Ancient Maya Religious Practices and Beliefs

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Almost every aspect of Maya life was centered on religion. These ancient Mesoamerican peoples worshipped many gods and goddesses; this was part of their daily lives, despite class differences in their sophisticated society. Religion served as a basis for the government and social life. Priests and shamans played an important role in their government, conducted religious ceremonies, and made sacrifices to the gods. The Maya believed in the supernatural, and used this belief to explain life and their universe. Every object, whether it is part of nature or man made, was considered sacred and worshipped. The Maya universe was composed of three different realms; the Upperworld in the sky, the Earth, and the Underworld down below. Also known as the heavens, the Upperworld was the dwelling place of the stars and constellations. “The Upperworld, or heavens, served as a stage upon which the actions of the gods were played out.” (Foster, 2002) The Maya used the movements of the planets and stars to study the actions of the gods. The heavens were divided thirteen levels, each with its own god residing over it. Women who died in childbirth, warriors who died in battle, and those who died peaceful deaths went to the Upperworld. Beneath the Upperworld, existed the Middleworld, commonly known as Earth. Humans and animal inhabited this domain, along with some of the gods. The natural landscape, such as mountains and caves, was sacred and served as houses to the gods, ancestors, and spirits. The Maya believed caves were “the natural wombs from which human beings emerged during creation” (Foster, 2002) and mountains the place from which maize first began. Used by gods to create human flesh during the creation, maize was the most impor...

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