Ancient Maya Religious Practices And Beliefs

1405 words - 6 pages

Almost every aspect of Maya life was centered on religion. These ancient Mesoamerican peoples worshipped many gods and goddesses; this was part of their daily lives, despite class differences in their sophisticated society. Religion served as a basis for the government and social life. Priests and shamans played an important role in their government, conducted religious ceremonies, and made sacrifices to the gods. The Maya believed in the supernatural, and used this belief to explain life and their universe. Every object, whether it is part of nature or man made, was considered sacred and worshipped. The Maya universe was composed of three different realms; the Upperworld in the sky, the Earth, and the Underworld down below. Also known as the heavens, the Upperworld was the dwelling place of the stars and constellations. “The Upperworld, or heavens, served as a stage upon which the actions of the gods were played out.” (Foster, 2002) The Maya used the movements of the planets and stars to study the actions of the gods. The heavens were divided thirteen levels, each with its own god residing over it. Women who died in childbirth, warriors who died in battle, and those who died peaceful deaths went to the Upperworld. Beneath the Upperworld, existed the Middleworld, commonly known as Earth. Humans and animal inhabited this domain, along with some of the gods. The natural landscape, such as mountains and caves, was sacred and served as houses to the gods, ancestors, and spirits. The Maya believed caves were “the natural wombs from which human beings emerged during creation” (Foster, 2002) and mountains the place from which maize first began. Used by gods to create human flesh during the creation, maize was the most important and sacred crop. Beneath the Earth lay the Underworld, or Xibalba. It was a place of trepidation and frightfulness, literally translating “place of fear’. Xibalba was organized into nine descending levels, worsening in punishment and torture as the levels lowered. Maya Lords of Death ruled over the different levels. After death, those who led evil lives were condemned to Xibalba. The Maya described the Underworld as a place filled with water and rivers and could be entered through caves or bodies of water. Despite the various characteristics and features the Maya believed their ancestors, spirits, and gods resided in all three realms and worshiped them.
Like any religion, the Mayas had religious leaders to lead the community spiritually. Priests and shamans guided the religious practices of the Maya and were of great importance to the survival of the civilization because they would help the people please the gods. Shamans were mainly commoners and looked after those in their local community. Much like medicine men of the Native American tribes, shamans used their knowledge of plants to act as doctors amongst the people and cure illness. It was the job of the shamans to perform rituals, decipher events, and...

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