What Role Did Religion Play in Mayan Life?

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Religion played a significant role in Mayan life, because their social system, agriculture, calendar, recreational activities and ceremonial rituals were all linked to their religion. The Mayans worshipped a pantheon of gods, and their rulers were supposedly related to them and acted as intermediaries between the gods and humans.

The Mayans developed a complex system of calendars that were dependent on the movements of the sun, moon, stars and planets. The calendars determined the timing of crop planting, the waging of war and the enacting of religious rituals. The cultivation of maize, the most important Mayan crop, was tied to religion, and the maize god was one of the most important religious figures. Prayers and offerings were made before such activities as ball games played in special outdoor courts.

Bloodletting, torture and human sacrifices were integral aspects of Mayan religion. Rulers, because they were thought to be progeny of the gods, performed ritual self-mutilation, drawing blood from their earlobes, tongues and genitals. To show their piety, promote fertility and ensure success in games and war, Mayans performed human sacrifice. Typically, the victim was held down while his heart was extracted. Sacrificial victims were often prisoners of war, but after ball games, sometimes the closing ritual would involve the sacrificial offering of the captain or another member of the losing team.