BODY CONCEPTS, RITUALIZED AGGRESSION, AND HUMAN SACRIFICE AMONG THE ANCIENT MAYA



1. Introduction


In this scheme, the body encapsulated animated components in active converse with the cosmos and its numinous forces among others, the Classic Maya identify in their texts the k’ihn-heat, the iik-breathsoul, and the o’hlis or ‘heart-seed’. The latter was an animated essence that after natural death was to wander and purge to finally unite with cosmic dominions and become ancestor; now devoid of its personal and carnal existence, yet in communication with the sphere of the living; intermediaries par excellence between the living and the divine2. In this apperception, the human body served a powerful interstice of convergence and anchor for ritual performance including corporal penance and human sacrifice. In the present approach to ritual death we elaborate on the religious roles and uses of body parts, corporal penance consumption and transfiguration. This autochthonous corporeal perspective drives also our examination of the meanings and occasions surrounding the myriad of sacrificial and post-sacrificial forms of post-sacrificial body processing represented in the iconography, some of it confirmed by taphonomic signatures documented in human remains (Fig. 1). These span from decapitation, heart extraction, dismemberment, flaying, and defleshing (Fig. 2)3.


2. Ancient Maya body concepts


Inseparably entwined with its materiality, yet at the core of the animate indigenous cosmos, the body and its physical embodiment are keystones for exploring the transformative power of ritual sacrifice, especially considering the body-anchored quality of Mesoamerican and Maya worldviews. It is clear that Classic period Maya projected cosmic dominions in the human body and its anatomical constituents. In this cosmic layout, the body of heavy matter is part of the inhabited world that postdates the origins of the cosmos and is perceived as such during vigil; we may call it the “ecumene”4. Like other hard matter, its tissue components – bones, meat, or organs – are fragile and harbor an the human body with its material and ethereal qualities was and still stands at the core of the native universe quality that is destined to change and disintegrate with time.

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