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Maya Underworld

Maya Underworld

Find out more about the Maya underworld Learns as Xibalba and its main characteristics.

The Maya underworld, known as Xibalba, is actually an incredible labyrinth of underground rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Yucatan is otherwise devoid of rivers and lakes, but the Mayas believed that the underground fresh water pools that dotted the landscape were sacred portals to the Maya underworld. Now, the Maya underwater civilization is being explored and it is now known that the Maya underworld was created by a unique chain of dramatic natural events.

There are thousands of entrances to Xibalba, the Maya underworld, hidden among the dense shrubs of the Yucatan. These sacred portals to the Maya underwater civilization are actually water-filled sinkholes known as “cenotes”, a Spanish version of the Maya word “dzonot”. These underground water sources were created by rainwater which slowly erodes the limestone bedrock and forms underground caves. Eventually, the roofs collapse and expose the subterranean caves to the surface, from small caverns to vast underwater networks.

The great Maya cities of Chichén Itza and Mayapán , as well as small cities, were strategically located near cenotes, as they were not only part of the Maya underworld but also their primary source of fresh water.

According to mythology, the Maya underwater civilization was ruled by 12 Maya Death Gods known as Lords of Xibalba. Their court lied below the surface of the Earth, in the Maya underworld, and the two ruling death Gods were Hun-Came (One Death) and Vucum-Came (Seven Death). The other Lords were demons that worked in pairs, each in charge of a specific type of human suffering: sickness, starvation, fear, destitution, pain and death. Other residents of the Maya underwater civilization were said to be people who had fallen under the spell of the demons.

According to the Popol Vuh book, the Maya underworld was a civilization that had various structures and including a council for the Lords, houses, a ball-court, homes, gardens and other Maya temple buildings which indicate that the underwater civilization was a great city. Visitors to the Maya underworld had to pass through great obstacles, tests and traps before arriving. Once there, the Lords would put the visitors to trial in one of the 6 deadly houses, where they would either outwit the test or be sentenced to death.

The Maya underworld's rulers were worshipped and offered human sacrifices. Eventually the civilization on Earth began to trick the Xibalba rulers into taking false sacrifices. According to mythology, two Maya hero twins were able to conquer Xibabla and overthrow its rulers. Even after the fall of Xibalba, the dark Maya underworld continued to be referenced in mythology.

Now the area is the center of an underwater archaeology research project that is being studied and mapped. Divers have found remnants of humans, animals, plates, bowls and other signs of the Maya ritual sacrifices to the Gods of Xibalba, the Maya underwater civilization. The majority of the Maya sacrifices were to request water from the underworld Gods. However, during difficult periods of drought, the offerings were more elaborate and even included human sacrifices.