Mayan Bloodletting and Human Sacrifice
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.