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The Stones Have A Voice
Maya Mexican Culture

 

The Stones Have A Voice
Amir Arsalan

nnasseri@cox.net

The Stones Have A Voice
Part 1

I just returned from a trip to Central America. I used the opportunity to visit the site of a very important Mayan archaeological ruin in the Yucatan, named Chichen Itza (no, not Chicken Pizza). Many thoughts occurred to me during and after that trip. I will now present some of the information I learned as well as those thoughts.

Farewell To Dinosaurs

Most of this document I am presenting is in the context of history and philosophy. However, before I get started on that, I will go further back and recall a pre-historical event. That event was one of the single most important ones leading up to man's existence. One day, about 65 million years ago, a huge asteroid set on a collision course with Earth found its mark in the Yucatan. The remnant of that impact is evident at the Chicxulub Crater. The most current evidence points to this being the impact that caused the major extinction event of 65 million years ago. Although this probably was not the only cause, it was the main culprit for the extinction of the then dominators of Earth: the dinosaurs. Out of the void that was created, a small furry creature emerged from its hole and spread into niches previously occupied by giant reptiles. Eventually, that little furry creature gave rise to man.

I was cognizant of the fact that I was close to the site where a major turning point in human evolution took place. Through an astronomical accident, the equivalent of a car running a red light, evolution directed a new path. It was a path that brought humans, higher intelligence, and civilization into this world. It is a humbling experience to be close to such a site.

Perhaps God fell asleep at the wheel (as usual) and when he woke up from the sound of the accident, in order to save face he said: "Let there be a big crash, which will wipe away almost everything I created and nurtured for hundreds of millions of years. Then, let there be man…however not just yet. Let there be a small mammal that will slowly transform into man. It will take about 65 million years, but that's okay, I can be patient."

Translation: "I meant to do that."

With that evolutionary and pre-historical reference to Yucatan's significance noted, it is time to direct attention to its historical importance.

A Brief Background Introduction

The Maya were a civilization of Native Americans that inhabited Central America for three millennia. They had numerous cities, the most important of which was Chichen Itza. It is in the middle of a jungle. This city was built in phases from the 6th century until the 11th century, during which time it served as the major cultural and religious center of the Maya. After the 12th century, war caused its decline, and by the time of the Spanish Conquistadors it was abandoned.

The Maya were fascinated with Astronomy, Astrology, Mathematics, and Architecture. They did not just keep track of time. They were obsessed with it. Theirs is the most accurate calendar ever conceived. This extremely accurate calendar was a prerequisite for their aforementioned interests as well as for agriculture. There is an ancient observatory as well as numerous other buildings scattered in the site. The main feature of the ruins is the 75 foot tall Pyramid of Kukulcan (one of their main Gods, which is a serpent God). They revered certain animals, namely the eagle, jaguar, and the snake. The Pyramid is aligned in such a way that twice a year during the Spring and Fall Equinox the rising and setting sun sets a perfect shadow of repeating isosceles triangles of shadow and darkness along the sides of the pyramid, resembling the slithering body of a snake. The bottom of each side of the pyramid has a large statue of a snake's head, so the shadows form its body. It is quite astonishing.


The pyramid of Kukulcan

Jaguar decorating motifs and statues are found throughout many rooms. As far as the eagle, it is depicted as an acoustic tribute. If one stands directly in front of the center of the pyramid on any of its four faces and claps one's hand, the echo of that clap returns not as a simple clap, but as the cry of an eagle. Everyone else that's not standing at that precise location, however, hears only a clap. This is very intriguing. I kept clapping and moving side to side. I heard a clap, then an eagle, and then a clap.

What Is A Stone Carving Of A Persian Doing In The Yucatan?

The very first room that our guide showed us was a room that was meant to pictographically depict the world. From top to bottom, and side to side the entire room was filled with stone carvings of mostly human images. I was astonished when the guide pointed out the different people. From left to right, first was a Persian, then a Roman, then an African, then an Arab. Above were images of North American natives. All around were images of the Mayans and the other tribes of Central America. In the very center was the image of a Viking and his ship. They must have revered the Vikings as demigods, judging by the way they were depicted in this room. Their dragon shaped ships must have played a factor in this. The Viking carving was at the center of the room, with all other cultures facing directly at the Viking. The carving also included a Viking ship next to him, with the serpentine motif of the Viking dragon well emphasized, as it extended outward from the ship and surrounded the figure of the Viking warrior.

