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“an Investigation Into the Sacrificial Blood Rituals of the Maya Culture.”

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Extended Essay


World Religions


“An Investigation into the Sacrificial Blood Rituals of the Maya Culture.”


This essay focuses on the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Mayan civilization that spanned from the borders of present day Honduras up to Mexico, but which only a certain amount is truly known. The principal reason why I chose to focus on these people was to challenge myself to try and gain a greater understanding of why they engaged in such strange rituals as bloodletting and even human sacrifice? What prompted them to commit such acts? I proposed that the performance of these actions, as they seemed to be so entwined with their culture, must have had something to do with their religious beliefs but which ones exactly, and how did they originate? It was with this in mind that I conducted an investigation into the sacrificial blood rituals of Maya culture.

Thus, from conducting library based research - using books, Encyclopedias and the Internet - I found out that the Mayans had created for themselves a complex Creation Myth and pantheon of gods. It was to supposedly sustain these gods, who were constantly fighting against one another, that the Mayan conducted bloodletting and human sacrifices, believing that in return the gods would provide them the water needed to grow their maize. The gods, replenished by this blood, were able to maintain the harmony of the universe by preventing any one group of gods from becoming too dominant.

How many of these sacrifices were voluntary, or were people picked randomly or slaves forced to do it depends on the authors who you read. What I do feel though, is that many people have called the Mayan merciless and barbaric without trying to understand them, or acknowledging their respect and devotion, however wrong it was, to their religion.

Word Count: 290


I would like above of all to say thank you to all of those who enriched my little wisdom with the harmonious tune of the Mayan cultural roots that should have never been silenced and swept away.

Contents Page

Page Number

Abstract i

Acknowledgements ii

Introduction 1-3

Maya Society, a devoted fellowship 3

Core Mayan Beliefs:

The Creation of the World, the Universe and deities 4-5

The Maya concept of death, and the role of the Hero Twins Myth 5-6

Religious Ceremonies: Human Sacrifices and Bloodletting Rituals 6

The Cycle of Life, Death and the Harvesting of Maize in relation 6-7 to Bloodletting Rituals

Description of the Mayan Blood Rituals 7-9

The Mayan Blood Rites Explored 9-11

Conclusion 12-13

Bibliography 14-15

Appendix 16

Mayan Books 16-19 Classic Maya History 19-20 Mayan Universe 21-24

An Investigation into the Sacrificial Blood Rituals of the Maya Culture


In this essay I will focus on the ancient and to some extent forgotten Mayan civilization, especially its cultural and religious beliefs. Following the division of the Maya Empire as Gordon R. Willey proposes, we can differentiate three geographical areas of Mayan control: the north region, incorporating Yucatan and present day Belize; the central region, comprising of present day Honduras, and the Mexican provinces of Chiapas and the east of Tabasco; and, finally, the southern land, with the west of El Salvador, the high plateau of Guatemala, and the Pacific coast and the south of Chiapas.[1]


Still, despite identifying the actual geographical location of the Mayan Empire, and considering all of the hard work of archaeologists and people within this field to decipher the hieroglyphic writing depicted on specific places such as temples, pottery, tombs and sacred documents, and the successes they have achieved, much confusion still surrounds the complex religious rituals of the Mayas. Indeed, there is much disagreement about who exactly the Mayas were.[2] Indeed, the Maya themselves see to have had slightly different conceptions with regard to the same religious issues for instance, and despite being grouped together as one people, they seemed to distinct dialects within the overall Mayan languages. Nonetheless, it is my intention in this essay, to conduct an investigation into the sacrificial blood rituals of the Maya culture.

I was compelled to do this research to try and rationalise to myself as to why a society would engage in bloodletting and human sacrifice. I chose the Maya culture because I admire their stunning constructions and their seemingly sophisticated knowledge. I tried to challenge myself to empathise with the Maya and try to comprehend their religious beliefs and experience. Was it really the case that these people, as I would suppose from my Christian teachings, were “heartless and wicked people” performing barbaric actions?[3] Or was it because of a religious belief that motivated them to act much the same as my faith evokes my prayer to God? I was determined to carry out a further investigation on this topic.

Undoubtedly, I took into consideration that there would be a great deal of limitations to my research. Firstly, I am constrained by my geographical location and cannot afford to visit the Maya remains in any of the countries belonging to the ancient Mayan Empire. Therefore I was forced to conduct library-based research trusting the information in books and on websites. Secondly, despite consulting in theory unbiased texts to engage in a sensible treatment of this topic, I am still restricted by the limitations experienced by those academics who have previously researched this area. I would insist that I highlight the fact that many of the professionals investigating Maya culture have not solved everything – especially this important haunted mystery of this civilization - therefore some theories put forward by them are still hypothetical considering the lack of concrete proof.

