Art & Culture

Cenotes: Gateway to the Maya Underworld

The Maya incorporated the Yucatan subterranean caverns into their myths and religion, giving them great symbolic value and meaning

For Mesoamerican peoples, the concept of life after death was very different from that imposed on them by the Catholic religion following the Spanish invasion. Mesoamerica had no concept of Catholicism’s heaven and hell, nor of only four cardinal points. Their religion was polytheistic, that is, they believed in many gods.

So what does all of this have to do with a body of water, you might ask?

The cenote, or dzonot as it is known in­ Maya, has a very important meaning for this civilization: it is the entrance to the underworld. This is not to be confused with hell, which as I mentioned previously, is a Catholic concept.

The underworld of the Maya is called Xibalba and consists of nine levels, each guarded by the Bolontiku, the Lords of the Realm of Xibalba. Accessing each level depended on your cause of death and not on the life lived, unlike Catholicism, where you receive reward or punishment by being sent to heaven or hell.

According to Maya mythology, a ceiba tree was generally a sign that there was a water source nearby, a fountain of life in the form of a cenote. This is the reason many villages were built around them. In terms of symbolic value, if we take the meaning of the ceiba, which is the center of the universe or the axis mundi, we can understand the great cultural value that cenotes had for the Maya. In this symbolic world, the ceiba represents life, the four cardinal points, the center of the Earth, and two other vertical points, upwards, and downwards to the cenotes.

The powerful symbol of the cenote was also a focal point during the caste wars, and during the month of July we will be celebrating the anniversary of the Maya social struggle. Legend says that it was next to a cenote where the Talking Cross appeared, carved into a tree.The cross would become a symbol of this armed uprising. Beneath our feet lies a world of a meanings and symbols.

Source: www.arqueologí

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