Recently in class we have been discussing Maya culture and have touched on their use of sacrifice in rituals. I found the activity of sacrifice in Maya culture to be very interesting so I decided to do further research into the subject.
Sacrifice involved rituals of killing both humans and animals, these rituals were performed by priests. It has been a feature of almost all pre-modern societies during their development and for mainly the same reason: to propitiate or fulfill a perceived obligation towards the gods. Many agree that these practices arose in Mesoamerica among the Olmecs and were transmitted to subsequent cultures, including the Maya.
Sacrifices were carried out by a priest called a nacom. The nacom would cut out the hearts of the victims. The nacom had four assistants called chacs. The name chac stemmed from the god of rain and their job was to hold down the victims during sacrifice. Ritual sacrifices played a vital role in the Mayan culture. They sacrificed both animals and humans. Some animals were sacrificed in great numbers these included such animals as: crocodiles, iguanas, dogs, jaguars, and turkeys. However, sacrifice of human life was supreme. These sacrifices took place during elaborate ceremonies and have been depicted in ancient Mayan ceramics, sculptures, and murals. Slaves, criminals, bastards, orphans and children made up the bulk of the victims.
Diego de Landa a Spanish Bishop was one of the few Europeans to witness human sacrifices. He described them in detail telling that the sacrificial victim was first painted blue. Then, the victim was led to the top of the pyramid and laid over a stone alter. He was then held down by the chacs and the nacom cut open his chest and tore out his still beating heart. This was done with a ceremonial knife usually made of obsidian or flint. The heart was then handed to the high priest and the body of the victim was tossed down the temple’s stairs. There were other methods of sacrifice that also took place one being with arrows shot at the heart of the victim. Others included flaying, decapitation, hurling from a cliff, and throwing the victim into a limestone sinkhole. All of this was done just to appease the gods.
While researching this gruesome ritual I found some of the information I read disturbing. However, nonetheless I find it very interesting. It is hard to imagine a society whose culture is strongly tied to the sacrifice of fellow human beings. But these sacrifices are just a stage in many developing societies. It makes me thankful that I was not born into a society that is still in this stage of development.
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