What is known about Maya religious beliefs is that it evolved from the initial Mesoamerican[4] faiths, originally being animistic but eventually transforming into a belief system that even observed the concept of time to be a deity. Some of the most relevant books for Mayas did not perish and they are used at present as crucial sources to advance in the discovery of the hidden secrets about this singular civilization and, also, for a better understanding of the whole culture.[5]

It becomes clear to me, from my arduous research, that the meaning of the bloodletting and human sacrificial rites of the Mayas, although destructive, was practised by them in the belief that it promoted life and preserved a balance in the universe.

Maya Society, a devoted fellowship

The Maya society, as is generally described in the Encyclopaedias[6] consulted, was divided into two major groups: the small and close caste of the Kings and the priests and their relatives, and a large amount of locals. This hierarchy worked as follows: the King, who had inherited this post owing to his lineage, ruled over a certain town and was surrounded by other important aristocrats, the Sahals, presiding over certain relevant districts. This privileged nobility on the top of the social hierarchy held bureaucratic business, charged taxes, orchestrated warfare and donated money to construct new towns and temples. Immediately, under this level were the lesser citizens, artcraftmen and farmers.

The whole hierarchy of this society depended on the successful growing and harvesting of maize in the milpas. They practised intensive agriculture, for instance, making good use of the fertile edges of the rivers and lakes.

This culture had one of the most advance writing skills with 800 glyphs or ideographic, syllabic and phonetic signs. Their mathematical, astronomical and calendarical calculations were extremely developed, so as the Mayan calendar is considers nowadays even more accurate than the present Gregorian one. Their count system was vigesimal and they had a notion of the number zero. They combined two calendars forming the “Calendarical Wheel”, which lasted fifty-two years and it was used to date historical events. In terms of religion, this society was very concerned about their gods and they performed very complex rites to satisfy them. These individuals observed religion in a strong pious way, therefore, the faith was significant and integral part of the explanation of their daily lives[7].

Core Mayan Beliefs: The Creation of the World, the Universe and deities.

According to Robert. J Sharer, Hunab Ku and the Mother Goddess created and destroyed the world several times until they reached the final formula from which human beings were made from a mixture of maize dough and water.[8] Their aim, as the creation myth explains, was to create human beings who were able to reciprocate their love and care by returning nourishment to their creators. In the first creation of the world, beings were made of mud but they lacked consciousness and they were destroyed. The world was newly built up and the deities created a human made form wood however they failed again: these were deficient in both soul and intelligence therefore they were punished with a deluge – though other versions tells us that they were devoured by demons. Their last experiment succeeded resulting in a community of worshippers that provided sustenance for the gods by scattering their own blood through bloodletting and sacrifice.

The universe, so the Maya maintained in one myth, was divided into three distinct parts: the sky or Caan, the earth or Cab, and Xibalba or the Underworld. All these three areas of the universe were connected by the Ceiba or Yaxche, the ‘Sacred Tree of Life’, upon which rested Caan and whose roots penetrated into Xibalba. The earth was simply a level in between the sky and the underworld creating, altogether, a very structured universe.[9]

The Caan comprised of thirteen levels, imitating a pyramid with six steps going up from the east to the highest point, and another six steps descending on the western side of the pyramid. As the myth continues, the gods that inhabited the sky, supposedly being kind and gentle, lived in a lovely and peaceful place. All thirteen gods were labelled as Oxlahuntiku - meaning, “populating the sky”. These gods were all allocated a different stage and were ruled by ItzamNa, a reptile-like god of the sky.

On the other hand, in direct contrast to the picturesque Caan, the underworld realm of Xibalba was a fearful and foul-smelling place of harshness. As Beatriz Martí explains, it was shaped as an inverted pyramid with five steps descending from the west until they reached the deepest point and then ascending back up in the east. Ah Puch, the god of death, resided at the lowest point, and governed over the underworld and the other gods there. This group of gods were known as Bolon Ti Ku or the “Nine Lords of the Night”.[10]

The universe had a set of squared corners associated each with a colour: red for the east, black for the west, white for north, and yellow for the south, with green in the centre. Certain gods, called Bacabs, occupied and sustained each of these angles. There were four different Bacabs and they were also in charge to arrange the celestial bodies within the universe. These four aspects behind the label Bacab were associated with different events and known as follows: the first one was Chac Bacab related to the red colour given to the east. The one in the north was labelled as Sac Bacab and it had the colour white. In the western and black angle of the universe was Ek Bacab, and, finally, the Kan Bacab occupied the yellow corner in the south.[11]

The Mayan concept of death and the role of Hero Twins Myth.

The concept and experience of death, in that it exists’ as a complete diametrically opposite yet at the same time somewhat complementary to actual life, was held as very important by Mayas in their daily lives. As defined in a precise dictionary of Maya terminology,[12] these individuals claimed that the afterlife journey led them down and through the nine and somewhat dangerous steps of Xibalba. The wish of the Mayan citizens at the time of their death, was not to remain in the hazardous realm of Xibalba, but rather to some how defeat the Bolon Ti Ku, and copy what the “Hero Twins” had achieved as recorded in the Popol Vuh, and escape.

