Wednesday, April 23, 2008


A fairy (also fay, fey, fae, faerie; collectively, wee folk, good folk, people of peace, and other euphemisms) is the name given to a type of mythological being or legendary creature, a form of nature spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural.
The concept of fairies is based on the fae of medieval Western European (Old French) folklore and romance. Fairies are often identified with a variety of beings of other mythologies. Even in folklore that uses the term "fairy," there are many definitions of what constitutes a fairy. Sometimes the term is used to describe any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes: at other times, the term only describes a specific type of more ethereal creature.

Fairies are generally described as human in appearance and having magical powers. Their origins are less clear in the folklore, being variously dead, or some form of angel, or a species completely independent of humans or angels. Folklorists have suggested that their actual origin lies in a conquered race living in hiding, or in religious beliefs that lost currency with the advent of Christianity. These explanations are not always mutually incompatible, and they may be traceable to multiple sources.

Much of the folklore about fairies revolves about protection from their malice, by such means as cold iron (fairies don't like iron and will not go near it) or charms of rowan and herbs, or avoiding offense by shunning locations known to be theirs. In particular, folklore describes how to prevent the fairies from stealing babies and substituting changelings, and abducting older people as well.Many folktales are told of fairies, and they appear as characters in stories from medieval tales of chivalry, to Victorian fairy tales, and up to the present day in modern literature.

Fairies are generally portrayed as human in appearance and as having supernatural abilities such as the ability to fly, cast spells and to influence or foresee the future. Although in modern culture they are often depicted as young, sometimes winged, females of small stature, they originally were depicted much differently: tall, radiant, angelic beings or short, wizened trolls being some of the commonly mentioned. Diminutive fairies of one kind or another have been recorded for centuries, but occur alongside the human-sized beings; these have been depicted as ranging in size from very tiny up to the size of a human child. Even with these small fairies, however, their small size may be magically assumed rather than constant.

Wings, while common in Victorian and later artwork of fairies, are very rare in the folklore; even very small fairies flew with magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds. Nowadays, fairies are often depicted with wings of various shapes:

-Like the wings of ordinary generalized winged insects, e.g. as the image at this link.

-Like butterfly wings (butterfly fairies), e.g. as the image at this link.

-Various fantastic shapes.

Various animals have also been described as fairies. Sometimes this is the result of shapeshifting on part of the fairy, as in the case of the selkie (seal people); others, like the kelpie and various black dogs, appear to stay more constant in form.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tipes of Dragons

Description: Winged or flying serpents
Famous: Quetzacoatl, the Dragon of Henham (169, Essex), many monsters in the mythology of ancient egypt : Aapep, Mertseger, Buto, Nekhbet

Description:double-headed serpent-dragons with heads at each end of its body. Its name means 'goes both ways' in Greek as it could reportedly stick one head inside the mouth of the other, and roll to where it wanted to go. Some pictures of this creature depict it as having feet, others just as a snake.It was said to be a very evil creature. Pliny recorded medicinal properties of the beast. Wearing a live amphisbæna will protect pregnant women, and wearing a dead one is a remedy of rheumatism.
Element : Earth
Description : They are small dragons less than 1.5 m high but very fierce and hostile to humans. Famous: the dragons of Wilser who lived on the mount Pilate (Switzerland) had poisoned blood and exhaled fire.

Element : Earth
Origin: Germany, Gaule (France)
Description: A drake is a dragon with only legs and no wings. FireDrakes have the breath of flame, and are usually reddish in color. In Europe many cities were named after this dragon: Drakeford, Drakeshill, Draguignan,...
Lore: They often live in caves and guard great treasure. They breath fire to defend themselves. Famous: Wiglaf, the firedrake killed by Beowulf

Origin: Greece Description: many headed dragon who either have wings, or wingless. When one head is cut off, two more grow from the spurting blood.
Famous : the Hydra of Lernea, the Beast of the Apocalypse

Element : Water
Description: A drake is a dragon with only legs and no wings. Icedrakes exhaled snow and hail and are usually white or light bluish in color. These types of dragons do not fly, they look like large lizards being about 5-20 m long.

