leonidemartinblog

Home » Posts tagged 'Classic Maya'

Tag Archives: Classic Maya

Advertisements

What’s In A Name?

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

In Shakespeare’s play about the eternal love story Romeo and Juliet she asks:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet was referring to their last names, for she was a Capulet and Romeo was a Montague, two feuding families of medieval Verona. As we know, things did not end well for the star-crossed lovers. It appears there is more to a name than Juliet imagined.

Names are important when writing historical fiction. They conjure personalities, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, traits and inclinations. Can you imagine King Melvin of the Round Table instead of King Arthur? Mildred instead of Joan of Arc? Consider how much mystery would be lost if we mourned over the travails of Sam and Sally rather than Heloise and Abelard.

In historical fiction, names convey a sense of time and place. Names are part of creating the “imagined world” in which the story takes place. When the characters’ names are discordant with the period and culture, it creates a jarring dissonance for readers. How characters are named adds to mood and theme, as well as signaling qualities that shape their personalities.

That said, what if you’re writing about a culture and time that is far removed from the experience of most Western-educated people? How do names then figure into the construction of world and characters? Herein lies a difficulty for writers of ancient worlds fiction, set in cultures that are vastly different than those of historic Europe. Consider the complexity of names from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, Polynesia, and my area:  the ancient Mayas of Mesoamerica.

Picture of hanging gardens of Babylon

Babylon in Mesopotamia

 

 

Picture of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque in Mesoamerica
National Geographic

Names in ancient languages vs names translated into English.

My approach to naming characters has been to use actual ancient Mayan names as phonetically spelled by researchers and epigraphers. Since conventions for these spellings have changed over the years, I had to choose which to use and selected those that seemed friendliest to English-speakers. Not all writers of ancient Mayan historical fiction do this; several use English translations of Mayan names, or a combination of translated and phonetically spelled names. I feel it’s important to use historic characters’ actual names phonetically spelled in Arabic letters. This preserves the cadence and qualities of ancient Mayan speech and helps create the feeling tone of their “imagined world.” To me, saying their names creates a vibration that resonates with their personality and attitudes. If I used English translations of their names, an essential quality would be lost, a sense of different place and culture that puts the reader into the aura of ancient Mayan civilization.

For example, these are the actual Mayan names of the four queens in my “Mists of Palenque” series, with the English translations. The Mayan names are pronounced using romance language vowel sounds: a = ah, e = eh, i = ee, o = oh, u = ooh.

Mayan name                           English translation

Yohl Ik’nal                               Her Heart/Center of North Wind

Sak K’uk                                   White Resplendent Quetzal

Tz’aakb’u Ahau                       Accumulator/Producer of Lords

K’inuuw Mat                           Sun-Possessed Cormorant

To me, a great deal is lost when these Mayan names are not used. I’ve read other books where the Maya characters have names such as Jeweled Skirt, Red Flint, Snake Jaguar, Tree Orchid, Iguana Wind, and Big Deer. These are easier for English-speakers to remember and pronounce, but lack cultural ambiance that sets mood and tone.

What’s In a Name is a Great Deal.

To disagree with Juliet, I believe names matter a lot in stories. My choice to use Mayan names for characters and places has led to bad reviews by some readers, who give low ratings with complaints that they couldn’t get past the difficult names. I wonder if they feel the same way about fiction set in ancient Egypt or Biblical times, with long and complex names but more familiar to

Picture of Toltec king on throne

Toltec City in Mesoamerica
Iztaccaltzin on Throne

European-based cultures. Moving beyond one’s comfort zone is essential to appreciate cultures that are very different from your own. Indigenous Mesoamerican cultures have some of the most complex names I’ve found, yet are rich in history and accomplishments. Recently I read a book about the pre-Aztec cultures around Lake Meztliapan, the Toltecs and Chichimecs. Many actual names were used—Ihuitimal, Eloxochitl, Topiltzin, Citlallotoc, Tlazolteotl—and I preferred these to translated names that were also used, such as Black Otter, Spear Fish, and Jade Flower.