The Popol Vuh, or literally “Book of the Community”, forms one of the axioms of this Mayan system of beliefs. Inside this sacred text is found the legend of this couple of heroes, the twins - Hunapu and Xbalanque.[13] They entered down into the underworld through a voluntary sacrifice and yet they were able to beat the Nine Lords of the Night by tricking them. Once victorious, the Hero Twins climbed up the Ceiba’s trunk and entered Caan being reborn and transformed as the Sun and Venus. This myth instigated the belief in rebirth from one’s own sacrifice, thus those that behaved in a righteous way when alive, such as being killed in battle, or those that committed suicide by hanging and women who passed away whilst giving birth, deserved to go straight to Caan without crossing though the underworld.

Religious ceremonies: Bloodletting Rituals and Human Sacrifices

Therefore, as mirrored in the Myth of the Hero Twins, the Mayas somehow made the leap of trusting in and promoting blood sacrifices as a means to preserve the cosmological balance and the Sacred Tree of Life, the Ceiba. The universe, comprising of opposites and one side ruled by gods of kindness, and the other of evil,[14] was caught up in the middle of a constant battle and struggle to attain control. Mayan subjects on the earth’s surface had to please both aspects of the universe. They worshipped the celestial part because they received thunder, lightening and rainfall, which helped their maize crops to grow. They also had to show submission to the wicked underworld gods to appease their anger given that they could be punished with drought, hurricanes or wars. Therefore, they saw themselves as having a duty to rejuvenate the gods by providing them with the sustenance of their own blood, from which gods got revitalised. This was done, as Karl Taube explains, by the Mayans reflecting on their own creation Myths and attempting to show the ultimate respect and awe to the gods.[15]

The Cycle of Life, Death and the Harvesting of Maize in relation to Bloodletting Rituals

“The harvesting of the corn is more than the mundane action of a farmer. It is the analogy of the first act of sacrifice in mythological history, the decapitation of the Maize God. It is also the action that puts food on the tables of human beings. And maize is necessary if the seeds are to be removed and planted for the next crop, an action that symbolizes the perforation of a penis. Maize is a marvellous metaphor: sustenance, sacrifice, and rebirth all rolled into one.”[16]

The Maya linked the cycle of death and regeneration to the life cycle of maize. Mayas had the important mission to worship gods by shedding their own blood since they thought the rejuvenating human spirit was in the blood. As David Freidel informs us, the inner soul or spirit, known as Ch’ulel in K’iche Mayan language, was liberated from the body by shedding blood.[17] Thus, as Freidel continues, the gods received back the essence of life that they had previously given to their human creations. If this contractual obligation was honoured, so the Maya believed, the gods provided with the essential water in the form of rain, springs and rivers, vital for growing their maize.

“Giving the god sustenance by feeding blood to its image allowed the lightning to flow and establish the path of communication. K’awil was a nexus for powerful phenomena in the Classic Maya world that conjoined spirit to body and sustenance to sacrifice.”[18]

Description of the Maya Blood Rites

Since sacrifices constituted an exchange of sacred fluids, they were a very important event in Maya faith especially towards the end of the Maya Classic period.[19] We can split these sacrifices into two areas:

Bloodletting Rituals: The Mayan fellowship self-injured their noses, ears, tongues, genitals, arms, fingers and legs with knives and other types of tool made of obsidian, jade, flints or bones.

“The most sacred blood was said to come from ears, tongue and foreskin. By cutting their ears, the Maya were “opening” them to hear the Gods oracles and revelations. In cutting their tongue, it was said that they could speak what they had heard. When the foreskin was cut it was to participate in the divine procreation of the Cosmos.”[20]

Blood was drawn from the open wounds and sprinkled into offering plates (which symbolised the earth-soil), imitating the planting of maize kernels, which, according to the creation myth, the gods had ground endeavouring to attain the perfect formula from which to create a being worthy to worship them. Ceremonies occurred at night with torches and a great display was organized with people congregating in a big public plaza where the powerful people such as the King and other aristocrats met together on the top of the great temples. Amongst the bloodletting implements used were found stingray spines, blades of flint or obsidian. Musicians, costumed dancers and warriors performed sophisticated displays accompanying such bloodletting rituals.

Human sacrifices

The victim, who usually was a slave, prisoner or simply a random individual, was painted in blue, which was the same colour as used in temple worship. The most peculiar way of killing is the extraction of the beating heart when the sacrificial victim is still breathing. Apparently a Mayan priest, trained as specialist scholars in hieroglyphics, fortune telling and temple sacrifice, would slash the victim’s breast and take out the heart with a sort of knife made from jade or obsidian.[21] Other types of sacrifice involved decapitation, shooting the victim with arrows or throwing them as depicted in the picture into a natural well known as cenote[22] with more offerings such as flowers, gold or jade. It is thought that the Mayas believed that their Priests, through shedding blood, brought on vision-seeking powers and acted as a communicative channel between the deities and the people, receiving messages from the gods. Interestingly enough, the mention that the losers of the ballgame, a played by the citizens among the Mayan community, who were, then, offered in sacrifice to the gods.[23]

Once again, these bloody ceremonies were seen as the price that Mayans should pay to the gods for the management of the universe and to ensure their personal survival with a successful harvest of maize. Furthermore, as previously explained, the Mayan also believed that if you died in such rituals your reward was going to bypass the Bolon Ti Ku in their foul-smelling underworld and go directly to Caan. One can only assume, then, if the sacrificial victims were voluntary that it was considered a privilege to surrender and allow your blood to satisfy gods.

