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An Introduction to the Mayan Civilization

By Yona Williams    2/26/12

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Before the Spanish arrived on their land, the Maya were a native Mesoamerican people that for their time were known as one of the most advanced cultures in the Western Hemisphere. In this article, you will learn more about the Mayan civilization, including some of their religious beliefs and historical facts.

Mayan Religion and Religious Traditions

The Mayan religion centered on the worship of nature gods, especially deities that focused on the sun, rain and corn. A priestly class helped keep the society together, which stressed the significance of astronomy and astrology. Priests often used their knowledge of astronomy as a way to influence and control the lower classes. For example, they knew when eclipses would come take away the sun and cover the land in darkness, and when the light would come back. They used this information to their advantage. Sometimes rituals, such as human sacrifice, were performed in accordance to changes in weather and space.

Other religious traditions of the Mayans included divination, elaborate burials for members of royalty, and holding worship in stone pyramid-temples. The Maya followed a practice of divination that focused on an advanced calendar system and keen knowledge of astronomy. The priests were in charge of telling the people what days were lucky or unlucky. The responsibility of advising rulers on the best days to plant, harvest, wage war, and engage in other important activities fell on the shoulders of the priests.

The planet Venus played an important role in these predictions and decisions. They watched the movements of the planet Venus and when they saw changes, they told the Maya rulers when to war against others in accordance with how the celestial body rose in the heavens.

Worship of Many Gods

The rise of the Maya civilization is noted as taking place around 250 AD. Mesoamerica incorporated Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. At one time, there were up to 2 million adherents associated with the religion. Today, several million Maya practice a Roman Catholicism that still stays true to a range of traditional Mayan religion. Since they believed in more than one god and worshipped a range of male and female deities, there practiced polytheism. Some of the primary gods of their religion included Itzamna, Kukulcan (also known as Quetzalcoatl), Bolon Tzacab and Chac.

The Mayans also constructed impressive temples with a pyramid shape – many lost in jungles or in ruin. Some of the aspects of Mayan religion and culture have survived today and is seen practiced with the Mayan Indians of Mexico and Central America, who follow a mixture of traditional religion and Roman Catholicism.

To explore the history of the Mayans, read the article titled, 'Brief History of the Mayans,' which will touch upon the different changes that the society, people and culture underwent as certain events took place and times shifted.

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