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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at


At times they sacrificed their own blood, cutting all around the ears in strips which they let remain as a sign. At other times they perforated their cheeks or the lower lip; again they made cuts in parts of the body, or pierced the tongue crossways and passed stalks through, causing extreme pain; again they cut away the superfluous part of the member, leaving the flesh in the  form of cars. It was this custom which led the historian of the
Indies to say that they practised circumcision.

At other times they practised a filthy and grievous sacrifice, hereby they gathered in the temple in a line, and each made a

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pierced hole
though the member, across from side to side, and then passed through as great a quantity of cord as they could stand; and thus all together fastened and strung together, they anointed the statue of the demon with the collected blood. The one able to endure the most was considered most valiant, and their sons of tender age began to accustom themselves to this suffering; it is frightful to see how much they were dedicated to this practice.

The women made no similar effusions of blood, although they were very devout. Of every kind of animal obtainable, birds of the sky, animals of the earth, fishes of the sea, they used the blood to anoint the face of the demon; they also gave as presents whatever other thing they had. Of some animals they took out the heart and offered that; others were offered whole, some living, some dead, some raw, some cooked. They also made large offerings of bread and wine, and of all the kinds of food and drink they possessed.

To make these sacrifices in the courts of the temples there were erected certain tall decorated posts; and near the stairway of the temple there was a broad, round pedestal, and in the middle a stone, somewhat slender and four or five palms in height, set up; at the top of the temple stairs there was another similar one.

Apart from the festivals which they solemnized by the sacrifices of animals.. on occasions of great tribulation or need the priests or chilánes ordained the sacrifice of human beings. For this purpose all contributed, for the purchase of slaves. Some out of devotion gave their young sons. The victims were feted up to the day of the sacrifice, but carefully guarded that the. might not run away, or defile themselves by any carnal acts; then while they went from town to town with dances, the priests, the chilánes and the celebrants fasted.

When the day of the ceremony arrived, they assembled in the court of the temple; if they were to be pierced with arrows their bodies were stripped and anointed with blue, with a miter on the head. When they arrived before the demon, all the people went through a solemn dance with him around the wooden pillar, all with bows and arrows, and then dancing raised him upon it, tied him, all continuing to dance and took at him. The impure priest, ventured, ascended and whether it was mars or woman wounded the victim in the private parts with an arrow, and then descended and anointed the face of the demon with the blood he had drawn; then making a sign to the dancers, they began in order as they passed rapidly, dancing, to shoot an arrow to the victim's heart, shown by a white mark, and quickly made of his chest a single point, like a hedgehog of arrows.

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If his heart was to be taken out, they conducted

Click to enlarge
him with great display and concourse of people, painted blue and wearing his miter, and placed him on the rounded sacrificial stone, after the priest and his officers had anointed the stone with blue and purified the temple to drive away the evil spirit. The chacs then seized the poor victim and swiftly laid him on his back across the stone, and the four took hold of his arms and legs, spreading them out. Then the flacon executioner came, with a flint knife in his hand, and with great skill made an incision between the ribs on the left side, below the nipple; then he plunged in his hand and like a ravenous tiger tore out the living heart, which he laid on a plate and gave to the priest; he then quickly went and anointed the faces of the idols with that fresh blood. *

At times they performed this sacrifice on the stone situated on
the top step of the temple, and then they threw the dead body rolling down the steps, where it was taken by the attendants, was stripped completely of the skin save only on the hands and feet; then the priest, stripped, clothed himself with this skin and danced with the rest. This was a ceremony with them of great solemnity. The victims sacrificed in this manner were usually buried in the court of the temple; but it occurred on occasions that they ate the flesh, distributing portions to the chiefs and those who succeeded in obtaining a part; the hands, feet and head want to the priests and celebrants; and these sacrificial victims they then regarded as sainted. If they were slaves captured in war, their masters kept the bones,

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and displayed them in the dances, as a mark of victory. At times they threw the victims alive into the well at Chichén Itzá, believing that they would come forth on the third day, even though they never did see them reappear.


49:* The above illustration, after a drawing by Ann Axtell Morris from a wall-painting at Chichén Itzá, is almost exactly reproduced on a repoussé gold piece recovered from the great cenote, in which the incision in the chest is also shown, of which we unfortunately cannot show a reproduction, but which may be seen on display at the Peabody Museum in Cambridge. A further striking similarity is also to be found in the illustration on page 21 of the Gomesta manuscript, apparently a death but not a sacrificial scene, where the man's body lies tied and prone (not supine) on a table, facing into the head of a serpent which stretches coiled almost as in the above picture. An identity of symbolism (which does not in the least have to indicate either origin or transmission, as a certain school seems to derive everything Maya straight from Egypt because of other similarities) is perhaps somewhat curiously present in the Chinese honorific expression for one's decease: "He has mounted the dragon," and invoked the great mystery.

The sacrificial flint knife, with inlaid mosaic handle representing two intertwined serpents, as shown on the next page, was also brought up from the sacred cenote at Chichén Itzá. It reproduced by courtesy of Mr. T. A. Willard, from his City of the Sacred Well.

Next: XXIX. Arms of the Yucatecans. Military Chieftains. Militia and Soldiers. Customs of War