(*Edited - additional PS added regarding the Palenque "Astronaut" on Pakal The Great's tomb - which, by the way, is not an astronaut. Though there are interesting pieces in Mayan art that need more explanation, this one has been translated and explained - and though the Mayans were astronomers and fascinated with cosmology, it's not an ancient or alien astronaut, sorry - nor is it even a Mayan astronomer looking through a rudimentary large telescope, as I once thought. Once I explain what it actually symbolizes in Mayan mythology, you'll see what it actually is more clearly.)
So along the spiritual theme I've had going, this week, particularly having mentioned the Mayan calendar, I'm reminded of one of the most surprisingly spiritual trips I've ever taken, and wanted to retell that story here :)
I have actually consolidated by copy/pasting parts of a series of posts from 2016, parked in draft, into this one - with the exception of a story I didn't mention in that post, which I'm mentioning now in the spirit of things this past week.
FYI, only 4 of the photos are mine (which I'll denote) - because my ex-husband was in most of my photos from that trip ;)
For those unaware, Our Lady of Guadalupe is recounting the appearance of Mary 5 times in Chichimec, Mexico, from December 9th to December 13th in 1531.
The day is marked by parades of women and children, with carols sung by children.
Additionally, all through our trip - both in Playa del Carmen and Valladolid, the town midway between PDC and Chichen Itza - rural children from the surrounding local villages would approach tourists to sing carols, hoping for a few coins.
The children that approached were literally dirt poor - dirty hair and faces, no shoes - looking much like these children ...
At first, I wondered if not wearing shoes was part of the tradition, but I quickly realized the children in the parade wore sandals or sneakers - these "rogue" children carolers just didn't have any shoes - and despite the Yucatan peninsula being near the equator, December nights in the Yucatan are chilly and very rainy.
They carried little statues of Mary or a paper cutout picture of the Virgin Mary, glued to a paper plate, with either paper roses or tinsel glued around it.
Absolutely pitiful sight :(
Every time they would sing, the restaurant staff - and nearby American tourists - would say:
"Go away! Send them away! Tell them to go away! They will sing until you give them money, their parents send them here - ignore them."
I would always say:
"No, no, let them sing, it's beautiful - suffer the little children unto me, Jesus said."
So they serenaded us, all through our meal, and after each carol, we clapped, and eventually, the surrounding tables of tourists joined in clapping for them and smiling :)
(Ripple effect, lead by example - just what I was hoping for ;)
Also after each song, despite the fact that I didn't know how much I was giving, because the value of the dollar changed every day, and with every town, or even district you went to (you had to look at the bank postings of the current exchange rate of currency) - I gave them whatever cash I had on hand (which I didn't carry much when traveling, even back them), hugged them, and said, "Que bueno, que hermosa! Gracias, gracias. Toma este, por favor - por unos zapatos, si? Feliz Navidad?
Which means "How good, how beautiful! Thank you, thank you. Take this, please - for some shoes, yes? Merry Christmas"
At the time, I spoke enough broken Spanish to get my point across, understanding it better than I spoke it, most of which I've lost over time lol ;)
However, regular points were not scored in this way because of the unlikelihood of doing so (though you scored big points if you could) - regular points were scored if the ball touched down on the opposing team's side, so the object was to never let the ball touch the ground).
The man for whom the temple is informally named ...
Well first - notice anything strange compared to the other images?
Secondly, he's about a foot taller than the other images (which you can't judge from these photos).
Lastly, notice his facial features are different from the other images - his nose and head are more rounded, and there's a bit of bump in the center of the nose.
The other images are typical Mayan depiction of preferred beauty - elongated heads and sharp, pointed noses. The forehead to the tip of the nose is one long, steep slope, in effort to create a perfect angle.
In fact, the desired goal was that the entire head should create a sort of triangle effect when viewing from the side, and a 3D pyramid-shaped effect by the head overall when viewed from the front - all due to their love of geometry.
In order to achieve this effect, they practiced "head binding" or "head boarding" of their babies, in effort to flatten and elongate the cranium to create the "perfect slope" while it was still soft and before the fontanel closed ...
