The Mayan Religion

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For the Mayan people, the universe was essentially chaotic yet predictable; living creatures subject to predetermined positions in the world and its people were thought to exist within an alternating pattern of life and death, each cycle lasting 5,200 years. It is this model, this pattern, which comes to identity Mayan religion.

According to sources available, the realm of heaven in Mayan cosmology was one of permanence. To ensure its constancy, colossal cosmic trees secure heaven in its place. It was then divided into thirteen distinct levels, which were each overruled by a god. Mayan society believed that a person had to have met a violent end if they were to enter heaven in the next world. Each stratum was meant for a specific type of violent death. This meant that sacrificial victims occupied a different realm to that of people who had been struck by lightning or drowned, for example.

The destination of the majority of the Mayan people was Xibalba, the “Place of Fright”. It had nine levels and its own collection of gods, who, for the main part, represented or resembled particular characteristics of deities of the Earth and sky. In Mayan society, as with other Mesoamerican cultures, there was no concept of human morality. The underworld was the ultimate destination for all people who had not met a violent end, and not reserved for sinners. The Temple I at Tikal and the Castillo at Chechen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula are nine-layered pyramids, where kings, priests and elite men were interred, symbolising the nine layers of Xibalba.

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