Ancient Mayan Religious

Mayan Religion
November 5, 2013 – 12:32 pm
Hunab Ku Mayan God Symbol

[From the Theosophical Encyclopedia Website; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style]

TE 8 Mayan Religion

Mayan civilization, which began in the lowlands of Guatamala at least 1000 BCE, flourished from the mid-third to tenth centuries CE in the Yucatán (which included its principal city, Chichén Itzá), Campeche, Quintana Roo, and parts of Tabasco and Chiapas, as well as all of Belize, most of Guatamala, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras. The principal sources of our knowledge of Mayan religion are from their scripture, the Popol Vuh, (literally “Council Book”), the several Books of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (as well as that of Mani), a few surviving manuscripts, and their iconography. Much can also be inferred from their elaborate pyramidal temple complexes, some of which include sweathouses (see J. Eric S. Thompson, The Rise and Fall of Mayan Civilization, 2nd edition, 1966, pp. 73-74), reminiscent of the sweat lodges of natives of North America. Dark, underground rooms have also been uncovered in these temple complexes (see Thompson, p. 74); their use is open only to speculation, but they could possibly have been used for secret initiatory ceremonies. The Books of Chilam Balam, which date from around 1000 CE and after and are named after an order of priests, contain quite a bit of religious mythology as well as information about Mayan society and history; they were apparently based on earlier hieroglyphic codices now lost. Unfortunately, most of the surviving hieroglyphic writing on religious matters is presently undecipherable (see Thompson, p. 196).

The major source of our knowledge of Mayan religion is the Popol Vuh. The text we now have is an alphabetic rendering (written sometime between 1554 and 1558) of an earlier hieroglyphic text, only fragments of which exist in carvings on temples, etc. This is evident from the following statement near the beginning of the text: “There is the original book and ancient writing, but the one who reads and assesses it has a hidden identity” (Dennis Tedlock, Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, rev. ed., 1996, p. 63). This suggests either that the author of our present text wished to conceal his identity from the sixteenth century Spanish conquerors of the area — which is plausible, since the alphabetic text states that it is being written “amid the preaching of God, in Christendom now” (idem) — or else that the book has an inner, esoteric meaning, as suggested by one of its alternate names, “The Light that Came from Beside (or: the Other Side of) the Sea, ” perhaps referring to its Euro-African, or even Atlantean, origin. Blavatsky claims (Isis Unveiled 1:548) the Popol Vuh was written by Ixtlilxóchitl (pronounced “Isht-lil-sho-chitl”), whom we know from the Obras Históricas by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl (1952) acceded to leadership of the Mayans in 1409 and was killed in a war with the Tepanecs in 1418, i.e., long before the Spanish conquest (see Nigel Davies, The Aztecs: a History, 1974, pp. 54-58). That means either Ixtlilxóchitl wrote the hieroglyphic version upon which our present alphabetic text is based, or there was a much earlier author of the hieroglyphic text also named Ixtlilxóchitl, as is more likely, or else that Blavatsky is mistaken on this point.

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Popular Q&A
What was the ancient Mayans challenges?

drought or no rain for long time

What was an ancient Mayan codex.

A codex is an old manuscript, in the form of a book, which replaced the scroll between the years 0-300 AD. They were written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth.

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