I entered into a life of devotedness to the gods and the high priests of the city's temple on my twelfth year of the Mayan calendar. My name was changed to Colel Cab chosen from the Goddess mistress of the bees. That was the summer that the air became dryer as wet season rains diminished to just a few days. The high priest called for three full moons of dedicated prayer and the sacrifice of the temple's heard of white bulls.
The temple walls were sprayed red with blood and the floors ran deep with the thick, dark, coagulating blood. The flies swirled out of the dark death's ooze as each foot trod disturbed them from their feast. The air thick with the cloying, salty, metallic taste of blood. The continuous beat of the drums and chants throughout the day, started at dawn and only stopping when the sun drops low enough to not shine directly upon the sacrificial alter on the top of the temple.
The following morning we were awoken early. The priestess and her retinue bathed and dressed in the ritual clothing and headdresses. The beating of the drums summoned us to the temples grounds, as we were lined up along the temple steps to await the rising of the sun. The smell of the jungle mixed its scent with the baking blood that splattered the stones underfoot from the animal slaughter of yesterday. The blood seemed to be alive as the flies gorged themselves on the ooze unable to fly as they themselves were covered with the gods celebrated sacrifice. I was glad for the empty stomach or the smell of vomit would of added to the heavy odours that permeated the air.
The drum's beat heralded the start of the ceremony the high priest appeared above them on the temples alter platform his chants filling the whole temple complex rebounding and echoing around from the other pyramid buildings. Drums beat and chanting increased as the two bound figures were led forward through the corridor of priestesses. Slowly they made there way up. Each step the bodies coated with the ritual blue of the rain God Chaac. Husband and wife, both had been accused of theft and were sentenced to death.
The wife, was taken first striped to the waist then bent back over the curved alter stone face up. Four priests dressed in vivid blue gowns with brilliant fanning plumage of bird feathers moved forward and restrained her limbs to the alter stone. A'ktar stood above the pinned woman, as prayers stuttered and moaned forcing their way out of her terrified body.
A'ktars flint knife was held high above his head as he reaches to the sky letting the Gods see the blessed knife in his outstretched arm. At the moment the rising sun touched the tip of the long smooth stone blade as signal of the Gods blessing. Then it plunged down slicing through the pale flesh of her stomach. The gash gaped wide and blood splattered high and far. The wife's scream of agony and her husbands moan of despair was hidden within the chants of the congregating crowd below.
A'ktars fist plunged deep into the blood filled rip then withdrew with a bloody mass of a still beating heart within his clenched fingers. The wife’s lifeless body is thrown down the temples steps, kicked further down each time it stopped to a waiting priest at the bottom. He attacks her dead body with skilled precession. I was fascinated as he removed the skin from her body like an animals pelt. Then dancing among the crowd the skin flapping like a bloody sodden cloak around his body, as he weaved about the open space around him and sang his chant.
Looking up from the macabre dancer with the skin of his wife draped around his shoulders to the skinless form that was once his wife, the husband croons from the wooden stake next to the alter he was tied to. He was striped from the waist up his painted blue chest exposed and only a loin cloth below. His arms tied above his head as a priest carrying a bow and arrow approaches.
With the sharp tip of the arrow he slices both the tied man wrists. Allowing the blood to ooze out of the deep cuts and coat the arrow in blood. With the blooded arrow the priest kneels at the feet of the stone idol of Coyopa one of the Gods carved into the alter that the woman's blood still drips from. He wipes the blood over the stone face, chanting, calling on the Gods favour. While this priest prays, other young priests run up the steps of the temple. One by one they take turns dancing forwards shouting the names of Gods and firing there arrows into the chest of the man tied to the stake. The sound of the arrows plunging into the his body with that sickening thwack as the stone tip makes that sucking sound as it buries itself in deeply.
Finally as the last arrow finds the killing zone and his life ends. We were marched slowly past the alter and the human porcupine, in reverence on our way into the cool dark rooms of the temple below. The sacrifice of the bulls had not appeased what ever had angered the gods, nor had the sacrifice of the man and his wife. There was still no rain. A gathering of high priests was called as rationing of the city's water began in earnest.
A'ktar the warrior supreme, leader of our lands army was instructed to oversee the distribution of water as people are arriving into the city each day in there hundreds. All seeking water, food and blessings from their Gods and priests. Their crops failed, the wild game had left the area and those that stayed were hunted to near extinction by the starving people.
