Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part X

Continuing with Brant A. Gardner’s rationale of John L. Sorenson’s skewed Land of Promise, along with our responses.
In the Maya cosmology the Representation of the Universe with the Sacred tree Yaxche (Ceiba Tree meaning “blue green tree,” or yax cheel cab, “the first tree of the world,” and the axis of the world the center of the cosmos, the place of their origin) and the 4 Bacabs in the corners holding the earth, which stood in the middle of the world and held up the sky

There is always a fifth element of the Sun God, and the tree of life or World Tree growing from the center of the earth and reaching up into the heavens—a great Ceiba Tree that stood at the center of the earth, connecting the terrestrial world to the spirit-world, the long thick vines hanging down from its spreading limbs provided a connection to the heavens for the souls that ascended them. This fast growing tree when young increases 6 ½ to 13 feet per year and can reach 230-feet when fully mature.
    This rainforest tree, which colonizes riverbanks and grows in several rainforest habitats, its trunk is up to 10-feet wide with no lower branches, which are bunched at the top with an umbrella-like canopy. The tree’s seeds are non-edible, but the fruits contain large quantities of cottony kapok fibers which entangle the small seeds and transport them through wind and water. During its flowering period, the ceiba attracts bats and moths to its nectar, with nectar production in excess of 2 gallons per tree per night and an estimated 45 gallon per flowing season.
    To the ancient Maya, the ceiba was the most sacred tree, and according to Maya mythology, it was the symbol of the universe, or sometimes referred to as the home (5th direction). The tree signified a route of communication between the three levels---a nine-layered underworld (Xibalba), a middle world inhabited by humans, and a heavenly upper realm, supported by four Atlantean god, the Bacabs.
    Its roots were said to reach down into the underworld, its trunk represented the middle world where the humans live, and its canopy of branches arched high in the sky symbolized the upper world and the seven to thirteen levels in which the Maya heaven was divided. According to the Maya, the world is a quincunx, consisting of four directional quadrants and a central space corresponding to the fifth direction. Colors associated with the quincunx are red in the east, white in the north, black in the west, yellow in the south, and green in the center (Nicholettq Maestri, “Ceiba pentandra: The Sacred Tree of the Maya: Connecting the Upper, Middle, and Lower Maya Realms,”; Timothy W.  Knowlton and Gabriella Vail, “Hybrid Cosmologies in Mesoamerica: A Reevaluation of the Yax Cheel Cab, a Maya World Tree,” Ethnohistory, vol.57, iss.4, 2010; pp709-739).
The Maya world tree is found on much of its iconography, from stela to codices

The Tree of Life with its roots and branches is a powerful symbol. It connects the earth and the sky and symbolizes strength, wisdom, protection, wealth and beauty. The tree became a symbol of immortality to the Maya since it gave fruit and seeds, which created new trees and new life. To the Aztecs,it was the cosmic Tree of Life, and in both cases was the center of all thought and being. Connecting these three levels was the Axis Mundi, a great and sacred Ceiba Tree, along which both the souls of the dead and the gods could travel. They used this “road” to make their journeys between the levels of the universe, thus, the so-called 5th direction,
    Even today, these grand trees are regularly spared when forests are cut—it is a common event to see lone, isolated Ceiba trees proudly spreading their shady branches high above a pasture or agricultural field, a relic of the great forests that once were there. However, the tree and the god are external to the four corners or four cardinal positions of north, south, east and west.
    Gardner: “While the five-part concept defined the understanding of one’s orientation in the cosmos, the actual directional system appears have been built on only a single “direction,” which was the path of the sun throughout the day and throughout the year. Other spatial relationships were made against that defining axis.
    Response: Mesoamericanists define this information very narrowly. The myths and legends associated with all this is far beyond a spatial fifth directional setting. As an example, Maya beliefs about the ceiba tree include that it is actually their place of origin and the source of the abundance of their resources and of the protection of the gods.  Some Maya believe that their ancestors and gods and other supernatural beings live in the ceiba tree. Generally speaking, the Maya understand themselves to be much more a part of nature than modern man; that they are not so distinct from animals and plants, and that essences of living things are much more fluid. The Maya did not see such strong boundaries between what might be called heaven and earth, or between the supernatural and the natural as does modern man. However, the overall point is that the Maya did not use this fifth point as a literal cardinal compass direction, but of a fifth area of extreme import, again representing the home and the source of their creator god. In this way, it is not much different from man today.
The Fejérváry-Mayer Codex with the first page on the right

In fact, the illustration of a very rare pre-Columbian Codex of Aztec origin known under the names of its last owners, Fejervary-Mayer, and visible today at the World Museum of Liverpool, both the Aztec and Mayan societies had a strong cultural community. The text referral is the first page of the Codex, Which suggests a representation of the compass points  where north and south are reversed compared to the usual wind rose. In fact, the reverse pattern corresponds to the view of the terrestrial wind rose from “underneath”, i.e. as if it was seen from the underground world.
    Thus, the view from below shows four trees, oriented according to the compass points, on the image, a repeated pattern of the Mayan architecture. The trunk of each tree is divided into two lateral branches without pursuing its elevation towards the sky. It illustrates the horizontal deployment of the being's states in the terrestrial world, the world of duality.
    In a representation of the compass points where north and south are reversed from the underworld, compared to the usual directions as seen in the middle world or where man dwells. This is corroborated by the characters listed on the first page of the Codex, with the central character being the “Lord of the four directions,” with the ceiba tree pointing towards south in the underground world and north in the terrestrial world. In the cycle of the compass four points mentioned, north precisely corresponds to the period of regeneration followed by birth at east, life at south and death at west. Like the present western directional rose, the Maya directions were corresponding. Just as the four compass directions radiate from a single point, the center of the terrestrial world, the four trees are horizontal projections of a single vertical Tree also located at the center. It is called the "Great Mother Ceiba" in reference to Mother Earth. This tree plunged into the terrestrial depths, rises to the heavenly heights and goes through all worlds. In our vocabulary today, we would say the Church is the center of our lives, and all progress and accomplishment in living acceptable lives to God begins there.
Left: Maya directional compass rose; Right: Western directional compass rose. The two are no different in meaning and use

Thus, our western compass also has four cardinal compass points: north, south, east and west; as well as a 5th direction and tht is toward God, the Church, and our eternal progression. But, of course, it is not literally a cardinal compass direction—more a figurative direction that guides us along our life’s path. Yet, there is a difference, for the Maya believe that the gods created humans to praise them, and the gods haven't yet gotten humans right: they destroyed the first three versions of us as failures.  The present version, of which we are a part, is also thought not to be so great, and it is expected that in the not so distant future, they will destroy us and replace us with something better—this varies considerably from our Church viewpoint and understanding.
(See the next post, “The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part XI,” and the continuation of Gardner’s rationale of Sorenson’s skewed Land of Promise, and the various meanings of words in foreign cultures, along with our responses)

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