I was amazed to see that the Mayans obviously had contact with all these people somehow. The question is, did these people travel to America and meet the Mayans, or did the Mayans travel there? There is no historical mention of all these civilizations traveling to America (except the Vikings) in the first millennium, so it is probably more likely that a group of Mayans traveled to Asia. The Maya were not sea fairing people, however. Either way, this is an enigma.

Regardless, I could not believe that I was looking at a stone frieze of a Persian in a sacred room of a Native American city in the middle of a jungle in the Yucatan. There was no mistaking that carving. He was clearly Persian, as depicted by the ancient Persian clothing and spear. He looked also a little like the Immortals guarding the stairway in Persepolis. The Mayans obviously knew about the importance of the Persians in the world. The fame of the Persians (as well as some other cultures) had reached the New World almost a millennium prior to Columbus. Is this not amazing?

Now that I've dispensed the pleasantries, I shall move on to the horrors.

Religion's Ugly Face Is Omni-Present

I presented a few of the beautiful and marvelous substances of the Mayan civilization. However, no civilization is without its malice. Malice is no stranger to the American Natives, including the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, and others.

The ruins have an awe and magnificence about them. However, I am reminded of the horrors they presented long ago, in addition to their beauty. I am reminded of the purpose that most of these structures served, and the events that took place there. Almost all of these ruins served a religious purpose. In the case of the Mayans (and even more so with the Aztecs), human sacrifice played a central role in their religion.

The setting of the sun was seen as an event that corresponded to the sun battling the forces of the dark during the evening. As the sun arose the next day, they believed that it was weakened by its battle, and that it required nourishment. That nourishment was in the form of blood, of course.

They also believed that in order to keep their Gods happy, human offerings would have to be made. Offerings to Kukulcan (the Snake God) were made to him atop a pyramid, whereby a priest ripped the victim's heart out, and the body was tossed down. Offerings to Chaac (the Rain God) were made by drugging teenaged girls, placing heavy jewelry and clothing on them, and then making them jump down a well. Infant girls born on certain Holy days were handed by the parents to the priests and were raised by the priests for the sole purpose of sacrificing them when they got older. From infancy, these special children were taught day in and day out about the Rain God and how some day they would have the honor of going to meet him.


The Rain God, Chaac


The Snake God, Kukulcan

Many of the victims were prisoners of war. No doubt these sacrifices served mainly a religious purpose. They probably also served a political purpose. Human sacrifices propagated psychological terror against their enemies as well as their own masses. Such brutality terrorized all into submission and acceptance of the power of the ruling elites and religious class.

Does this sound familiar? The ruling class, in conjunction with the religious class oppressed the commoners via terrorism and violence. This was of course justified by invoking imaginary Gods, and using superstition to instill fear. It is religion's nature to create a lie, and then conveniently allow the keepers of that lie (the religious authorities) to control and oppress the population without the population ever being the wiser.

Many victims were obviously sacrificed involuntarily, but there were also many voluntary victims. For them, it was an honor to be sacrificed to these Gods. It goes to show the grip that religion and superstition can have on a brainwashed society.

If one is to be sacrificed to the Gods, why not make a whole production out of the event? Let's play ball…

The Cosmic World Cup

Long before the modern World Cup of football, the Mesoamericans had their own special game of football, mixed with some basketball and lacrosse. The rules were similar to the modern game of football, in that any part of the body except the hands could be used to hit the ball. They held special rackets and bats in their hands with which they could hit the ball. The difference was that the goal was a ring only slightly larger than a Basketball ring. This ring is positioned on a wall, about 25 feet high, and rotated 90 degrees so that the axis is parallel to the ground (instead of perpendicular to the ground as with modern Basketball). Also, a 5-foot high wall sits in front of the main wall and under the goal, so that a direct angle of approach is not possible from the player to the goal. The ball must be bounced off of the wall in order to enter the goal.

