In the Jaws of Kukulkan

For Ed’s great weekly history challenge I am presenting a subject I have written about before so to those who have already read any of my previous posts about this fascinating civilization please forgive the redundancy

In the Jaws of Kukulkan

royal palace at Sayil
the royal palace at Sayil

We can only imagine what it must have been like when the first Europeans arrived in Central America and met the Maya. Like the Romans, the Maya had created an empire connected by a network of roads throughout the peninsula. They were brilliant builders of magnificent temples, palaces and ball courts. Their cities, like Palenque, Copan, Tulum and Coba,  were centers of ceremony, commerce and administration.  After the Spanish conquest these cities were not to be discovered again until the 19th century.  Explorers Catherwood and Stephens, an artist and a travel writer, found their ruins buried deep in the jungle.

Sixteenth Century Spain rivaled England as a major power and was on a mission to claim new lands in the name of the Spanish Crown and the Church.  It must have been mind boggling to discover a people living deep in the jungle at the edge of the known world, who worshiped strange and terrible gods and were capable of such incredible feats of engineering, science, and literacy.

the temple of the wizard
temple of the wizard, Uxmal

Unlike European and Mediterranean cultures, the pre-columbian civilizations appeared to have sprung up out of nowhere with no outside contact or influence. The Mayan society which began more than 2000 years earlier had reached it’s peak by the 9th century CE (the Classic Period). By the time the Conquistadors arrived  600 years later, the empire was in decline and many of their cities had already been abandoned. The reasons are still speculative as to whether this was due to pestilence, climate change, power struggles, or over farming. Though the Mayans resisted the Spanish for many years, they were further decimated by diseases like small pox which had been brought over from Europe and for which the indigenous population had no natural immunity.

The Mayans were the first people to grasp and implement the concept of zero (0), yet they may have been as guilty as modern civilizations in the misuse of nature. They created a calendar more accurate than ours and mapped the heavens, but in spite of a vast knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, they engaged in human sacrifice to appease the gods and were constantly at war with their neighbours.

in the jaws of Kukulkan
in the jaws of Kukulkan

Eventually they were able to embrace Christianity because they understood a god who was willing to die in a blood offering. The hero twins of the “Popol Vuh” did exactly the same thing when they challenged the dark lords of the terrifying underworld (Xibalba) to a ball game. The brothers were destroyed and then were resurrected. That game of life and death, so central to their beliefs, continued to be played on the great ball courts of the city plazas, sometimes culminating in ceremonial human sacrifice.

(the city of Tulum built in post classic period, was one of the cities still occupied when Europeans arrived)

Life was a sacred ritual to the Mayans and their astronomer priests.  The cosmos was steeped in poetic mysticism and encompassed by ceremony which included many bloodletting rites like tongue and other body piercings, especially among nobility.  Later, when the Spanish priests discovered that the Mayans were practicing both Christianity and their own โ€œsorcery,โ€ they burned their writings as “works of Satan.” Fortunately, one far seeing monk ( Francisco Ximinez) in the early 1700’s found a portion of the manuscript and saved it.  It survives today in three main codices. One of them is the Dresden Codex named after the city where it is kept and studied. The Popol Vuh is the epic account of the Mayan myth and history.

Carved into Mayan stelae are records of the ancestry and lives of kings with names like Smoke Mirror and 19 Rabbit. The modern Mayan speaks the same language as his ancestors, but because so much of the Mayan story was destroyed or lost it has been a long road to crack the code of their enigmatic glyphs. Until recently ancient Mayan life was shadowed in mystery, At present day it is still in the process of being revealed though there is much that remains unknown, – and that is another story.

I wrote a tale about a Mayan prince called The Sacrifice of Smoke Jaguar. It is here.

And I have posted more about the Maya, their spirituality, and their connection to caves and cenotes (with apologies to any Mayan scholars) here: “In the Jaws of Kukulkan

*Kukulkan was the equivalent of Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs- the feathered serpent god who figured strongly in their mythology and ceremonies- the serpent was a symbol of change, renewal and rebirth.

The Great Pyramid

for more: The mouth of the Wizard’s Well (Chichen Itza)

36 Comments Add yours

  1. Again I must say I have enjoyed reading it you have a gift for telling tales…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. many thanks- I so appreciate your support!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A great does deserve one ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    Fascinating post! I’ve long been interested in the Incas, but know nothing of the Mayans. When were you there? Your images are stunning, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you read and enjoyed this. I have not been to Peru but would love to visit the Inca ruins as well. Because the Mayans left a written record ( what is left) they have uncovered much about their civilization. I was very much taken with their story though some of it is quite terrifying as well as beautiful.

      Like

  3. DG MARYOGA says:

    Rapt by wonder while reading the deep into history details and all your references to the old Maya civilisation!Incredible series of photos,glorious step Pyramid and temples!You have your own unique way to captivate the reader,the beholder,dear Cybele!The monochromatic Uxmal temple is a real masterpiece ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is such a fascinating culture Doda- a bit strange and frightening too!! Yes that Uxmal temple is huge!! Thank you Doda!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lauramacky says:

    Really great images. Oddly enough I’m not seeing you in my stream or you are caught in the area where I’m not able to like things. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ They really are beautiful. I love the mayan temple. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. isn’t word press grand at times!! lol. I get the same problems too and then when I haven’t seen something from someone I go check and there they are!! I love history Laura and love writing a bit about it. So glad you like the Mayan Post images- a fascinating civilization. (PS I’m a bit slowed down lately and always catching up )

      Like

      1. lauramacky says:

        So weird. It unfollows people too! The nerve! lol You and Eddie are our history buffs! I go in waves of being busy and then not. It takes a lot of work to keep up on all the sites. I dropped G+. Just too much. Thanks for the note. It’s good to enjoy life outside the computer and camera. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. indeed Laura- weather permitting lol!! Or else I’m parked in front of tv too! Oh let’s be honest here! I’m not as I once was- a night watching a movie is great!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. lauramacky says:

        I’m such an early bird it’s ridiculous. I’m in bed with the lights out at 10! hahahaha Now THAT’S old. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating history and outstanding photos! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it certainly is!! Thank you Linda!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Maverick ~ says:

    Enjoyed reading this, great images!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks Maverick! It’s quite a civilization!

      Like

  7. Peter Nena says:

    What a rich history! Sadly everything just comes to a sad end. No matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so true Peter!! thanks for reading!

      Like

  8. sixpixx says:

    Love it. I wonder what will remain of the world this generation is creating…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. we don’t seem to build things to last!

      Like

      1. sixpixx says:

        ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

        Like

  9. Whoah… Now this is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. What an inspiring selection of shots, Cybele! Thanks so much for posting these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh you would love it!! I’m honoured again! Thanks so much!!

      Like

  10. Great images, and history about the Mayans. I visited Chichen Itza in the 90’s and was so fascinated by the ancient people, and the temples. I’ll never forget how small the hole in the hoop was in the ballgame court. I thought no one ever won, and almost all who played certainly were put to death.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so fascinating!!! mysterious and terrible!! what a way to end a ball game!! lol – the game must have been fierce!!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. quarksire says:

    incrediblE! ๐Ÿ˜Ž

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is! Thanks quark!

      Liked by 1 person

Come on , don't be afraid to squeak up!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.