 

One Concession to Difficult Names.

Of the four queens in my series, the third has the most difficult name:  Tz’aakb’u Ahau. This name does not roll easily off the tongue. To make reading (and writing) go more smoothly, I gave this queen the childhood name Lalak. There was no information about what her actual childhood name might have been, for she only appears in hieroglyphs after being granted her royal name. Since the love story between her and the ruler of Palenque is a dominant theme in the book, I found nice parallelism in the pairing of their names:  Lalak and Pakal—eternal Mayan lovers but with a happier ending than Romeo and Juliet.

 

Newly released print version–March 1, 2018!

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque

The Mayan Red Queen

 

Join me for book release events:

March 8, 7-8 pm         Another Read Through in Portland, OR

March 23, 7-8 pm       The Book Bin in Salem, OR

April 7, 4-6 pm           Silverton Grange in Silverton, OR

Photo of Leonide Martin at El Mirador, Guatemala

Leonide Martin at El Mirador, Guatemala

Advertisements

Mayan Queens Kept Worlds in Balance

Mayan Queen

Mayan Queen Holding Effigies of Two Deities

Mayan Queens and Kings were Shaman-Rulers charged to Maintain Balance between the Three Worlds of the Maya Cosmos.

Mayan Queens were powerful leaders in ancient Maya culture. Women rulers are well-documented during the mid to late Classic Period, 300-900 CE. Called K’uhul Ixik, Holy Lady in classic Mayan language, their role included entering shamanic states to access spirit domains and drawn upon the powers of deities and ancestors. The rituals rulers performed, and the sacred architecture of pyramids and temples in which rituals took place, were symbols of creation in the cosmos.

 

Pyramid-Temples

Temple of Inscriptions – Temple XIII – Temple of Skull (c.700)

 

 

“They are all instruments for accessing spiritual power from the creative act . . . they are signposts on the Maya road to reality stretching across the landscape of history.”  ̶  Maya Cosmos

 

 

 

 

 

Mayan queens and kings did rituals of sacrifice and sympathetic magic.

Accessing powers of Otherworld Gods and Ancestors was not easily achieved. Mayan queens or kings had to make appropriate offerings and know how to call the deities’ names properly. The most common sacrifice was self-bloodletting, because blood was ultimately sacred as itz, sticky fluid that was ch’ulul, the life force energy, life-essence and creative substance. The shaman-ruler let blood from tongue, earlobes or genitals to concentrate and channel this life force from the Otherworld.

“In a sense, the shamans were like modern engineers. But instead of nuclear power plants and electrical grids they used pyramids and Vision Serpent portals. Instead of electron flows they used itz. The spilling of blood, like the throwing of a giant breaker switch, brought life giving energy pouring into the universe from the underlying force fields of the Otherworld.”  ̶  The Shaman’s Secret

Maya shamans

Mayan Shaman-Priests

 

Rituals for accessing spiritual powers propelled the shaman-ruler into altered states of consciousness, both by the act of self-bloodletting and use of mind-altering substances. The objective was to receive a tangible vision and an overwhelming experience of the deities; essentially a state of Divine Union or Communion. It is sympathetic magic through conjuring Divine beings, often intentional calling of a certain deity. Since all things mirror each other, in Mayan cosmology, when rituals re-enacted events from Creation Mythology, or conjured a warrior ancestor to guide a king through battle, these supernatural events were reactivated and manifested on earth.

