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Monday, March 30, 2009

Mayan Bloodletting and Human Sacrifice

This is perhaps the 2nd most frequent question I hear about the Maya, and it seems to be raised as a kind of objection to the validity of Mayan wisdom. The Western conditioned mind tends to recoil at the thought of these rituals, so I hope this article may bring more understanding and assist some in deciding whether or they can be comfortable embracing Mayan wisdom. As a student of multi-cultural spirituality, I feel it is important not to discount all aspects of a civilization that could be "barbaric" enough to practice bloodletting and human sacrifice. We need not idolize or ridicule a culture, just understand it. My motto is to integrate what resonates within and leave the rest behind.

Studies of the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures indicate that bloodletting and human sacrifice occurred from the early classic period (100 AD) through the late classic(900 AD). The proof has been found in the remaining art, (Lady Xoc, with a barbed rope cutting through her tongue, can be seen at the Field Museum's Ancient Americas exhibit ) dug up from the floors of the tombs and written about by the horrified conquistadores (while they decimated an entire culture). In A Forest of Kings Linda Shele envisions quite graphically what these rituals must have looked like. Her work may have been influencial on Mel Gibson's film Apocalypto who, in my opinion, aggrandized these practices for the sake of profit. The best part of that film for me was the very first scene, when the Maya in the jungle were living an eutopic life. Mel blew an opportunity to capture the essence of Mayan cosmology, but icouldn't because he may not conceive of it himself. He made it look as if the Maya were doing this for entertainment purposes, which doesn't appear to be accurate.

What's interesting from a spiritual perspective is that the royal bloodletters are never depicted on the glyphs with expressions of pain on their face. They are ecstatic. My mind connects to the ascetics and sadhus of India who do outrageous things in the name of enlightenment: keeping one arm up in the air or the Naga babas who stand on one leg for years, until they reach samadhi, never showing pain either. The swammi in the film Shortcut to Nirvana shows a guru wrapping his penis around a long pole, tucking it through his legs and up his back, then asking an audience participant to stand on the pole ends, adding weight and pressure. This, too, is done without a grimace.

These bizarre acts of spiritual committment seem to me more healthy than the Catholic practice of flagellation or Islamic suicide bombing. All of them reach the judgment corridor of the Western mind which houses the notion of what is unacceptable and unforgivable. What strikes me odd is how so much humanity has been able to place war and genocide outside of that corridor.

Schele and Freidel make it clear that the Maya used bloodletting rituals during the classic period as a quest for a vision and communication with the supernatural world. They would sacrifice individuals to sanctify the construction of a new building. They used the ritual of war for taking sacrificial victims early on. Shele says "Giving the gift of blood from the body was an act of piety used in all of their rituals, from the births of children to the burial of the dead. This act could be as simple as an offering fo a few drops of one's blood, or as extreme as the mutilation of the different parts of the body to generate large flows of this precious fluid. Blood could be draw from any part of the body, but the most sacred sources were the tongue for males and females, and the penis for males...The aim of these catharic rituals was the vision quest, the opening of a portal into the Otherworld through which gods and the ancestors could be enticed so that the beings of this world could commune with them. The Maya thought of this process as giving "birth" to the god or ancestor, enabling it to take physical form in this plane of existence." (p. 89)

My impression is that as the civilizations "matured" these rituals became more numerous and lost touch with the spiritual element by the time the Aztecs were raging all over Mesoamerica in the 1400's. A recent dialogue through the Aztlan Digest, a FAMSI (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies) debated how many sacrificed bodies have been found near Mexico City at Teotihucan. The range was from hundreds to hundreds of thousands.

Keeping the Calleman/Lungold Long Count calendar theory in mind, this was occurring in the middle of the National Underworld, when consciousness was all wrapped up in law and order, right and wrong, judgment, guilt and punishment. What was going on in Mesoamerica was the equivalent to the Dark Ages/inquisition in Europe and Genghis Khan in Asia, none of it very pretty. Collective consciousness on our dear planet Earth was experiencing wild and wooly times everywhere. It has all been necessary, part of the plan and on schedule.

In 1976, anthropologist Peter Furst wrote extensively about the practice of bloodletting and sacrifice, finding similar beliefs that were practiced in many other societies in Asia and the Middle East. Indeed, there is a 2009 news item about the Iraqi Shi'ites bloodletting from young men's heads, a mourning ritual for Ashura, the martyred grandson of Mohammed. This consciousness, as morbid as it seems, is still in play today!

A discovery of mass graves of Aztec warriors near Mexico City was reported in February, 2009, by National Geographic. 49 bodies were found buried Christian style, but probably buried by the Aztecs. These discoveries accentuate a more significant issue about the nature of the blood and killing rituals. The Maya practiced bloodletting and human sacrifice as a means to access supreme consciousness, which, in my mind, pales in comparison to the ritual of war and genocide practiced by the imperialists and conquistadores who came later.

Contrary to Western scientific evidence, Don Alejandro, 13th generation Mayan Priest and head of the Guatemalan Council of Elders, told us that the Maya were a gentle loving people that did not practice human sacrifice. The Maya today are descendents of those that survived the Spanish conquest by outsmarting them in many clever ways, and now live in a spiritual place where the veil between the dimensions is very, very thin. It is no wonder that visitors to Mayaland today can readily embrace the wisdom and teachings of the Maya, despite accusations about rituals long since past.



