Maya Religion and Spirituality in Ancient and Modern Times

According to Lechner (2011), the Maya group comprises of a diversity of native people with rich religious and cultural backgrounds. These individuals inhabit North Central America and Southern American regions. The predominant term Maya is used to define these indigenous communities due to their spiritual and cultural similarities. In addition, it is important to note that the Maya constitute individuals from different ethnic groups and societies.

These groups also exhibit differences with regard to some of their traditions and history. Laughton (2012) notes that there were about 7 million natives that inhabited the North Central American and Southern American regions at the beginning of the 21st century. Currently, the communities from Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Yucatan Peninsula, El Salvador, and Western Honduras still practice the ancient religion and rituals.

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Lechner (2011) reports two unique characteristics that define the Maya people and are similar across the different groups. These include; drawing hieroglyphic and iconography scripts and the development of complex scientific and astronomical structures. The author also notes that the complex astronomical systems enable these people to promote sustainable farming activities (Lechner, 2011). Additionally, Maya practices various religious rituals and ceremonies to promote the success of these agricultural practices.

Ballou (2008) indicates that religion was an important component of the life of the ancient Maya communities and continues to be important to date. Specifically, religion is believed to be their ultimate maker and destroyer.

The aim of the current research is to assess the religion and spirituality of the Maya people. In respect to cultural pluralism, this research will provide an understanding of the cultural identities of the Maya. Moreover, it will promote the comprehension of the Mayan values and practices, and their acceptance in society.

Understanding the Maya people: Ancient and modern
In reference to Lechner (2011), the modern-day Maya group constitutes the largest native community in Peru and Mexico. The majority of the individuals residing in Mexicos Yucatan Peninsula (Yucatec) and the highlands of Chiapas (Tzeltal and Tzotzil). The Yucatec Maya community is more populated than the Tzeltal and Tzotzil. The Chontal and the Chol are also minor Maya groups found in Mexico. Other larger communities constitute the Quiche and Cakchiquel who are found in Guatemala.

Sharer (2006) indicates that the Maya indigenous populations comprise of 31 distinct communities. These communities speak different incomprehensible languages that are within the larger Maya dialect. Lechner (2011) acknowledges that the native group has been able to preserve its culture despite intermarrying with other immigrants (majorly Spanish immigrants) over the years.

This is because the native community has been confined to the same region and culture since ancient times. According to Whittington and Reed (2006), the Maya empire was very successful in the Sixth Century A.D. The people were famous for agricultural activities and their specialization in astronomical systems. In addition, the native community developed impressive architectural structures and art creations.

Sharer (2006) indicates that the ancient Maya communities were mainly found in the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala. Their location protected them from invasion by other Mesoamerican indigenous populations. According to Whittington and Reed (2006), the ancient Maya communities are reported to inhabit these regions from 1800 B.C. to A.D. 250. This period was referred to as the formative period, and the group mainly practiced agriculture to sustain the lives of its people.

During this period, the community began to migrate to the highland and lowland regions within Mexico and Central America. In addition, the Maya were still religious and practiced various cultural activities that were unique to them. Furthermore, in the formative period, Maya was well known for developing pyramids and stone shrines for religious purposes.

They were also responsible for building the ancient city of Mirador. During the Classic Period (A.D 250 to 900), the Maya empire developed into many cities, and the population increased to about two million individuals (Sharer, 2006). The Maya were the richest groups during the Classic Period, and they developed more advanced agricultural techniques such as irrigation and terracing.

Ballou (2008) acknowledges that the Maya community continued to be deeply religious during the Classical Period. Their religion also recognized human sacrifice as a form of nurturing the gods. In addition, kings who were believed to have blood relations with the gods ruled them. These kings served as mediators between the Maya people and the supernatural beings.

As a result of their deep religion, they built enormous temples that were pyramid-shaped (Sharer, 2006). Such architectural designs earned them a reputation as the best artists in the region. Laughton (2012) indicates that the ancient Maya were remarkable people as they managed to build an amazing civilization in the middle of a rainforest.

They also took advantage of the rich natural resources in the region to advance their lives. However, during the ninth century (Post-Classic Period), the Mayan civilization collapsed, and little is known on the cause of the decline (Lechner, 2011). Some scholars believe that the Maya community could not sustain the rising population, while others state that there were competing interests among the kings that led to the collapse.