There are no trace of dragons as made up of different parts of animals in India. The closest creature is the Naga which inherited of many characteristics of the dragon.
Description: pseudo-dragons who are usually portrayed as having a human head, serpentine body, and no wings.
Origin: The word Naga is rooted in Sanskrit and means "Serpent". It is one of a handful of rare words surviving the loss of the first universal language. Even in Mexico, we find the "Naga" which becomes "Nagal."
Powers: Nagas were patrons of water and clouds, but could cause flooding or drought if disturbed. In some stories, the naga can shape-change at will from human to snake form Symbol: In the Esoteric Tradition it is synonymous for Adepts, or Initiates. In India and Egypt, and even in Central and South America, the Naga stands for one who is wise. Nagarjuna of India, for example, is shown with an aura, or halo, of seven serpents which is an indication of a very high degree of Initiation. Nagarjuna are called in Tibetan, Lu-trub. The symbolism of the seven serpents, usually cobras, are also on Masonic aprons of certain systems in the Buddhistic ruins of Cambodia (Ankhor) and Ceylon. In China, the Naga is given the form of the Dragon and has a direct association with the Emperor and is known as the "Son of Heaven" while in Egypt the same association is termed "King-Initiate". The Chinese are said to have originated with the Serpent demi-gods and even to speak their language, Naga-Krita. In the Western traditions we find the same ubiquity for the Naga, or Serpent. One simple example is the Ancient Greek Goddess, Athena. She is known as a warrior Goddess as well as the Goddess of Wisdom; her symbol being the Serpent as displayed on her personal shield. An apocryphal tradition says that Apollonius of Tyana, while on a visit to India, was taught by the "Nagas" of Kashmir. (See The Life of Apollonius, by Philostratos.) The Serpent's reputation for positive medicinal and/or life-preserving qualities is still present through seen the employment of the Caduceus.
Oriental Dragons
Element : Water
Powers: Some of the worst floods in Asia's History were caused when a mortal has upset a dragon. Dragons were essentialy linked to the water element, influencing the weather and the water courses. According to Chinese mythology, a dragon has to spend 1000 years under the sea, 1000 years in the mountains and 1000 years among men before turning into a real dragon. Before that he is a small serpent prisoner of a stone, called a “serpent’s egg”. After 3000 years, the dragon escape and take his adult form, the stone was known to spill a magic liquid called “inky blood”.
Friend/Foe : In the Eastern world the dragon has a rather different significance than in the West. He is essentially benevolent, son of heaven, and controls the watery elements of the universe.In many cases the dragon is combined with the phoenix to symbolize long life and prosperity. It is also combined with the tiger to represent heaven and earth or inyo (Yin and Yang).
Description : Having sinuous serpentine bodies and four legs, eastern dragons do not usually breath fire, nor do they fly. According to Wang Fu (Han 206 BC-220 AC)dragons are made up of many different types of animals of the Earth: the body of a snake, scales of a carp, head of a camel, horns of a deer, the eyes of a hare, ears like a bull, a neck like an iguana, belly of a frog, paws like a tigers, and claws like an eagle. A lion-type mane decorates its neck, its chin, and each elbow. They also carry two antler-like horns on their wide-mouthed head, and two long whiskers spread out from their snout. They are depicts in many colors like blue, black, white, red, or yellow. Oriental dragons are usually shown with a pearl in their mouth, under their chin, or in their claws. This is apparently where the dragon gets its power, and how it ascends to heaven. The male dragon holds a war club in its tail while the female dragon holds a sensu or fan in its tail.
There are many different kinds of dragons. Some live in the air, some live in the sea, and some live underground. The legends of China include a white lunar (moon) dragon. Others include the the Spiritual, The Dragon of Hidden Treasures, the Winged, the Horned, the Coiling, and the Yellow. The chinese have a dragon to help them for each circumstance of their life. In China dragons are known as Lung.Yu-Lung which looks like a fish give success to exams. Eastern dragons can be classified according to the number of claws they have. Most five clawed dragons are Chinese. Three clawed dragons are Japanese. Four clawed dragons are Chinese, Indonesian or Korean.
Aka: oroborus, uroboros, and oureboros.
Description: a serpent whose end is his beginning as he endlessly eats his own tail.
Origin: The Serpent biting its own tail is first seen as early as 1600 years BC in Egypt. From there it moved to the Phonecians and then to the Greeks, who called it the Ouroboros, which means devouring its tail Famous: The serpent biting its tail is found in other mythologies as well. In Norse mythology Jörmungandr circles the entire world whith his huge body., in Hindu mythology the snake circles the tortoise which supports the four elephants that carry the world. Symbol: the serpent biting, devouring, eating its own tail symbolises the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal. It is also an emblem of immortality. Its endless representation with its tail in its mouth (Ouroboros), and the constant renewal of its skin and vigor, enliven the symbols of continued youth and eternity. Alchemically, the ouroboros is also used as a purifying glyph. He keeps the cosmic waters under control, and is symbolic of the cyclical nature of alchemical work. He is the basilisk, the alchemical serpent.
Western Dragons
Element : Earth and Water
Description: The Western type of dragon has been variously described. He appears to be created from parts of various creatures, having eagle's feet, two bat-like wings, lion's forelimbs, reptile’s head, fish's scales, antelope's horns and a serpentine form of spade tail, which occasionally extended to the head.He can be of any color and some species can even change the color of their skin just like a chameleon. They usually breath fire but this is not a general trait.
Powers: Those dragons usually have huge hoards of gold and jewels hidden in their lairs. They are known to live more than 300 years, some western dragons are even immortal.
Friend/Foe: They do not eat too often and can live on a sheep or ox once a month. They are usually portrayed as evil, mean, and bloodthirsty which is a consequence of the demonization exerced by the Church.
Famous: The end of the dragon came with Christianity as the Church declares them as enemies and send hords of knights to struggle against them. As a result, most dragons have been destroyed (and even more knights have been burned).
Magic: Eating a dragons' heart will give the the power of understanding the language of animals, eating the dragons' tongue enables to win any argument, and rubbing the dragons' blood on skin will protect against stabs

