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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.”
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
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:
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
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)
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
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.
Palenque’s Creation Myth Recited by Yohl Ik’nal.
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.
“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.
The ancient Mayas built thousands of cities throughout their 125,000 square mile realm. Ruins of huge Maya cities have been dated back to 300-400 BCE. No doubt smaller cities were being built centuries before, but the fragile wood and thatch building materials degraded over time. By the Late Preclassic Period (400 BCE—250 CE) the technology for building stone structures had been perfected. This technology created tall pyramids, expansive palaces that reached five stories, and complex residences with interlocking passages and plazas. These strong and durable structures were able to withstand 3,000 years of harsh environment, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Even the encroachment of jungle roots and vines since the great cities were abandoned around 1,000 CE could not bring down most of these buildings. Hundreds of high-rise Maya cities remain standing today; a tribute to their building technology.
What substance was strong enough to “glue” the building stones together for so many centuries? The answer is found in Maya cement. Maya technicians invented a method for producing hydraulic cement from native limestone before 250 BCE. How they discovered this process is a mystery, since it requires extremely high temperatures in a type of “blast furnace” to convert limestone into cement. Archeologists surmise they used trial-and-error over many years, perhaps a millennium, to get the formula right. We can imagine ancient Mayas watching a huge conflagration from lightning strikes in forests, or set off by volcanic flow or cinders, that created super-heated fire. After the burning was reduced to coals and ashes, they saw peculiar round globules sitting on top, where before there were chunks of limestone. As rain moistened the globules, they puffed up into a grey-white powder. Curious, the Maya collected the powder and started experimenting with its properties. After mixing it with pebbles or clay or other substances, and adding water, they found that it made a very hard, durable bonding material. Claro que si! Cement was converted to concrete.
Maya cement was used for making cast-in-place concrete, the “glue” that held together their stone buildings and the base material for stucco that coated Maya structures, roads, cisterns, and plazas.
Hydraulic cement – the Mayas made true hydraulic cement, first used by the Romans. This cement reacts with water to form silicate hydrate crystals; these grow and interlock creating a bond between aggregate mixtures (pebbles, ground limestone, clay) to produce hard, durable construction material called concrete. The cement paste glues together the aggregate mixture, fills voids, and increases strength as it stiffens, called “setting up.” As the concrete hardens, it continues increasing in strength and durability. Maya cement is similar in chemical makeup to modern Portland cement, which is the current standard.
Maya cement kiln – the Maya cement firing kiln has similar thermodynamic and chemical properties to a blast furnace. Calcium is the essential chemical component for cement, and the Mayas had an abundant supply of limestone. When heated to 1450-1600 degrees C (2642-2912 F) the limestone melts, inducing a chemical reaction to form calcium silicate. These take the shape of globules called “clinkers.” Wood was the Maya fuel source, and generally it does not produce high enough temperatures, normally
reaching 300-400 degrees C (572-752 F). Learning that a higher temperature was needed, the Mayas invented a kiln. They stacked wood in a circular design set on an elevated platform of spaced rocks. The center of the circle was left open. The kiln diameter was around 6 meters (19.7 feet) across and 2 meters (6.6 ft) height. Logs were stacked horizontally in a radial pattern, larger logs filled in with smaller ones and chinked solid with chipped wood. A vertical shaft was left open up the center, 8 inches diameter, extending from ground level to the top of the pile. To keep the kiln burning the required 24-30 hours, the wood had to contain enough moisture. It was either green wood or it was moistened with water. Readily combustible material such as dry leaves and dry decayed or resinous wood was put at the shaft base to ignite the kiln.
Raw limestone was cut into small blocks and stacked on top of the wood pile, to a height of 0.75 meters (2.5 ft.). The dry tinder was set afire, and its rapid burning sucked in cool, oxygen-rich outside air through the elevated base of the platform. As this air entered it increased the temperature in the center core while reducing ambient pressure. In turn, the reduced pressure induced a rapid flow of cooler, oxygen-rich air which then increased the temperature even more. This super-heated air was exhausted upward into the limestone, in a chimney-like effect. This cycle kept raising temperature and burning the stacked wood at temperatures that reached 1600 C (2912 F). When the kiln was at peak operation, a narrow tongue of flame soared skyward to a height of 30 meters (98.4 ft.). As heat increased, the flame color changed from red to orange, then yellow and finally to blue, which indicates 1600 C.