Theoretical background
In reference to Kunin (2006), religion refers to a structure of beliefs that define an individuals actions. An example is Christianity, where people believe in God as their creator and depends upon the bible to give guidance on all matters in life.

Various religions have myths that explain the origin of the believers and attempt to decode the place of man in the universe. In contemporary societies such as the Maya Kingdom, religion formed an important part of their lives as they depended on the gods for the success of their architectural and agricultural activities (Ballou, 2008). According to Stausberg (2010), existing religious theories are not comprehensive, and scholars have failed in establishing solid theories.

There are two main challenges that these scholars face in developing comprehensive religious theories. First, it is difficult to integrate religion in an interdisciplinary manner. Second, the cultural characteristic of religion makes it difficult to define its true nature because it varies across different societies.

Since religion is an essential component of the human culture, theories of religion focus on culture and the basic issues that affect humans. Hart (2008) defines spirituality as all aspects of being human that are critical to their health and well-being. It is a form of connection between the body and the spirit. Spiritualism is reported to occur synonymously with religion.

There are two main theoretical constructs that enhance understanding of the Maya religion; anthropology and sociology. According to Kunin (2006), anthropological theories in religion are different and are based on emotions and social systems. Moreover, there are three distinct factors that set them apart, and they include; evolution, humanity, and cross-cultural aspects. These theories are categorized into three major types that include; intellectualist theories, wishful thinking, and social solidarity theories.

Kunin (2006) indicates that social solidarity theories determine how religion promotes unity and solidarity within a community. These theories are the most useful in explaining the concept of religion in the Maya Kingdom (Ballou, 2008). Religion promotes cohesion among the as it forms a guideline through which the native community operates on. on the emotions of people and explain that religion eliminates feelings of fear and hopelessness (Kunin, 2006).

Lastly, the intellectualist theories look at the interest of humanity in understanding the world, and why everything happens the way it does. The social solidarity theory is mostly used to explain religion in ancient and modern societies, and it looks at the allegiance of religion to the community.

According to Kunin (2006), there are three main sociological theories that have been used to explain religion by different scholars. These theories include; functionalism, social change, and conflict theories. Furseth and Repstad (2006) note that Durkheim proposed the functionalist theory, and it is the most useful in understanding the Mayan religion. According to this theory, sacred symbols are pure and should be separated from daily routine activities.

This is because the objects are divine and have a sense of relevance to the followers. In addition to supernatural beliefs, the theory states that religion should also involve rituals and ceremonies. Such ceremonies and rituals are necessary for strengthening the bond between human beings and the supernatural being.

This theory resonates very well with the Mayan community as they performed rituals during ceremonies after the birth or death of the community members (Ballou, 2008). Furthermore, modern communities are also known to offer animal sacrifices and perform rituals to their gods. Such rituals are viewed as a means of communicating their needs to the goods of nature.

Maya religion and spirituality
In reference to Moises (2012), the ancient Maya religion believed in the existence of nature gods. This ancient community worshipped different types of divinities. The gods had the ability to work with each other and fight at times. According to Ballou (2008), they had the main god, who was referred to as Itzam Na, and he had the ability to perform the tasks of the other gods. The religious beliefs in this community governed the life of the members, and they were required to live harmoniously with the gods.

Each of the gods represented a certain ritual that had to be observed. These rituals had to be followed by long periods of fasting, and certain sacrifices had to be offered to the gods. Ballou (2008) notes that one of the most common sacrifices among the Mayan people involved piercing the human ear lobe or the tongue and offering the blood to the gods. The indigenous communities would also offer animals and precious items during the sacrifice.

Moises (2012) indicates that the gods exhibited dualistic personalities, as they were both compassionate and malicious. In addition, different gods tended to have contradicting characteristics. An example is the God of the sun, who was associated with daylight, but he also had the ability to exist in the underworld at night. As a result, the sun god was also classified as a night god.

According to Ballou (2008), some of the Mayan groups used religious scripts during worship. An example is the Quiche Maya, who used the Popol Vuh for prophecy and making decisions pertaining to religion. This script was an equivalent of the Mayan bible, and the original forms encompassed drawings regarding astronomical and earthly climate events. However, Ballou (2008) notes that researchers have not been able to trace the original Popol Vul, and hence most of the information regarding the Mayan bible is unavailable.