Description: These are dragons which have neither legs nor wings
Origin: Worms are known to be the first incarnations of dragons. They are linked to water and are omnipresent in most primitive cultures (Australia, Africa, Amazonia)
Famous: the Lambton Worm.
Lore : forests and wells and any dark place near water

Aka: Wyver, Lindworm, Lindorm, Wouive, Vouivre
Element : Earth
Description: two-legged dragon with two wings, a serpent’s head and the claws of an eagle.In modern images, they may have claws on the wings and a sting filled with poison on the end of its tail. The French Wyvern known as a Vouivre or Wouive, is portrayed with the head and upper body of a voluptuous woman with a ruby or garnet set between her eyes that help her to find her way through the Underworld.
Origin: from the Old French wyvere which means both viper and ‘life’. They were also very popular mountains of central europe and in Sweden
Friend/Foe : Wyvern are frequent in heraldry and are considered a sign of strength to those who bear the symbol. Wouive is the good ‘Genius’ who hovers protectively over the countryside and masters the underlying currents of the earth. She is ‘the spirit that breathes or inspires.’ The ancients represented these currents, that today we term cosmic or magnetic, by winged serpents. Neverthelessthe Wyvern appears in some western folk tales as a malign and violent predator with a fierce head, bat’s wings and a tail that sometimes has an extra scorpion-like head on its end. The life-giving aspect of the Wyvern is inverted in favour of death as she takes life. The Wouive’s ‘Breath of Life’ has been reversed, for the Wyvern is said to have poisonous and corrupt breath. These dragons symbolise envy, war, pestilence, and viciousness.
Famous: Marco Polo met and described Lindworms while crossing Central Asia. They were quick and mighty enough to take down a man on a galloping horse.

Dragons Hystorycal Stories

The Jabberwocky, from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872.

