The Maya possessed a complete pantheon of main and secondary gods. The
principal, intangible, god, for example, was Hunab Ku, the creator.
Xocbitum was god of song, Acanun Zip of hunters and Ahtubtun of eloquence.
Yxzuhuy Kak was god of virgin fire. The god of war was Ah Puch; of literature,
Itzamna; and of rain, Yun Chaac. Ixchel was Mother of the Gods. Ahkinxoc
was god of merchants and music; Ahkaaknicay was god of fishing.
In the service of these divinities were numerous priests, feared and
venerated by the people and thereby having a profound influence on all
social classes. Because of their profession, they had to be the most
cultured men, since they devoted themselves to studying and investigating
the sciences. They read and wrote, they preached, presided over religious
ceremonies, and took part in patriotic festivities.
As a supplementary occupation, they studied medicine: they knew the
efficacy of herbs, they prescribed remedies and charms, they diagnosed
the outcome of diseases, and even went so far as to make predictions.
The most popular priests were the "chilanes" who evoked spirits and
kept everyone hoodwinked with their omens, divination and fortune-telling.
The gods were worshipped with a variety of practices: preparing food
without salt and chilli, periods of celibacy, abstaining from meat,
fasting, praying and burning incense, offerings of flowers and fragrant
herbs. Sacrifices were normally of animals, but human sacrifice was
not uncommon, ranging from the piercing of various parts of the body
to death accompanied by the most painful tortures.
The Maya were not atheists: they believed in the existence of God and
in the immortality of the soul. For them there were, after death, rewards
and punishments: a heaven and a hell.
They believed that good, virtuous men who departed this life were led
to a wonderful place, a huge esplanade or square, shaded by a massive
ceiba tree that spread its leafy branches in all directions.
In its kindly shade it was deliciously and eternally cool, and there
sat the good men, with not the slightest worry to trouble them. There,
forgetting all their fatigue and all their tribulations, with cool breezes
blowing on their faces and soft sounds caressing their ears, they passed
the time pleasantly in endless friendly conversations, and ate delicious,
sweet food of whose ever new and appetizing taste they never tired.
on the other hand, was a vile, dirty, foul, sickening place. Those who
dwelt there suffered endless horrible cold; their stomachs stuck to
their backbones with raging hunger; they collapsed with fatigue, and
were forever on the point of dying in terrible anguish. As if this were
not bad enough, thousands of evil spirits had fun torturing them, and
amused themselves by mocking them and harrassing them with eternally
renewed pains and torments. In this pit of misfortune a demon reigned
supreme, prince and chief of all the evil spirits, whom they called
Ek Chuah|Ah Katun|Xaman