Furseth and Repstad (2006) state that the Mayan religion recognized death as part of the human life on earth. The Maya believed in the Cenote, which was a term used to describe the underworld. According to the ancient community, the dead went to live in the Cenote. However, the death of the ordinary people was different from that of the kings.

The kings followed a special path through the sun to travel to the Cenote. Since they were believed to be related to the gods, the kings were reincarnated after death to become gods. Lechner (2011) indicates that people who were offered as sacrifices, and those who died during childbirth were considered holy. In this view, they were believed to escape the underworld, which was inhabited by evil gods. Another amazing belief in the ancient Mayan religion was the Way ob.

This meant that every person had an animal that shared his or her soul. Moreover, an individual had the power to transform into his or her animals soul. Laughton (2012) also notes that the Maya believed that the dead had to be buried together with the religious items that they used while they were alive. Priests were considered sacred and had to be cremated, and their ashes were stored in the temples.

However, Ballou (2008) notes that these religious practices changed after the Spanish conquest. The Spanish introduced Christianity to the Mayan communities. Despite these changes, some rituals continued after the conquest, and they included; idol worship, presence of ritual calendars, and burning of incense.

Ballou (2008) indicates that the modern Mayan religion still recognizes the interaction between the people, nature, and the supernatural world. This the actions and beliefs of the Mayan people. This author also notes that the Maya groups believe that the world is interconnected, and communities should live in unity (Ballou, 2008). According to Lechner (2011), the community believes that life is holy and should be respected at all costs.

They also worship most of the gods that their ancestors worshipped. Hart (2008) acknowledges the fact that the modern Maya religion combines animism and Catholicism. The extent of Catholic influence varies from group to group. Some of the groups believe that there are gods that support the four ends of their communities.

All the gods have to participate equally in holding the communities in place. Failure of any of the gods to cooperate is believed to cause earthquakes. According to Ballou (2008), some of the modern Maya believe that the sun is God, and the moon is the Virgin Mary.

The ancient mountain shrines are still used as places of worship. The elderly should be honored by offering sacrifices and praying in the shrines. The majority of the Maya groups still recognize the role of the ancient Shamans, whose responsibility was to pray for the sick villagers in the shrine. In reference to Lechner (2011), the modern communities still believe in the Cenotes and supernatural spirits that inhabit the rainforest. Ballou (2008) notes that there various aspects of the Mayan religion that are not in practice today.

The use of human sacrifices is absent in all the groups as they continue to place immense value on the lives of humans. Many scholars argue that the ancient Maya had an unbalanced relationship with their gods.

Specifically, the members could offer human sacrifices or starve themselves to death in an effort to receive blessings, but the gods would still not care. The modern region seems to have diverged from such relations and focuses more on the importance of prayer and a healthy relationship between people and the gods. Lechner (2011) acknowledges that Christianity influenced these changes.

Future research
Scholars of the Mayan religion identify various gaps that require further research. Ballou (2008) notes that researchers have failed to explain why some of the communities continue to follow the traditional Mayan religion despite the spread of Catholicism across the region. Additionally, researchers seem unable to explain why some of the groups seem to incorporate Christianity in the traditional Mayan religions because the two religions are very different.

According to Hart (2008), many scholars have, in the past, visited the Maya people in Mexico and Guatemala in an effort to uncover lost religious artifacts. When they decipher these scripts, they pass them to the Mayan groups to add to the lost traditional religious knowledge.

In view of this, there is an argument among scholars to whether reincorporation of the lost artifacts interferes with the modern religious practices of the Mayan people. Moreover, there is scanty evidence determining whether they actually incorporate the new knowledge to the modern religion. Lechner (2011) indicates that more research is required on the location of the ancient Popol Vuh, as the scripts would enhance understanding of the role of the bible in the traditional Mayan culture.

The Maya people are a group of natives who are found in North Central America and Southern America (Lechner, 2011). These groups have similarities in their religious and cultural activities. Furthermore, some of the modern communities remain deeply rooted in their traditional culture. According to Sharer (2006), the ancient Maya communities were known for their magnificent astronomical and architectural capabilities. They and shrines that were used for religious rituals.

However, their civilization collapsed during the ninth century. There is a dearth of research on the reasons behind the empire collapse. The Mayan people have always been religious throughout history and believed in the gods of nature. They also performed rituals like human sacrifices to please their gods. After the Spanish conquest, some of the groups seemed to incorporate Catholicism into their ancient religious culture.

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