Maya bloodletting rituals
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Saturday May 4, 2019

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Engraved stingray spine, a tool for the ritual.

Maya figurine depicting bloodletting, seated figure with bowl in front to gather the blood on paper, from Jaina.

Lintel 24 from Yaxchilan, Mexico, showing Lady Xoc pulling a barbed rope through her tongue.

Bowl showing implements for bloodletting ritual, Yaxchilan Lintel 25.
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Institute of Archaeology, NICH Administration Building, Culvert Road, Belmopan, Belize C.A. Belmopan, Belize
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Maya bloodletting rituals: Lady Xoc from Yaxchilan, on Lintel 24, pulling a barbed rope through her tongue

"They use to do what!" This remark is common whenever we talk about how rulers use to perform bloodletting rituals. Performed at various special occasions, this act was one of importance for help in maintaining the sociocultural and political structure of any city.

Praying, making petitions, lighting candles, many people today carry out rituals to appease or reach some higher force that they believe can affect various outcomes. The Maya celebrated this aspect in the form of bloodletting.

Both men and women practiced these types of sacrifices, cutting various parts of the body, including lips, tongues, and genitals. The blood-loss is possibly why they had such visions and trances, coupled with the inclusion of alcoholic and psychotropic substances. Just as blood sustains humans with life, it sustained the gods, and the bleeding helped open that portal between the natural and supernatural worlds.

Ch'ahb', the act of bloodletting, was usually performed by nobles through the perforation of their own body parts, mainly, but not only, tongue, lips, and genitals, using sharp objects such as obsidian blades, stingray spines, carved bones, perforators, and knotted ropes.

Photograph by Institute of Archaeology

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