Although the time that dragons first appeared in myths isn't known for sure, they can be traced back as far as approximately 4000 B.C. Dragons are said to have been able to live almost anywhere, depending on the type of dragon mentioned. Their habitats range from the center of the earth to the middle of the ocean. They could also be found in caves, fire, or anywhere dark and damp.
Stories of dragons appear all throughout history and almost every culture has their own idea about dragons. Some reasons for this could be the finding of dinosaur fossils. Dragons could be used to describe the indescribable bones of unknown creatures. There are stories about dragons in every part of the world, with the exception of Antartica. Even though there are no people in Antartica, which in that way would seem to make it attractive to dragons, the climate proposes a problem for these creatures who like fire or live in water, but not ice water.
One type of dragon, or sea monster, was feared back in the time of Christopher Columbus. During this time when the world was thought to be flat, these dragons were said to be at the edge of earth, waiting to eat any one who dared to sail that far into the ocean. This story kept many people from exploring farther into the world. Maps were even made marking the place where these dragons lived. At the edge of the map the words "Here Be Dragons" was almost always printed.

A knight and a dragon.

Dragons have also appeared in stories that go back to the time of the gods in mythology. The story of Perseus and the Dragon of Posdeidon tells of a vain queen who almost sacrificed her daughter to the dragon, had it not been for Perseus.
Dragons appear most in fairy tales and myths. In most cases the dragon is the keeper of some treasure, either gold and precious jewels or a maiden in despair. A knight in these stories must come to rescue the girl, or to retrieve the riches. To do this he must slay the dragon.
Almost all young children have heard stories of dragons. A story that arose from the Middle Ages is about a knight, later called St. George, who rescued a princess from a dragon and in return was able to baptize the Pagan people to Christianity. The story says that every year a maiden was sacrificed to this dragon. One year when the princess was going to be sacrificed, St. George decided to rescue her. Using his sword, Ascalon, he was able to stab the dragon and later slay him. This may be one of the most popular heroic stories involving the death of dragons, although there are many. The story of St. George and the Dragon has been told for centuries and the event was even painted by the great artist Raphael.

A norseman fights off a sea dragon.

Like St. George and the Dragon, many other stories have been told about dragons and the heroes who kill them. One story like this comes from Norway. The king left his daughter in the castle while he went away on a long trip. He left her a tiny dragon to be her guardian. The princess was skeptical of the tiny creatures, fearing that it could not protect her. However, the dragon soon grew into a large monster. He soon became too good of a guardian for the princess when he grew large enough to wrap his body all around the castle and not let anyone in or out of it. When the king returned home, even he was not permitted inside the castle. The only thing to do was to kill this dragon, so the king offered his the marriage of his daughter to anyone who could kill this dragon. No man in Norway was capable, but a man in Sweden finally killed the beast. As his reward he married the princess and they returned to Sweden together.

Another story is about another young man who fought a dragon for the reward of bringing the king's daughter to his master for marriage. In this story Tristan is tricked by another man who wants the princess for his own wife. In the end Tristan cut off the dragon's tongue as proof of his accomplishment and the lies of the other man were discovered.

During the times of dragons in England, anyone who killed a dragon was awarded knighthood. In ancient Rome, dragons were thought to hold the mysteries of the earth. Romans looked to dragons as a source of knowledge and used them as symbols of strength for their military. They used two forms of dragons, one which was used for heroism, to protect them, and the other, a fearsome dragon, used as a threath.

A wizard fighting a wyrm on a cliff.

Other tales about dragons are more about their toes then the dragons themselves. How many toes a dragon has is quiet significant. Many different kinds of dragons are said to have 3 toes. The 4 toed dragons are said to be the earth dragons. But the 5 toed dragons are the most respected of all. Only a king or a high noble had the privilege of wearing a picture of the 5 toed dragon. In ancient times if a peasant was seen wearing the symbol of the 5 toed dragon, he would immediately be put to death.

Dragons seem to have come from exaggerated myths about huge snakes, lizards or other reptiles. One type of dragon is actually called the Wyrm, and has a very snake-like form, with a dragon head. Another smaller form of dragon is called a dragonlet. These dragons are also venomous and can be deadly. In the story The Dragonlet of St. Pilatus, only man with a bad temper and skills with a sword was able to defeat this monster that was only the height of the hero. In almost every culture and all throughout history there are stories of these magical creatures called dragons.


