The ancient Maya proved themselves no exception to this human need
to give shape to the universe.
Everything we know about the ancient Maya comes from their as yet
indecipherable four Codices, their cryptic architectural inscriptions, the
tainted practices of their modern descendants, and the writings of culturally
prejudiced Spanish colonists. Our picture of their world view is incomplete
and open to interpretation. Most scholars agree that the Maya philosophy
answered most of the fundamental questions of the universe by integrating
their arithmetic, their astronomical measurements, their view of time as
essentially cyclical, and their pantheon of gods. The Maya used science to
validate their faith. The Maya saw science, especially astronomy, as an
instruments for unearthing spiritual truth and reading the divine prophecies
written in the night sky.
This harmony between science and religion is evident in the duties
and functions of the ancient Mayan priests, the Ah Kinob. Astronomy and
mathematics at the heart of Mayan philosophy were "priestly" inventions,
and theologists of the Maya civilization also served as its scribes,
mathematicians, astronomers, and intellectuals.
The Nine Mayan Gods (Bolontiku) are the principle deities having
dominion over the area of Central America from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
to the Isthmus of Panama. To the indigenous people of the Mayan area, the
Bolontiku have historically fulfilled a cultural role with their power, wisdom,
sanction and protection were invoked for all earthly and spiritual transactions
for healing, divination, success in agriculture, trade, politics and
war; for help in personal matters such as love, childbearing, grief; for
carrying (telepathic) messages over distance; and so on.
Sophisticated mathematics allowed the Ah Kinob to conceive of a
universe regular in its rhythms. In its simplicity, the Mayan number system
employed only three characters - a dot symbolizing unity, a bar representing
the number five, and an eye-shaped glyph representing zero. Mayan numbers
were written vertically and divided into tiers, with the characters in each
tier of the column having a value twenty times that of the characters in
the tier directly beneath them. Summing the values of the tiers yielded the
number represented in the glyph. Dispensing entirely with fractions, the
Maya expressed all non-integer quantities in terms of ratios or
Two exceptional features of the Mayan mathematics - the use of zero
and the assignment of value by position - made this system the most advanced
of its time. The Hindus, once thought to be the original discoverers of zero
and the position convention, developed them a thousand years after the Maya.
This allowed the Mayans to reconcile their various calendrical systems and
compile lists of multiples for use in reckoning the periods of astronomical
events, as well as keep accurate records of governmental and commercial
Mayan religion pervaded all aspects of daily life. The rituals the
priests prescribed, the holidays the Maya celebrated, the idols they venerated,
even their dietary habits - in short, the pulse of Mayan life-were all religious
in origin. Every material object in the Maya world, as well as every moment
in time, had divine worth and godly significance. Additionally, the interplay
between rival gods and between the gods and humankind supposedly manifests
itself in daily occurrences.
The Maya conceived of the world as flat and four cornered, with the
directions of the four corners lying approximately in between the cardinal
directions . Each corner had a characteristic color; the north's color was
white; the south's, yellow; the east's, red; and the west's, black.
Bacab (plural Bacabs) of the Four Directions:
Green was the characteristic color of the earth's center. According
to the Mayan model, the earth spins around a central axis consisting of a
huge ceiba tree called the Wakah-Chan, or "World-Tree", whose trunk extends
into the heavens toward the North Star and whose roots delve deep below the
plane of the earth. The heavens themselves rotate around this axis as a giant
celestial sphere, making the Mayan model of the Earth highly reminiscent
of a spinning gyroscope.
The Mayan model holds that Earth is but one of three coexisting
universes: the Upperworld, the Underworld, or Xibalba, and the human or concrete
world . Unifying these three planes, the World Tree serves as a portal between
the human world and the other two worlds through which gods pass freely.
Four Bacabs, or Atlases, support the plane of the Earth from below; in turn,
four giant ceiba trees located at each corner of the world hold aloft the
Upperworld, which hovers over the plane of the earth during the daytime.
