The link between lightning and human sustenance recurs with regularity
in both central Mexican mythology and accounts from across the Maya
world. Indeed, so many
native legends describe maize and other seeds as coming from under a
rock or within a mountain and freed by the agency of lightning that it
can be considered a core
Mesoamerican belief (see Thompson 1970: 348-354 and Bierhorst 1990:
215). To cite one of the more famous examples, in the Mexican Codex
Chimalpopoca (Leyenda de los Soles) Quetzalcoatl uses lightning to
recover maize from its original home within tonacatepetl “Sustenance
Mountain” (see Bierhorst 1992:146-147). Here maize is not only the
future food of humans, it will be ground into dough by the gods to
create the first people on earth. A version of this earth-shattering
event appears on some Maya vessels (Taube
1986: 57; 1992b: 55-58). Crucially, it is Chaak and his weapon, the
streak of lightning embodied in the serpentine leg of K’awiil, which
splits the “house of the earth” with a tremendous crack.30
Like all agrarian societies, the ancient Maya had an abiding and
intimate relationship with the natural world. All manner of trees,
plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots found a place in their
symbol system and the flora that surrounded them, botth wild and
cultivated, was embedded in their spiritual outlook. The crops that fed
and enriched them were especially charged with religious sentiment and
took pivotal roles in mythic narrative.
In recent years we have gained notable insights into the past use of
Theobroma cacao as a status marker and elite consumable, as well as
into some aspects of its ritual use and
function as a rudimentary currency (a literal “cash crop”).1 But it is
fair to say that we have yet to establish its place in Maya theology.
The present study addresses this issue, its focus falling on the art
and writing of the Classic period (AD 250-900), although with forays
into the succeeding Postclassic (AD 900-c.1542) and Colonial eras (AD
c.1542-1820). The themes encountered—fertility and sustenance, sacrifice and
regeneration,embodiment and transformation—are pan-Mesoamerican in
scope and we can usefully draw on descriptions of central Mexican
religion made shortly after the Spanish conquest.
Moreover, since certain Pre-Columbian ideas survive in traditional Maya
communities to this day, modern ethnographies are fertile sources of
EcoTurismo Yucatan excels in introducing you to the ancient land of the Maya.
Our multilingual expert leaders interpret the Mayan history, architecture, culture and ecology for you. During our tours you will see the relationship of the ancient culture with the present culture and ecology.