Mayan Culture And Traditions

Mayan Culture and Traditions
December 7, 2015 – 09:33 am
The president at the peak of

Spirits and Ghosts

The Mayan world is a place full of spirits and ghosts. They believed that every creation had un unseen power and they made no distinction between natural and supernatural power. This is something the Maya had in common with people throughout Mesoamerica and a notion that is very much alive in today's Latin America. A mountain can hold a deity and a rock a spirit. Ghosts are out at night, and spirits roam the jungle. To get in touch with the supernatural, like the jaguar spirit or some other transformation, shamans would use one of over 40 hallucinogenic plants that grow in the jungle, like this Mayan dude sparking up a doobie.

The World According to the Maya

The Maya believed the world was a horizontal plane with four corners, each represented by a color. East was red symbolizing the rebirth of the sun. West was black - the place for the sun's death. White represented north and yellow was south. A fifth vertical coordinate lay at the earth's center and its color was blue-green. In this center a big ceiba tree grew, uniting the Mayan universe. Its roots reached down to the underworld of the dead and its trunk stretched up into heaven, where the gods lived. In this landscape full of caves, it's easy to see how nature supports such a belief. The caves are cool and damp, much like you would imagine the Underworld. Often the roots of the trees stretch right through the cave roof in search for water. The mountains and caves were the transitions between the physical world and the spiritual world. As the Yucatán is nearly flat, the pyramids were seen as manmade mountains, as a center of power. A temple doorway represents a cave leading into the center of that mountain - and into the Underworld.

To this day, the spirituality of the Maya lives on, mixed up with Catholicism. In many villages around El Mundo Maya, people still burn candles of different colors and let their blood on the ground in order to better connect with their gods. Despite centuries of European and Christian influence, the Maya are still a people in touch with nature and its spirits.

The Calendar and Math

What is often called the Mayan calendar, is actually Mesoamerican. It was used by the Aztecs and other people too, but further refined by the Mayans. Their calendar is precise and incredibly elaborate. More so than ours. It's a combination of three different calendar systems that come together in a quite perplexing way. The 260-day almanac year is combined with the 365-day solar year, such that any given day in one of the calendars would only coincide with a day in the other every 52 years. This cycle is called the Calendar Round. The 260-day sacred almanac determined the pattern of ceremonial life and was the basis for prophecy. It is not divided in to months, in stead it is a single succession of 260 days. The 365-day vague year (haab) is divided into 18 months of 20 days each. The remaining five days are the unlucky days. This is called vague because it is not perfectly consisting with the solar year. The calendar system and the Mayan's mathematical skills are highly visible in their monuments. In fact, the Mayan art is often mathematical: a column, a figure, a stairway or a temple many times expresses a date or a time relationship. As mathematicians the Mayans exceeded us by centuries. They introduced the use of the number 0 as a mathematical position well before anyone else, greatly simplifying counting and book keeping. Our system of counting is based on 10, the number of our fingers. The Mayans used the whole person, including the toes, making 20 their base.

Human Sacrifices

So, apparently the Mayans weren't this peaceful, almost serene people that the 19th century scientists first thought. Learning from the hieroglyphs and archaeological legwork, the disposition of the ancient Mayan had to be revaluated. The Mayan society was a strict theocratic hierarchy, where the priests held great power for their connection with the gods. Warfare did play an essential part of Mayan society, and yes, they did practice human sacrifice. It is believed that they sacrificed captured enemy warriors and ball players as well as people of their own tribe, going willingly to the World of the Gods. Many offerings and sacrifices, human and others, have been found in cenotes, the fresh water sinkholes found throughout the Yucatán. The priests and royalty also performed auto-sacrifice, for example by piercing a body part to offer their own blood. One popular bloodletting ceremony, shown on many examples of Mayan art, was to pierce their own tongue and thread a thin rope through the hole, thus letting the blood run down the rope. The tradition of offering alcohol or blood to the Gods is still in pratice in many places around the Mayan World.

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