“People and gods opened the portal, known as Ol, in the plate with sacrificial offerings, and through this heart of heaven flowed the miracle of birth and life for both gods and people.”[24]

The Maya blood rites explored

Thus, as the researchers from the University UNAM, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Méjico, explain:

“This idea of life-death-life was understood as a constant cycle as equal they perceived in the surrounding environment. The season of rains and life came before the dry times and its consequences: the death. After this, the life merged again. It is from this concept the Mayans took their view of the time and how the gods played a vital role in the course of centuries. The universal equilibrium had to be maintained so they observed they could reach by means of rites and obligation to the gods. Here we get the answer from the human sacrifices: the life arises from death. In this context, an individual dies because, at the same time, he will rebirth full of life.”[25]

It shows us the ties uniting all of the Mayan concepts written about previously. In the illustration below, we join all the different terms treated demonstrating how this relationship works.

As Linda Schele states in her painstaking investigations of Maya blood rituals, that the Mayans endeavoured to experience and take an active part in their Creation Myth through their bloodletting. The Mayans, fuelled by their myths, lived in a cycle of debt of bloodletting believing that they could seal a contractual deal with the gods and maintain the rhythm of the universe avoiding, then, the foretold demise of the world.[26] However, as Sharer argues, cataclysms did sometimes overwhelm the Mayans from time to time, thereby being, he claims, one of the main reasons explaining and entwining the linkage established between the human destiny and the celestial beings. As portrayed in the Popol Vuh creation Myth, as well as reported in the Dresden Codex in which can be found fruitful information about events affecting how the Maya lived, Sharer identifies at least three occasions in which the Mayan Empire was affected and destroyed to a certain extent by natural disasters, and then had to be rebuilt. Therefore, no matter then how much blood the Mayan fellowship shed in their ritual sacrifices to the gods, they were still were at the mercy of a universe that they could not control.[27] Nevertheless, scared of this fatal and unavoidable end, the Mayan struggled for control and carried on performing their rituals based on their own beliefs of gods intervening to protect and provide for them.

The gods rejuvenated when humans on the earth’s surface lifted their sight to them and offered their blood in worship to repair their exhaustion. The non-stop fighting that occurred between the celestial forces of both Caan – or the sky, and Xibalba – the underworld, left the gods exhausted and close to death. However, replenishing on human blood, and consuming the life giving spirit contained within it, they were willing to provide rain to enable vigorous maize plants to grow. So just like the gods needed something to feed on, so to did the humans whose primary source of nutrition was maize. The maize was the food of survival, the meal of life. They had to yield as much as they could of this crop to keep themselves alive so they needed the rains that the gods sent like a present in remembrance of their devoted behaviour.

“Maize consumed by people is again transformed into blood and endowed with soul. Blood sacrifice was necessary to the survival of both gods and people. It was the mindful expression of power that was directly symmetrical to the expressions of divine power in the natural world around them.”[28]


From investigating the sacrificial blood rituals in Maya civilization I found out that in this cultural group, which peaked in the eight century and is so generally stigmatised by its bloody massive sacrifices, based these rituals on a cycle of life and death that mimicked the harvest of maize. Committed to a creation myth that humans had been modelled from a maize dough by creators who fought to sustain the balance of the universe, it is here where the human life cycle and that of maize became entwined. These gods, though, on attempting several times to erect a perfect human to love and worship them also required their creators to feed and sustain them with human blood. All the same, the rituals of bloodletting and human sacrifice, fuelled by the Myth of the Hero Twins, did not result in death for the Maya followers but supposedly they by passed the perils of the underworld and found life in heaven. The question remains at this point, how did this belief system originate?

