Mayan Religion

The Mayans, like other cultures of Mesoamerica, followed a polytheistic religion where a wide range of gods and goddesses were worshipped. Some of these gods had more power than the others. Each god and goddess was associated with a certain aspect of nature.

For instance, there was the sun god and the god of maize and so on. Different kinds of rituals were offered for these gods, including the ritual of human sacrifice. A lot of elements of the Mayan religion were inspired from previous Mesoamerican civilisations and in turn had an influence on the subsequent civilisations such as those of the Aztecs.

Mayan Ceremonies

Mayan Ceremonies

Mayan Civilisation thrived in the Mesoamerican region for thousands of years after which it collapsed and declined Read more about the Mayan Ceremonies >>

Mayan Priests

Mayan Priest Smoking

Mayan priests were a very important part of the Mayan society where religion played a major role Read more about the Mayan Priests >>

Mayan Rituals

Maya Rituals

Mayans performed many different rituals as part of their belief system including human sacrifice Read more about the Mayan Rituals >>

Mayan Sacrifice

Maya Sacrifice

Ritual sacrifice was central to Mayan religion and included various offering such as food, blood-letting, and human sacrifice Read more about the Mayan Sacrifice >>

History of Mayan Religion

Mayan religion was formed during the pre-classic period of Mayan civilisations since it was during this period that the foundations of the civilisation were laid down. A lot of mural paintings and petro-graphical texts giving information about the Mayan religion have been found from the late pre-classic and the classic eras. Besides, there are also various hieroglyphic books dating from the post-classic period. At different stages of the civilisation, certain aspects of religion were added or removed but most of the core beliefs remained the same.

Mayan Religious Structures

The structure of the Mayan religion, just like Mayan society, was hierarchical with priests acting as mediators between the gods and the ordinary people. It was the priests who performed important rituals, including that of human sacrifice, during the religious festivals and ceremonies. The king also enjoyed supreme position in this structure since he was considered the descendant of gods. Noblemen could also become priests since certain hieroglyphic titles of noblemen could also be interpreted as priestly ones.

Mayan Religious Beliefs

Mayan religion had more than 150 gods in their pantheon and a diverse range of beliefs were attached with each one of them. The gods were just like humans in that they were born, grew, and died. According to Mayan beliefs, humans after death went to underworld except those who died in childbirth or sacrifice. Astronomy was a very important part of Mayan beliefs and most of their grand pyramids and temples have been aligned to the movement of celestial objects. Sacrifice was important for gods and included various kinds of offering such as food, material possessions, bloodletting and of course, human sacrifice.

Religious Customs and Rituals

A diverse range of rituals, customs, and beliefs were included in Mayan religion. For instance, Mayans believed that the world was created and destroyed in a cyclical manner and at the end of each cycle gods destroyed the world to create it anew. The Mayan Long Count calendar was used to keep track of days in each cycle. They believed that each individual existent had various souls which could appear in different forms. It was an important religious custom to build the temples at the top of the pyramids. Some pyramids, however, did not have temples at the top and were not meant to be touched. These pyramids were considered sacred.

Religious Art, Codices and Symbols

A lot of representations and writings about Mayan religion can be found in the codices and the artistic representations of the Mayans. For instance, petro-graphical texts and mural paintings from the late pre-classic and classic eras provide information about the Mayan religion. Various codices also exist from the classic and post-classic era. For example, the Dresden Codex details various ritual rites of the Mayans. The same codex also provides insight into Mayan astrology such as various eclipse tables and their religious significance. Information about Mayan cosmology is also found in the famous Borgia Codex.

Mayan Gods

One of the most important Mayan gods was called Chac who in Mayan mythology was the god of rain and thunder. Often he was also considered the god of fertility and agriculture. Artistic representations of Chac sometimes show him as a single being while at other times, he is represented as four distinct personalities based on four cardinal directions. The Mayan god of sun was known as Kinich Ahau or Ahaw Kin. He was also the patron god of the Mayan city of Itzamal. His artistic representations show him with jaguar-like features. Other noteworthy Mayan gods include the Maize god known as Yumil Kaxob, death god know as Yum Cimil, the suicide goddess known as Ixtab, god of the woods known as Yum Kaax, and others.

The Mayan Underworld

The concept of underworld was important in Mayan religion, just like religious of other Mesoamerican civilisations. According to Mayan beliefs, every human who died went to the underworld which has several layers. The underworld was called Xibalba and was ruled by several death gods and their helpers. These were the twelve gods or rulers known as Lords of Xibalba. Two of the most important of these death gods are Hun-Came meaning “One Death” and Vucub-Came meaning “Seven Death”.

Religious Buildings (Pyramids & Temples)

Pyramids and temples had central importance in Mayan religion. The Mayan made two kinds of pyramids. One type was with flat tops where temples were constructed. These were the grand pyramids at the top of which religious rituals were performed, including human sacrifice. The other kind of pyramids did not have flat tops and were considered sacred. These pyramids were not supposed to be touched. Special attention was paid to the astronomical significance of the alignment of temples and pyramids.

Mayan Sacrifice

Different kinds of sacrifice were prevalent in the Mayan religion and a variety of things were offered to gods including food and material possessions. For royalty, bloodletting was an important part of sacrifice since their blood was considered sacred. In other circumstances, most the sacrifice consisted of different animals such as dog, deer, and turkey etc. However, on exceptional circumstances such as a royal burial, accession of new ruler, and drought etc. human sacrifice was also offered.

Mayan Religion Summary

Mayan religion was a set of polytheistic beliefs and more than 150 gods and goddesses were worshipped in the Mayan pantheon. The religion had various elements inspired from other Mesoamerican civilisations. Every god in Mayan religion had human-like powers and lives. Mayans believed that humans were sent to the underworld after death and only those who died in childbirth or sacrifice survived the fate. Grand pyramids and temples were erected for religious rituals and festivals.