Friday, December 14, 2012

Blood, Sacrifice and an Obsession with World Endings

Aztec Calendar

Might as well add my voice to the current fascination with the Mayan Calendar which apparently ends on 21st December 2012. This fact is supposed to predict our sudden hurtling into the void or abyss or being struck by a giant meteorite or whatever other dire and cataclysmic event we can imagine.  Whether this is actually what the Mayans thought, we don't really know but the idea has seized the popular imagination.

 There has always been a tendency each century to imagine the world will end though lately these apocalyptic fears seem to have become even more prevalent.  Maybe that's because the world has become so much smaller.  Maybe it's the love of the morbid and of death and endings all of which were certainly obsessions of the ancient Mayans.  It's almost as if we are so dismayed by the current state of humanity and it's apparent inability ever to use simple common sense or learn how to behave from looking back on our bloodstrewn history that we yearn for its ending.   Deep down, this yearning is for something newer and better, some Golden Age to dawn, when all will be peace and harmony, sweetness and light.  Or simply annihilation of our species...let's leave the world to what's left of the animals and plants.

I doubt such a thing will ever be while this world as we know it exists, the world ruled by Nature, because we are, after all, part of nature though we struggle against it. Human beings are also red in tooth and claw.  We still make human sacrifices to the Gods of War and blood is shed to satisfy their appetites. The Mayans, with all their brilliant learning and sophistication were horrified by the relentlessness of Nature and the way in which it makes human endeavour seem pointless...all to be swept away by Time and the endless cycles.  In some ways, this is perhaps what the Mayans understood.  They understood the relentless battle of opposites of Nature, the circle of consuming and devouring, eat or be eaten.  The innate longing for a Golden Age, Heaven, Valhalla, Paradise are ideal and spiritual images that are truly human by which we look to something that is beyond Nature and her exquisitely organised round of existence.   We want to survive in some form untouchable by this dictate, we don't want to be eaten.

Chichen Itza in Yucatan

So what's this business of the world ending?  A sense of disillusion comes to every person who has lived for a good many decades.  The older generation always feels that everything new and different, any change to the order of things they knew in their own youth must be bad and must be wrong.  Their world has ended.  I know that I look back on the Forties and Fifties and see another world view, another type of people, different manners, customs and attitudes.  Sometimes I long to return to the past.  But was it really that much better or simply cast in a golden glow of hindsight? All the same, the modern world is now a puzzle to me.  But it's meaningful to the young who have made it and live in it.  In time, their world will also end.  The world is always ending. 

The Mayan's were a strange set of people and their view of life was particularily depressing, gloomy and fearful.  They were brilliant mathematicians and even discovered the zero before the Arabs.  They were also great astronomers, building huge observatories and their mapping of the skies was very accurate.  They created astonishing temple buildings.  To many these are beautiful, like the famous one at Chichen Itza in Tinum, Yucatan.  It does have a beauty of its own, but to me they are terrifying places in their square, solid, ugliness.  There seems no space, no air, nothing but a solid immoveable block which typifies the immoveable, unchanging, fixed quality of the Mayan religious beliefs and of the whole of that civilisation.  In some ways there is a similiarity to Egyptian pyramids and their solid, sturdy enormous temples.  But the Egyptians had a far more hopeful outlook on life and there is much beauty in their art objects.  This is personal, and many may disagree, but Mayan art is fierce, ugly, there is never any depiction of a beautiful face or form such as the Greeks and Romans excelled in, no space, harmony and elegance in the buildings. 

Women godesses were mainly like Kali or the Morrigan, death bringers, fierce and cruel and associated with all that was dirty, sensual and sexual.  There was a goddess of beauty but the depictions of her are not the generally accepted ideals.  The attitude to women and sex was very puritanical.  Mayans sought purification after sexual acts often in sweat lodges or by blood letting such as piercing themselves with thorns and sharp objcts and their main aim in procreation seemed to be to create a warrior class who would fight constant wars with neighbouring peoples.  The aim of this was to secure prisoners of war who were to be used as human sacrifice.  As we have seen, the Mayan Gods were dark, terrifying, cruel and imperturbable.  Life was frightening, at the whim of nature and the deities who played with thunder, fire, storms, and the after life was no better, simply a journey similiar to that on earth with the fear of horrible extinction at the other end.

Lady Xoc

Human sacrifices became more and more prevalant toward the end of the Aztec rule in 1519 when Cortez arrived in Southern Americas and discovered their amazing cities and civilization.  Sacrifical victims were considered to represent the gods and thus treated well before being taken up the 365 steps of the temples where a priest would then cut out the living heart and hold it aloft to the god.  After this, the body was flung down the steps to be taken away, cooked and eaten.  The flesh was now sacred and was eaten with reverence.  It is said that the temples and steps were covered in blood and reeked worse than a Spanish slaughterhouse.

It's hardly surprising that the Mayans took easily to Christianity with its own notion of 'eating the body and blood of Christ' which was at least symbolic and not an actuality.  Plus Christ in some way resembled their peaceful, vegatation god, Quetzelcoatl, who was one of the gods of resurrection, dying to be reborn in Spring as ears of wheat rather like Hiawatha.  But above all, there was hope that sinners could repent and that there was an afterlife that promsied a heaven to those who were pure and good.  Fear was banished and a more joyful hope could rise in its place.


The Mayan calendar, which takes a 5125 year cycle, is in fact said to be slightly innacurate as the Mayan mathematicians did not use fractions thus making the calendar out of sync with the tropical year.  They no doubt adjusted this in some way but the date of 21.12 2012 is in some dispute even amongst present day Mayan elders and peoples.  And the general view of present day Mayans is that it may certainly herald a time of great change but like all changes, it may ultimately be for the betterment of Mankind.  There is an interesting site below which may give more insight into the complexities of the calendar.

My friend Dianne Eppler Adams, a very remarkable astrologer and visionary has this to say:

The Winter solstice happens every year. Contrary to what Greg Braden wrote in Fractal Time about the Earth aligning with the center of the Milky Way galaxy on 12/21, it has actually been in alignment for several years and will for several years more. Further, since the alignment happens once in 25,000 years, it's impossible to pinpoint the specific day when it occurred.

What I think we can all agree upon is that we are living during profoundly challenging times when much of what we took as foundational to our lives is showing cracks and falling away. The dysfunctional aspects of life are dying off more quickly than at any time in our memory. Some folks are frantically trying to hold onto the past, an approach that is only creating more suffering.

And in the end, it all comes full circle and the young turn into the old and still feel their world has changed.

Dianne Eppler Adam's website:

A description of the Aztec calendar can be found here.

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