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Maya: Death And Afterlife Beliefs Essay

1099 words - 4 pages

The Mayan religion was based in the regions of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and some southern parts of Mexico. It is a southeastern variant of Mesoamerican religion. Death and afterlife beliefs have always played an important role in all religions. Some religions have similar beliefs while others are very different. The Maya religion is very similar to Roman Catholicism. Many Mayas were able to adopt Catholic beliefs while still maintaining their own faith: many of their customs remain evident today.
Early creation myths are found in the Popol Vuh, which is K’iche for “the Book of the Community”; it entails the creation and genealogy of the rulers of the Mayan kingdom. It has been referred to as the single most important piece of Mesoamerican literature. It consists of a preamble and four sections that describe the creation, history and cosmology of the Mayan religion. It is said that the original Popol Vuh was lost and recently rediscovered. The alphabetic Popol Vuh gave a "long performance and account" (Tedlock, 1996, p. 29) written in two columns on each page; one in alphabetic Quiche Mayan text, the other a Spanish translation made by a priest named Francisco Ximenez in the early 1700s. The words of the Popol Vuh describe two creator Gods, Gucumatz and Tepeu, who were created from the sea. Once the Earth was created, animals came next; humans followed but were created from mud and ultimately destroyed. Hence the creation of humans from the sacred Maya crop of maize. These people of the corn were able to be worshiped and also were able to nourish the people of the land.
The Mayans worshipped a number of Gods and Goddess: their foremost god, Itzam Na "incorporated in himself the aspects of many other gods: not only creation but fire, rain, crops, and earth" (Keen, 2004, p.18). Itzamna was the God of the sky, Bacabs was the God of the seasons, and Ixtab was the Goddess of suicide. The Maya people believed that committing suicide sent one directly to heaven. During the Post-Conquest, many Maya people were treated very badly and were punished for practicing their faith so many took their own lives to remove themselves from the hopelessness, hence the reasoning behind considering suicide a noble death. Other deaths such as death during childbirth and death during battles were also measured as noble. Death was usually considered a journey where one had the possibility of the rebirth.
Maize, which is an essential crop to the Mayas, was a symbol of rebirth. When a person laid to rest maize was placed in their mouths, it was known as food for the journey into the otherworld. Death rituals become an important part of the Mayan culture. The Mayas associate the color red with death and rebirth, similar to how many American cultures and religions associate death with the color black. They also developed many practices to commemorate the dead and long lost ancestors and conducted elaborate ceremonies for the elite members of society. Locations of the...

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