Worshiping the earth: Mayan culture

Art and Culture by Bronte Hogarth

Recently I was lucky enough to take a trip to Mexico and travel through Mexico’s south, from the Pacific Ocean side to the Caribbean sea. Mexico I discovered, (after the first of many 20-hour long bus rides), is a huge country with many different cultural influences forming its history,

This week I thought I would share with you the fascinating things I learned on this trip about Mayan Culture, one of the ancient world’s most fascinating, prolific, and mysterious civilizations. You might be familiar with the Mayan’s because of the hyped-up Mayan prediction about the end of the world last year, supposed to happen on the 21st December 2012. I however, prefer the new age interpretation of this event, which believes human kind is entering a period during which the earth’s inhabitants will undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation.

The Maya are a native Mesoamerican people who developed one of the most sophisticated cultures in the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of the Spanish, who conquered Mexico in the early 16th century.  They practiced astronomy, divination (and also had a penchant for celebrating rituals of human sacrifice, but that was a long time ago!!). What I would like to focus on is the Mayan religion as Mother Earth was at the centre of Mayan worship.

Maya Quick Facts:
Mayan hieroglyphics. Photo taken during my trip at Palenque ruins.

Mayan hieroglyphics. Photo taken during my trip at Palenque ruins.

Founded: c250 AD

Place founded: Mesoamerica (Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize)

Population: At it’s peak up to 2 Million People

During the first 650 years, called the Classic Period, the Mayan civilization consisted of more than 40 sizeable cities spread across modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, and northern Belize. The cities themselves, seem to have been mainly ceremonial centers, which you can see from their grand stone architecture. Incredible ingenuity must have been used to build these structures, the work of ancient architects and engineers, built using weight and balance to keep them standing strong.

The majority of the Maya lived a rural, agricultural life around these ceremonial cities and the earth was one of the most important parts of Mayan life and worship. The Maya believed that the world was a combination of the heavens and the underworld linked together by a giant tree, which had its branches in the heavens, and its roots in the underworld.

Nature was central because most of the Mayan people were farmers. In fact the major reason for sacrifices of animals, plants, and sometimes humans, was because of the belief it would would encourage the fertility of the earth and lead to good crops.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.55.27 PM

Image top left: Representation of Mayan tree of life in the heavens and the underworld. Image bottom left: Bowl with images of the Chocolate God, Mexico or Guatemala, 400-600, stone, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections Washington, D.C. Image right: Maize God, Temple 22 Copan, Honduras, 680-750, volcanic tuff, Courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum.

Many Mayan Gods were seen as forces of nature, such as the Chac the God of Rain, or the Yumil Kaxob the God of corn. There was also a God of Chocolate, thought perhaps to be Yumil Kaxob’s brother, who blessed the people with cacao beans (a valuable ancient commodity), which would then be dried, roasted and ground into chocolate powder and blended with chili, corn, honey, and water to make one the most valued beverages of ancient Mexico.

After the Spanish arrived in the mid-16th century, they began trying to convert the Maya to Catholicism. Christianity crept into Maya life, and today the most commonly practiced religion in the region is a mix of Roman Catholicism and ancient Maya beliefs and rituals.

Unfortunately today around 90% of the ancient Maya cities are buried underground, with little money invested by the Mexican government into research and preservation.

What stands out to me in the Mayan culture is the primary regard for nature within everyday life. It’s something I fear many modern humans have lost, this connection to mother nature. Perhaps the new age interpretation of the Mayan end of the world will be correct, and I hope human kind is entering a new age of positive transformation, I know a lot of people including 1 Million Women are working toward this end, where the value of nature and the environment comes first!

  • What do you think? Love you to leave your comments below!

Pictures taken during my trip. This is Palenque – a site of Mayan ruins in the Mexican state of Yucatan which date back to 226 BC.

Palenque_ruins_web                                                                                  Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.48.39 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.49.43 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.49.01 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.50.22 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.50.55 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.49.34 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.50.44 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.51.09 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.51.25 PM

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