 

Lady Kab’al Xoc Conjures an Ancestor Warrior

Lady Kab’al Xoc, first wife of Itzamnaaj Bahlam of Yaxchilan, was a famous Mayan queen. She is shown on carved lintels doing a bloodletting ritual, drawing a rope embedded with thorns through her tongue. As her blood fell on bark paper in a censer, it was set on fire and the rising smoke turned into the Vision Serpent. An ancestor warrior emerges from the snake’s open jaws, brandishing a shield and spear with Teotihuacan imagery (Tlaloc face mask, mosaic war helmet, double pointed spear). The ancestor brought important messages to guide the king during the upcoming battle.

Mayan Queen Sacrifice

Lady Kab’al Xoc Performing Self-Bloodletting

 

 

Mayan Queen Vision

Lady Kab’al Xoc Invoking Warrior Ancestor

Equinox Rituals Brought the Worlds Into Balance

An important responsibility of Mayan queens and kings was to perform rituals at key times according to their calendars. The Mayas had numerous calendars and many rituals were needed. Solar calendar events were especially potent: equinoxes, solstices, zenith, and eclipses. Each mid-fall and mid-spring, the sun reaches a point in its ecliptic when day and night come into balance. The concept of balance was critical to the Mayas; rulers were charged to keep the three worlds—Underworld, Middleworld, and Upperworld—in harmonious relationship. Only when the needs of deities of each realm were satisfied, and communion with deities was performed correctly, would humans enjoy lives of peace and abundance on earth.

Mayan solar priests, K’inob, used techniques to track the sun’s movement and predict accurately when the day of perfect balance arrived.  On the equinoxes, rulers would undertake the prescribed rituals, making offerings to the Gods of the calendar periods and drawing their blessings into the world. Rulers conjured the Vision Serpent and sought prophesy for the coming calendar period.

There were dire consequences if balance was not maintained between the worlds. When balance was lost, the natural world was in danger. If this world, the Middleworld of earth , remained out of balance with the other two worlds long enough, it could bring destruction to a city, a region, or perhaps the entire Maya lands. Many experts believe that losing balance in the natural world is what led to the collapse of Maya civilization. The “Maya Collapse” is a complex phenomenon, not readily explained by any single factor, following different courses and timelines in various parts of the Maya lands. Beyond doubt environmental changes played a major role.

 

El Mirador

El Mirador in Guatemala
300 BCE – 150 CE

El Mirador Out of Balance

The collapse of El Mirador is reasonably well explained. It was a thriving Pre-Classic city of about 100,000, surrounded by satellite cities in northern Guatemala that flourished between 300 BCE and 150 CE. Perhaps the largest Maya city, its main pyramid sat on plazas covering 45 acres, on a platform 980×2000 feet, rising 230 feet tall. Toward the end of its occupation, extravagant building programs using inordinate amounts of plaster were carried out; some of the thickest plaster coatings ever found. To create lime plaster and cement, the Mayas burned massive amounts of wood, causing deforestation in surrounding areas. The swampy regions that supplied water and rich mud for agriculture were destroyed by clay runoff from damaged forest floors. With no close-by rivers, and perhaps a time of relative drought, the once great city faced declining water, food, and wood for fire. Between 100-200 CE, El Mirador and other cities of Mirador Basin were abandoned. Archeologist Richard Hanson, prime investigator of El Mirador, says the underlying reason for its decline was a loss of balance with the natural environment. The rulers and elite became immersed in “conspicuous consumption” through over-building using excessive resources, trying to sustain an image of wealth and progress. This lack of foresight and judgment—an imbalance between the worlds—led to the collapse of civilization in the region.

Mayan queens and kings were successful at keeping the worlds in balance for over a millennium. Thousands of large cities thrived in a difficult tropical jungle climate. The Mayas learned to adapt agriculture and conserve natural resources, and created the most brilliant, artistically and technologically advanced civilization in the Americas. While they upheld their expansive cosmology and properly honored the Gods and Ancestors, their culture succeeded. They lived an ongoing re-creation of their worlds by mutual Divine-human interaction; in essence, shaman-rulers became “mothers” of the Gods even as the Gods gave birth to humanity and the worlds.

