The Origins of the Voladores (Flyers) Ritual

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The performance presented by the Papantla Flyers (the Voladores) at Discover Mexico Park is a reenactment of part of a ritual that has been taking place in Mexico, uninterrupted, for over 2,500 years.   The ceremony began in the central part of Mexico with the Olmecs.   Over time, it was incorporated into the central Mexican cultures that followed: the Totonacos, Huastecas, Nauhuas, Otomis, Chichimecas, Cuicatecos, Tepehuas, Toltecs, Mexicas, and Aztecas.   The ceremony was also performed by the Huicholes and Coras in northern Mexico and by the Hopi in Arizona.   The Quiche Maya in Guatemala, the Nicarao people of Nicaragua, and the Pipiles of El Salvador performed the ceremony on a regular basis as well.
Originally, the ritual was part of the observance of the end of a 52-year cycle the Olmecs defined as the synchronization of their 260-day ritual calendar and their 365-day solar calendar.   Many aspects of the dance, such as the number of participants, the number of steps they made as they danced around the pole, and the number of rotations made as they descended related to this observance of the calendar round.   Later, as the rite spread though geographical area and time periods, each culture altered it a little, adding bits of their own to the performance, deleting others, and often dedicating it to a different god.
One of the most common reasons these cultures observed the ceremony was to insure a bountiful harvest.   To that end, a human sacrifice was added to the ceremony, one which has been well-documented in both the indigenous, hand-painted picture books known as codices as well as the writings of early Spanish observers.   The sacrificial victim, sometimes a woman or young girl, but frequently a man, was tied upright, spread-eagle on a ladder-type scaffold (cadalso).   When the spiraling Voladores dancers reached the ground, a priest pierced the victim’s groin with an arrow shot from a bow.   Quickly thereafter, other participants shot more arrows into the victim’s body, eventually resulting death.   The body was allowed to hang so that the blood drained onto the ground, which these early cultures believed would replenish the earth’s fecundity. ....CONTINUE READING

The Birth of the Cruise Ship Industry

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When did the Cruise Ship Industry begin?   If you guessed the 1920s, guess again. 1820s?   Not even close.   The Cruise/Tourism business was well established and functioning in the mid-1300s.   That date is not a typographical error; there were cruise ships plying the Mediterranean in the 14th century!   They were well organized, money-making machines that took the pious European pilgrims to the Holy Land. ....CONTINUE READING

Party like a Mayan!

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The Maya definitely knew how to party, but they didn’t get their kicks by just dancing and singing during the sacrificial ceremonies; they had lots of pharmaceuticals they employed to help them get “elevated.”

Psilocybin mushrooms
The entheogenic mushroom genus Psilocybe includes at least 54 species that are found in Mexico.   The Maya used one of them (called K’aizalaj Okox in Mayan) in their ceremonies for its hallucinogenic properties.   They illustrated this use in many of their anthropomorphic idols, especially the ones commonly associated with the god Quetzalcoatl in his incarnation as Ehecatl, the god of wind, by portraying the hallucinations as mushrooms dangling from the god’s eye sockets. ....CONTINUE READING

Maya Recipe for Pek Stew

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The Maya had two varieties of Canis familiaris, the xoloitzcuintli, otherwise known as a Mexican Hair-less, and the tlalchichi (techichi in Mayan), a smaller, hirsute variety introduced into Maya culture by the Toltecs.   Together, they were both known as pek, or dog. The xolo is medium sized animal (35-45 pounds) with smooth slate or reddish-gray skin that often has white spots or blotches.   Not all of the dogs are born hairless; they are heterozygous, with one recessive gene for a normal coat, and one dominate gene for hairlessness.   A mating of two xolos generally results in a litter consisting of 25% of the puppies with hair, 50% hairless puppies, and 25% stillborn (the fate of the ones with two recessive genes).   These larger xolos were used as hunting and guard dogs by the Maya.   The smaller Techici had another use. ....CONTINUE READING

Aluxes and Duendes

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An alux (Mayan: [aˈluʃ], plural: aluxo’ob [aluʃoˀːb]) is the name given to a type of sprite or spirit in the mythological tradition of certain Maya peoples from the Yucatán Peninsula and Guatemala.  Aluxes are conceived of as being small, only about knee-high, and in appearance resembling miniature traditionally dressed Maya people.  Tradition holds that aluxes are generally invisible but are able to assume physical form for purposes of communicating with and frightening humans as well as to congregate together.  They are generally associated with natural features such as forests, caves, stones, and fields but can also be enticed to move somewhere through offerings.  Their description and mythological role are somewhat reminiscent of other sprite-like mythical entities in a number of other cultural traditions (such as the Celtic leprechaun, the Scandinavian Gnome, or the European Troll and Gremlin), as the tricks they play are similar. ....CONTINUE READING

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