Imagine the difficulty of the task of scoring a goal! The players cannot use their hands. Plus, the goal is directed sideways (not up and down like a basketball hoop), making an arcing drop impossible. Plus, the goal is very high up. Plus, the lower wall prevents a direct shot, and any successful goal must be via a ricochet.


The Mayan version of Football / Basketball was played in this court. Note the high ring, its position, and the decorative wall in front of the main wall.

They played the game with a rubber ball. In fact, this is the first occasion of the use of rubber in all history. Rubber is a major resource of the Yucatan, harvested from the indigenous trees. When the Europeans first observed the Mayan rubber ball, they were both appalled and intrigued. Most thought that the ball was evil and the creation of the Devil, since it bounced and this was unnatural to them. In the typical manner that religion instills ignorance, they called that which they did not understand as the work of the Devil. Eventually, they imported the ball to Spain, which also awed the native Europeans. The rest of the world then grasped the concept of rubber and the ball.

The game was symbolic of the Cosmos. The ball (about 4 to 10 lbs, and made of rubber) was symbolic for the sun and the court was symbolic for the Galaxy. The game would end when the first goal was made, giving whole new meaning to the term "sudden death." Even so, since it was close to impossible to score a goal, the game could last anywhere from hours to days.

Once the goal was made, the winning team was overcome with jubilation, as a special treat awaited the captain of the winning team. He would have the special honor of being decapitated by the captain of the losing team, and have his head held up for all to see.

There is some controversy as to who did the decapitating and who was decapitated. Most Westerners hold that it was the captain of the winning team that decapitated the losing captain. There is no direct evidence for this, and it is only from the stone carvings that it is inferred that one captain decapitated the other. It is only an assumption that the winner killed the loser.

The Mayans themselves believe that the loser decapitated the winner. Again, there is no direct evidence for this, other than the oral traditions handed down. Given the character and beliefs of the Mayan civilization, however, I find that it is more likely that the winner is the one that got decapitated.

One would expect that the winning captain would decapitate the losing captain, but that carries with it the assumption that their goal was life and avoidance of death. However, that was not the ultimate goal. The goal was to have the honor of being the chosen one to meet the Gods that day and rejoice in the afterlife. Furthermore, they wanted to offer their best to their Gods. The Gods wanted their winners, not their losers. In either case, both teams voluntarily participated in the game, meaning that they were all prepared for the event of being sacrificed to the Gods. There was tremendous clout to be a participant in the game.

Remember the 5-foot high walls that are immediately in front of the main walls, thereby blocking a clear shot at the hoop? They served another purpose as well. On both sides of the court, onto these stone walls is a long displayed carving of the final act of the game. There are seven players of one team on one side, facing the seven players of the opposite team on the other side. In the very center, directly underneath each goal, are the captains. The loser has a knife in one hand, and the severed head of the winning captain in the other. Seven sprouts of blood are dripping downwards from that severed head, merging into seven snakes. Opposite him is the decapitated body of the winning captain. Seven sprouts of blood are emerging upwards from that body, emerging into seven snakes and vines of flowers, fertilizing the world. The blood of the winning captain is seen as life giving, and rejuvenating for their society.


The relief on the lower wall of the court. The losing captain has beheaded the winning captain, holding his head in his left hand. In his right hand is a knife. Opposite him is the decapitated body of the captain. Seven streams of blood are squirting from both the head and the body, continuing on as snakes and flowers.

Incidentally, the number seven is a motif for this game. The pyramid of Kukulcan has seven triangles of light on its side at the equinox, resembling the twisting body of a serpent. Seven players, seven sprouts of blood from both the body and the neck, flowing into seven snakes and flowers. The best part is the following, again involving acoustics. If one claps one's hands in the field standing between the two main walls, one will hear the echo of that clap bounce off the walls exactly seven times.

As intriguing as I found the game, I could not help but be reminded of a similar concept in our modern world: the concept of the Shaheed and suicide bomber.

The difference between those ball players and suicide bombers is that at least those ball players did not seek to destroy and kill everyone around them, including women and children. That task is unique to the suicide bombers and Jihadis.

The similarity between them is that they both look forward to death. They both want to be sacrificed. They both rejoice to meet an afterlife. What has brainwashed, corrupted, and lied to both of these men? What has made them choose death over life? The answer is religion.