When the burn was complete, a collection of clinkers sat upon a pile of cinders. These were allowed to cool. Exposure to dew and rain caused the clinkers to expand into a dome of fluffy grey-white powder, 5-6 times the bulk of the limestone. This powder was hydraulic cement, and could be ground finer as needed. The cement was combined with the aggregate mixture and water to make cast-in-place concrete: one part cement, 3 parts loosely ground limestone or other aggregate, and water. Five tons of wood were required to produce one ton of cement.
Weather conditions had to be just right to make cement: clear weather with zero chance of precipitation, and no wind. Wind would cause higher burn rates at the windward side leading to collapse of the kiln structure.
Rituals accompanied the kiln burning. Women were not permitted near the kiln during the burning, since the kiln, considered to be feminine, would become jealous and refuse to operate properly.
Studies have shown that Maya cement has almost the same chemical composition as Portland cement, meeting strict international standards for manufactured cement. Maya cast-in-place concrete has higher strength than needed by the loads superimposed on Maya structures. It has remarkable ability to resist severe environmental exposure. Its high compressive strength is greater than building materials of any other ancient American culture.
Conclusion: Maya cement is a true cement, a building material very similar to modern cement. Its properties produce concrete with a strong matrix, similar to modern concrete.
James A. O’Kon, PE. The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology. Career Press: New Page Books, Pompton Plains, NJ. 2012. In depth explanations of many types of Maya technological achievements, by an “archeoengineer” who spent 40 years investigating at over 50 remote Maya sites.
Maya Exhibit: Murals and Monuments
Balboa Park, San Diego Museum of Natural History
In December, 2016, while spending holidays with family in San Diego, I was fortunate to find a Maya exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park. After warning my family that I would spend hours perusing the exhibit, camera in hand, I was not surprised that no one wanted to accompany me. Alone and mesmerized by the wonderful display of Maya monuments, ceramics and art, I spent a most enjoyable afternoon. Many original pieces were on exhibit, loaned from other institutions, as well as reproductions of murals and larger monuments. In this blogpost, I’ll focus on murals and monuments, with other posts to follow for ceramics and artwork.
The Murals at San Bartolo, Guatemala
In 2001 William Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire and Harvard’s Peabody Museum, found an entrance into buried chambers while seeking shade. He ducked into a looters’ trench in an unexcavated pyramid, and when he shone his flashlight on the walls, he saw an elaborate, finely-painted mural. Called “Las Pinturas,” the structure’s murals were dated from 100 BCE and showed mythological scenes related to the origin of kings. Later excavations revealed additional murals, called a masterpiece of ancient Maya art. The 30 x 3 foot mural on the west wall reveals the Maya story of creation, the mythology of kingship and divine right of kings, and depicts two coronation scenes—one mythological and the other an actual king’s coronation. Other discoveries at the site include the oldest known Maya royal burial, around 150 BCE, and significantly older painted polychrome murals in a deeper chamber with Maize God images, dated around 200—400 BCE. Glyphs within the murals date to centuries before most other Maya texts, and remain hard to read. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin, leading Maya epigrapher, said one scene names a young god as “star man” and emphasizes his cosmological role within the larger creation myth represented.
The San Bartolo mural featured at Balboa Park is the scene of the Maya creation myth, the first known depiction in narrative form, according to Karl Taube, University of California, Riverside, an expert in ancient Mesoamerican history.