Around 900-1000 CE that creative partnership dissolved. Not only environmental factors, but an internal spiritual dissonance led to abandonment of Maya cities. The Holy Lords and Ladies lost ability to fulfill their mandate, the deities were no longer satisfied, and the common people left for better livelihoods elsewhere. But this is yet another story.

 

Read about how Mayan queens kept worlds in balance in my book series about Mayan Queens in the ruling lineage of Palenque.

Click Links Below:

Mayan Queens Books

Mists of Palenque
Series About Mayan Queens

 

The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque

 

 

 

Resources

Chip Brown. El Mirador, the Lost City of the Maya. Smithsonian Magazine, May 2011.

John Clark and Richard Hansen.  The Architecture of Early Kingship. In Royal Courts of the Ancient Maya, Vol. 2 (Eds. Takeshi Inomata and Stephen Houston. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 2001.

David Freidel, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker.  Maya Cosmos. Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path. William Morrow and Co., New York, 1995.

Douglas Gillette.  The Shaman’s Secret. Bantam Books, New York, 1997.

 

Solar Eclipse–Potent Time for the Mayas

Solar Eclipse Was a Potent Time for the Mayas.

The ancient Mayas were the most advanced astronomers of their time. They calculated the solar year, lunar cycles, periodicity of the planets, solstices and equinoxes with amazing accuracy. They were able to readily predict lunar eclipses, and had calculated a pattern of dates for solar eclipses, including predicting the solar eclipse of 1991. (Bricker & Bricker)

Solar eclipses were known as chi’ ibal kin to ancient Mayas, translated as “to eat the sun.”

Glyph for Solar Eclipse – Serpent Eating the Sun

Dresden Codex
Solar Eclipse Tables with Serpent Eating the Sun

This phenomenon was depicted in the Dresden Codex as a serpent with huge open jaws about to devour the solar eclipse glyph. Although modern experts believe eclipses were a cause of distress for ancient peoples, terrifying because they did not understand the science behind such phenomena, this was not true for the Mayas. With their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, the Mayas understood the movements of celestial bodies and how the moon moving between the sun and earth caused a brief blacking out of sunlight. To the Mayas, this held profound symbolic meaning, signaling a major shift of cosmic influences upon earth. Such potent occasions were prime time for ceremonies and invoking celestial powers into human actions.

In the story of K’inich Janaab Pakal, most famous Maya ruler who reigned in Palenque from 615-683 CE, the power of a solar eclipse was used to increase potency of a most important ritual. His prophesied mission was to restore the spiritual charter of his city, and resurrect the Jeweled Sky Tree that formed a portal to communicate with the Gods and ancestors. This version of a World Tree, called Wakah Chan Te by the Mayas, had its roots in the Underworld, its trunk rose through the Middleworld of earth, and its

Wakah Chan Te
Jeweled Sky Tree from Cross Group, Palenque

branches soared into the Upperworld of the cosmos. In Palenque, Pakal built a new temple in which to raise the Jeweled Sky Tree, since the original shrine was destroyed and desecrated in an enemy attack by Kalakmul during his childhood.

 

Although the history of Palenque’s defeat by Kalakmul is well known (Stuart & Stuart), and Pakal’s mandate to restore the damaged portal to the Upperworld has been described (Aldana), the actual process of resurrecting the Tree is a mystery. My task as an author of historical fiction was to use informed imagination to envision this process. This I did through the character of Pakal’s wife, Tz’aakb’u Ahau (Lalak in my story, called The Red Queen), whose training in sexual alchemy brought the immense power of life creation to join with Pakal in “conceiving and birthing” a new Wakah Chan Te. (Martin) To further enhance the potency of this event, the ceremony was enacted during a solar eclipse.

Historical records show there was a solar eclipse that crossed over Guatemala and southern Chiapas on February 2, 650 CE. Palenque, located in Chiapas, would have experienced at least partial solar eclipse between 1:00-4:00 pm that day, which worked perfectly for the ceremony done by Pakal and Lalak and resulted in the climactic moment of their story.

