Photos, Artwork, & Musings on Life, Spirit, Entheogens, Time, & Travel

Tikal – Mayan Axis Mundi

The name “Tikal” has always held an air of exotic adventure for me, and rightly so. It is the name of one of the most famous and best understood of the ancient Mayan lowland cities, featuring some of the most iconic pyramidal structures in the world. When visiting Belize a few years ago, I took a rather adventurous day trip across the border into Guatemala to see this World Heritage Site.

The city’s original name is Yax Mutul. The modern name, Tikal, is from the 1800’s. The city is no small place. It stretches over more than six square miles and features over 3,000 individual structures from small rooms to the numerous massive pyramids, some taller than 200 feet. Six such pyramids form the main complex, rising sharply out of the Petén jungle like broken stone teeth. Tikal boasts six of the famous Mayan ball courts.

Tikal was home to as many as 90,000 people during its prime. It was established around 2,400 years ago and was abandoned about 1,100 years ago.
[Click on photos for a larger image.]

We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson – Over-soul, from Essays: First Series, 1841.

The idea of the “axis mundi” or world axis, represented by a “world tree” was important to ancient Mesoamericans. In Mayan lands, it was called Yaaxché and was believed to be a ceiba tree like the one in this photo. This amazing tree is only found in the tropics. No temperate zone tree looks like this! It has such a fantastic form and color, it almost seems like it must come from an alien planet – plus, it is simply huge. Whitish gray bark is topped with lines of dark red brush-like leaves and blooms. It is believed that the Maya planted four ceremonial ceiba trees at important sites like this: one at each cardinal direction. They are still highly regarded and respected by modern Mayans and other tribal people throughout the tropics.

The world tree reaches from the underworld realm through the human dimension and up into the spirit dimensions, connecting mankind with these esoteric realms in a directly shamanic manner. Some also understand the tree to represent the band of the Milky Way.

All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.”
– Chief Seattle

 

 

 

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2 responses

  1. Fantastic photos.

    I did a similar trip from Belize to Guatemala in the mid-70’s. It doesn’t look like much has changed.

    I can remember climbing one of the pyramids and looking out at the surrounding jungle. All around there appear to be large hills covered with trees and vegetation. The hills are, in fact, more pyramids that have become overgrown. It must have been an amazing place at its peak when, it is believed, Tikal had a population of around 90,000 people.

    April 4, 2013 at 6:54 am

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, Tikal is a huge place, much of which is still covered by jungle. There are many other large Mayan sites, including El Mirador to the north. It covers about 10 square miles and is still being excavated. There are some city sites that have been discovered only recently by using satellite imagery analysis. It is remarkable to see such a large jungle wilderness, the Petén, so empty and wild today, yet realizing it was so full of people and their vibrant cities in the not that distant past.

      April 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

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