When the Portal to the Gods Collapsed
A disastrous event happened to Palenque (Lakam Ha) on the Long Count Calendar date 22.214.171.124.14, 4 Ix 7 Uo (April 4,611 CE). The city was invaded by forces of Kalakmul and Bonampak in a surprise attack. Although these same forces had staged a raid in 599 CE and possibly another skirmish in 603 CE, Palenque was able to repel these raids. Something was different in 611, for the enemies penetrated into the heart of Palenque and destroyed its most sacred shrine. Many other buildings were defaced and damaged, pillars and wall panels torn down, and monuments to the Gods and rulers shattered.
The most devastating blow to Palenque was the desecration of the Sak Nuk Nah – White Skin House, their most sacred shrine. This structure had been used for generations as a portal to commune with Gods and ancestors. Palenque rulers since the beginning of the dynasty performed rituals of blood-letting and gift bundles in the shrine. Here they dripped their holy blood as K’uhul B’aakal Ahau onto bark paper, which was set afire in bowls with copal incense. From the smoke that coiled up, a Vision Serpent arose and from its mouth an ancestor or God/Goddess emerged to communicate with the ruler. Information was provided about crops and weather in the coming Katun (20 tun period, about 19 years). Advice was given for relations with other cities and leaders, or decisions facing the ruler. Prophesy was proffered for a period of abundance, stability
or difficulty so the ruler and elite nobles could prepare the people. Through rituals in the Sak Nuk Nah, rulers kept their covenant with the Gods and mediated to benefit their people.
In 611 CE, Palenque lost its portal to the Gods. Using powerful dark shamanic magic, Kalakmul destroyed the portal by causing it to collapse. The plaintive words recorded on a panel in the Temple of the Inscriptions, burial pyramid of Janaab Pakal, eloquently express this devastation:
“On the back of the ninth katun, God was lost; Ahau was lost. She could not adorn the Gods of the First Sky; she could not give offerings . . . On the back of the 3 Ahau Katun, Ix Muwaan Mat could not give their offerings.” – Temple of the Inscriptions Panel, circa 684 CE
Janaab Pakal became the greatest ruler of Palenque, bringing a renaissance of creativity in arts and architecture that produced the most beautiful of ancient Mayan cities. He was just a boy of eight years when the portal was destroyed, and it certainly affected him deeply. In hieroglyphic inscriptions he later placed in the Palace and royal temples, the attack was recorded as chak’ah Lakam Ha, the “chopping down of the city center.” The Mayan word chak’ah or chak’aj is also read as “axing” indicating attackers use a battle axe to chop, destroy and damage. Pakal’s primary mission from childhood was to restore the portal, to rebuild the sacred connection to Gods and ancestors so he and later rulers could fulfill their obligations properly.
This profound historical event that molded young Pakal is the central focus of my second Mayan queens book. Pakal’s mother was Sak K’uk, the controversial second woman ruler of Lakam Ha. Controversy still reigns among Mayanists, who disagree about her actual rulership status. Some contend she never acceded to the throne, and the ruler was Muwaan Mat who might have been a man or a woman. Others say Sak K’uk and Muwaan Mat are the same person. The most elegant interpretation comes from Gerardo Aldana, who concludes that when the portal was in collapse no mortal could do proper homage to the Gods, so the Primordial Mother Goddess Muwaan Mat was designated to fulfill those obligations in the Upperworld. Aldana does not think Sak K’uk was formally a ruler, although she may have acted as the Goddess’ intermediary in the Middleworld of earth. My book takes this viewpoint, going a bit farther by portraying Sak K’uk as the stand-in ruler who embodied the Goddess. She ruled for three years until Pakal reached age 12 and could be designated as ruler. Beyond doubt she continued to act as regent for some years, and to consult with her son during much of his reign.
The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque now ranks in the Amazon Kindle eBook Top 100. It reached #1 in Free Historical Fiction and Free Romance/Historical Fiction/Ancient Worlds. Discover how mother and son teamed up to restore their city, forging a special bond in the process that proved both a blessing and a curse.
Resources for this Post:
Gerardo Aldana: The Apotheosis of Janaab’Pakal, University Press of Colorado, 2007.
David Stuart & George Stuart: Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya, Thames & Hudson, Ltd., London, 2008.