The drawing below erroneously depicts the 7th middle snake as just a part of decoration, some sort of vegetation, but the relief itself reveals it to be a longer snake, as well as Abel assured me there were 7 - again, 7 being a sacred number. (The middle snake is connected to other parts of the relief in symbolism).
Me: "Okay, what exactly is going on, here, in this relief? lol. And who is "The Bearded Man?" He has no official name, like Kukulkan or Xtoloc, so why do they honor him like a God, but still call him a man?"
Abel: "Well, first you need to know that Mayan "holy totem animals" are the jaguar, the diamondback rattlesnake, and the eagle - you don't mess with or kill any of these three powerful regional creatures, except in sacred Mayan rituals on holy days, which are still secretly practiced by Mayans today; otherwise, they are God's sacred creatures to be respected and left alone.""On this relief, the captain of one team is being "sacrificed" to the gods in a "beheading" - particularly in tribute to the "bearded man" deity, as it is his temple in the ball court.
"Upon removing the team captain's head, 7 snakes appear, signifying he has now achieved a God-like status. No one is quite sure which side was "beheaded" - some say it's the losers and others say it's the winners, an honor to them to become gods. My people believe the latter, it was actually the winners. What we do know is that Mayans later revered the winners as Gods later."
Me: "So I've noticed every time you say "human sacrifice," you put it in air quotes with your fingers. Can I ask why?"
Abel: (smiling) "I was hoping you would ask, you're very clever - because that is what the park makes me say, but I put it in air quotes because I, myself, am not convinced we Mayans practiced actual physical human sacrifice as much as Europeans like to believe, especially after The Bearded Man, who specifically asked us to do away with blood sacrifice, he didn't require it."
"My people say it was mostly symbolic, even the frieze at the temple, and that actual human sacrifice resulting in death was rare, not regular, and thus a myth created and spread by the Spanish conquistadors to justify their conquest."
"The bones found at the Sacred Cenote proved they clearly were where they disposed of the dead as a mystical place, yes - and it's true they were also found beheaded - but there is some evidence that the heads were removed postmortem, possibly as a part of their transition to the afterlife, in ceremony."
"Thus, I believe if live sacrifice actually happened, especially after The Bearded Man, it was extremely rare, such as in times of famine or drought, much like other cultures did - that most of the beheadings were postmortem after death to transition them into the afterlife."
"And also, why we would actually literally behead our best warriors and athletes from the ball game after they won - or any of our warriors and athletes, for that matter? We'd need them for protection and battle. It doesn't make any sense."
"That, combined with some evidence of the beheadings actually being postmortem from bodies in the cenote, makes me believe the beheadings were postmortem, after natural death, to help them transition to gods in the afterlife."
Me: "So you believe that the story that we were all told that the Mayans regularly killed their own people in human sacrifice is a lie, told as excuse to vilify and subjugate them?"
Abel: "I didn't say a lie, per se, but a myth, or at least more rare than Europeans like to believe, especially after The Bearded Man, who told them he didn't need blood sacrifice - perhaps just a convenient misunderstanding (winking).
Me: "It's okay, we're not your typical Americans. My European ancestors lied both to and about many North, Latin and South Native -Americans to justify their mistreatment. I know it's of little comfort now for me to say, but I am sorry they did."
Abel: "Either way, I have not yet seen convincing evidence that the humans were definitely actually beheaded in human sacrifice to the gods rather than symbolically or postmortem, myself, but perhaps I just don't want to believe that about my people, who knows. We don't do that today, of that I am sure" :)
"As for the identity of The Bearded Man, he was given his own temple because he was believed to be part of human-like extension of the deity of Kukulcan (Quetzalcoatl in Aztec and Incan cultures) - the feathered serpent and our Chief Mayan God - much like Christ is the son of God the creator."
"It is said he appeared on their shores on a "boat made of snakes" and claimed to be a holy man, then sailed away on the same boat, promising to return again some day. It is also said he also was displeased with blood sacrifice to himself in any capacity, including animals, and encouraged them to stop because appeasement was not necessary, but we continued animal sacrifice anyway."
