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Mayan Cosmology - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Mayan Cosmology. Mayan World View Creation Myth: Pre and Post-Contact Religion Gods and Goddesses. Mayan World View. Maya conceived of the earth as flat and four-cornered. Each corner had a color value East-Red White-North Black-West Yellow-South Center-Blue-Green. World Supports.

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Mayan cosmology l.jpg

Mayan Cosmology

Mayan World View

Creation Myth:

Pre and Post-Contact


Gods and Goddesses

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Mayan World View

  • Maya conceived of the earth as flat and four-cornered.

  • Each corner had a color value

    • East-Red

    • White-North

    • Black-West

    • Yellow-South

  • Center-Blue-Green

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World Supports

  • Each corner was held up by four Powahtuns (old deities)

  • The sky was held up by four Bakabs (Human/Atlantean figures) of the correct color for each direction.

  • Although sometimes these are represented as trees.

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Pre-Contact Creation

  • The oldest evidence is from pre-Classical monuments (1st C. BC) at Izapa that depict the World Tree and other symbols of Creation.

  • Izapa World Tree glyph (Stela 25): The crocodile  represents the the Earth, its hills symbolized by the rough skin of the reptile, a characteristic shared with the bark of the ceiba tree.

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Post-Contact: The Popul Vuh

  • The creation myth of the Maya takes place in four stages:

  • Stage 1:

    • Before anything else, the world was nothing but sea and sky.

    • Then the Maker stretched a cord across the sea and sky to create the four corners of the earth.

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Stage 2:

In the second creation, the Modeler made mountains, lakes, forests, animals, birds, and insects.

Although the Maker was happy with the creations, these organisms couldn't speak, pray, keep track of time, or most importantly, show their love and appreciation by returning nourishment to the gods.

Dissatisfied, the Creator Couple commanded a flood that eliminated all life on the earth so they could start over.

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Stage 3: Birth of the Hero Twins

  • The third stage is the legend of the Hero twins. The father and Uncle of the Hero twins were great ball players. Unfortunately, the court where they played caused great noise, disturbing the Lords of Death in the Underworld of Xibalba (Place of Fright).

  • After trials set forth by the Lords, the Father and Uncle were put to death and buried under the ball court. The father's head was severed and placed in a tree as a warning to others.

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Birth con’d

  • One day the Father called a girl over to the tree. She complied when she was asked to hold out her hand.

  • The Father spit in her hand, impregnating her.

  • When this girl's father found out, she was banished to the middle world of humans.

  • She had twins who she named Hunahpu and Xbalanque (schpah-len-kay), the Hero twins.

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Stage 4: The Hero Twins

  • One day they were playing ball like their father and uncle before them.

  • Their shouts were heard down below in Xibalba.

  • The Lords of Death were affronted.

  • These twins were no more humble than the others. And so messengers were dispatched, summoning them to a ballgame in Xibalba.

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Stage 4: Con’d

  • Now the Twins were challenged to a series of ordeals, each in a special "house".

  • In the Dark House they were given a torch and two burning cigars. They were supposed to return these in the morning just as they had received them.

  • Their father and uncle had let the torch burn out, and they had smoked the cigars. But the Hero Twins knew better.

  • They swapped a macaw's scarlet tail feathers for the torch's flame. And they stuck fireflies on the ends of their cigars.

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Hero Twin Challenges

  • When they were sent to the Razor House, sharp blades were supposed to cut them to pieces. But they convinced the blades that their job was to cut up animals, not hero twins.

  • And when they were sent to the Jaguar House, they distracted the tigers by feeding them bones. The Cold House they survived by locking out the cold. The Fire House didn't burn them to ashes, but only toasted them golden brown.

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The Bat House

  • It was when they were sentenced to the Bat House, they made their first mistake, in accordance with their destiny.

  • Hunahpu decided to peek outside the blowgun and see if it was morning yet. When he did so, a bat sliced off his head and it went rolling out onto the ballcourt of Xibalba. His brother called all the animals together, asking each to bring its favorite food.