There is evidence that one of main the changes that marked a clear difference between the animistic ancient religion practised by the first inhabitants of the Maya territory was the fact that the caste of the priest were set up. They were the ones charged to interpret the universe and the messages that the gods sent to their subjects. Priests were revered by the general public, perceived as an awesome caste in Classical Mayan times belonging to an upper class and, who befriended the chief rulers of their cities. These Priests, as Mircea Eliade observed, formed a privileged and closed group, indeed, “a minority of chosen ones.”[29]

It is possible that most people found the Maya pantheon of deities and their position in the universe complex and incomprehensible. The majority of Maya subjects were also illiterate and probably just accepted what someone, who was in a position of authority and acting in the name of gods said. Thus the usage of blood rituals as a way to impose fear, as a device to expand territories for some rulers, perhaps was implemented. “Because of the important functions they served, bloodletting rituals helped solidify a ruler’s place of power. By portraying these rituals as essential to the community’s existence, the King helped secure a place for him and his family at the top of Maya society.”[30]
I have always been interested in Mesoamerican ancient civilizations but since I had no sources to get the information from, I was never ever really able to engage in a full study prior to conducting this Extended Essay. My experience at Atlantic College, however, has enabled me to interact with many people from very distinct countries, cultures and religions, encouraging my concern about indigenous cultures, especially those of Latin America. Through interactions with these other students, and conducting this study, my personal knowledge has grown considerably. This is why, at this concluding point of my essay, I would remarkably reward the fact of being in this International College, where I met those individuals who were so helpful to me in order to develop a new vision about aspects of these somewhat forgotten and disregarded cultures, indeed, religious belief systems so different from my own. My only regret whilst conducting my research, despite trying, was that I was unable to find and interview academics in the both Spain and UK who were presently engaged in investigating Mayan Culture.

Word Count: 3870



Mircea Eliade, Tratado de Historia de las religiones. 1990. Círculo de Lectores. Barcelona.

David Freidel, Linda Schele and Joy Parker’s ed., Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years in the Shaman’s Path, 1995, Quill William Morrow, New York.

Maru Miller and Karl Taubel’s, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya - An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion, 1993, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London.

Huston Smith, Religiones del Mundo. 1999. Círculo de lectores. Barcelona.

Karl Taube, Aztec and Maya Myths, 1993, British Museum Press, London.


The Enciclopedia of Religion, 1987, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York.

The New Enciclopedia Britannica. Volume 6. 1993, Macropedia, Chicago.

Arthur Cotterel’s ed., The Penguin Enciclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, 1980, Penguin London.

Timelines of World History: Cultural, Religious and Political, 1998, Bramley Books, London.

Enciclopedia Universal Micronet Edición Premium, 2003, Compact Disc Data Storage.


URL: (13/06/2004)
URL: (10/06/2004)
URL: (13/06/2004)
URL: (22/05/2004)
URL: (27/06/04)
URL: (13/06/2004)
URL: (22/06/2004)

Mayan texts:

Popol Vuh and Books of Chilam Balam available: URL: (15/10/2004)

URL: (15/10/2004)

URL: (10/06/2004)

About Maya history:

URL: (22/05/2004)

URL:http://icarito (13/06/2004)

URL: (22/05/2004)


Mayan Books

The meaning of “ Popol Vuh”

Popo Vuh, or Popol Vuh, literally the "Book of the Community." The word popol is Maya and means "together," "reunion," or "common house." Popol na is the "house of the community where they assemble to discuss things of the republic," says the Diccionario de Motul. Pop is a Quiche verb which means "to gather," "to join," "to crowd," according to Ximénez; and popol is a thing belonging to the municipal council, "communal," or "national.", accessed 05-06-2004

b) Mayan Codices

Information available at the following website:, accessed10-06-2004

What is a Codex?

The theme of a codex (pik hu'un, in Maya) could be linked to religion, astronomy, the agricultural cycles, history or prophecies. However, in every case, much of the content and the design of the codex itself were related to the spiritual world. In order to write, one had to be in touch with the gods, and the products were considered sacred. This necessitated that the books be kept in special rooms inside of temples and important civic buildings.

The ritualised process of codex production involved specialists. The codex, its contents and the finished book were all considered linked to the heavens. Priests had to undergo purification and renovation rites in preparation for readings that they gave the populace during festivals and special ceremonies. Each priest read and gave interpretations that varied in accordance with his specialty.

Destruction and Conservation

The Maya ideograms were strange to the European missionaries who, motivated by curiosity, undertook the task of gathering all the codices they could find and deciphering them with the help of interpreters. They then saw them as diabolical, and impelled by fear, undertook a systematic burning of all the codices they could find.

To preserve the remaining books, the Maya buried them or hid them in caves. Some have been found, but because of the humidity in the jungles covering the Maya World, only fragments remain, and all their pictures have long since decayed.

The Dresden Codex

[pic]The first Maya codex to be recognized as such, the Dresden Codex is considered the most beautiful, complete and best made of the three.

It is a "faithful representative of the precocity and elegance of the ancient Maya,"

It totals 74 pages in length, painted with extraordinary care and clarity using a very fine brush. The artist used both sides of all but four of the pages of the codices. Its basic colours are red, black and the so-called Maya blue. It is linked to the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén Itzá. The Dresden Codex was made between A.D. 1000-1200, and was still possibly in use when the conquistadors arrived. The codex' basic subject matter is astronomy. There are almanacs and day counts for worship and prophecies; two astronomical and astrological tables, one dealing with eclipses and the other Venus; and katún (a 20-year period) prophecies. It contains references and predictions for time and agriculture, favourable days for predictions, as well as texts about sickness, medicine, and seemingly, conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon. It also contains a page about a flood, a prophecy or maybe a reference to the rainy seasons so vital to the Maya.

