Tag: mexico sacred sites

The Mayan Mysteries of Palenque

Read Sacred Earth Journeys’ participant and travel writer Lori Erickson’s second instalment about her journey to Mexico & Guatemala in this week’s feature guest blog.

mayan ruler pakal
The Mayan ruler Pakal was buried with richly ornamented and highly symbolic finery (Bob Sessions photo)

Striking, isn’t it?

And maybe a bit unsettling?

I came upon this figure at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Bob and I and our friend Brian spent several days in Mexico City before starting our Maya Temples of Transformation tour with Sacred Earth Journeys. Our time at this museum—one of the world’s greatest—gave us an invaluable background for what we would later see on our Maya trip.

Of all the marvels we saw at the museum, the figure pictured above most intrigued me. The jade mask and jewelry were found on the body of a Mayan leader named Pakal, who ruled the city-state of Palenque for almost 70 years in the seventh century. Every part of his elaborate burial finery had symbolic significance, from the number of strands in his necklace to those peculiar ear pieces that jut out from his head. Note, too, that the mask has crossed eyes, which were considered beautiful in Mayan culture.

I stood transfixed by this mask for quite some time, though I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the sheer weirdness of it, as well as the beauty of its craftsmanship. There was a haunting quality about it as well, something that seemed to speak in words I couldn’t understand about a culture very different from my own.

A few days later, I stood in front of Palenque’s Temple of Inscriptions, the place where this mask was found.

temple of inscriptions at palenque
The Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque is one of the masterpieces of Mayan architecture (Bob Sessions photo)

Located in the Mexican state of Chiapas, Palenque was founded around the year 100 BCE. It reached its height between 600-800 CE, and then declined in the early 10th century, for unknown reasons. Today it’s one of the most studied of all the Mayan sites. Though smaller in size than Chichen Itza or Tikal, it has exquisite architecture and carvings. Only a small fraction of Palenque has been excavated, but what’s there is marvelous indeed.

As at all Mayan sites, the temples here were likely built to align with astronomical phenomena. Working without telescopes, the Mayan nevertheless had an amazingly sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mapped the movements of the stars and planets with great accuracy. They also kept multiple calendars geared to various celestial cycles and developed complex writing and mathematical notation systems.

As soon as I entered Palenque, the Temple of the Inscriptions immediately drew my gaze. It’s the largest of the many buildings at the site, with steps arranged in nine levels. Built during Pakal’s reign, it’s named after the hundreds of glyphs located on the temple walls at its top. Originally it was painted red, with its carvings detailed in bright colors. But even with its present appearance of weathered, gray limestone, it’s a exquisite building, perfectly proportioned, beautifully designed.

In 1952, Alberto Ruz Lhuillier made a remarkable discovery atop this temple: he uncovered the beginnings of a stairway that led down through the center of the structure. After four years of excavation, he at last came to Pakal’s tomb, one of the greatest treasures of pre-Columbian archeology. This is the New World equivalent of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.

And while the jade mask in the museum was stunning, I was even more amazed when I learned what covered Pakal’s sarcophagus (see below).

pakal sarcophagus
The sarcophagus of the ruler Pakal is a roadmap to the complexities of Mayan spirituality (Wikimedia Commons image)

This massive lid of limestone, 12 x 7 feet in size, is covered with an intricate, carved design that people have been trying to interpret ever since it was discovered. The image shows a man either descending or ascending a World Tree, a symbol that has roots in the underworld, a trunk in this world, and its branches in paradise. The man is wearing garments similar to those of the Mayan Maize God, and surrounding him are sacred symbols of many kinds.

If this all looks vaguely familiar, it’s because you might have seen it on a late-night TV program on ancient aliens. The craze started with a 1968 book by Erich von Daniken called Chariots of the Gods. When he looked at this image, he saw a space man being propelled by a rocket ship, a theory that’s been giving anthropologists headaches ever since. “No! No! Don’t believe him!” they collectively say, pointing out that Mayan culture was perfectly capable of creating its many wonders all on its own without the help of overlords from the stars.

Thankfully, you don’t have to buy the ancient aliens thesis to appreciate this remarkable work of art (which we saw only in pictures, since you can’t get inside the tomb without special permission). But there is indeed something otherworldly about this image, which shows a spiritual transformation of some sort, a movement between realms.

Today Pakal’s body rests underneath the Temple of Inscriptions, while most of the items found in his tomb are safely ensconced in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. I felt fortunate to have seen those treasures, because it made me fully experience what I experienced at Palenque.

palenque palace reliefs
Reliefs in the Palace courtyard at Palenque bring us face to face with the Mayan world (Bob Sessions photo)

On our tour of Palenque, I also greatly appreciated the fact that we were given time simply to be. Too often tours try to cover so much information and territory that you’re left exhausted. But if you’re going to truly experience a sacred site, you need some time to settle in. I was grateful to spend much of the afternoon wandering on my own amid the temples, climbing up steep steps to perch on platforms overlooking the green lushness of the surrounding jungle, drinking in the vistas.

Here’s a curious thing, one that I’m a little embarrassed to admit. Our group had arranged to meet back at the entrance gate late in the afternoon, and I stretched out my time at Palenque as long as I could. Nearing the departure time, I realized I needed to hurry.

