M is for Mesoamerica

Like the Ancient Egyptians, ancient civilisations in Mesoamerica have left a lasting legacy. The Aztecs, Toltecs and Chichimecs had various creation myths, one of which described four ages that each ended in catastrophe, before our present world was created in the city of Teotihuacan through the self-sacrifice of the gods. The Mayans too had their own – similar – beliefs and were equally advanced – their complex calendar, for example, was far more accurate than our own and was used to forecast not just the best time to harvest but also major events. The beginning of a Great Cycle has throughout the history of the Mayan people forecast events of major significance and great upheaval – Egyptian civilisation, the life of Krishna, and the building of Stonehenge all began at the start of a Great Cycle. It has also been suggested that the Fall, prominent in Genesis and in various forms within other creation stories, occurred at the onset of a Great Cycle. The most recent Great Cycle came to an end on the 21st December 2012 and people world over waited in anticipation, believing this would be the day of judgement.

The Aztecs, Chichimecs and Toltects all believed that heaven consisted of 13 levels ruled by the dual Lord Ometeotl (Ometecuhtli as male and Omecihuatl as female, whose union created all other gods and goddesses), and 9 levels of the underworld. These levels are circular rather than horizontal planes, described as wheels within wheels, with the earth lying in between. The heavens and underworld are not the equivalent of a Christian heaven and hell however but levels of existence each with a specific purpose. The highest levels where the gods dwell are purely spiritual, followed by the black void of space, and the stars and planets. Within the underwworld, each level comes closer to Mictlan, the Place of the Dead.

The wheel view illustrates how the gods, the spiritual world and the physical world can interact and influence each other. But they did not believe in good or evil, only light and dark. Evil was a concept thrust upon them by the Spanish. It seems to me that the heavens take on the definition often portrayed in linguistics, referring specifically to the skies and the cosmos (and the realms of the gods), and as in many ancient mythologies (e.g. Greek, Egyptian) the dead embark on a treacherous journey to the underworld.

The Mayans likewise conceive 13 levels of heaven and 9 of the underworld, and further illustrate the wheel-like image, connecting it specifically to the Mayan calendar. Like each Great Cycle has brought forth great change, as each Baktun (of which there are 13, each a level of heaven, that make up the Great Cycle) has passed so too has something of significance. For example, 5th Heaven (or Baktun) brought Moses and with him a new understanding of God, 7th Heaven Isaiah was called on a a prophet, and 9th Heaven brough the death of Jesus and all that was to follow. Each odd Baktun is also linked with a development in writing. Check out http://www.witzmountain.com/2012_Heavens.html for a really interesting read.

This is all, to me, ridiculously fascinating and I could research and write endlessly on this subject, but what did the Mayans believe happens when they die and what was the afterlife like? Similar to other beliefs, the afterlife consists of a dangerous journey of the soul to the underworld. The journey to paradise ‘Tamoanchan’ begins in Xibalba, the place of fear from where the Tree of Life grows up through all 9 levels of the underworld until it blossoms in the 13th level of heaven. Because of this wheel-like structure and the cyclicity of life, heaven is actually a physical place back on the earth.

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