“Only the lee-ders live in-si-dee the ci-tee,” Ventura tells us because, in times of war, the invaders only killed the leaders. The common people, they worked. Ventura smiles. “So the leaders, they don’t kill the workers. The workers live out-si-dee the city walls.”
The conquered people often adopted the gods of their invaders because a god that could lead an army to victory was powerful, deserving of some respect and attention. In fact, many of the temples of Tulum are dedicated to Kukulkan, but his origins are uncertain. Later invasions probably resulted in some blending of Kukulkan and the primary god of the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl. A Mayan merger of sorts. Not so different from the lee-ders of today, I think.
Ventura points to the eastern side of the city, where the temple of Kukulkan towers above the rest of the ruins. “This is where the lee-der sits and watches the people and thinks,” he tells us.
But it is to the little temple to the left that Ventura directs our attention. “The amazing of this,” he says, his words more lyrical than notes wafting from a flute, “is that the astronomers capture the mo-ment of the sun in the two solstices. In the two solstices the sun is going to be seen inside of the temple.”
In the space between yesterday and today, Kukulkan rises, drawing the sun across the sky, bringing life. I stand beneath the Mayan god who brings light, and I wonder how a people who understood the movement of the planets and the stars, who charted the fragile journey of our own little planet through space and time could believe that this god or any other demanded the life blood of his subjects in exchange for his light.
A little voice , perhaps Kukulkan himself, whispers in my ear: “It is so different from other religious wars,” he says, “wars fought and people killed to bring the Word of the One God to unbelievers?”
I don’t think he needs an answer, so I give none.
Ventura explains the Maya perception of heaven—nine levels of hell and four of heaven. The noble class was guaranteed a place in heaven, but the average citizen could hope, at best, to land in one of the upper levels of hell. For the majority of the population, the only hope of ascension to a better place was through stardom (as a sacrifice to the gods) or sports.