In this mythological story, the Maize God travels through the underworld and is eventually resurrected, giving birth to the Mayan people. From left to right, the mural begins with an unusual birth scene; four infants scattering from a gourd that may represent the four cardinal directions, while a fifth emerges in the cleft or center of creation. A supernatural being with a serpent headdress witnesses the birth scene, and to its right is a stylized Flower Mountain that offers passage from the underworld, place of ancestors, to the Earth’s surface. This represents the birth of the people from the mythic cave of origin, depicted as a small serpent emerging from a hole at the base of the mountain. A kneeling woman near the cave offers a ceramic pot of tamales, symbolic of the people being formed from corn. In front of her, a kneeling black-faced man offers water in a gourd, symbolizing the essentials (food and water) needed to sustain life. The pair present their offerings to a red-bodied Maize God, who looks over his shoulder at two stacked kneeling women, waiting to take the offerings from him. They are possibly aspects of the wind goddess. Next is the Maize God’s wife, the only standing woman who is wearing an elaborate bird headdress. Behind her are two black and red figures bearing burdens on their heads and carrying ritual
implements in loincloths. They carry sacred objects for the Maize God and his wife. The final figure is an immense serpent whose body underlies the entire scene. Its tail emerges from Flower Mountain and its upturned head with open mouth emits large red speech scrolls. Black footprints along the red part of the snake’s body indicate it is a path for supernatural travel. The snake-as-ground motif is found widely in Mesoamerica. The Maize God is the central figure in the scene, personification of cycles of life, death and rebirth. The woman may be dressing him for his journey to death and resurrection. Red spirals coming from his mouth indicate breath and speech. Two short columns of glyphs between the bearers are ancient, hundreds of years earlier than most known Maya glyphs.
The Murals at Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico
The Bonampak murals are perhaps the best known of all Maya wall paintings. Lying close to a tributary of the Usumacinta River, it was first seen by non-Mayans in 1946, but it’s unclear who first visited the site. Two American travelers were led to the ruins by a local Lacandon Maya; his people still visited the site to pray in ancient temples. The site itself is unimpressive, but a small structure on a low hill holds the famous murals. Structure 1 at Bonampak, which holds the murals, was dedicated on November 11, 791 CE. Bonampak had become a satellite community of nearby Yaxchilán, whose ruler Itzamnaaj Bahlam II (Shield Jaguar) appointed his nephew Chan Muwaan II to govern the city in 790 CE. Shield Jaguar hired Yaxchilán artisans to construct the Temple of Murals.
Structure 1 has three rooms containing murals. The paintings show the story of a single battle and its victorious outcome. Among the best preserved Maya murals, these are noted for their vivid depiction of battle scenes, captive torture, sacrifice, and royal rituals and processions. They also depict women doing self-bloodletting by piercing tongues and earlobes with stingray spines. The battle scenes contradicted early assumptions that the Maya were a peaceful culture of mystics, a position long-held by influential Mesoamerican archaeologist, ethnohistorian and epigrapher from the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson.
Colors on the mural are intense and bright, although covered by a film of dissolved limestone when first discovered. Musical Instruments, costumes, body adornment, and weapons are documented from the
period giving valuable information about Mayan culture. The vivid colored frescos of turquoise blues, yellows and rust colors are a treasure of data about royal life and ceremonies. Unfortunately the murals have deteriorated badly since their discovery. Early archeologists from the Carnegie Institution doused them in kerosene to remove the film and intensify the colors. This weakened the plaster, causing paint and plaster to flake and fall off.
Mary Miller of Yale University, who studied the murals extensively, wrote “Perhaps no single artifact from the ancient New World offers as complex a view of pre-Hispanic society as do the Bonampak paintings. No other work features so many Maya engaged in the life of the court and rendered in such great detail, making the Bonampak murals an unparalleled resource for understanding ancient society.”
Monuments: A few large replicas of stelae, buildings, plazas and carved frescoes were on display.
The island of Cozumel, called Cuzamil by ancient Mayas, lies off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It was a shrine and pilgrimage destination for women, sacred to the goddess Ix Chel. Mayan women made the journey to Cuzamil twice during their lives, at menarche and menopause. They sought the blessings of Ix Chel for a good marriage, fertility, abundance and safe childbearing. Thousands would travel by canoe from Pole, present-day Playa del Carmen, across treacherous currents. The trip took twelve hours, and specially trained men, who understood the shifting currents, rowed the canoes. Legends tell that between 600-800 CE only women and children could live on the island. It was a place of sanctuary for marginal women, and sheltered orphans, widows, barren women and those who crossed sexual boundaries.
Today in Yucatan, the ritual crossing to Cozumel is held annually, called “La Travesia.” It is a re-creation of the ancient Cuzamil pilgrimage that was lost for over 500 years. The ruins of a city called San Gervasio hint at its former splendor, with columns rising on large platforms, shrines to the goddess and the elements, and a long causeway (sakbe) leading to the landing point for canoes bringing women for pilgrimage. One shrine to Ix Chel holds a carved stone column with a woman giving birth, with imprints of red hands over the carving. Another shrine called “Las Manitas” has a stucco facade with murals
decorated by designs in black lines on a Maya blue background. To the right side of its facade, Maya visitors left their own red hand prints on the wall, a common practice in the region. Passages run underneath these structures leading to small shrines inside caves, and causeways connect many complexes. The site was abandoned during the 10th century, but it continued as a pilgrimage site, noted by Spanish friars in the early 16th century.