The afterlife is the main lie that is the pillar of every religion. Without it, almost every religion would fail. It provides the false promise that makes almost any act seem palatable. The number of people that would choose death over life would drop astronomically if the belief in the afterlife did not delude them. This delusion has facilitated submission to countless acts and ideas of cruelty, abuse, and needless deaths.

Fortunately, modern, loving, and peaceful ones have replaced that type of pagan, barbaric religion. Have they really?

The Stones Have A Voice
Part 2

Christianity's Peaceful Arrival To The Americas

Most are aware of Islam's savage and brutal expansion by force. Was Christianity's spread very different? Most historians would say no.

When the Spaniards arrived in the Americas they did not bear flowers and gifts, and they were not known as Los Amigos. They were warriors, they bore guns and swords, and they were known as Los Qonquistadores, meaning conquerors. The religion they brought with them was forced upon the tribal Native Americans in the same way that Islam was forced on those cultures that it conquered.


Conquistador bearing the Cross


Conquistadors bringing their wonderful religion to America

It is always sad to see one culture forcefully overwhelmed and subjugated by another. I am particularly sensitive to it, as I am aware of the forced subjugation that occurred to the Persians under the Taazis. In a somewhat similar way, the Christian Europeans subjugated the Mayans and other American civilizations. Of course, they did not sink without a fight.

Let me share a story I learned from a Mayan I met.

Since the Spaniards had technological advantage, they conquered the Native Americans. Their Christian clergy attempted to convert the Mayans to Christianity by preaching the word of God. The Mayans, however, would not budge. So then the Christians approached the Mayan religious leaders, since they knew that the communities respected their religious leaders above all and would probably listen to them. The Spaniards told the Mayan clergy that they had better go to their people and tell them that they must abandon their pagan religion and convert to Christianity. The Christians threatened to kill these Mayan religious clergy if they refused. Being the weasels of any society, the religious clergy were the first ones to roll over for a foreigner in order to save their own hides.

So, they did as they were told, and went to their people and tried to convince them to convert. The Mayan people, when faced with this treachery by their own religious leaders, instead chose to put the religious clergy to death themselves. Eventually, most did succumb to Christianity's show of force and coercion. However, I found this to be an interesting story, since they first killed their own religious clergy for betraying their own religion. Centuries of brain washing will do that to a people, and will turn them against the preachers of a religion if those preachers ever turn against the religion. I suppose that's a form of poetic justice.

With that story behind, let us continue with the interaction of Christianity and the Mayans and others.

The Christians used the Native Americans' practice of human sacrifice (and occasional cannibalism) to justify their need to be converted to Christianity. They found these acts appalling and intolerable. They criticized the practice of human sacrifice to the natives. In fact, it was this abhorrence for the Mayan way of life that caused the Christians to burn and destroy almost all of the Mayan scrolls and records. Their contempt for a foreign culture caused them to destroy that which they did not understand. The Christians destroyed numerous Mayan scientific, astronomical and mathematical records. I am reminded of the Persian literary, historical, and scientific documents that were destroyed by the Taazis upon their conquest.

The natives were puzzled by the Europeans' abhorrence of sacrifice. They explained that their Gods had created the universe out of an act of sacrifice. In Mayan and Aztec mythology, various Gods sacrificed themselves so that the Earth, the animals, and humans could be created. The Mayans were simply repaying a debt. They were returning a favor that their Gods had bestowed upon them. How could such sacrifices be seen as evil, when in fact they were done out of the goodness of the subjects?

I suppose that if one accepts the mythology of their Gods, then one cannot view these acts as evil but as good. So then, the folly lies with the original idea of these Gods and with their story of creation. Logically, one cannot refute such a concoction while accepting a different concoction and hold that there is any more truth to that than the Mayans'. How is it more far fetched to accept the existence of Kukulcan and Chaac instead of Yahweh or Allah? Is there any more evidence for the existence of Allah than there is for Kukulcan? Is Yahweh more likely to be real than is Chaac? I think not. In this respect, I think that no theist can criticize the practice of the Mayans or Aztecs on a logical basis.

