The Divine Court
At the heart of ancient Maya religious belief lies
maize, the staple food of the New World, personified by the Maize God.
The mythic story of the god of maize mirrors the annual planting and
harvesting of the corn on which all Maya civilization depended. Like
the maize plant, the Maize God was decapitated at harvest time but
young, and beautiful--at the beginning of each new growing
season. The Maize God was thus a metaphor for life and resurrection.
At court, lords and ladies often portrayed themselves as incarnations
of the handsome Maize God. Mothers strapped infants to cradle boards,
gently molding their foreheads into the shape of tapered maize cobs.
The Maya elite wore their thick, straight hair gathered in upswept
hairdos that echoed the lustrous corn silk of the maize plant. For
their formal costumes, they relied on two precious materials: jade
and feathers. Adorned in jade jewelry and bedecked with headdresses
of green quetzal feathers, rulers became one with the verdant, life-giving
The Maize God was the preeminent deity in a pantheon
that also included the god of cacao, or chocolate, and the underworld
god of trade. Unlike maize, a necessity, chocolate was a luxury and
the basis for a special drink favored at court. The god of trade, also
associated with luxury, was an old and ruthless trickster made rich
by his control of commerce and tribute. Maya rulers emulated his luxurious
palace, where he is depicted sitting on a throne covered with a jaguar
pelt and wearing the richest of costumes--valued goods garnered
in his role as the merchant god.