Most of the benevolent gods in the Maya pantheon, called oxlahuntiku, inhabit
the Upperworld, which the lofty branches of the World Tree divide into thirteen
levels. The Underworld, situated below the plane of the earth, is a grim
place of darkness and decay very similar to the Mesopotamian land of the
dead. Evil gods known collectively as the Lords of Death or bolontiku, the
bearers of drought, hurricanes and war, dwell in the nine levels of the
The Maya believed that at night these celestial planes rotate around
the earth's axis, giving human observers a view of the Underworld and temporarily
concealing the Upperworld. Some scholars submit the more popular opinion
that the celestial sphere is fixed in place, and that the sun travels through
the subterranean Underworld at night to reemerge from the earth at dawn.
In this view, each day is a cycle of destruction and rebirth, as the Maya
believed that the world could be symbolized by a giant reptile that devours
and regurgitates the sun at sunset and sunrise, respectively. Kinh, the sun
god, emerges from the maw of the earth in the morning, ascends through the
thirteen levels of heaven, arriving at the uppermost level at noon, and descends
once more through the Upperworld to reenter the Underworld at dusk. Thus,
kinh unites the three worlds of the Maya faith.
Aside from the giant Earth Monster, the Maya texts also present the
human plane as the back of a giant turtle, or a crocodile resting in a pool
of lilies. These creatures hold symbolic importance to the Maya, and appear
frequently in their zodiac and in their manuscripts. The "Earth-Monster's"
counterpart in the Upperworld is a long serpentine creature, the "Cosmic
Monster," who sheds his blood in the form of rain to replenish the parched
earth. No animalistic representative of Xibalba, the Underworld, was found
in the literature.
A multitude of deities governed the Maya universe. In addition to
patron gods of cities and kingdoms, the Maya revered gods for every profession
from beekeeping to hunting; gods for days, months, years, and epochs; gods
for emotions; gods for objects animate and inanimate; and gods of noble families.
So many gods existed for seasons of the year, days of the week, and other
calendrical events that the Maya faith has been called a "solar and temporal
cult". Many of the more widely worshipped deities had four constituent gods
representing each corner of the world; some even had Underworld counterparts
and female partners, in keeping with the dualistic theme of the Maya faith.
At least one hundred and sixty six major gods received homage from the Maya
priests and figure prominently in texts such as the Codices and the Popol
Vuh; it is likely the Maya worshipped a plethora of other gods on an informal
THE GODS OF THE UNDERWORLD
Each of the Nine Gods of the underworld has his or her own specialty
(there are four female deities and five males). The Bolontiku communicate
with their votaries through what we would call channeling and prophetic dreams,
which to the Maya were as much a part of everyday life as the telephone and
television are to us. A dream prompted by the Bolontiku can be distinguished
from a normal dream by the invariable presence of one personage who says
nothing but who stands in the background of whatever scene is unfolding.
Upon awakening the dreamer realizes that this mute personage was actually
inducing and directing the entire experience, and is in fact one of the Nine
revealing a message of importance. Non-Mayans do not necessarily see the
Bolontiku as Mayans: to my benefactor they appear (in dreams) as long-haired
hippies; and when they have appeared to me they come in three-piece suits.
The city of Tikal, located in the remote jungle of northern Guatemala,
was (and is) the sacred home city of the Bolontiku. Abandoned mysteriously
a thousand years ago, the jungle swallowed it up until its excavation by
the University of Pennsylvania fifty years ago (see National Geographic magazine
December 1975 issue). These archeological ruins are now part of a national
park-cum-nature preserve administered by the Guatemalan government.
The Bolontiku themselves are delighted to see their sacred city restored
to at least part of its former grandeur. There is the spectacle of immense
pyramids and plazas set in the midst of impenetrable jungle teaming with
exotic birds, howler monkey and jaguars. Moreover, the Nine promise to give
a valuable lesson to any visitor to Tikal who wishes to invoke
The cult of the Nine Mayan gods has fallen into general neglect among
the Maya. At the same time, the fragile ecosystem of the Mayan area has been
and is being threatened by the destruction of massive tracts of tropical
rainforest. As a result, the Bolontiku have been calling foreigners in to
revive their cult, to publicize their ecological concerns, and to buy up
and preserve as much virgin rainforest as possible.
