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The Scary Mayan Road To Xibalba

By James Donahue

Archaeologists say the lost Mayan civilization that once dominated Central America maintained frightening rituals dealing with death and dying. They believed in a place called Xibalba, which translates into “place of fear,” which appears to compare to the Christian concept of Hell.
Not only did Mayan mythology include Xibalba as an underworld ruled by the Maya death gods, recent archaeological discoveries in a labyrinth of 14 caves on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula suggest that high priests and architects within the Mayan culture went so far as to create an elaborate pathway into Xibalba for those condemned to spend an afterlife in this spooky place.

Located in the caves are huge columns, temples, pyramids and sculptures of priests, some of them found underwater and others along a winding concrete path. According to Maya myth, the souls of the dead had to follow a dog through a frightening watery path and endure numerous challenges before they could reach Xibalba, where they would have afterlife.
The Mayan sacred book Popul Vuh describes the journey as leading through oozing blood, bats, scorpions and spiders. The road split in four directions to confuse and beguile travelers.

The description of Xibalba also is quite frightening. It was supposed to be a great city filed with houses and buildings containing tests and traps for those who dared to enter. In the city are six “deadly” houses. They are the Dark House, a building that is totally dark on the inside. Then the Rattling Cold House, the Jaguar House filled with jaguars, the Bat House, the Razor House filled with moving blades and finally the Hot House filled with heat and fire. Travelers who enter Xibalba must successfully pass through all of these houses without being killed or humiliated.

Living in the city are the twelve powerful Lords of Xibalba. The first is Hun-Came (One Death) then Vacub-Came (Seven Death). The other ten Lords are demons that rule over the agonies of life that include sickness, starvation, fear, destitution, pain and eventually death.

If we think dying is a frightening conclusion to life in the Christian world, imagine how the Mayan people thought of impending death if they believed the stories told to them.