Furthermore, is the concept of human sacrifice really foreign to these allegedly more civil, monotheistic religions? What did Yahweh ask Abraham to do to his own son, but then allegedly stopped him at the last second? As asked, Abraham supposedly was going to sacrifice his own son to a God. The only difference with this mythology and that of the Mayans is that the Hebrew God was being dishonest with his subject in his initial appeal for a human sacrifice.

The Christians believe that God sent his only son to Earth just so he could be humiliated, tortured, and then killed by humanity for humanity. Sounds like the Christian God has an appetite for human sacrifice, if he wanted his own son to be so sacrificed in order to relieve humanity of its sins. If his own son had to be thus tortured and killed in order for humanity to be saved, that exactly meets the definition of sacrifice. Such a human sacrifice is no different than the sacrifice that the Aztecs and Mayans offered their Gods.

The Moslems of course are the most notorious for demanding sacrifices. Their Shaheeds and suicide bombers are no less a human sacrifice to their God of War, Allah. What's worst is that usually it is not just the suicide bomber that's being sacrificed, but also the unwilling bystanders.

How about the concept of killing itself? Do the Christians or Moslems have any more righteousness in this respect than the Mayans? I heard someone say that the Europeans did their killing during battle, while the Mayans did their killing after battle. Instead of killing their victims on the field, the Mayans took them captive and killed them afterwards.

It seems to me that the morality of the Christians and Moslems is not very different than that of the Mayans or Aztecs. Nevertheless, my visit to the Mayan ruins forced me to re-evaluate the concept of morality itself.

Morality Is Challenged

There is no question that there is something inherently wrong with human sacrifices. Nonetheless, considering the circumstances present in the Mayan civilization, something was eating away at me regarding the concept of morality. The reason for that will become clear once I briefly re-explain my concept of morality.

I have tried to simplify this rather complicated notion as much as possible. Keeping a concept as simple as possible helps its comprehension as well as adherence. My simple notion of morality consists of the following two concepts.

First, that morality is the practical manifestation of a human emotion: empathy. It is empathy that allows one to imagine the pain and suffering of another, and to do that which avoids the suffering of others because one feels others' pain along with them. I believe that the entire foundation of morality relies upon this point.

Second, that morality as it arises from empathy must naturally entail spreading happiness to as many as possible, while preventing misery, pain, and unhappiness to as many as possible. It is empathy applied on a grander scale, to all of mankind instead of just an individual.

While these two simple concepts do not and cannot define all circumstances of morality, I believe that they encompass almost all of it. Although quite comprehensive, at some times there may be an occasion that may put these basic notions into question.

Of course, my visit to the Yucatan happened to be such an occasion, which is the reason that I mention the concept now. So what was it about the Mayans that rocked my foundation? Simply, that considering the culture that existed, the voluntary human sacrifices did not technically go against the concept of morality that I hold.

Certainly, one can argue that the involuntary sacrifices that they held, such as that of captured POW's were indeed in conflict of my concept of morality. Those victims and their families were subjected to pain and suffering, since their preference was to not be killed.

However, the area of problem arises when considering the voluntary victims, such as the captain of the football team that wants to be sacrificed, and plays to win so that he can have such an honor. Even if one contends that it was the losing captain that was decapitated, the concept is the same, because he joined the game for having the honor of either sacrificing another or himself being sacrificed.

Where has the concept of morality as I hold it been violated? The people of the community are happy, because they received their entertainment and pleased their Gods. The sacrificial victim is happy, because he believes in the afterlife, considers it a great honor to be sacrificed, and thinks that he will soon meet his beloved Gods. The family of the victim is also happy, for the same reasons. Empathy does not preclude such actions, because these people consider it a desirable end to be offered to their Gods this way.

It would seem that if morality is viewed in this way, then the voluntary Mayan human sacrifices do not violate my concept of morality, and that they therefore did not act immorally. It seems that I presented myself with a dilemma. This dilemma popped into my head during the time of my visit to the site, and was eating away at me during the latter part of my visit. "Those damned Mayans," I thought. "They have shaken me and my concept of morality with their uniquely twisted culture." It wasn't until my bus ride back from the site to the city that the solution presented itself to me. Halfway through the bus ride I realized the solution to this dilemma, after which I was finally able to relax, nap, and enjoy the scenery.