In front of this pyramid there is a row of eight steles, with a ninth
stele in front of the row of eight. Before each stele is a squat, cylindrical
Ah Puch - God of death and ruler of Mitnal, the lowest and most terrible
of the nine hells. Portrayed as a man with an owl's head or as a skeleton
or bloated corpse. Also known as 'God A'. Ah Puch survives in modern
Mayan belief as Yum Cimil (Lord of Death).
In Mesoamerican myth, Au Puch, also known as Yum Cimil and Cum Hau,
is the Mayan Lord of the dead. His realm is Hunhau, which literally means
"spoil." It is a bitter land of the dead where punishments are inflicted
on evil doers. Au Puch presides over the ninth and worst layer of Hunhau.
He is usually depicted as a skeleton (skull head, bare ribs and spiny projections
from the vertebrae) or with bloated flesh marked by dark rings of decomposition
and a menacing grin. In his hair are bell like jewelry and he takes great
pleasure in causing eternal torture and torment to the damned. According
to some legends, he is said to occasionally roam the earth looking for evil
people, causing war, sickness, and death. Once someone is condemned to Hunhau,
they can never leave. Sacrificial victims were offered to Au Puch in the
cenote or sacred pool.
Ahau-Kin - Called the 'lord of the sun face'. The god of the
sun, he possessed two forms - one for the day and one at night. During the
day he was a man with some jaguar features, but between sunset and sunrise
he became the Jaguar God, a lord of the underworld who travelled from west
to east through the lower regions.
Ah Uuc Ticab - Deity of the underworld
Bolon Ti Ku - Underworld Deity
Chamer - Mayan god of death in eastern Guatemala. His consort is
Cizin - God of death. He burns the dead in the Mayan underworld.
Cizin is the Mayan god of death. His name literally means "stench." He is
described as having a fleshless nose and lower jaw. Sometimes his entire
head may be depicted as just a skull. He wears a "collar with death eyes
between the lines of hair, and a long bone hangs from one earlobe." (Jordan,
57) Cizin's body may be shown as a spine and ribs or it can be painted with
black and yellow spots, which are the Mayan color of death. He resides in
Tnal, the Yucatec place of death. His primary job is to burn the souls of
the dead. The soul of the deceased is first burned on the mouth and anus
by Cizin. When the soul complains, Cizin will douse it with water until the
soul complains again. The soul is then burned until there is nothing left.
The next stop is to the god, Sucunyum, who spits on it's hands and cleanses
it, after which the soul is free to go where it chooses.
Cum Hau - Mayan god of death.
Hanhau - Underworld Deity, Mitnal
Hun Came - Quiche Maya co-ruler of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld.
In the Popol Vuh creation myth he murdered Hun-Hunapu and Vukub-Hunapu.
Subsequently he and his co-regent Vukubcame were destroyed by Hunapu and
Hun-Hunapu - In the Quiche Maya Popol Vuh creation myth, Hun-Hunapu
was the divine twin of Vukub-Hunapu. They were the sons of Xpiyacoc and Xmucane.
The two were murdered in a ball game by the two rulers of Xibalba, the Mayan
underworld. They were avenged by Hun-Hunapu's children Hunapu and Xbalanque.
MAYAN CONCEPT OF CREATION: At the beginning, there was nothing. Then
came the creator, Tepeu and Gucumatz, one but at the same time, two. They
are surrounded by clarity,which represents the Holy Spirit, therefore, the
Trinity. In scientific terms these three forces could be called positive,
negative, and neutral. In other words: Ying, Yang, and Tao. Every culture,
at a certain stage of development, seems to describe the creation of the
universe in similar terminology.There seems to be a basic truth, a unified
principle, which somehow evolved in more than one culture around the
There are nine Bolontiku or nine Lords of the Underworld. In
the Dark Ages of the mayan Empire these nine gods ruled over all, each one
for a day and rotating their power in succession in the same way the planets
succeed each other in our week of seven days.
