Maya beliefs about the afterlife
The Maya had several forms of ancestor worship. They built figures containing ashes of the dead and brought them food on festival days. Alternatively, a temple could be built over an urn.
Before Spanish influence, there may not have been a common idea of the afterlife. The Yucatec Maya believed that there were different routes after death. The Maya believe that the soul is bound to the body at birth. Only death or sickness can part the body and soul, with death being the permanent parting. To them, there is an afterlife that the soul reaches after death. In that, deceased ancestors can still contact their descendants, answering advice when they are asked. This contact can be used at certain times in the season, or when certain family matters pertain to the ancestors. Understanding the perception of what the deceased do in their afterlife can give ideas towards what rituals need to be performed and what types of items one must be buried with in order to successfully navigate the afterlife.The concept of the afterlife, or Xibalba, differs between the Maya ethnic groups. Many have a generalized belief of all souls going to the afterlife, being reincarnated or having another role to participate in after death, but these ideas change dramatically with the rise of Christianity. With that came the idea of Xibalba being a location of punishment. The longer one spent in Xibalba, the worse a life they led while living. With this belief, heaven became a paradise for many to strive for. The Chontal of Tabasco are an example of this. Today the Yucatec Maya of Belize still honor their dead in the traditions of Hanal Pixan and Biix.
Drawing and text by Belize Yucatec Maya
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