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Maya Pilgrimage to Ritual Landscapes

Insights from Archaeology, History, and Ethnography

Joel W. Palka

Publication Year: 2014

Pilgrimage to ritually significant places is a part of daily life in the Maya world. These journeys involve important social and practical concerns, such as the maintenance of food sources and world order. Frequent pilgrimages to ceremonial hills to pay offerings to spiritual forces for good harvests, for instance, are just as necessary for farming as planting fields. Why has Maya pilgrimage to ritual landscapes prevailed from the distant past and why are journeys to ritual landscapes important in Maya religion? How can archaeologists recognize Maya pilgrimage, and how does it compare to similar behavior at ritual landscapes around the world? The author addresses these questions and others through cross-cultural comparisons, archaeological data, and ethnographic insights.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press


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Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

I would like to express great thanks to my friends and co-directors of the Mensabak Archaeological Project, A. Fabiola Sánchez Balderas and Ian Hollingshead, for their generosity and help with the many seasons of research in Chiapas, Mexico. The other co-director of the project, R. Jon McGee, and physical anthropologists Andrea Cucina and Vera Tiesler and...

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1. Ritual Landscapes, Pilgrimage, and Cultures in the Southern Maya Region

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pp. 1-36

As we cleared the brush obscuring the stone walls of an ancient Maya temple on a mountain at Lake Mensabak in Chiapas, Mexico, our Lacandon Maya collaborator shouted that he had discovered an old Lacandon incense burner nestled between some slumped blocks (fig. 1.1). He then told a story about how local Lacandon men, including his father, had...

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2. Pilgrimage, Ritual Landscapes, and Material Culture

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pp. 37-99

This epigraph indicates that pilgrimage to a Ch’ol Maya mountain and cave—very important Maya ritual landscapes—is necessary for communicating with spiritual forces to receive from them crops, good health, and protection. The narrative shows that Maya people do not have to travel long distances to maintain the covenants with their gods, especially when...

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3. Ritual Landscapes, Communicating Places, and Community

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pp. 100-152

The concept of ritual landscape can refer to many things. In this book, I focus on ritual landscapes as significant places in past and present Maya and Mesoamerican religion, history, and pilgrimage. I concentrate on the uses of landscapes that can be examined through archaeology, including cave, spring, and mountain shrines, as in the examples in the epigraph. Ritual landscapes...

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4. Homes of the Earth Lords: Maya Caves, Ruins, and Boulders

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pp. 153-200

Caves, as the epigraph indicates, are among the most significant ritual landscapes in Maya culture. Caves are dramatic landscapes that greatly contrast with other geographical features: large black holes in the ground that contain extensive passages and expansive chambers with unusual rock formations (see fig. 3.15). In addition, they are sources of water, colonies of...

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5. Creation and the Moon Goddess: Maya Islands and Ritual Waters

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pp. 201-241

My interest in Maya ritual landscapes and pilgrimage, specifically with regard to lakes and islands, began while I was perusing the photographs of Marvin Vann at the Albion College library. In the early 1970s, Vann documented Lacandon Maya ritual journeys to Lake Petha, Chiapas (also Lake Guineo and...

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6. Mountains of Sustenance and Cliffs of Paradise in Maya Pilgrimage

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pp. 242-298

Anthropological studies of Maya ritual landscapes focus on caves and cenotes, yet mountains are just as important, if not more so. In fact, it is often the combination of mountain, cave, and spring that makes ritual landscapes significant for Maya societies (Molesky-Poz 2006). Descriptions of ritual mountains dominated the earlier ethnographic literature, not...

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7. Conclusions: Interpreting Maya Ritual Landscapes and Pilgrimage

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pp. 299-320

Throughout this book, we have seen the importance of ritual landscapes in the Maya worldview, pilgrimage traditions, and social life. Additionally, I argue that Maya pilgrimage to ritual landscapes and associated religious and social behaviors must be examined holistically instead of piece by piece. With this approach, we can better understand Maya ritual...

References Cited

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pp. 321-360


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pp. 361-374

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826354754
E-ISBN-10: 0826354750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826354747

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 881366943
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Maya Pilgrimage to Ritual Landscapes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mayas -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Mayas -- Religion.
  • Sacred space -- Mexico.
  • Sacred space -- Central America.
  • Pilgrims and pilgrimages -- Mexico.
  • Pilgrims and pilgrimages -- Central America.
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