The Oracle of Cuzamil. The Spaniards reported that Mayas sought advice of an oracle on the island of Cuzamil. A large statue of Ix Chel, made either of ceramic or wood, allowed a person to remain concealed inside. Pilgrims would ask the oracle questions, either directly or through a priest, and the Ix Chel priestess inside the statue would give answers. Pilgrims believed the Ix Chel oracle gave true answers to questions about their lives and guidance about which choices to make. It was even reported that the oracle would prophesy outcomes of conflicts and wars.
Oracles exist in many cultures, and usually function under the influence of mind-altering substances. The famous Oracle of Delphi, Greece, who prophesied during the seventh to the fourth centuries BCE,
was said to allow Apollo to possess her body and speak through her. Called Pythia, she sat on a tripod seat over a fissure in the earth. Myth relates that when Apollo slew the great snake Python, its body fell into this fissure and fumes arose from its decomposition. The priestess breathed these fumes and became intoxicated, falling into a trance during which Apollo spoke through her. Plutarch described that Pythia would lapse into semi-consciousness, and respond to questions in an altered voice. At other times, her trance involved frenzied delirium, with wild thrashing of limbs, groaning and inarticulate cries. After this delirium, she died in a few days and another Pythia took her place.
According to toxicologists, these symptoms are associated with inhalation of hydrocarbon gasses. Similar effects are observed in “huffers” who breathe fumes from glue, paint thinner, or gas. The presence of a sweet smell, which Plutarch reported during Pythia’s trances, indicates the hydrocarbon gas ethylene. Greek geologists have identified a small fracture in the earth extending up from the intersection of two major fault lines running underneath the Delphi temple. The limestone under the temple is bituminous (oil-bearing) with a petrochemical content as high as 20 percent. It appears that slippage in the faults heated adjacent rock masses, vaporizing the lighter petrochemicals in the limestone and expelling gasses upward through the fissure. They believe that gases produced rose up the crack and entered the temple just below the stool on which Pythia sat. Ethylene is known to produce violent trances. Probably when smaller amounts were expelled, the oracle was less affected and was able to speak lucid prophesies.
The Oracle of Cuzamil also used hallucinogenic substances to vacate her body and offer it as a vessel for the goddess Ix Chel.One such substance came from the skin glands of a large bufonid marine toad. A disproportionate number of these toad bones are found in human burials on Cuzamel, probably because of their ritual uses. The poison from toad glands was prepared in special ways, because when ingested it can cause tremors, paralysis, convulsions and death. It appears that the ancient Mayas made it into an enema; these clysters or enema syringes had a distinct glyph and appear frequently in painted ceramics. The clysters were gourds with an elongated, pointed end. Other substances were included, such as concentrate made from crushed Datura flowers and fermented maguey juice. Maguey is an agave plant related to those used for tequila. Datura, which grows wild in regional jungles, is a well-known hallucinogen. The oracle’s preparation probably included ritual purification in a steam bath, infused with herbs such as basil, cedar, vervain and Pay-che; and a period of fasting. She likely smoked potent tobacco in a small clay pipe that also affected her senses. A rare blue-leafed tobacco was grown on Cuzamil that is said to produce a floating sensation and separate consciousness from the body. Morning glory seeds, which alter consciousness, may have been used, along with other herbs, in an ointment to massage the oracle’s skin, opening the path to disembodiment.
After such a potent mixture of hallucinogens, the oracle would be semi-conscious and need assistance walking. She may have been carried by attendants to the temple and helped into the statue, where she probably was tied to a chair or other type of support to prevent falling over. It seems amazing that the oracle could function, much less understand communications and give coherent responses. But, such is
the sacred mystery of the oracle. Those with mystical leanings will believe that another intelligence took charge of this vessel, emptied of its human awareness and ritually purified. Whether goddess, god or the collective consciousness, this intelligence reached down through the human vessel to deliver messages to seekers.