  • At June 16, 2009 at 12:20 AM , Blogger Ken Wanamaker said...

    I had a strange dream last night in which blood-letting occurred near the end. I had not been familiar with this ritual prior to the dream. Through research on Google I came across your blog. Very helpful. I should like to share this Dream.


    My Dream-Parents have shuttled me to a drop-off point for a back-country hike. Before beginning I walk into the woods a bit to get the lay of the land. I turn around to found I have been abandoned my Dream Parents. They even took my backpack with them. The skies are dark and foreboding—a possible thunderstorm.. I try to use my cell phone to reach them but get two voices at once Dream-Daniel, my assistant manager and Dream Mother. I can’t communicate. I can’t understand what is being said. I try it again and get a hold of two voices, one unidentified and Dream-Javier, Hispanic clerk. I am now in an Hispanic neighborhood. The folks in that place hear me speaking Spanish to Javier and they smile and are friendly. Suddenly I find my self at one end of a high bridge for foot traffic. It is yellow and ornate, ancient edifice. Before me, side-by-side are persons covered to their knees with blankets, as if in triage unit. An Older Unknown Woman is stabbing their necks with a sharp instrument, blood-letting. There are two definite puncture wounds on each neck, like the fang bite of a serpent. There is blood all over the place. I fear for my own safety.


  • At September 25, 2009 at 10:23 PM , Blogger Anand said...

    This is a good and important theme to write on. I read quite a bit about maya culture and wisdom and am particularly impressed with their time reckoning system but one thing was pricking my mind. This is exactly the issue that you have addressed. The Maya did not even respect human life and went to the level of sacrifice, how can we ever think they are civilized and follow their way?.What emerges i think is now we have to take the good parts of their culture alone and leave the rest. My cultural background condemns the killing of even the smallest organism even by mistake(so strict vegetarianism is the rule,though lesser and lesser people follow it now-a-days). So, even killing a animal is said to be barbaric and affects your karma in the subsequent births. So i find it difficult to digest this issue.

  • At January 16, 2010 at 10:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Violence and killing of any human is unethical, especially children (whose bodies were also found as evidence, illustrating this human sacrifice by the Mayans). Violence is in most every culture so do not deny it! Though, when it is in self-defense of homeland, human life, and livelihood it is a bit more understandable (as with Palestine).

  • At February 26, 2010 at 12:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Good post
    Just that there's no such thing as "islamic suicide bombing"
    Islam doesn't permit or say suicide is okay...

    It's just the psychos who BELIEVE it's okay.
    Islam literally means peace.

    Please, don't say "Islamic suicide bombing"
    Christians and Jews have suicide bombed too.
    Don't label such a terrible act to a religion.

    All religions permit the best of man kind.

    Other than that, I appreciate your post on the Mayans. Thank you.

  • At May 18, 2010 at 11:39 AM , Blogger Jeffrey Miele said...

    Our guide at Chichen Itza questioned Gibson's theory. He said human sacrifice might never have happened among the Mayans, or if it did, it wasn't a frequent practice. He told us Spanish Christians invented or greatly exaggerated the extent of the ritual of human sacrifice. They wanted to portray the Mayans as heathens in need of conquering and conversion.

  • At May 18, 2010 at 11:40 AM , Blogger Jeffrey Miele said...

    Our guide at Chichen Itza questioned Gibson's theory. He said human sacrifice might never have happened among the Mayans, or if it did, it wasn't a frequent practice. He told us Spanish Christians invented or greatly exaggerated the extent of the ritual of human sacrifice. They wanted to portray the Mayans as heathens in need of conquering and conversion.

  • At November 23, 2010 at 6:14 PM , Blogger vanessa said...

    hello my name is vanessa and you dont really know me and i live at portland oregon and i did read your 'mayan bloodletting and human sacrafice' and i did really like it nice cuz it shows all the things that talks about sacrifice bloodletting and you are a good writer good job and nice to eet you.

  • At November 24, 2010 at 3:43 AM , Anonymous generic cialis 20mg said...

    Hello, I do not agree with the previous commentator - not so simple

  • At April 11, 2011 at 4:55 PM , Blogger Howard said...

    This article as well as some of the coments make me laugh a bit! First of all, the author uses nothing but MORAL relativisms to show an overt polemicism towards these "peoples" customs;in this case a moral depravity for pure homicide, not to mention the stupidity of the people who did it. How the author can call herself a teacher is beyond me although what else can you expect in our politically correct society,
    (Is it any wonder why todays children are so messed up).
    Oh of course history must be shown in a "nice" way so we can be sure not to hurt anyones feelings! As far as some of the respondents talk of a "palestine", well history shows their really is NO Palestine! Hadrian, (another brain) changed the name from JUDEA to phfillistine; Arabs can not pronounce "PH" so they changed it to P alestine with a P. Now why dont you all go back to school, including the author!

  • At November 25, 2011 at 10:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    very useful for school project


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