The California Native International Adventures

Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

Tell Them to “Go to Xibalba”

By Ellen Klein
According to the Popul Vuh, the Mayan scripture containing the creation myth and other mythical narratives, Xibalba (pronounced “Shee-Ball-Ba”) was an underworld city, ruled by twelve gods, the Lords of Xibalba, who were demons of death and various forms of human suffering. Inhabitants of the underground realm were followers of these Lords, and it was their task on earth to carry out the nefarious duties assigned to them by their respective masters.

Mayan god statue Not a particularly pleasant place, Xibalba boasted rivers filled with scorpions, blood and pus, as well as all kinds of obstacles and confusions meant to humiliate anyone who approached. It also contained six deadly houses which were constructed to be trials for those who were placed within the houses of darkness, cold, jaguars, bats, razors (or sharp objects) and fire or heat.

As in most Mesoamerican cities, where ritual ball games played a big part in the culture, Xibalba also contained a ball court. The downfall of this Mayan Hades was recounted in the Mayan legend of the Hero Twins. The twins were talented ballplayers, and their wide spread fame drew notice by the Lords of Xibalba, who challenged them to a ball game.

Thus summoned, they journeyed to Xibalba, and, along the way, were subjected to many obstacles and humiliations. Fortunately, armed with the knowledge of what had happened to their fathers before them, another set of twins, who had also been summoned to Xibalba, they managed to outsmart and defeat the Lords of Death. Their fathers had not been so fortunate they had ended up being sacrificed and buried under the ballcourt. Eventually, the Hero Twins ascended into the sky where they became the sun and moon.

Although to us it seems pure fantasy, Xibalba is believed to have actually existed in the form of a series of underground chambers and passages. The location of these was thought to be a cave in the vicinity of Cobán, Guatemala. However, Mexican archaeologists in the Yucatan Peninsula have recently discovered a maze of eleven sacred temples in underground caves, containing human bones. The caves, some submerged in water, lead to dry chambers and a 330 foot road believed to be the path to the underworld. Archaeologists have also discovered pottery and stone carvings, and believe that this was a site associated with the passage of the souls of the dead.

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