To be an oracle required extensive training, unwavering commitment and a strong constitution to survive the rigors of the process. Still, oracles did not have a long life expectancy, either in Greece or Cuzamil. The great honor of serving the Goddess and her people drew many young women into training, and the gifts given in appreciation built the wealth of the oracle’s city.
The Oracle of Cuzamil appears in the final book of the Mists of Palenque Series, as youthful K’inuuw Mat makes the sacred pilgrimage to the island of Ix Chel and hopes to remain there to serve the goddess. However, fate has other plans and she is destined to marry Pakal’s youngest son in Lakam Ha (Palenque), and through this union to continue the dynasty.
The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque, Book 4 by Leonide Martin (expected publication date summer 2016)
Buy Books 1, 2 & 3 at my Amazon Author Page
Mists of Palenque Series – Book 3.
Ancient Mayan civilization comes alive in historical fiction.
Maya ruins restored to their glory in Palenque (Lakam Ha).
Just published as ebook on Amazon.
Book 3 in the series about Mayan Queens.
In the third Mayan Queens book, the ancient Mayan city of Lakam Ha (Palenque) has a new young ruler, K’inich Janaab Pakal.
His mother and prior ruler, Sak K’uk, carefully selects his wife (the Red Queen) to avoid being displaced in Pakal’s affections. Lalak is a shy and homely young woman from a small city who relates better to animals than people. She is chosen as Pakal’s wife because of her pristine lineage, but also because she is no beauty. Arriving at the main city of the region, Lalak is overwhelmed by its sophisticated, complex society and the expectations of the royal court. Her mother-in-law is critical and hostile, conferring an official name on Lalak that reveals her view of the girl as a breeder of future rulers: Tz’aakb’u Ahau, the Accumulator of Lords who sets in place the royal succession. Lalak struggles to learn her new role and prove her worth; soon discovering that she also must fight to win Pakal’s love. He is still smitten with a beautiful woman who has
been banished from the city by his mother. Simmering conflict and tragic losses besiege their relationship, until Lalak is compelled to claim her rightful place. She envisions how she can play a pivotal role in Pakal’s mission to restore the spiritual portal to the Gods that had been destroyed in a devastating attack. Through learning sexual alchemy, Lalak brings the immense creative force of sacred union to give rebirth to the portal. But first, Pakal must come to view his wife in a new light.
Modern archeologist Francesca, ten years after discovery of the Red Queen’s tomb, continues her research on the mysterious crimson skeleton found in a temple adjacent to Pakal’s burial pyramid at Palenque. She teams up with British linguist Charlie to decipher an ancient manuscript left by her Mayan grandmother. It gives clues about family secrets that impel them to explore what a remote Mayan village can reveal.
I’ve been working on this book for over one year. It’s really gratifying to have it published,
since I think it may be the best yet in the series. But, how can a “mom” give preference to one “child?” In truth, I love them all and believe they tell rich and compelling stories about these powerful Mayan women who shaped their people’s destinies. Very few except Maya experts know about them, so I’m hoping that my books bring them to the attention of a wider readership. Of the four “queens” in this series, two were rulers in their own right, and two were the wives of rulers. They were all in the lineage of K’inich Janaab Pakal, the most famous of Maya rulers whose incredibly rich tomb has been compared to that of Egypt’s King Tut. — Leonide Martin
I hope you will read The Mayan Red Queen. It will take you deeply into the world of the ancient Mayas during the height of their civilization, set in the most mysterious and beautiful city of the Classic Period. You will meet fascinating historical figures and follow the unfolding of actual events as Pakal’s dynasty spreads influence in its region and his city gains widespread acclaim as a vortex of artistic expression. You’ll be intrigued by the workings of Mayan shamanism and Lalak’s mastery of sexual alchemy to raise the Jeweled Sky Tree (the sacred portal). And, you’ll experience elegant high court protocol, esoteric Mayan calendar ceremonies, harrowing Underground encounters with Death Lords, and an exquisite love story of the most powerful royal couple in the Americas.
Historical fiction fans will also enjoy the first two books of the series, about the grandmother and mother of Pakal. Each story stands alone, but you gain additional richness when you read them in succession.
When the Portal to the Gods Collapsed
A disastrous event happened to Palenque (Lakam Ha) on the Long Count Calendar date 188.8.131.52.14, 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.