"Now remember, this temple was built before the Spanish ever arrived - but he has different features than the Mayans, almost European-looking. Some people believe that Spanish monks arrived much earlier than we have historical record of, and so "The Bearded Man" was actually a Spanish priest or monk..."
"Others believe because of the 'boat of snakes,' he was actually a Viking explorer we've no historical record of ..."
"Still others believe it was Christ himself, those 40 days of ministry after his resurrection, promising his second coming..."
"And a smaller number of people believe they were visited regularly by various aliens, which they believe not only explains some strange Mayan carvings, but why Mayans wanted to alter their heads and face shapes so much, to emulate them..."
Me: "Okay, but what you YOU, believe, Abel, being a Mayan descendant?"
Abel: "Me? You care what I believe?
Me: "Yes, I do" :)
Abel: "I am honored, thank you. I believe he was a Viking."
"However, history only seems to allow for imperialist European monarchial history, not Nordic-European history or Eastern-European history, and especially not Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, or African history - this gets destroyed or ignored in favor of the imperialist Europeans being "first."
Me: "Right, history is told by the conquerors, ignoring, destroying, or even taking credit for the conquered people's inventions."
"Even Marco Polo's "observations" as a merchant, though the imperialists never conquered Asia, and despite being as amazed as he was with Asian invention and technology along the silk road, he still viewed them as somewhat barbaric and inferior, or at least he wasn't allowed to write about them any other way."
Abel: "Yes. However, the reason I believe this is that other things recently found don't support the imperialist kingdoms were here first, more recent findings of ancient Nordic items found as far south as Uruguay."
"And look at the clothing on the Mayan soldiers in the main relief, particular the helmet - similar to that of a Viking warrior."
"Some Mayans dislike the fact that we compare our styling and architecture to other cultures, they find it racist to assume we didn't come up with these things on our own. But the likelihood that even the Native Americans truly originated here anyway is not high and and the similarities in our dress and particularly our architecture to other cultures are just too similar to deny, too."
"And we still managed to come up with some originals other cultures emulate to this day - like the observatory"
"It is possible The Bearded Man was a later Christianized Viking monk, yes, because it is said he was a holy man, and our legend that he was a demi-God or the son of the creator God and that theology is very similar to Christian faith, but who can say."
Me: "I can see that, the Viking warrior thing. But for some reason, I'm also reminded of southeast Asian or East Indian armor, too - like Hindu Warriors..."
Abel: "Ah, it's interesting you would say that, you're very clever. I think that's a good lead-in to our next stop on the tour, another Mayan mystery to solve :)"
"You aren't like other Americans, especially American girls, are you? Very open-minded. :)"
Me: " No - they think I'm weird, I'm considered weird there, some might even say crazy, especially in the American South - some consider me stupid, too, lol.
Abel: "Well, lucky for you, we Mayans like weird and crazy lol. No, I think the problem is you are very smart, open-minded, and spiritually sensitive - in Mayan culture, we had nuns as well as priests - so you might even be revered as a holy woman, like a shaman lol :) "
Me: "LOL! Yeah, not so much - you might want to ask my husband about that lol."
"But if nothing else, at least you know I won't act like Cortes, lie to you, and tell you that I'm the second coming of The Bearded Man to gain your goods, right? I'm just here to respect and admire them."
"You are very spiritual, too, I sense a kindred spirit. I am at the right place, at the right time, with the right spiritual guide :)"
Abel had also said to hold that question about SE Asian/Hindu influence for our next stop ...
(Even after they arrived - because elephants are not indigenous to Europe, either - they are only indigenous to Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.)
"This step pyramid stands about 30 metres (98 ft) high and consists of a series of nine square terraces, each approximately 2.57 metres (8.4 ft) high, with a 6-metre (20 ft) high temple upon the summit.
The sides of the pyramid are approximately 55.3 metres (181 ft) at the base and rise at an angle of 53°, although that varies slightly for each side. The four faces of the pyramid have protruding stairways that rise at an angle of 45°. The talud walls of each terrace slant at an angle of between 72° and 74°. At the base of the balustrades of the northeastern staircase are carved heads of a serpent."
In the 1930s, it was discovered than in addition to the exterior steps of the pyramid and temple room at the top, there is also an interior staircase within the pyramid that leads to an interior throne room, as well as several connecting tunnels. The interior staircase is partially lined with a glinty sort of stone that looks almost like malachite.