Dragons are important mythological creatures. ragons are mythical creatures that appear in many different cultures and time periods.
Dragons have been described as monsters, serpents, reptiles, or beasts. There is something magical about dragons that has kept our intrigue over many centuries.
Dragons are usually thought to have wings and breathe fire. They also are said to have scales and claws. Some also have horns. Almost always they are said to be venomous. Some dragons may have two or more heads. They may also have more than one tail. They may have two, four or even more legs; however, most are known to have four legs. Dragons are said to eat things such as rats, birds, snakes, bats, or even humans, especially children. Dragons are very intelligent creatures. They live in remote areas, far away from humans, in places that are dark, damp and secluded, such as caves. Dragons were first thought of as creatures who lived in water. Later they became associated with fire. Sea serpents may have been the first dragons, and may be the reason for this association. Almost all dragon stories portray the dragon as the villain from whom the hero must protect the city or the princess. But some dragons can take on the form of the protector. The biggest differences in dragons usually come from different cultures, especially the cultures of the East and the West. Each culture seems to have their own idea about dragons. Dragons cannot be put all into one group, as there are so many dragons. Each culture seems to have their own type of dragon, and each of these dragons is usually very different. Some people have said that dragons once existed, maybe during the time of the dinosaurs. Others believe that dragons began around the same time the earth began. A few people even claim to have seen a dragon in their life time. Of these people who claim to have seen one, they usually agree that it was humans who finally defeated the dragons. But most of all, dragons are fascinating, magical creatures who have captivated our attention for thousands of years. The many different kinds of dragons and the ability for us to use our imagination to create these creatures only adds to their appeal. Many stories have been told about these great beings and it seems like dragons are a part of our mythical history. Whether these creatures are or ever were real probably doesn't matter due to the fact that the imagination can create them in almost any situation. Dragons have often been used in art work. Pictures or sculptures of dragons seem mysterious and magical. Fashion has found style in these magical creatures, especially in the Eastern dragons.

Modern fantasy describes dragon characteristics in great detail. A dragon looks much like a reptile, at least at first glance. It has a muscular body, a long, thick neck, a horned head, and a sinuous tail. It walks on four legs with clawed feet, and it flies using its vast, batlike wings. Heavy scales cover a dragon from the tip of its tail to the end of its snout.
Dragons are different sizes, of course. They start out as eggs, from 1-4 feet in length, and about half that in diameter. As adults, some species of dragons can be as long as 85 feet, with a wingspan of 170 feet. A dragon's eye has a large iris and a vertical pupil, like a cat. This allows the pupil to open extremely wide and admit much more light than a human eye. The white of a dragon's eye us often not white, but yellow, gold, green, orange, red, or silver. A dragon's eye is protected by a leathery outer eyelid and three smooth inner eyelids. The innermost membrane is crystal clear and protects the eye from damage while the dragon flies. The other two eyelids mainly serve to keep the eye clean. They are not as thin nor clear as the innermost membrane. A dragon can use these inner lids to protect its eyes from sudden flashes of bright light. Dragons are hatched from eggs. These eggs vary in size depending on the dragon type, but are usually the same color as the mother dragon. Dragon eggs have elongated, ovoid shapes and hard, stony shells. When born, a dragon's scales are as soft as tissue paper, and slowly harden as the dragon ages. During the first year of life, a dragon's scales will be very soft and supple. Over time, they will become as hard as stone or steel. Metallic dragons' scales start out very dull, but become shinier throughout the life of the dragon.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Location: The South Central region of present-day Mexico was once the home of the Aztec. They lived in the highlands of Mesoamerica in an area of basins separated by eroded volcanic peaks and dissected mountain ranges.