The solution was not unique. I already had it stored in my mind, I just had to reach in and locate it. The solution lies with not looking at only morality to guide one's life. The solution lies with "the good life" as a whole. One's pursuit of the good life involves morality as a cornerstone, but the good life does not end with morality. As demonstrated by the Mayan example, if one looks only to morality one may occasionally be fooled into accepting the unacceptable.

What is the good life? As Russell defines it, it is the pursuit of love guided by knowledge. As I define it, it is similarly the pursuit of love guided by wisdom and supported by knowledge. Love and empathy alone are not enough. The desire for general happiness and avoidance of misery is not enough. By extension, morality alone is not enough. Wisdom must also be present.

The folly of the despicable Mayan practice of human sacrifice lies in the absence of wisdom in this instance. Everything is justified and falls into perfect place if one accepts the existence and nature of the Mayan Gods. It is this initial step, the acceptance of such made up entities that sets the entire misguided cascade into motion. Wisdom is not applied, since figments of imagination materialize into such solid belief systems. The most crucial mistake is acceptance of that which is baseless and has no basis of evidence. That mistake is faith, to believe that for which no proof exists.

When baseless claims are accepted as facts based on faith, the result is always disastrous. How can it have a different result? If a system is based on falsities at its starting point, sooner or later it will clash with the truth and reality. Sooner or later far fetched demands will be placed on the members of that community and will preclude them from pursuing their potential for the best life possible; the good life. Some, indeed most, will live and die unaware that they have missed their one and only opportunity for a good life.

The Mayan religious belief, which was contrary to wisdom and knowledge served to undermine their good lives. A failure of wisdom, and not a failure of morality, was the culprit for such depravity.

Science is a practical equivalent of wisdom. The basic components of each are very similar. Therefore, to deny science is to deny wisdom. To deny wisdom is to accept faith and religion, the results of which are human sacrifices, suicide bombings, oppression, intolerance, holy wars, persecutions, etc.

Philosophy aside, when one visits a site such as this one cannot help but feel a powerful connection. Does that really make sense? What does a Persian living in the US care about a lost Native American civilization?

The World Is Our Heritage

Obviously the archaeological sites for which I care most about are the ones located in Iran and its vicinity. Being heir to such an old and marvelous civilization as that of the Persians leads me to appreciate not just that of the Persians, but others as well. A deeper appreciation of other magnificent and ancient civilizations is at my grasp, as I imagine that it is for others as well. For example, the Mexicans showed up in record numbers to view ancient Persian archaeological displays at one of their museums recently, for the exact same reason. Appreciation goes both ways.

Ancient Middle East fascinates Mexican museum goers

Persepolis in Iran, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Acropolis in Greece, Giza in Egypt, and the countless other ancient archaeological sites are a treasure to be relished not just by the indigenous people of that nation, but by the whole world. We all have connections to those sites, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

When any of those sites are compromised, it is not just the people of that nation that suffer, but the whole world. When intolerant and ignorant members of the Taliban blew up the magnificent statues of Buddha, it was not just Afghanistan that lost a marvel. When the Taazis in Iran drown the priceless Persian archaeological sites near Pasargad by erecting a dam, the people of Iran won't be the only losers. The whole world will lose part of its heritage and part of its identity.


This picture needs no description

Concluding Thoughts

It was my intent to bring some of the experiences from my short journey to the Yucatan to a few readers back home. Many visit the archaeological sites of Chichen Itza each day. For each, there must be a unique experience and a myriad of different thoughts, most of which I cannot imagine. Most will look at those ruins, simply think "eh, nice pile of stones," and move on to the gift shop. Others will measure the core of their existence against such ruins.

This was a journey from an astronomical accident, to the extinction of the dinosaurs and rise of man and evolution, to the historical background of the region, to the glory of Persia in the far reaches of the world, to architectural and acoustic wonders, to mythology, to a real sports game that would humble any work of fiction, to religion, to suicide bombers, to cultural extinction, to philosophy, to morality and the good life, to the importance of archaeological sites in general and the need for their safeguarding worldwide.

The stones have a voice, if one is only willing to listen.

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