On ancient Maya defleshing rituals.


Photo: A depiction of Xibalba, the ancient Maya underworld. 


It will be a quiet New Year’s Eve for me. I plan to sit by the Christmas tree and finish my book about ancient Maya defleshing rituals. Which are exactly what they sound like. The ancient Maya had an incredible relationship with the body: it was a sort of raw material, a currency like maize, between humans and the gods. And so captives from battle, or innocent children, or voluntary elites, fell to the axe. Their hearts were pulled out, their eyes extracted, their limbs wrenched from their torsos, their heads cut off, their flesh cleaved away from the bone—the fatty cheek cleaved from the mandible, and peeled away with strings of fat and sinew still clinging—and in some cases, eaten. What I’m trying to wrap my head around is these practices being just a part of the continuum of ancient Maya society. The human as consumable. The body as meat.

Research can become just another form of procrastination—“I’ll get it perfect if I just read one more book about it…” and so on—so I’m trying to watch out for that. Which means that today, in addition to finishing the book, I’m going to start my novel. True, I already have 40,000 words of the middle section (set in the year 2012) written down, but I need to start at the beginning of it all, in the year 1012, in the Maya lowlands, after the great cities have fallen, and those who remain are living in an essentially post-apocalyptic landscape. Who have to make new meaning of their lives.

Happy New Year.


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3 Comments on “On ancient Maya defleshing rituals.”

  1. kate says:

    happy new year 🙂 i love reading your posts. always something warming about them, even when they speak to something uncomforting, unsettling, like this post. and this post – it reminds me of a shift that happened while mainlining the 2 seasons of “vikings” from the history channel. their relationship to death so incredibly different than anything i’ve ever felt. a trust in death and willingness to die in a way that proved it.

    with your research, you’ve checked out jared diamond’s collapse? it speaks to the end of the mayan culture from a practical point of view.

    i look forward to hearing how this new book of yours unfolds. . . and if you ever want a beta reader, i’m a fellow durhamite . . . maybe we’ve passed one another at cocoa cinnamon 🙂

    • Monica Byrne says:

      Hello Kate! Thank you for the very kind words. And yes, I have read Jared Diamond’s Collapse—a beautiful reminder that nothing lasts. Thank you for the tip.

      I’m sure we’ve passed one another at Cocoa Cinnamon. It’s my “office” 😉

  2. Katalina4 says:

    Phew! Bit rough as subject matter, but trying to get inside the mind of a different culture is always fascinating. Best of luck and happy new year

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