as the scent of flowers and incense, the flavors of food and drinks; but mostly with the vital energy contained in the blood of animals and humans, which was released when the heart stopped beating or when burned.
  • Motives for Maya rituals

    Rituals had well-defined times and were tributes to their principal gods, fertility, unions, or as initiation ceremonies for religious people. They took place also at private festivities, to fortune tell and healing, and even during life cycles such as pregnancy, birth, childhood, puberty, marriage, and death.

  • The Maya myth of the corn and agriculture

    Agriculture was the departing point for civilized communities. The myth of the creation of farming plants, their chants and ceremonies that celebrate its origins, features the core values of a farming society. Agriculture is synonym for wealth and civilization, besides painting, sculpture, architecture, crafting, and other art expressions.

  • Maya gods characteristics

    Maya deities present a combination of human, animal, and fantastic features. They were represented in four denominations, each associated with a color and direction. They had a dual aspect since they can be good or evil, young or elderly, depending on the context. Also, they were associated with eras or being incarnated as ancestors and had a wide variety of names and manifestations.

  • Maya cosmogonic myths

    Events that took place in a fundamental but timeless period. A sacred time that outstands from the common reality of the human being, which has an ending.

  • Ixchel

    One of the most relevant Maya deities associated with pregnancy, water, weaving, the moon, and medicine. Its name can be related to “The one of the Rainbow” that appears in the hieroglyph texts as Chak Chel (big rainbow) or “Pale Skin” that is performed as a mother and moon goddess.

  • Ix Chebel Yax

    This goddess represents an old moon. It appears at the Dresden Codex on several occasions and appears as an aged woman with skin painted in red and holding a pitcher, pouring water from the celestial dome. It is a symbol of fertility, death, and rebirth.

  • Ixchel Denominations

    The goddess is represented sometimes as evil; also as Acna Uo, the white lady. Other representations show her as Sac Ix, the pale lady or full moon. Ix Kan Itzam is the one who pours water over the earth; Ixchua Kab as the wild bee, Ix Sacal Uoh as the weaving tarantula, or Chack Sak Ix, the red lady.

  • Animals associated with the moon

    Among the species associated, the jaguar stands out due to its night actions. Also, like a spider due to its web, as a metaphor of how the phenomenons are interlinked in the cosmic plane. A deer is related by its horns, to the first and last quarter of the moon phases. There are associations with batrachian as frogs since the metamorphosis that experienced.

  • Divine Twins

    Hunaphú and Ixbalanqué appear at the Popol Vuh, which is the sacred Maya book, and are the children of Hun-Hunahpú and princess Ixquic. Although translations pointed out to be masculine, a theory denotes that Ixbalanqué, was in fact, a female character.

  • Cozumel Oracle

    Ixchel was an important Maya goddess when the Spaniards arrived in the region, outstanding the magnitude of the pilgrimages. It is believed that the Oracle was at the San Gervasio archaeological zone in Cozumel.

  • Itzáes

    A Maya community that arrived at Yucatan during the 4th Century, probably from the Peten region. They were known as the wise men, and it is believed that it is a branch that comes from the chanes or putunes, which had a characteristic intermittent way of speaking the Mayan language.

  • Polé - Xcaret

    An important Maya merchant port and center, nowadays known as Xcaret. Its name comes from p’ol, which means goods. It is mentioned at the Chilam Balam of Chumayel book as one of the departure points of the itzáes pilgrimage.

  • Ekab

    One of the Maya regions in the Yucatan Peninsula that covered the Northeast coastline, including the nowadays places such as Riviera Maya, Cancun, and Cozumel. Polé (Xcaret) was one of its main ports.

  • Batab

    The main ruler of a Maya community or batabil. A region with several batabil was in charge of a Halach Uinik, who concentrated the military, priesthood, and social authority.

  • Pahuas

    It was considered one and four, at the same time each holding a corner of the cosmos. It is represented with its arms held high and present in the skies, Earth, and underworld at the same time. Each Pahua has a color and direction to be identified: white for North, yellow as South, red for East, and black for West.

  • Ah Zab Ti Can

    It is known as the Lady of the Rattlesnakes and portraited as an aged woman, connected to the elder Ixchel.

  • Ek Chuak

    A Maya deity of cocoa beans, war, and benefactor of merchants. When holding a spear, it represents war, and with a pack of goods, symbolizes the merchants.

  • X-pol (ente azul).

    It symbolizes the Axis Mundi or celestial pole and is nestled in the center of the world, where the Great Mother Ceiba grows. The blue color is related to the Chaak god, water, and farming production. It also links to the center of the universe, and it is a symbol of fertility in the cosmos.

  • Chilam Balam

    Translated as jaguar priest, these religious figures transmitted the message of the gods to the people.

  • Xpilotzamna

    Gonzalo Guerrero’s wife. Her name appears at Stories of the Mayab Conquest, referring to the thoughts of Guerrero printed in his diary.

  • Gonzalo Guerrero

    Castaway at Cozumel shores in 1511 and embraced the Maya culture. At the Cortez arrival to the island, he was asked to join the Spaniards and rejected since he already had children, carved face, and ear perforations.