  • The coati brought a squash, and with the help of the gods this became a new head for Hunahpu. Meanwhile the Twins told a rabbit to hide outside the ballcourt.

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The Ball Game

  • When the Lords of Death started the game, they used Hunahpu's head for the ball. As far as they were concerned, this made them victors automatically. But when they kicked the ball, Xbalanque deflected Hunahpu's head flying toward the rabbit's hiding place. The rabbit hopped off, and the Lords of Death thought it was the bouncing ball and raced off in pursuit.

  • The boys got Hunahpu's head back and put the squash in its place. When the game began again and Xbalanque gave the ball a particularly energetic boot, it split open and all its seeds came spilling out. The Hero Twins had defeated the Lords of Xibalba.

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  • So the Lords of Death, with all their tricks and all their tests couldn't kill the Hero Twins.

  • But still the boys knew that they would have to die for their quest to be complete. They even knew how the Lords of Death would kill them.

  • So when they were called before the Lords of Xibalba and challenged to a new and different game, they knew it was a trick. "See this oven?" said the Lords of Death. "Bet you can't jump over it four times."

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Reborn con’d

  • "We're not falling for that one," said the boys, and without any further ado they jumped right into the flames. At this point the Lords of Death made a big mistake.

  • Instead of throwing Xbalanque and Hunahpu over a cliff or hanging their bodies in a tree, they ground their bones on a grinding stone and sprinkled them in the river.

  • This was the only way that the Twins could come back to life. And come back they did, first as catfish and then as their normal selves.

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  • The Lords of Death asked that a dog be sacrificed and then brought back to life. And when this was done, they asked that it be repeated with a human. And when this too was accomplished, they asked the Twins to sacrifice each other. So Xbalanque dismembered his twin and cut out his heart. Then he started dancing and commanded Hunahpu to get up and join him. And when Hunahpu got up as good as new, the Lords of Death were caught up in a frenzy of delight.

  • "Now do us!" they cried. And so the Twins sacrificed the two foremost of the Lords of Death. Only they didn't bring them back to life. And the other Lords knew that they had been defeated, and from that day forth Xibalba had lost its glory.

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Sun and Moon

  • The Twins took the head of First Father from the tree in which it hung, and they put him back together and restored him to life.

  • They left him there in a place of honor beside the ballcourt in Xibalba.

  • And then the Hero Twins, Xbalanque and Hunahpu, their heroic quest complete, ascended into the sky and became the sun and the moon.

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Mayan Religion    

  • Religion was important to every part of Mayan life.  

  • The Mayas worshipped many different gods.  Each day, month, city, and occupation had its own special god or goddess.  

  • The Mayas had a variety of religious festivals and celebrations.  Most of these celebrations included human sacrifice.

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  • Each Mayan city -state had a ruler called the halach uinic.  He may have also served as the high priest during religious ceremonies.

  • The Mayans believed halach uinic was a living god.  He ruled until his death.  At his death, his oldest son became the next halach uinic.   If the halach uinic did not have a son, his brother would rule.  If  he did not have a brother, the ruler's council elected a member of his family to serve.   

  • The halach uinic dressed in elaborate and colorful clothes.  He also wore a very large head-dress.  Temple wall paintings show him with large ear decorations, crossed eyes, and many tattoos.

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  • Many other priests served with the halach uinic.  

  • These priests, named ahkin performed many duties.  

  • They had the knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.  Some of the ahkin performed medical rituals.  

  • The Mayans believed that only the priests could explain the mysteries of life and death.  

  • They thought it was on the back of a crocodile that floated in a large pond.  At another time they believed the earth was the floor of a lizard house.  

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Mayan Worlds

  • The Mayas' religion taught that there were 13 layers of heavens above the earth.  

  • They also believed nine underworlds were below.  They thought that they lived in the fifth creation of the world.  

  • The previous four worlds had been destroyed by a great flood.  

  • At the beginning of the fifth world, the gods created humans from corn.

