Maya gods and rituals – Central American religion

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Maya pyramid at Tonina (ca. 700 AD)

Maya pyramid at Tonina (ca. 700 AD)

Maya people believed that the world was created by One Deer. One Deer created the mother and father of the gods (like Brahma and Gayatri or Gaia and Kronos). Then the mother and father created many other gods. They created the gods of the crops like the Corn God, the god of rain, the god of fire, the god of smoke, and the gods of the forests.

The mother and father also created four men, who were the ancestors of all men. Some stories say that the mother and father first made men out of mud. But these mud men were stupid, with no brains, and so the mother and father destroyed them.

Next the mother and father made men out of wood. But these wood men were dull, with no emotions, and they couldn’t feel gratitude to their makers (compare the Jewish story of Noah). Finally the mother and father tried again and made men out of corn (maize) – and that worked just right. Corn was the main food for Mayan people, so they had a lot of popular stories about corn, like the story of the opening of Maize Mountain.

A woman lays a parade carpet of flowers and grass for Holy Week in Guatemala

There were many big religious holidays every year in the Mayan empire. One was the five “Lost Days” at the end of the Mayan solar calendar every year. Mayan priests and leaders held big parades to celebrate the holidays. Women laid out grass and leaves and flowers in patterns to make beautiful (but temporary) carpets for the paraders to walk on.

A Maya pottery shark, from Belize

A Maya pottery shark, from Belize

But even before the Mayans grew plants, they were fishing people, and they seem to have hunted sharks – our word “shark” may come from the Mayan word – and used shark teeth as a symbol of power. Long after many Mayan people moved away from the coast and became farmers, they still bought shark teeth and carved pictures of sharks.

More about corn
More about the Maya

Bibliography and further reading about Mayan religion:

Aztec people
Inca people
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By |2017-09-10T13:09:15+00:00September 10th, 2017|Central America, Religion|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Maya gods and rituals – Central American religion. Quatr.us Study Guides, September 10, 2017. Web. January 24, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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