Religion had an important role in virtually every facet of Maya society. Despite the fact that these ancient Mesoamerican peoples lived in a society with distinct social classes, a significant portion of their life was dedicated to the worship of a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Religion was the foundation upon which the society and the government were built.
The cosmology of the Maya. Other Maya deities included the god of the sun, known as K’inich Ajaw, as well as the god of rain and storms, known as Chaak, and the lightning deity, known as K’awiil. The Maya had the belief that every individual has a ‘life energy,’ and that drawing blood from a person inside of a temple may transfer some of that ‘life force’ to a deity.
Human sacrifice was a common practice among the Maya as a way to demonstrate their devotion to their gods, boost fertility, and assure their victory in competition and battle.
It is a product of centuries of symbiosis with Roman Catholicism, as is the case with many other modern Mesoamerican faiths. However, when its pre-Hispanic antecedents are considered, traditional Maya religion has already existed for more than two and a half millennia as a clearly distinguishable entity. This has been the case for over two thousand five hundred years.
Mayan religious practice included the shedding of blood, the infliction of pain, and the offering of human sacrifices. In order to get divine blood, rulers would execute ceremonial self-mutilation by cutting their earlobes, tongues, and genital areas. This was done since it was believed that rulers were descended from the gods.
The Maya believed in a wide variety of gods, and they thought these gods controlled every part of life, from when the sun set to how crops grew and even what colors existed. This led to religion having a profound impact on practically every facet of Mayan society. The well-known Mayan calendar was developed so that the gods who presided over each day of the year could be tracked.
The Maya followed a polytheistic kind of religion. The Maya believed in a pantheon of gods, all of whom sometimes collaborated and sometimes competed with one another. Their most important deity, Itzam Na, was described as having ″integrated in himself the elements of many other gods: not only creation but also fire, rain, harvests, and earth″ (Keen, 2004, p. 18).
The Maya had a priestly caste, placed a high priority on astronomy and astrology, performed human sacrifices, and revered the heavens and the earth. As is evident from the complexity of their mythology and rituals, both the Mayans and the Aztecs placed a great premium on the spiritual activities that were part of their everyday lives.
According to the interpretations of historians, the early Maya society was profoundly shaped by religious practices. Maya towns like Tikal and Chichen Itza, which are located in modern-day Guatemala and Mexico, respectively, are home to enormous stone temples that were used for the performance of significant religious rites.
The Maya held a diverse pantheon of deities sacred to the natural world. It was believed that certain gods have greater significance and power than others. Itzamna was considered to be the most significant god in Maya religion. Itzamna, the deity of fire, is credited with the creation of Earth.
The Maya thought that their gods had the power to either aid them or harm them. They did daily worship in honor of their gods. Religion was the driving force behind all that they accomplished. According to the Maya, gods inhabited all parts of the universe, but particularly the skies.
The Maya society was very stratified, with nobles, commoners, serfs, and slaves all having their own distinct roles. The aristocratic class was notoriously difficult to understand and highly specialized. It was common practice for prominent family lines to transmit not just the noble rank but also the noble person’s chosen field of endeavor.
There were a number of gods and goddesses in the Mesoamerican pantheon that were worshiped by everyone. These included the supreme Dual God, also known as Our Father and Our Mother; an Old God who was also known as God of Fire; a Rain god; a Young God of Maize; Quetzalcoatl, Kukulcan, a god and priest; a Monster of the Earth; and other gods and goddesses.
Although the Maya adhered to polytheism, they did not worship a specific deity. In contrast, the Aztecs regarded Huitzilopochtli as their major deity, and the Incas revered Inti as their supreme deity.
Maya religious rites included the ball game, human sacrifice, and bloodletting ceremonies. During these celebrations, aristocrats would cut their tongues or genitals in order to spill blood as an offering to the gods. Human sacrifice was also a component of Maya religious festivities.