The Paris Codex

Only a part of the original codex, it is in worse condition than the other two and is of inferior artistic quality.

The Peresianus Codex refers to questions of ritual. The front of each sheet is dedicated to katuns from A.D. 1224-1441, their corresponding gods and ceremonies. A katún is depicted flanked by a hieroglyph that details rituals and prophecies. The reverse pages are full of predictive almanacs, New Year ceremonies and a zodiac divided into 364 days.

It is thought to be from 13th-century Palenque, Chiapas, and to be older than the Dresden Codex.


The Madrid Codex

The third Maya codex has auguries that helped priests make predictions. It is divided into 11 sections: the first includes rituals for the gods Kukulcán and Itzamná; the second refers to bad omens concerning crops and offerings that should be made to regularize rain; the third is devoted to a katún of 52 ritual years; and the final eight parts refer to hunting, calendars, death and purification, among other themes.

The origin of the Madrid Codex is unclear. It has been provisionally sited in the west of the Yucatán Peninsula in Champotón, Mexico, and dated to the 13th and 15th centuries.

C) The Books of Chilam Balam

This paragraphs has been straight downloaded from the web page:, accessed 10-06-2004

The Chilam were native priests, shamans or seers. Balam means "jaguar" and is used here as a title of rank, or to bestow respect. The narratives contain a lot of information on life in Colonial Yucatan, and are at least partially shaped by the milieu in which they were written (dominated by the Spanish culture); but basically, they reflect the religious and mythological traditions of the Maya.

From a historical standpoint, the "count of the katuns" as given in the Books of the Chilam Balam, is a major find. It discusses the leading events of the region's history in terms of the Maya's concept of cyclical time, or as we imagine it, the cyclical nature of history.

A given community's Chilam Balam was written and maintained by its leader, usually a sage or priest. He wrote the name of the community in the Chilam for identification purposes: thus we have the Chilam Balam of Chumayel. Other than that of Chumayel, only those of Mani, Tizimin, Kaua, Ixil, and Tusik have survived.

Classic Maya History
Information displayed at the following website:, accessed 27-05-2004

The Mayan civilization is divided into three time periods, which engulfed 3,000 years. The first is the Pre-Classic Period spanning from 2000 B.C.-250 A.D. The second is the Classic Period which spanned from 250 A.D.-900 A.D. The third is the Post-Classic Period which spanned from 900 A.D.-1500 A.D. The Maya lived in the eastern one third of Mesoamerica, mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula. They are a group of related Native American tribes who have the same linguistic organization.

This culture was the greatest civilization among the original cultures of the New World (western hemisphere). Even though the Mayans had common organization, they were not unified under one empire, there were many separate groups with similar cultural backgrounds. The Mayans had common artistic and religious components, but politically they were independent Mayan states.

Agriculture was the main basis of the Mayan economy in the pre-Colombian era. Maize was the primary crop of the Maya. Cotton, beans, squash and cacao were also grown and, hence, used as units of exchange. Copper was not only used for exchange, but for ornamentation as well. Other things, such as gold, silver, jade, shell and colourful plumage were also used as ornaments.
They had many techniques of spinning, dyeing and weaving cotton. The Mayan culture also domesticated the dog and the turkey, but had no larger animals or machines with wheels.

The Maya had a sophisticated system of writing. It was developed in order to record their transition of power through the generations.

The art of the Maya reflected their lifestyle and culture. Their art was composed of delineation and painting upon paper, building plaster, wood, stone, clay, stucco moulds and terra cotta figurines. The advanced process of working with metal was also developed by the Maya, but was of scarce usage. Much of Mayan art consisted of inscriptions and architecture, ordered by the kings who wanted to have it done of them. These art works justified their society and their interactions with surrounding groups.

Maya Collapse. The reason for the downfall of the Maya is unknown. However there are several possible reasons for their collapse including soil exhaustion, water loss and erosion, and the competition between agriculture and the surrounding Savannah. Other possibilities include catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes, disease, abundant amounts of high social structure and invasions by other surrounding people and cultures.

The Mayan Universe

Their interpretation of the cosmos included a plethora of gods: some benevolent, others malignant; some unattainable, others close at hand. Defining past, present and future, it concerned itself with death, the afterlife and reincarnation.