Upon reaching the top of the staircase, the small "throne room" inside the pyramid reveals a Chac-Mool figure, similar to the one found at the Temple of Warriors, and the crowned jewel of Chichen Itza - the Red Jaguar Throne.
A "Chac-Mool" is essentially a representation of a Mayan Warrior - closely associated with the rain god, Chac or Chaac or Choc - whose hands lay on his abdomen (at one time supporting a bowl as an offering to royalty or the gods).
Remember that the sacred animal totems of the Mayans were the jaguar, the diamondback rattlesnake and the eagle - with jaguars most associated with royalty as demi-gods - thrones reserved for royalty were then often depicted as jaguars.
Unlike Jaguar thrones elsewhere in Chichen Itza, The Red Jaguar Throne inside the pyramid temple remains preserved in original red pigment paint, with 74 jade-inlay "spots," jade crescents for eyes and white-pigment painted fangs.
Abel: "And now I will leave you to ascend the interior and exterior stairs of the temple, I will not go up myself."
Me: "Oh my God ... I'm sooooo sorry and so embarrassed of the disrespect shown by tourists. They treat it like a theme park and that they are entitled to it, having paid their money - that must be difficult for you to see."
Abel: "Well, it was the Mexican government's decision to allow refreshments to be sold here to draw tourists. What you are seeing on these steps is just left in the course of one day because we clean them every day."
Me: "Not to mention just walking on them daily contributes to their wear. I won't go up, I don't want to disrespect your culture by doing so."
Abel: "Well, once upon a time, as you know, the Spanish conquered us. First the Mayans by Francisco de Montego ...
... and then both the Mayans and Aztecs by Hernan de Cortes...
"The Mayans mistook Montejo as "The Bearded Man" (see two posts below) returning for them, as he had promised, but especially when Cortes arrived, he was lauded by both the Mayans and Aztecs as being "The Bearded Man" - and Cortes, in particular, let them believe that, to their detriment.
Both men befriended the Mayans and Aztecs, letting them believe they were gods, only to later betray them, claim their the land for their own, slaughter anyone who opposed them or would not be Christianized, subjugated the rest into slavery, and stole their gold, returning to Spain with gold and slaves in the name of Spain and Christianity."
"Believing that Mayan temples were pagan and "unChristian," Montejo and his nephew removed many stones from our temples, and in the 16th century, established the nearby town of Valladolid, building the initial cathedral of San Gervasio almost entirely from refashioned stones from the temples of Chichen Itza..."
"And in the 1600s and 1700s, British and Americans exploited us in much the same way. But then in the late 1800s, believe it or not, it was the Americans and the British who became very interested in our culture, more so than Mexicans, who were ashamed of us (and still are to this day)."
"From the late 1800s to the 1930s, Americans and British privately purchased the land and helped clear the vegetation and tried to help trace the significance of the structures, removing some of the items in study. Then the area was privately sold again to private Mexican ownership and left to decay, with the Mexican government actually trying to sue the estates of the former American and British private owners, accusing them of "theft" - but they didn't care about Chichen Itza themselves, they just wanted money. The former American and British owners and archaeologists returned the items immediately and were then found not guilty.
"So Chichen Itza was once again left to rot and decay until the 1960s, when there was a brief revival of interest by private archaeologists, but no one bothered to try to care for it even then. In 1972, the Mexican Government bought the area and has since been trying desperately to turn it in to a sort of theme park - but its care and future has been vehemently debated."
"Americans may look down upon us, in this day, but I personally don't mind anyone, of whatever nationality, who comes to truly admire my people's handiwork and are respectful of it, carefully considering that whatever they touch contributes to its degradation - it doesn't matter what nationality they are, but they do need to be the right kind of people, IMO."
"At present, there is an argument that the temple is suffering damage from so much wear and tear, so there is a strong possibility that the Temple of Kukulkan will be closed to the public in 2004, with no "walkers on" either the interior or exterior, after that time."
Me: "You mean the people we're seeing now may be some of the last to ever climb the temple?"