Read the historical fiction story of Pakal, his wife Lalak–The Red Queen, and the solar eclipse ritual to resurrect the Wakah Chan Te:

 

The Mayan Red Queen:  Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque  

 

 

 

Mayan Priests Gathering at Chichen Itza Observatory

How the Mayas predicted solar eclipses.

Predicting lunar and solar eclipses is more complex than determining sunrise, sunset, solstice, and equinox. Movements of the earth, the sun, and the moon all must be taken in to account because this involves correlating the synodic lunations with the solar calendar. Because the orbital plane of the moon is inclined by 5 degrees to the plane of earth’s orbit, eclipses do not happen at every full and new moon. Rather, they take place only when the moon enters the ecliptic plane at the same time that it is in correct position between the sun and earth.

Maya astronomer priests were able to determine the nodes when the paths of moon and sun cross, which occurs every 173.31 days. In this time period, eclipses may occur within 18 days of the node. Most would result in lunar eclipses; the Dresden Codex contains eclipse tables made of columns and rows based on the numbers 177 (6 lunations), and 148 (5 lunations). The Codex is a

Dresden Codex
Eclipse Tables

folding bark-paper book with pages coated in thin stucco, with glyphs painted in red and black and many symbolic figures. There are tables containing predictions of the phases of Venus over a 104-year interval, and predictions of lunar phases for 33 years. The Mayas used these to calculate solar eclipses.

The average interval between solar eclipses is 153.79 days. They had calculated a synodic lunar period as 29.533 days (modern value 29.530 days). Since the Mayas did not use decimals, they varied between 28 and 29 days for lunations. A grid of dates in the Codex linked Venus phenomena with lunar nodes to predict solar eclipses. Using the derived multipliers they were able to determine solar eclipse intervals that varied by +7 and +8 days. Combining an inferior conjunction of Venus with the predicted solar eclipse gave better accuracy.

The Dresden Codex is one of only four Mayan manuscripts that escaped destruction by the Spaniards when they invaded Mexico in the 16th century. The surviving codices are 11-12th century copies of older Mayan books. When researchers recently compared dates of Mayan calendars with our current one, then used modern data on planetary orbits and cycles, they found the Maya’s data was surprisingly accurate. The Maya astronomical calendar correctly predicted a solar eclipse to within one day in 1991, centuries after Classic ancient Mayan civilization ended. (Bricker & Bricker)

Mural of Maya Astronomy
Mexicolore

 

Solar Eclipse

 

Had the Classic Mayan civilization continued, undoubtedly they would have predicted our current eclipse occurring on August 21, 2017.

 

 

 

 

More about Leonide Martin’s Mayan Queen books: www.mistsofpalenque.com

References

Aldana, Gerardo.  The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal. University of Colorado Press, 2007.

Bricker, Harvey & Bricker, Victoria.  Astronomy in the Maya Codices. American Philosophical Society, 2011.

Martin, Leonide.  The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque. Made for Success Pub., 2015.

Stuart, David & Stuart, George.  Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya. Thames & Hudson, 2008.

 

 

 

Poetry of Creation Myth Recited by Yohl Ik’nal

Palenque’s Creation Myth Recited by Yohl Ik’nal.

 

Yohl Ik’nal
Side of Pakal’s Sarcophagus

 

In her transformation to adulthood ceremony, Yohl Ik’nal recited the creation myth of B’aakal, her people and land. She correctly recited from memory, and was acknowledged as “bearer of the sacred royal blood” by the ruler of Lakam Ha. She became the first woman ruler of Palenque, ruling successfully for 22 years.

From The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque. Book 1, Mists of Palenque Series.

 

 

Glyph of Muwaan Mat

“It was before the Fourth Creation, in times long ago

Ix Muwaan Mat was born.

