Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 584-586
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From Moon Goddesses to Virgins:
The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire
From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire. By Pete Sigal. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. Pp. xxii + 320. $45.00 (cloth). $19.95 (paper).
This challenging and well-written first book studies upper-class Maya mental processes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the manipulations [End Page 584] of gender concepts that Maya engaged in to develop a cosmology, legitimate their power, and explain their sexual desires. The work is based mainly on two sets of Yucatec Maya texts, the Books of Chilam Balam and the Ritual of the Bacabs, both penned in the Spanish alphabet. Along with the Maya texts, Sigal "provisionally" translates the relevant passages of these works, which, due to their inherent complexity and the gender-bending nature of their contents, will certainly be discussed and contested by scholars working in his wake. Sigal recognizes the difficulties involved but plunges into their study with his mind marvelously informed but unconstrained by conventional Western notions of sexual order and thus open to often startling native imaginations. This reviewer is not qualified to judge his work with Yucatec Maya, but from the point of view of an historian of sexuality, Sigal's arguments and logic are persuasive, and his work is one of serious and penetrating scholarship.
The book is divided into ten chapters, which furnish an introduction to terms, concepts, and historiography and provide an overview of the interpenetration of colonized religion and family in this society. Chapters 3 through 5 study the Maya understanding of sexual behaviors: an examination of sex first as war and then as sin, a chapter on colonial Maya uses of Catholic priests and their spaces as fields of that behavior, and an excellent essay on "the unvirgin virgin," a study of how the people of Yucatan hybridized the Maya moon goddess and the Christian Virgin Mary during the colonial period. Chapters 6 through 9 concentrate on Maya rituals as a key to understanding this people's sexual fantasies and fears. In chapter 6 Sigal examines the function of human sacrifice, and then in a mind-blowing chapter 7, on the circulation of blood and semen in the political realm, he confounds our expectations by laying out a world in which daughters have bloody penises while males can be at once macho and vulnerable. This was a world, the author says, that shows "differently sexed and gendered boundaries for the human body" than our own (p. 175). A study of the Maya "floating phallus," informed by the work of Lacan and Butler, leads in chapter 8 to Maya notions of transsexuality, ritually presented to the people as a means of explaining and justifying the political cosmos. From there Sigal moves in chapter 9 to a study of ritual bisexuality, in which the theme of same-sex and heterosexual imaginations is fantasized both as desire for and fear of rape. The final chapter, "Finding the Virgin Mary," again shows the Maya searching for the moon goddess but finding a Virgin Mary not-so-ever-virgin who sexually courts other Christian supernaturals. The book closes with a summary of the main arguments and a theoretical frame for understanding the Maya experience of hybridity and sexuality, both real and imagined.
Sigal reveals a world that, while in fact politically dominated by powerful males, makes substantial room in its rituals and cosmology for the [End Page 585] creativity of women. In the ritual descriptions of an aristocratic world order that the male nobility displays before its subjects in festivals and stories, therefore, a fantastic fictional world of sexual activity is described in which the nobility, or those with family, are shown in sexual activity, sacrificing at times their bodies but always their blood and semen for the sake and protection of the audience of dependents that includes the macehuales, that is, those without family. This...