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Sacrifices and Blood Offerings

  • Many of the Mayas religious ceremonies included gifts and sacrifices to the various gods and goddesses.  The Mayans believed the gods would give factors to them in return for prayers, offerings, and sacrifices.

  • In many ceremonies, the priests cut themselves to get blood to present to the gods.  

  • Other people like the king and high-ranking elite would pierce their tongues, or in the case of men, pierce their foreskin with a stingray spine.

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  • The Mayan ritual acts were generally dictated by the sacred almanac.

  • The numbers 4, 9, 13 and the color directions are prominent.

  • Before the rituals there are usually periods of sexual abstinence and food taboos.

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Two women drawing thorn-ropes through their tongues.

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  • The Mayas had several methods of giving the human sacrifices.  

    • Often, the priests took the victim to the altar at the temple.  Then the priests cut the heart out of the living victim and presented it to the god.

    • In another method, the priests tied the victim to a wooden pole.  Then they threw spears and arrows at the victim's chest in the area of the heart.

  • The priests were assisted by four old men, called “Chacs”.

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Controlling a victim

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  • In the third type of sacrifice, they threw the victim into a sacred well.  the most famous of these wells is the Well of Sacrifices at Chichén Itzá.  

  • If victims survived the fall and did not drown, the priests pulled them back out of the well.  The Mayas believed the gods had chosen to spare these victims.  

  • The priests then asked the victims what messages they brought back from the gods.  The victims received special treatment from then on since the Mayas believed they had spoken to the gods.

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Sacred Cenote

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Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza

This view of the wall of the cenote shows how high it is from the water (72 feet). It also shows the green algae that guards the secret of its contents.The walls visible here are made of limestone.

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Maya Underworld

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  • The Mayas also worshipped the dead.  They believed the dead became one with the gods.  

  • They worshipped their ancestors at many religious ceremonies.  

  • They also built pyramids over the sacred remains of their dead rulers.

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Mayan Gods and Goddesses

  • Pre-Conquest codices mention approximately 30.

  • Post-Conquest manuscripts “Ritual of the Bakabs” (18th c) depicts 166 deities.

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  • He was the head god, lord of the heavens and lord of the night and day.  

  • His name meant lizard.  Carved pictures show him as an old crossed-eyed man, and sometimes with a lizard's body.  The Mayas believed he invented books and writing.

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  • He was the sun god and the god of the rulers.

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  • He was the rain god.  Carvings show him as a reptile with a large nose pointing down and curling fangs.  He had four aspects:

  • Chac Xib Chac Red Chac of the East Sac Xib Chac White Chac of the North Ek Xib Chac Black Chac of the West Kan Xib Chac Yellow Chac of the South

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  • He is the god of maize (corn) and agriculture.  

  • Pictures always show him as a young man either carrying a plant or has a plant as a headdress.

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  • He is the god of death.  Carvings of him show a skull and skeleton.

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  • He is the god of trade.  Mayan artists painted his face black and he had a drooping lower lip.

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  • She is the moon and rainbow goddess.  She is also the goddess of weaving and childbirth.

  • Wife of Itzamna.

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  • He is the god of war and human sacrifice. Carvings of him show a black line around his eye and down onto his cheek.  He is at times shown with a torch or weapon in his hand.

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Minor Gods and Goddesses

  • Cit Bolon Tum: a god of Medicine.

  • Ekahau: the god of Travelers and Merchants.

  • Ixtab: the goddess of the Hanged. She receives their souls into paradise.

  • Kan-u-Uayeyab: the god who guarded cities.

  • Kinich Kakmo: the Sun god symbolized by the Macaw.

  • Mitnal: Mitnal was the underworld hell where the wicked were tortured.

  • Nacon: Nacon was the god of War.

  • Tzultacaj (Tzuultaq'ah): For the Mayan Indians of central Guatemala, known as Kekchí, this was the god of the mountains and valleys.

  • Yaxche: Yaxche is the Tree of Heaven under which good souls rejoice.

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