The shape of the universe

• The gods of the Sky- a different way to observe the deities within Caan and not to be taken as absolutes.
Oxlahuntiku gods, also considered as a single god, govern the thirteen levels. Not all their full names and glyphs known. What has been possible to decipher is that these celestial gods interrelate closely with the inhabitants of the earth as with the gods of the underworld.
Ruling over the various sky gods—inhabiting the seventh level—is the creative divinity Hunab Ku, who being incorporeal is one of the few gods lacking an actual graphic representation. When honoured, the associated rituals were a standard part of any priest's duties and so sacred that they remained hidden from the average Maya.
ItzamNa, Hunab Ku's son, and lord the skies, presides over the divine society. He is the god of medicine, earth and fire, as well as the inventor of writing and books. He sends rain down to Earth, making the ground ready for planting. Like many of the Maya gods, ItzamNa is four gods in one. Each of his four manifestations has its own colour and orientation, closely resembling the cardinal points: red in the East, white in the West, black in the North and yellow in the South. The ancient Maya evoked him through prayers and ceremonies to request two fundamental favours: rain for good harvests and the prevention of public calamities.
Sharing the skies with ItzamNa is an array of lesser gods—though of great importance to the Maya—who rule over different aspects of Nature. Kinich Ahau, the Sun God, heads this group and is represented simultaneously as a good-looking youth and as a bent old man with a huge prominent nose. This duality mirrors his behaviour towards humankind. The lovely youth acts benevolently, on his daily trip through the thirteen levels of the Sky, and malignantly when travelling through the various regions of the underworld. In his role as the Sun God, he watches over health, music, poetry and writing.
His companion is Ixchel, goddess of the Moon, fertility, medicine, weaving, rainbows, songs and childbirth. Ixchel also watches over bodies of water, such as lakes, lagoons, natural wells (cenotes), underground rivers and the ocean, thus receiving such names as "Lady of the Sea" or "She Who Dwells in the Middle of the Sinkhole." The marriage between Kinich Ahau and Ixchel is usually a peaceful and happy one; however, whenever they disagree, the whole cosmos resounds with their strife and cosmic changes, such as eclipses, result.
Noh Ek (Great Star) and Xaman Ek (Star of the North) are two sky deities influencing daily life, though in a lesser way. Noh Ek, the god of planet Venus, is responsible for good hunting while Xaman Ek, god of the Polestar, is a benevolent deity on whom ancient navigators relied on when sailing at night.
Also dwelling in Caan is Chaac, the Rain God, also associated with the creation of life. He also has a quadruple identity; as Kunku Chaac, the Red God of the West, he causes lightning and rain, the latter being indispensable for a good harvest.
His vital role in the primarily agricultural Maya society is perhaps why he is the most enduring deity in Maya religious practices. Indigenous Maya communities perform ceremonial offerings and dedications to Chaac, in hopes of a good rainfall and the prevention of drought.
Finally, there is Kukulcan, the feathered serpent, a dual god representing both the Earth's wish to ascend to the sky, and the sky descending to Earth. Chaos becomes order through Kukulcan, as he represents the merging of opposites.

• The Earth
Earth, the middle world, is the back of a great reptile. Since reptiles are considered divine animals, earth itself constitutes a deity. According to this belief, the Maya live inside a god who provides food, water and all the materials necessary for creating clothing and buildings.
On Earth live the Tzultacah gods-whose name means mountain plain. Each of these gods’ lives within the mountain it watches over. Male and female, Tzultacah exist side by side, taking on an almost worldly life: they fall in love, marry, separate, reunite, and the celebrations that take place inside the Earth for these events can be so excessive they cause rivers to overflow and the lands to flood. The Tzultacah are protective gods, helping humans by watching over their harvests and cattle; and as owners of all game animals, they set prey free to assure men of good hunting. In return, humans worship and offer gifts to the mountains where the gods dwell, including the blood of small sacrificial animals.
The ancient Maya all shared the same concept of the universe, in the sense that every human action was meant to please the gods and maintain the natural balance of the world. As long as humanity followed this basic premise, the gods would continue to protect the community.

The gods dwelling Xibalba, the Underworld

The Bolon Ti Ku, consisting of nine ruling deities, governs the nine levels of the Maya Underworld. In the fifth level, deepest of all, resides Ah Puch, God of Death, represented by a skull with its spine and ribs exposed, always wearing bells.
Helping him in his evil endeavours is the Jaguar God, the animal most revered and feared by the Maya. The Jaguar also helps the sun complete its nightly journey through the darkness, its spotted fur symbolizing the starry skies.