Of her birth it is said, she entered the sky

On the Day of Lord (Ahau), Month of Conjuring (Tzek),

For she was to bring the new creation.

Seven tuns after her birth came the new Creation,

When all counts of the long calendar returned to zero.

The Gods of the sky, of the earth, of the underworld

Knew what they must do.

They did three stone-bindings in the sky:

The Jaguar Throne Stone at the 5 Sky House;

The Water Lily Throne Stone at the Heart of the Sky;

The Serpent Throne Stone at the 13 Sky Earth-Cave.

These three stones formed the First Hearth Place,

Patterned the stars so homes on earth would have hearthstones.

(more…)

Palenque Creation Myth: Lady Cormorant and the Birth of the Triad

Cormorant Goddess from Dresden Codex

The ancient Maya city Palenque (Lakam Ha) had a unique creation myth that linked the origins of their ruling dynasty to primordial goddesses and gods.

All the Maya regions in southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras shared a common creation myth about the Hero Twins and how they outsmarted the Death Lords of Xibalba and resurrected their father, securing life on earth for their people. This legend is recorded in the Popol Vuh, an 18th century copy of the original codex rendition that has been lost. Palenque’s unique myth incorporates deities widely known in their region, but nowhere else honored in the same way. The Triad deities were the patron gods of ancient Lakam Ha, bringing the blessings of abundance and prosperity when properly attended and worshiped. The ruling dynasty was believed to be descended from these gods and their mother, Lady Cormorant (Muwaan Mat in the Mayan language). (more…)

Solstice, Equinox, and the Mayan Calendar

Mayan Sun God -- K'inich Ahau

Mayan Sun God — K’inich Ahau

The movements of the sun were particularly important to the ancient Mayas.

The sun god, represented as the K’in glyph in Classic times, had a Roman nose, central notched tooth, and crossed eyes with square pupils. Considered a male deity and addressed as Father Sun, he was ruler of time and space, and oversaw the seasonal agricultural cycles. K’inich Ahau—Sun-Faced Lord—was identified with ruling lineages and connected with the Maize God, bringer of fertility and renewal.  In the late Classic many Maya rulers added K’inich to their names, signifying their oneness with the sun deity. To demonstrate this unity, rulers needed astronomical knowledge to predict exact timing of the sun’s annual cycle. Through this they directed farmers when planting and harvesting should take place. The sun’s arrival at important stations during the year was celebrated with rituals, and correct timing was essential. The ruler’s sacred duty required properly performing these rituals, offering the deities suitable gifts, and thus maintaining beneficent relations between Gods and humans. (more…)

Silver Medal for The Red Queen

DD_Red Queen GeBA SilverSilver Medal GEbA

Silver Medal Winner of the 2016 Global Ebook Awards

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque receives award in Fiction-Historical Literature-Ancient Worlds.

It was an exciting moment when I received the notice in August that my book won a Silver Medal in the Dan Poynter Global Ebook Awards for 2016!

Book awards mean a lot to authors. They validate our efforts and help bring our books to the LM_red hat-2attention of readers and booksellers. The Mayan Red Queen has been given favorable reviews in The Midwest Book Review (2016) and by Writer’s Digest (2016), but this is her first award. So, I am very happy and invite you to share the moment by recalling the story if you’ve read it, or reading the book if not.

“The Mayan world and its underlying influences come alive, making for a thriller highly recommended for readers who also enjoy stories of archaeological wonders.” The Midwest Book Review, Diane Donovan, Editor and Senior Reviewer.

“The quality of this novel is top notch . . . beautifully written. The plot was interesting and very unique. The author’s best skill is in crafting believable yet mythical characters that carry the story almost effortlessly. . . fans of complex world building will be absorbed by this one–with pleasure!” Writer’s Digest 3rd Annual Self-Published e-Book Awards 

(more…)

%d bloggers like this: