Records of Mayan civilization and history show that Yohl Ik’nal was one of a very small number of Mayan women who carried a full royal title and ruled in her own right. She acceded to the throne of Palenque (Lakam Ha) in 583 CE and reigned for a full term of twenty-one years. Archeologists believe that she was probably the daughter of the previous ruler Kan Bahlam I, who died without leaving a male heir. The Maya were initially thought to prefer patrilineal descent, but later research showed that their rulership system is complex with regional variations. For example, at Tonina rulership was not hereditary and rulers were elected from within elite nobles of the city. Mayan kings often had long lives and produced several children, whose descendants were of royal blood and frequently contended for rulership. There is clear evidence that women passed the right to rule to their husbands and sons at several sites, including Palenque, Tikal and Naranjo.
My novel The Visionary Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque is based on extensive research of Mayan history and culture. I was inspired to portray her as a visionary Mayan queen by Gerardo Aldana’s comment in his book The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal: “Her rule must have been impressive, for it withstood attacks from two Usumacinta-region neighbors . . allowing her to remain in power for longer than her contemporaries in the region.” She certainly was a remarkable woman, the first Mayan queen ruling in her own right a full term, preserving the Bahlam dynasty of her father. This image of Yohl Ik’nal was carved on the sarcophagus lid of Janaab Pakal in the Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque.
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How might she have attained the throne, withstood two attacks, retained her power and continued the dynasty? In my story, she does this through her exceptional visionary abilities. She developed visionary powers in early childhood, including shamanic journeying and prophecies, and strengthened these throughout her life. Mayan rituals are well documented, and we know from numerous inscriptions that rulers went into altered states of consciousness to invoke the “Vision Serpent.” They used self-inflicted blood letting and hallucinatory substances to enter trance states, in which they envisioned deities and ancestors emerging from the Vision Serpent’s mouth. The picture below depicts a Mayan queen, Lady Xoc of Yaxchilan, having a vision of an ancestor emerging from the serpent’s mouth to bring her a prophetic message.
Few Mayan books propel readers into the living world of the ancient Mayans. This historically based novel brings Yohl Ik’nal and her people authentically to life in extravagant court ceremonies, exotic rituals in Mayan temples, political maneuvering, battles and revenge, and intimate personal relationships. Enter this world and discover how the Visionary Mayan Queen fulfilled her destiny.