[1] Arthur Cotterel, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, p. 336.and Timelines of World History: Cultural, Religious and Political, p. 43. See for further information on Mayan history, pages 19-20 in the appendix.
[2] An agreed definition of what the term “Maya” involves has not been completely arrived at yet, and poses a barrier as to knowing how fully to trust a work on Mayan culture. Academics have hypothesized in different ways - geographically, anthropologically or linguistically - to arrive at one precise characteristic, or several, to distinguish and define the “Maya” from other Mesoamerican cultures. For further information regarding this debate see URL: accessed 10/06/2004.
[3] As a Christian, and reflecting on the Ten Commandments, to kill someone is undoubtedly one of the most evil sins you can commit. Indeed, we believe that only God has the right to take away the life of any individual because He is our Creator and the Owner of our lives. God prevented Abraham from killing his own son in a sacrifice to Him with an angel. See Genesis 22:1- 19.
[4] Mesoamerica was a geographical area that, prior to the Spanish conquest, stretched from the north of present day Mexico to the border of Panama in Central America with Columbia in the South, where several cultures flourished: mainly, the Olmecas, Mayas, Aztecas and Zapotecas. For further information on Mesoamerican culture, see Enciclopedia Universal Multimedia.
[5] The two sacred texts written prior to the arrival of the Spanish that have survived from the period of the Classic Mayan Empire, considering that a large number of others were destroyed by the Spanish Inquisition who perceived them as heretical, are the Popol Vuh and the Books of Chilam Balam. The first text, Popol Vuh is divided into four parts: the Creation Myth, the Hero Twin Myths, the first days of man, and a genealogy of the Mayan Kings. The second text, the Books of Chilam Balam, consists of Mayan scientific methodology, astronomical and cosmological theories on how these influences a person’s life, as well as instructions on how to perform religious rites and read fortune telling predictions. Other important texts written and compiled after the arrival of the Spanish, namely the Codices, of which just three of them have survived, provide detailed descriptions of Mayan life, customs and beliefs. These texts have been important in understanding bloodletting rituals and human sacrifices. Further information can be gained from URL:, as wells as in the appendix pages 16-19.
[6] See the bibliography to check the various Encyclopedias consulted. For further information about Classic Maya history see pages 19-20 in the appendix.
[7] See appendix page 22.
[8] Robert J. Sharer, available on the World Wide Web Accessed 22/05/2004. See also the following websites: and also Accessed 10/06/2004. See also the copy of the Popol Vuh translated into English displayed on the World Wide Web Accessed 15/10/2004. The following books also contain a summary of the myth of creation: Karl Taube’s, Aztec and Maya Myths, pp. 55-65; and David Friedel et. al., Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path, pp. 107-116
[9] However, the version of how the earth and the universe were conceived differed in Ancient and Classical Mayan thought. In the Ancient period, which was more animistic, the earth was carried on the back of a reptilian ‘sustainer’. See Linda Schele’s article in Freidel’s, Maya Cosmos, p. 88. See also page 21 in the appendix.
[10] See article by Beatriz Martí, available from World Wide Web accessed 10/06/2004. For further information about the universe and the dwellers within both realms see pages 21-24 in the appendix.
[11] Translated by self from Micronet, a Spanish Multimedia Encyclopedia available on the web page Accessed 10/06/2004.
[12] For further information see Marie Miller’s and Karl Taube’s, Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mesoamerican Religion and Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion.
[13] For further information see Karl Taube’s, Aztec and Maya Myths, pages 54-64.
[14] It is argued by Karl Taube, that in Ancient Mayan thought, the gods who inhabited the realm of Caan related to the day, whereas those who existed in the realm of Xibalba were associated with the night. However, to quote Taube: “Although there is a contrast between the chaotic nocturnal hours and those of the day, it is by no means a simple distinction between good and evil”. See ibid, pp.15- 16. It is thought that division of the universe between two conflicting powers of good and evil was derived from Christian religion brought by the Spanish.
[15] Ibid, pp. 55-74
[16] Freidel. et. al., op. cit., p.206
[17] Ibid, p.202.
[18] Ibid, p. 202.
[19] As recorded in the Madrid Codex, at the end of the Classic period there is evidence of the performance of a massive sacrifice of around two thousand people, who were offered to the gods. This data can be found in any of the works about Maya history as cited in the bibliography.
[20]Quoted from . Accessed 10/06/2004.
[21] The Mayans believed that the Priests physically embody a communicative channel between the deities and society. One of their principal duties was to shed blood to bring on ‘vision-seeking’ powers in order to record any messages from the gods. All priest were members of the Ahkin caste - which you were born into on an account that one of your ancestors had conducted these sacrificial rites previously. There were other sub-categories of assistants, known as nacoms, who would slash the victim’s breast whilst another type of assistant, the chacs grasped the victim’s limbs. Available at the website accessed 10/06/2004.
[22] The practice of throwing victims into the cenote was practised essentially by the Mayans at Chichén Itza, in order to obtain rain, whereas other regions under Mayan rule tended to restrict themselves to other ways of performing their sacrificial rites. See The New Enciclopedia Británica, p.15.
[23] For further information about the ballgame and its symbolism see the World Wide Web accessed 10/06/2004. And also Freidel. et. al., op. cit, pp. 337-391
[24] Ibid, p. 218.
[25] This paragraph has been translated by self from the World Wide Web Accessed 10/06/2004
[26]See Linda Schele in David Freidel’s et. al., op. cit, p.202. See also Miller’s and Taube’s, An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion, pp. 96-97.
[27] Robert J. Sharer, available on the World Wide Web Accessed 22/05/2004.
[28] Freidel’s et. al., op. cit, p.207.
[29] Mircea Eliade, Tratado de la Historia de las Religiones, pp. 143.
[30]David Freidel. et. al., op. cit., p. 308 ff.

Lady Balam already has the rope through her tongue. A bowl of paper sits conveniently positioned to catch the blood.

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