History: The Aztecs came from the remote north, probably around the early 13th century. They were migratory at first, wandering around the Mexican Valley struggling to survive. They were even enslaved once by another tribe. In the year 1325, however, they stopped their migratory pattern on the southwest border of Lake Texcoco as they beheld an eagle sitting on the stem of a prickly pear. He was holding a serpent in this talons and his wings were open to the sun. They saw this as an omen, announcing the location of their future city and capital, Tenochtitlan. In order to build their city, the swamps and standing water around them had to be drained and artificial islands were constructed to form gardens.
The Aztec maintained their subsistence by utilizing fishing, hunting, gathering and gardening techniques. The valley rivers were rich in fish, insects, shrimp, tadpoles, and a naturally occurring pasta called ahuatle. Those near the ocean ate crabs, oysters, fish and turtles. Thus, the water was a major source of food for the Aztec who wished to utilize them. Among the wild animals are rabbits, snakes, armadillos, deer, pumas and coyotes. Along with the hunting of some of these, the ancient Aztecs also hunted the wild turkey.
Many of the gathered plants eventually became domesticated by the Aztec. These crops include cocoa, vanilla, bananas, squash, pumpkin, beans, chili, tobacco, onions, red tomatoes, green tomatoes, sweet potatoes, jicama, huautli and maize.
Raiding and warring often began simply to collect captives for use in sacrificial offerings to the principal Aztec god, Huitzilpochti. The Aztec conquered many other tribes, allowing them to retain their own religion and government. However, the tribes were expected to supply the Aztecs with food, textiles, pottery and other items needed to support the nobles, priests and administrators of the city of Tenochtitlan, which numbered perhaps in the hundreds of thousands.
Language: The Aztec did not have a written language, but spoke Nahuatl. They did have written records, however. They chiefly used the method of direct representation and varieties of hieroglyphic paintings.

Daily Life: Today, many indigenous groups of Latin America can trace their roots back to the Aztec. The fact that the Aztec conquered so many of their neighbors made them a major influence on past and modern indigenous life in the area.

Best Known Features-Human sacrifice: In modern times, the Aztec are best known for human sacrifices. On special occasions, a slave was sacrificed. His flesh would be elaborately dressed and would be the center ornament of the banquet. Cannibalism was not a daily occurrence in the Aztec life, but it was common on special religious and social occasions. Human sacrifices were necessary to honor the gods and to perpetuate human existence. They believed that humans were responsible for the pleasure or displeasure of the gods and, therefore, they aimed to make sure that the deities were happy. Twenty to fifty thousand people were sacrificed yearly.
For most people today, and for the European Catholics who first met the Aztecs, human sacrifice was the most striking feature of Aztec civilization. While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself.
However, most experts consider these numbers to be overstated. For example, the sheer logistics associated with sacrificing 84,000 victims would be overwhelming. A similar consensus has developed on reports of cannibalism among the Aztecs.
In the writings of Bernardino de Sahagún, Aztec "anonymous informants" defended the practice of human sacrifice by asserting that it was not very different from the European way of waging warfare: Europeans killed the warriors in battle, Aztecs killed the warriors after the battle.
Accounts by the Tlaxcaltecas, the primary enemy of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, show that at least some of them considered it an honor to be sacrificed. In one legend, the warrior Tlahuicole was freed by the Aztecs but eventually returned of his own volition to die in ritual sacrifice. Tlaxcala also practiced the human sacrifice of captured Aztec warriors.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Mystical Mayas

Unlike the cultures of the Valley of Mexico, the only period in which the urban centers were important to the Mayas was during the Classic period from 300 to 900 AD. The culture of the Mayas, however, has little changed from the classic period to the modern period, for Maya culture was largely tribal and rural all throughout the Classic period. What distinguishes Classic from post-Classic Maya culture was the importance of urban centers and their structures in the religious life of the Mayas and the extent of literate culture.

The Mayas were never a "true" urban culture; the urban centers were almost entirely used as religious centers for the rural population surrounding them. Therfore, the decline of the urban centers after 900 AD did not involve titanic social change so much as religious change; it is believed by some scholars that the abandonment of the cities was primarily due to religious proselytizing from the north. Nevertheless, the Classic period saw an explosion of cultural creativity all throughout the region populated by the tribes we call "Mayan." They derived many cultural forms from the north, but also devised many cultural innovations that profoundly influenced all subsequent cultures throughout Mesoamerica. Much of Maya culture, particularly the religious reckoning of time, is still a vital aspect of Native American life in Guatemala and Honduras.