The days grew hotter and dryer, and the water level in the underground cave well fells to an alarmingly low level. Talk among the hopeful that gather for dawn prayers, was of leaving this land and finding new lands in the south. This talk, the high priest declared, was to be stopped with the threat of death. It angers the gods. A'ktar allows the army to punish any talk of abandonment.
The ancient rituals of the mass sacrificing of the Mayan people has begun. The sound of human screams ripped across the trees and flowed through the city streets from the direction of the temple complex. Some human sacrifices of the wealthier populace of the city were carried out hidden within the walls of the temple, no longer was it the large ceremonial removal of a persons heart. That took to long, execution consisted of lines of those to be sacrificed being knelt down soldiers with clubs swung hard at the back of heads, crushing skulls with savage blows. The body’s then unceremoniously dumped into large ditches dug at the base of the many Gods statues. The next family would be marched in men, woman, the very old and the very young. No one was spared, if you were suspected of doing something to anger the gods, your whole family was sacrificed.
Other less wealthy family’s and slaves were roped in long columns. These shuffling millipedes wove there way through the streets driven out of the city. Hundreds at a time, they were forced to the cliff edge of the dark deep sink holes that formed in the Mayans land. These strings of people were thrown down still alive and roped, into the gloomy watery bottomed caverns. Thousands of rotten carcases filled the caves, soiling and polluting more of the Mayans water source. The smell of death was all-pervading it oozed from the temple and lingered in the surrounding area.
Lack of a decent diet, shortage of water and over population of the city soon led to illness and disease becoming rife. The summer heat was at its most oppressive when the plague started in the poorest section of the city amongst the slave quarters.
The priest led the procession, his priestess behind him. All around me, were my young priestess sisters. We chanted as we followed the dawn precession towards the main temple. Over a thousand of us born of pure blood moved and danced in our ceremonial attire. We were moving from within the city walls from our palace to the safety of the temples complex, running away from our disease ridden people.
The people of the city gathered either side of us, normally they would of chanted and called out for blessings. I watched their faces now as I passed by, mouths clamped shut, lips holding venomous sneers, eyes dark and angry. There body's hardly covered by tatty unclean rags. Fists clasped tight to there sides, or thrust out in front of them. Claw like fingers clenching and unclenching with anger. Not a word was spoken, A'ktars men took care of that.
Abandoned by the gods, failed by their leaders, revolt has turned to vengeance. Marched in ropes towards my own temple, the high priestess leads the way swaying and chanting as the swarm of people hem around us. Whipped by the guards if they think we are turning the evil eye toward the people, city or sky so we close our eyes and are dragged by the ropes that bind.
Our prayers were not answered, so now we will pay retribution for our sins. The broad stone steps lead up to the flat topped platform where the alter stands proudly in sight of the gods. The walls of the temple radiate with the brightly coloured faces of our Gods, once so protective now they seem to sneer at our distress.
We slowly ascend the steps our feet slipping on the congealed blood that clings to them. Trying to step over the eviscerated and decapitated body's of our kin that lay strewn on the stone steps where they had been tossed from the top of the temple like so much discarded rubbish.
I open my eyes to look up the steps for which I am whipped no less five times by the nearest guards for the honour of gazing upon the blazing sun A'ktar, the peoples new leader and hopeful saviour. His arm held aloft a bloody mass clenched tight in his fist. Its beating had stopped, but the blood still drained down the warriors arm.
They took the high priestess first, the soldiers bent her backward over the alter of carved stone. A'ktar raises his blood soaked arm, the blade held in his hand dulled by the blood letting of the sacrificial offerings. I close my eyes to the vision as it burns deep, but the sound of the screams etch deeper. My priestess impaled me as much as that knife did her. The gurgles of her last breath was covered by the baying of the crowds below eager for more sacrifice.
As I was lain across the alter I looked up to the sky knowing the whips could not harm me any more. Hoping to see some sign of the rain that would be my only chance for reprieve but the sky was that same cloudless blue. The suns light was so vividly bright that it burned into my very soul ripping the pain throughout my body. Then a deep blackness descended and all I heard was the baying crowd in the distance. Our Mayan people sacrificed everything to continue to live.
By Tracey Owen & Brian Rueby
copyright Aug 2011