A shortcut led through a dimly lit tunnel that we’d walked through before as a group, a passageway that wound through the ruins of the palace. I started to enter it, and then stopped.

The light had shifted from earlier in the day, and it seemed darker than I remembered. There were no people around, not even voices in the distance. And I realized that I was scared to go into the passageway. I didn’t fear other humans, but instead I wasn’t entirely sure that spirits weren’t hovering around. Something about the way the walls loomed high around me, perhaps. Or maybe it was just an over-active imagination. But I took the long way back to the entrance, even though it entailed much more walking.

I smile when I think back to that moment now, because it sums up to me the essence of Palenque. This is a place that exudes the Mysteries of the Maya. Palenque is both dead and alive. No one lives there, and yet perhaps they do.

Next post: Yachxilan, where I learn about Mayan ceremonies.

~ Lori Erickson

Other blog posts in this series:

The Splendor of Tikal
A Ceremony Amid Sun-Dappled Mayan Ruins
Exploring Sacred Mayan Sites in Mexico and Guatemala
Finding the Holy in a Tradition Not My Own

This blog was first published on www.patheos.com

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/holyrover/2017/02/14/the-mayan-mysteries-of-palenque/

 

Discover the best Mayan temple sites in Mexico & Guatemala

Chichen Itza usually tops the list of the best temples or sacred sites to visit in Mexico and with good reason. But, there are other equally impressive temples in both Mexico and Guatemala that are definitely worth visiting. Some of them are off the usual tourist trails and take a little more effort to reach, but the views and spiritual experiences are well worth the journey!

Here is a round-up of some are our top Mayan temple sites in Mexico and Guatemala that you’re not going to want to miss.

Palenque, Mexico

“The House of the Serpent in the Infinite” is a Maya ceremonial centre possessing one of the highest spiritual frequencies. Its sacred architecture is exemplary and unique, a poem in stone. Surrounded by the rivers Lakam-Ha and Otulum, Palenque is the home of many of the classic Maya teachers, such as Kinich-Hanab-Pakal (“Great Teacher with the Shield of the Sun”). The carved lid of his sarcophagus is one of the ancient world’s most profound works of art, depicting as it does Pakal as the intermediary between worlds. The great teacher and Maya priestess, Lady Zac Kuuk (“White Quetzal”), also lived here; she represented the wisdom and the sacred knowledge that descends like the sacred Quetzal bird to illuminate our seventh Chakra – a component of the Maya initiatory path towards self-realization.

Temple of Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico

Tikal, Guatemala

“The Place with the Sacred Voices” is a university that reflects the architecture of the cosmos, a ceremonial centre where the ancient Maya teachers captured the sounds from other realities. The shapes of the pyramids and temples reflect the thorough understanding of mathematics, geometry, and cosmic calendars. They are also designed to act as needles, capturing the telluric energy of the Earth and of the sky, acupuncturing the ground and the human body.

The highest pyramid in the Maya world can also be found here, a cosmic antenna that allows you to touch the stars and become attuned with the cosmos. Great teachers such as Kinich-Muwaj Chak-Tok-Ich-Aak and Ix’Kalom-Te give us an idea of the extraordinary era when Tikal united science, art, philosophy, and religion as one, reflecting the sacred name of the Creator Hunab-Ku, giver of movement and measurement in the universe.

Tikal in Guatemala
Tikal in Guatemala, uniting science, art, philosophy, and religion

Yaxchilan, Mexico

Yaxchilan means “City of the First Prophets”. Here, secret rituals were conducted allowing initiates to travel through time and space to return with specialized information. No wonder they were referred to as Architects of the Sky!

Teachers such as Itzamnaj-Balam II, Jaguar-Bird IV, Lady Kabal-Xook, and Lady Sak’biyaan (“Precious Crystal Skull”) were versed in the Mysteries by travelling to parallel universes and recording the information in the stelas and lintels at this very special, and often overlooked, site. Yaxchilan is reached by boat through a slow moving river straddling Mexico and Guatemala, bordered by pristine jungle. A worthwhile and quite stunning journey in itself!

Yaxchilan in Mexico
The sacred temple site of Yaxchilan – well worth the boat ride!

Misol Ha Falls, Mexico

Behind the waterfalls, just 20km from Palenque, lies a powerful cave with a pool of water, a seat of power that can transform your life. This power is reflected in Grandmother Ix’mukane, “Heart of the Earth”, who lives spiritually in this sacred site waiting for you to let go of your past wounds and begin a new life of love, light, balance, and prosperity, which is realized through the purification of the water, the earth, and the sun, accompanied by the spirit of the great Jaguar. While Misol Ha may not have physical temple ruins, we’re including it on our list of temple sites due to its powerful spiritual energy – the water, rather than stone or other material, acting as an organic conduit to transformation.

Misol Ha Falls in Mexico
Capturing the powerful energy at the Misol Ha Falls

Is your favourite Mayan site on our list? We’d love to hear which sites make your top list!

If you’d like to visit these powerful temple sites where you can reconnect with the tune of the cosmos, join us for our journey: “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal, January 28 – February 5, 2017”. A full itinerary and tour description can be found on our website.

~ Sacred Earth Journeys, with material from Freddy Silva and Miguel Angel Vergara