THE DWARF: There exists the belief that witches have instruments
of evil called Ikal that come out at night to harm people, in some cases
even causing death. The Ikal is sometimes depicted as a hunchbacked dwarf
dressed as a priest. Presumably this symbolizes the fear of the white man
who conquered the Mayans five hundred years ago.
THE FROGS: According to Mayan mythology, when a frog croaks it is
calling for rain. Thus, four frogs are used in the ancient rain ceremony
each one summoning the god, Chac from a different direction of the
THE TURTLE: In Mayan mythology, it is said that if a turtle appears
in your path during a drought it is a sign of impending rain because the
turtle is also seeking water. It is also believed that the shell of the turtle
is a map of the universe.
The Indians with the long hair and the white flowing robes seen in
the jungle are the Lacadons, the last remnants of the ancient Mayan Empire
who fled to the jungle when the Spanish conquerors arrived. They have yet
to be assimilated into modern society.
THE DIALECTS: The Lacadones speak a dialect called Carebbean,
which is similar to the Mayan tongue spoken by the Diviner. The men and women
wearing black mantas speak Tzeltal. All three dialects have their roots in
the ancient Mayan language.
NUMBERS: Cabalistic numbers become the moving force of the events:
CYCLE OF 13 DAYS
In spite of the fact that their mathematical system was vigesimal,
the Maya counted the days also by fives, thirteens and twenties. They gave
numbers from 1 up to 13 to series of 20 day names in a continuous cycle.
These thirteens are so important, that we have to devote a special chapter
to them. In the manuscripts we can find cycles which are multiples of 13,
for example, 26, 52, 65, 78, 91, 156, 182, 208, 234, 260 etc.
At each moment, the resulting force of all these magic numbers
First there was nothing. The expanse of the sky was empty. All motionless
silence in the darkness, in the night. Only the creator Tepeu, Gucumatz,
the Progenitors were there in the water surrounded with clarity.
Then there was the word. Tepeu and Gucumatz came together in the
darkness, in the night, and talked to one another. It became clear, as they
meditated, that when the dawn came man should appear. Thus it was disposed
among the shadows and in the night by the Heart of Heaven who is called Huracan.
The first account of the Popul Vuh Synopsis An isolated village in
the highlands of Mexico is suffering a severe drought. The local Shaman,
consults his oracle, drinks the villagers' posh and predicts rain. He proceeds
to pass out drunk.The villagers plant their crops, but the rain does not
come. A comet traverses the sky and the villagers fear it to be a bad omen.
That night the Cacique (village chief) meets with the village council. They
all agree that their Shaman has lost his powers and has forgotten how to
talk to the Gods. Some mention another man who could help them, a solitary
Diviner who lives in the mountains and still knows the ways of the Ancients.
The Cacique believes he's a witch and won't allow a witch roaming his village
while he's in charge. He boasts of his contact with the white man, an engineer
he once met. He insists that the old ways no longer work, that they should
consult the white man's methods instead. He produces a flashlight from under
his chamarra and shines his flashlight in the group's face, as if to prove
his point; then he leaves. The next day a startled Cacique is awakened by
the blare of a horn, signaling a summons to a meeting with the village elders.
He dresses in a rush, as his two wives and an old woman watch him with vacuous
eyes. As he leaves he see the comet again traversing the morning sky. At
the reunion with the grandfathers, again he is told of the Diviner. The elders
believe that only the diviner can summon Chac, the Rain God. They instruct
him to round up his twelve captains and go find the wise man. This time the
Cacique does not argue. He leads his group of captains up a steep mountain,
while a mute boy, the son of one of the captains, spies their departure from
behind a wall.After an arduous climb they reach the Diviner's dwelling. The
Diviner seems to be waiting for them and invites them in. He then surprises
everyone by asking the mute boy, who had been following all along, to emerge
from behind the bushes. He instructs the boy to go prepare pozale, the local
meal. From a large gourd the mute boy distributes pozale among the men under
the watchful eye of the Diviner. When it is his turn, the Cacique greedily
gulps down three large servings, while the Diviner studies him intently.