The Region

Classic Maya culture developed in three regions in Mesoamerica. By far the most important and most complete urban developments occurred in the lowlands in the "central region" of southern Guatemala. This region is a drainage basin about sixty miles long and twenty miles wide and is covered by tropical rain forest; the Mayas, in fact, are only one of two peoples to develop an urban culture in a tropical rainforest. The principal city in this region was Tikal, but the spread of urbanization extended south to Honduras; the southernmost Mayan city was Copan in northern Honduras. In the Guatemalan highlands to the north, Mayan culture developed less fully. The highlands are more temperate and seem to have been the main suppliers of raw materials to the central urban centers. The largest and most complete urban center was Palenque. The other major region of Mayan development was the Yucatan peninsula making up the southern and eastern portions of modern-day Mexico. This is a dry region and, although urban centers were built in this region, including Chichen Itza and Uxmal (pronounced "Oosh-mal"), most scholars believe that this was a culturally marginal area. After the abandonment of the Classic Mayan cities, the Yucatán peninsula became the principal region of a new, synthetic culture called Toltec-Mayan which was formed when Toltecs migrating from the north integrated with indigenous Maya peoples.

Almost all the urban centers were built in tropical rain forest. This is the singularly most important fact of Mayan cultural development and probably the most significant reason why the Mayans never developed a fully urban culture. For tropical rain forest is extremely difficult to live in; despite its lushness and moisture, tropical rain forest can only support small human populations. While plant and animal growth seems almost out of control and the rains never stop, tropical rain forest makes extremely poor agricultural land. As a consequence, a greater amount of area is required to support each person—this encourages population dispersal rather than the concentration necessary to do things like build cities and temples and such. It has been estimated that there were never more than 30 people per square mile during the classic period. So the Mayan accomplishment is truly awe-inspiring! With a difficult life, with heat and humidity that would melt the hardiest North American, and with a very sparse population, the Mayans built incredibly sophisticated urban centers, an astronomical science and mathematics among the most sophisticated in the pre-modern world, and the most developed and complex system of writing in the Americas.

The Mayans enter history with the diffusion of certain architectural styles throughout the Mayan cultural area. The early diffusion of this architecture, which includes stelae (stone, flat columns) and corbelled vaults, and culture is called the Early Classic Period (292-593). The Late Classic Period (593-889) is characterized by the efflorescence of Maya culture in over ninety cities and the widespread use of writing.

The cities the Mayas built were ceremonial centers. A priestly class lived in the cities, but for the most part the Maya population lived in small farming villages. The priestly class would carry out daily religious duties, particularly sacrifices, and the peasants would periodically gather for religious ceremonies and festivals. For reasons that we don't understand, the Mayas, abandoned their cities around 900 AD. There is evidence of invasion from the outside and its possible that economic difficulties led them to abandon the cities. The greatest change seems to be the disappearance of the priestly class; with this disappearance, the Mayas stopped working on their cities. The peasans seem to have continued to use their cities for a time, but that eventually came to a halt as well. Life for the Mayas did not really change drastically after the decline of their cities, for the cities were central only in their ceremonial life.
Maya population was in general very small, and very few of the Mayas permanently lived in the urban centers. The central reason for this is the nature of agriculture in tropical rain forest. The Mayas, like others forced to cultivate tropical rain forest, practiced slash and burn agriculture. Because growth is so rapid in tropical rain forests, the nutrients provided by dead plants and animal feces gets used up very quickly. Rain forest soil, surprisingly, is remarkably unfertile for agriculture. In slash and burn agriculture, the Mayans would cut down a swath of forest, burn the felled trees and plants for fertilizer, and then cultivate the plot. Now as then the Mayans did not employ sophisticated fertilization techniques, so the plot of land would be exhausted in two to four years (some archaeologists estimate that it may have taken as long as seven years if the Mayans weeded by hand rather than using tools). What all this means is that it takes an immense amount of land to support a family—among the Maya, it probably required at least seventy acres for every five people. The population, then, throughout the Classic Period was very small.