Abel: "At present, that seems likely, yes, but that could change with the coming of 2012 and Mayan Calendar Mystery - it's all about making money, in the end."
Me: "Abel - I'll be honest, now I'm feeling a sort of moral dilemma, here, and I don't know what to do. I want don't want to disrespect you or your culture or contribute to the degradation of the temple. But at the same time, this is what I came here to see, The Red Jaguar inside and to stand atop the temple. And I don't know if I will ever be here again. And now you're telling me I could be one of the last people to ever see it with my own eyes. Honestly, what would you do if you were me?"
Abel: "You essentially ask for my permission, thank you. You have proven yourself, to me, that you respect and revere my people and their beliefs as much as you do your own; you are considerate and want to understand - you are what I mean by being the right kind of people."
"In fact, if you have time, I would love to bring you both to my village, all Mayan, to drink and eat with us a traditional Mayan meal. Don't worry, I will translate. This is not something I invite for everyone, only select people whom I believe truly understand or want to understand our culture." (Unfortunately, we didn't as we already had other tour plans packed in that we had paid for:/)
"But to answer your question yes, if I were you, and I came all this way just to see and pay homage to the Mayans and our Mighty Jaguar, like you, I would be sure to be one of the last people to see it " :)
"Now, when you are climbing the interior stairs, be aware that there is no air about halfway up and you will feel it - but don't panic, keep moving, because there IS air at the top in the throne room. The belief is that it was intentionally built like that, no air, and then air, to give a holy feeling of relief at the top."
"The jaguar is unfortunately currently only being guarded with a simple chain-link fence, which is not as aesthetic or secure as we would like. Your visit will be brief so everyone can have a look, but be mindful of small holes in the throne room, if you can, which are not only for air but tubes for acoustics. They also exist in the tunnels that are not open to the public. It is believed the priests hid within the temple and talked through them from the inside to the outside, to give the effect to the public that holy voices were coming from the temple to persuade the people. Yes, even we Mayans had our religious fraudsters to promote more giving of gold to the church ;)"
(It was a brief visit with so many people, so didn't see these tubes when I was there, but I trust him that they were there.)
"And on the exterior of the pyramid, at the top, the temple is designed so that one could give an oration from the top of the exterior of the pyramid so that all of Chichen Itza could hear your speech (without a microphone)"
"Now, Voya con Dios, Go with God - Go climb our temple that you traveled all this way to see, inside to see our Mighty Jaguar, then the oration altar at the top!":)
I gave him a quick hug and said:
Me: "Thank you, Abel, for your blessing and this honor. I will climb this temple, and when I'm at the top, I will say a prayer of repentance to my God and ask him to forgive our ancestors for shedding so much blood, subjugating the natives into slavery, and destroying others' temples to build our own, all done in Christ's name...
"Forgive them father, for they know not what they did" - and I will ask him to bless you and the Mayan descendants. And in return for your blessing, though I am a Christian, I promise to never set foot inside St. Gervasio (the Cathedral in Valladolid built from the stones of Chichen Itza), out of respect and remembrance for the Mayan people."
And I will keep my promise to Abel that on my next visit - I will never set foot in St. Gervasio, I don't care how beautiful it is.
And again, same picture as the first, just a full view - this is me on the left in 2002, having just descended the exterior stairs from the top of The Temple of Kukulkan, after receiving Abel's blessing and my prayer for forgiveness at the top - both hands raised in pure joy :)
I know this sounds strange, but there was a dizzying sensation that I felt twice at Chichen Itza - once at the top of that temple and standing on the edge of the Sacred Cenote - especially near the cenote. In fact, all around the cenote, just walking around - like a eery-but-peaceful stillness, I can't really explain it.
I attribute this sensation to the dimensions and placement of buildings that were created specifically for sensation effect by the Mayans - it felt much like walking into an ancient cathedral and looking up.
You can also swim with the dolphins in a nearby lagoon, which I did on my last trip because it was a longtime dream of mine - but I ended up feeling badly, and sorry for them, they seemed a bit angry with the trainer and clearly wanted to be free :(
My dolphin's name in 2002 was "Pax" (pronounced Pasch in Spanish, which means "peace":)