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Mayan Culture

The traditional Mayan religion is based on the worship of nature gods and ancestors, but the specific rites and rituals vary from place to place. The most famous holy book of the Maya is the Popul Vuh. A jumble of creation myths, legends, and history of the K’iche people, it is an absolutely brilliant book and rivals the Bible for poetic language, epic stories and gratuitous violence.

Parts of it are so dark and twisted it is hard not to suspect that they must have been written on a bad mushroom trip, and feature characters with names that sound like they should belong to an amateur death metal band such as Blood Gatherer, Scab Stripper and Demon of Pus.

By now almost all the Mayans have converted to Catholicism but even they have managed to concoct their own pleasingly bizarre version of it, retaining the flavour of the ancient beliefs. Hence the worship of some rather odd “saints”, such as the lascivious cigar-smoking drunkard known as Maximon. A Mayan god of the underworld poorly disguised as a Christian saint, Maximon brings rain and fertility, looks after drunk people, and is worshipped with offerings of booze, cigarettes and Coca-Cola.

Almost every conversation about the Maya leads to astrology sooner or later. The Mayan calendar, once you get past the absolute basics, is so complicated that you wonder how anybody planned anything at all. It’s actually a collection of several calendars of different time frames that turn in conjunction like a series of cogs. The Haab’ and the Tzolk’in are the two main ones, of 365 days and 260 days respectively, which “join up” every 52 years. Then there’s the long count and the Venus cycle and something to do with the moon… but at this point most people with an attention span of less than 734816 hours give up.

The most famous claim about the Mayan calendar is that it predicts that the world will end on 21st December 2012. Actually, most experts say that this date is just the end of one of the longer cycles and doesn’t herald any kind of catastrophe at all, but that’s much less dramatic and would make a shit movie. You can also use the Mayan calendar to work out your firma galactica, which is not something out of Star Trek but a kind of Mayan horoscope.

Cat Rainsford