Slash and burn agriculture (called milpa by the Mayas) is also labor intensive. Modern-day Native Americans in Guatemala who employ this agriculture spend about 190 days every year in agricultural work. Despite this labor, you can see that at least 170 days are left over (almost half of a year) for other types of labor. This excess time was used in the Classic Period in the building and maintenance of cities as well as the extensive production of art-work and the agricultural labor necessary to support the priestly populations in the cities.

The principal food of the Mayas was maize and maize production was the central economic activity of the Mayas. Milpa farming itself, which is dependent on a holistic view of one's activities since the cultivated plot keeps moving, seems to have been the foundational basis of the Mayan religion and the Mayan concern with time.

We know almost nothing of Mayan society beyond the social division between the priests and the peasants. Mayan society had several strata: rulers, priests, commoners, and slaves. The extent to which the rulers were differentiated from the priests is unknown. At the top of the Mayan hierarchy was the halach uinic ("True Man"), whose position was hereditary. The halach uinic ruled both domestic and foreign affairs with the help of a council. Lesser chiefs ruled smaller social units.

In the religious hierarchy, the head was called Ah Kin Mai ("The Highest One of the Sun") who ruled over all the priests below him (called Ah Kin , "The One of the Sun"). There were two special priestly functions involved in human sacrifice: the chacs , who were elderly men who held down the victim, and the nacon , who cut the living heart from the victim.

Mayas had a sense of physical beauty very different from other peoples in Mesoamerica. They prized a long, backward sloping forehead; in order to attain this look, infants would have their skulls bound with boards. Crossed-eyes were an important item of physical beauty; infants would have objects dangled in front of their eyes in order to permanently cross their eyes (this is still practiced today).


Mayan religion grew primarily out of the milpas agriculture which required accurate predictions of time and accomodation to the cycles of life in the rain-forest. There is one overwhelming aspect to Mayan religion: it is based on accomodating humanity to the cycles of the universe. The universe functions in a logical, cyclical, and predictable way; human beings can exploit that cyclical nature by accomodating themselves to these cycles.
For this reason, Mayan religion is obsessed with time. In order to correctly orient oneself to the cycles of time, one must be able to calculate these cycles with great accuracy. To this end, the Mayas developed a number of calendrical systems. At the center was the tzolkin , or sacred calendar, which consisted of 260 days; this calendar worked on two cycles, a cycle of 13 numbered days and a cycle of 20 named days. These two cycles would repeat themselves every 260 days. In addition, they had the tun , or ceremonial calendar, which was 360 days long plus five concluding, unlucky days. Another calendar was the katun , which was a cycle of 20 tuns . They also used a Venus calendar (584 days), a half-year lunar calendar, and cycles of the sky gods. In combination, these calendars made the Mayans the most accurate reckoners of time before the modern period reaching an accuracy of being one day off every 6000 years (which is far more accurate than our calendar). All the days of these calendars in their incredible complexity served as astronomical almanacs that rigidly controlled behavior and religious ceremony. It is not unfair to say that Mayan life was one long continuous cycle of religious ceremonies.

Religious ceremonies involved several aspects: dancing, competition, dramatic performances, prayer, and sacrifice. The gods required nourishment from human beings in order to work. While sacrifice often involved foodstuffs, the bulk of sacrifice involved some form of human sacrifice. The majority of this human sacrifice was blood-letting, in which a victim, usually a priest, voluntarily pierces a part (or parts) of their body&$151;usually their tongue, ears, lips, or penis—and "gives" blood to the gods. The higher one's position in the hierarchy, the more blood was expected. Some ceremonies demanded the living heart of a victim, in which case the victim was held down by the four chacs at the top of a pyramid or raised platform while the nacon made an incision below the rib cage and ripped out the heart with his hands. The heart was then burned in order to nourish the gods.

The Mayas believed that the world had been created five times and destroyed four times; this eschatology became the fundamental basis of Mesoamerican religion from 900 AD onwards when it was adopted by the Toltecs. Most of the Mayan gods were reptilian and they all had dual aspects, that is, each god had a benevolent aspect and a malevolent aspect. The Mayas believed in an elaborate afterlife, but heaven was reserved for those who had been hanged, sacrificed, or died in childbirth. Everyone else went to xibal , or hell, which was ruled over by the Lords of Death.