Mayan Religion

The religion of the Ancient Maya was centered on the concept of time.

The Maya were not concerned so much with time in terms of hours, minutes, or seconds. Instead, they concentrated on longer time periods such as seasons and years. This makes sense given that having expertise on when to plant and harvest crops meant the ability to sustain the civilization with plenty to eat.

The Mayas’ primary tools for time keeping were the plants, stars, moon, and of course, the sun. To keep track of all these things, the Maya had many complex calendars that tracked the cycles of different planets, constellations, the phases of the moon, and more. When all of these calendars were put together, the Maya became perhaps the most accurate keepers of time in history. In fact, in combination, the Mayan calendars were much more accurate than the calendar we use today.

The Mayan religion, like a calendar or the seasons of the year, was all about cycles. The Maya believed that everything was created and destroyed at certain points, and they believed these cycles could be calculated. The Mayan calculator suggests that the next destruction phase should begin sometime in the next years or so.

This belief in a cycle of creation and destruction is similar, at least in concept, to most other religions, including Christianity. Christians believe in a cycle of sorts--the idea of the coming of Christ and then the Second Coming. Perhaps this similarity explains why many descendants of the Maya are able to practice aspects of both Christianity and their traditional religion with such ease.

The Mayans believed in an afterlife, sort of. They believed that if a person died of old age or sickness, they would go the underworld. Basically, those people were truly dead. Those that were sacrificed, or died in other violent fashion, were able to live on the sky world. Kings were also able to go to heaven, but only after descending into the underworld first.

The Maya believed that their gods and goddesses required food as fuel to give humans things we need to survive such as sunlight, rain, and food. The Maya “fed” their gods in the form of sacrifice. Sometimes they offered animals or other foods to the gods. Other times, particularly to get rain, the Maya believed they had to give food from themselves to the gods.

Human sacrifice usually meant either offering the heart to the gods or offering blood through the process of bloodletting. When a heart was necessary, it was taken from the body of a living person by cutting open the body cavity with a stone knife. A priest then removed the heart, and it was burned. Bloodletting was practiced by many. This meant cutting or puncturing various parts of the body, soaking the blood up with paper or cloth, and then burning it. Sometimes, children (usually girls), were thrown in a cenote (well) in a ritual designed to get rain from the gods.

The Maya had 166+ gods and goddesses. Many of these gods followed the general laws of balance in nature and science—hot/cold, male/female, up/down, etc… For instance, some gods were both male and female. Or in other cases, gods came in pairs, and they were opposites of each other.