The Diviner knows that the Cacique is skeptical,yet he agrees to help them.They
set out on a strange journey, which takes them far away from their own land
into the deep jungle. There the Diviner recruits the help of some very strange
men (the Lacandons) who carry the group in canoes across a lake. At every
turn the Chief and two of his captains grow more suspicious, fearful and
rebellious. At night, around the fire, the Diviner tells a haunting story,
the myth of the Twins, the Lords of Light who, through the use of magic and
deception, destroy forever the Lords of Darkness. By the end of the long,
hypnotic tale, only the mute boy remains awake. As the Diviner meditates
his spirit enters a hawk that transports him through the night to ancient
temples. There he connects with the knowledge of his ancestors.The next day
they come to a rushing torrent. Without hesitation the Diviner walks into
the water and proceeds to cross over the top of a treacherous waterfall.
To everyone's amazement he does not sink, nor is he swept away. Immediately
the mute boy follows. Most of the men fearfully go along too. But the Cacique
and his two loyal captains, who have no faith in the Diviner, have had enough
and refuse to cross the water. Instead they turn back and run away. The remaining
Follow the Diviner into a deep cave where they find "the Mother of
Waters", the original Spring,whose water they will use to invoke the Chac
in their ceremony.They return to the village without the Cacique and begin
elaborate preparations for the ceremony.The Diviner assigns tasks. He asks
an old woman to make sacred mead, a young one to gather the choicest ears
of corn, another to collect the purest honey and the mute boy to care for
the ceremonial fire. Men make masks, cut wood and build four high platforms,
one for each corner of the sky, where four dancers will enact the four Chacs.
The Cacique returns and spies the proceedings from a hilltop above the village.
He then slips to his hut, grabs his rifle and runs to the shaman to ask for
help. The Shaman says that he's come too late, that there is nothing he can
do.That night in the wild the Cacique encounters his Ikalin the form of a
midget priest who apparently terrifies him to death. At night in the village
all are gathered around a giant bonfire. The Diviner commences a chant of
invocation to summon the Gods of Rain. Soon the whole village is chanting
in unison. All night long the power of their voices flows like a river over
hilltops and through valleys. At dawn, clouds move towards the village and
fog envelops the crowd. The villagers believe that the rain has finally arrived.
They jump up, embrace one another and cheer. But a gust of wind whistles
through and skies clear again. An exhausted Diviner announces to the stunned
crowd that Chac will not come until three days have passed. Then he departs
in the direction of the mountains. The mute boy tries to follow him, but
the Cacique reappears and bars his way with his rifle.The following day,
while working the cornfield, the mute boy passes out and becomes ill. The
shaman examines him and announces that the boy has been possessed by the
Diviner's witchcraft. The boy's mother talks to those comforting her about
how a Shaman once said her son was born mute so he would keep God's secrets.
The boy utters "the fire" before he dies. The village council hastily meets.
The Cacique rants that the Diviner has tricked them, that he has only brought
evil to the village, but no rain. The boy's father demands vengeance. Another
member fears that more evil will come to them if they harm the Diviner. But
the Cacique explains that their Shaman said to drop the Diviner's body down
a deep well to drown his evil spirit. An older captain reminds everyone that
the Diviner said that rain was to come in three days and only two days had
passed. The cacique allows one more day for the rain to come. After that,
they will go kill him.Next morning, the rain still has not arrived. As the
group departs towards the mountain the three older captains again try to
dissuade the others from committing murder. But the Cacique and the rest
of the men ignore their pleas. Meanwhile, on top of the mountain, the Diviner,
while cleansing his body inside a sweat lodge, has a vision. When the villagers
arrive at the Diviner's dwelling the cacique silently sneaks in with his
rifle. He spots a hammock with someone in it and shoots. The rest of the
men rush in to see. Blood drips onto the Cacique's feet. He opens the hammock
and they are shocked to see that the Diviner has cut out his own heart as
a sacrifice. They bundle up his body in a hurry and throw it off a deep cliff
into the well. The body hits the water and a moment later drops of rain begin
to fall, lightly at first, then torrential. The men scatter away while the
cacique remains alone by the edge of the well screaming madly in the pouring