Civilizations have been the foundation on which the entire history of the world has been built. Each one contributed with their culture, beliefs, traditions, religions, technology and ideas; a way of seeing and leading the life of human beings. Some of the most important civilizations in the world have been: the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Mayans, among others. His legacy still remains and intrigues part of his meaning, which is why today you will learn more about the Mayans, their masks and their relationship with spirituality.

According to the definition of civilization in the dictionary, it is: «A set of customs, ideas, beliefs, culture and scientific and technical knowledge that characterize a human group at a time in its evolution.» The Mayans, thanks to their contributions, represented one of the 6 most significant civilizations in the world, hence their importance.

This civilization was made up of a group of ethnic groups that spoke different languages, had different customs and historical realities, but shared traits that allowed them to integrate them into a larger cultural unit such as the Mesoamerican culture.

Regarding the location of this civilization, it should be noted that it covered the southeastern territory of what is now Mexico, specifically the states of Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and the eastern zone of Chiapas; likewise much of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize.

Mesoamerica is said to have been one of the six cradles of world civilization. It gave rise to a cultural development that included the formation of complex societies, agriculture, cities, monumental architecture, writing and calendrical systems. The political, social and economic organization that they achieved was part of the example of society as it is known today. Also, their religious system.

The foundations or bases of the Mayan civilization started from the religionbecause they performed a large number of ceremonies and from there all the other areas were given. In principle, it should be known that the Mayans were polytheists, they believed that all creations were given by a divine order. They mainly worshiped the forces of nature, in which their gods were: «Hunab Ku» (the creator), lord of the skies and god of the day, «Itzamná» (son of Hunab Ku), «Chac» (god of rain, and fertility of agriculture) , “Ah Puch” (god of death), “Yun Kaax” (god of corn).

Also, there were deities that in turn had the appearance of animals, for example: the Sun was represented as a macaw or a jaguar; the Rain, like a snake; Death as a bat or an owl, etc.

Now, in terms of their political organization, it was directly related to their beliefs. For this reason, its hierarchy of power was divided into: ruling priests, the Mayan high priest (Ah-Kin-May), the priest (Halach Uinic), chiefs and main lords (Bacab), royal butler, council of state, made up of the priests and main people, warrior chiefs (Nacon).

The development of the organization of this civilization occurred in several stages. The first stage took place during the cycle corresponding to hunting, fishing and gathering. In the second stage, a new political unit emerged in which the village was governed by a council of chiefs or family heads. The third phase corresponded to the social and economic order, in which women predominated and therefore the matriarchy was established. The last stage was characterized by the consolidation of the essential forms of the Mayan civilization and the definitive maternal and paternal right.

In relation to the economic development of the Maya, they developed a simple economy, since production depended on family requirements, but little by little there was a division of labor, which would give rise to the differentiation of social classes. Once agriculture begins, a sedentary lifestyle is generated, this activity becomes the basis of the economy, which is complemented by hunting, fishing and gathering.

The Mayan agricultural system consisted of felling trees and shrubs, burning them, and then planting crops using a pointed stick, called a planting stick, at the beginning of the rainy season.

Thanks to archaeologists and historians, remains of hydraulic works could be found, which indicates that the Mayans built canals for irrigation, which increased agricultural production. In this way trade had great development. Therefore, products such as honey, copal, cotton, cocoa, feathers, among other products, were exported..

The social organization of the Mayans was initially tribal, that is, through groups of families related by kinship, who shared a culture, a language and a territory. As the economy developed, the population began to increase and ceremonial centers emerged, thus consolidating the hierarchy of social classes, which occurred as a result of the division of labor.

The government was initially theocratic, in which the ruling class or the so-called intellectuals predominated, they were in charge of activities such as socioeconomic planning, the projection of public works, political organization, the creation of scientific knowledge (mathematics, astronomy, chronology , medicine) and the preservation, by means of a developed script, of the history of the ruling lineages.

Specialists (builders, artists and craftsmen), as well as the servants, also resided in the cities, while the peasants lived near the crops. Large-scale trade was also conducted, so merchants also became a social class. In the later stages of development of this civilization, the only change that arose was the division of supreme power into political-religious, which previously rested with a single person.

According to historical information, in the highest social class were the nobles or hidalgoscalled almehenoob by the Yucatecan Mayans, the people of illustrious lineage, those destined by divine decree to rule over others, with political power, with religious power or with the force of arms.

After knowing how little by little, with work and organization, they managed to build a civilization so advanced for the time, the curiosity aroused in human beings to know and understand how they conceived their world is normal. They were always very religious people, connected with the environment and nature, from the land that provided them with food to those they considered gods: the sun, the moon, the rain, among others..

The Mayans considered that the universe was made up of three large horizontal planes: the sky, the earth and the underworld. In the sky, there were 13 levels among which were the gods they worshiped, such as the moon «Ixchel» and Venus «Nohok Ek». For its part, the sky was represented by a deity called «Itzamná», the dragon, who is represented as a feathered serpent with two heads or a dragon. This god was the supreme of the Mayan religion, which symbolized the energy of the cosmos, which gave life to the entire universe.

However, the earth was considered a flat plate that floated on the water; but in turn he was represented as a large crocodile or lizard and that vegetation grew on his back.

Likewise, the Mayans fervently believed in life after death, they believed that when the soul died it undertook a path to Xibalbá, or the Underworld, where it had to cross a river with the help of a dog (the xoloitzcuintle); this belief was linked to the way they saw and perceived the world.

Within the traditions that they handled with respect to death, was the use of funerary masks, they were made from certain minerals that according to their beliefs would help them on the way to the underworld. In fact, they believed that wearing a piece of jade would make things easier for them in the other world. The path culminated when the soul reached the south, because for the Mayans the underworld was related to the south and the color yellow. The god of death and disease Ah Puch lived there.

Thanks to this belief the leaders decided to have large and valuable masks made of Jade stone, which guaranteed them at the end of the road to return to life in a cyclical and continuous way. Additionally, the Mayans believed that death was only a necessary step to life, as well as life to death.

These masks carried deep meanings related to the conception of man and his connection with the cosmos.. That is to say that within the creation, the individual was an active element of it. Therefore, the masks were the way to prolong their «existence» after death.

That is why, in an effort to preserve the figures of the rulers, they created jade masks that, far from being made with a specific pattern, were assembled directly on the face of the deceased; A thin layer of white plaster was applied to it and on top of it the different pieces of jade, obsidian chrysoprase, pyrite, carved mother-of-pearl shell or snail were placed until it was covered like a green, white, black -sometimes- and red mosaic.

The masks were the central element during the burial rituals of the rulers, since in some way they reflected the features of the sovereign and the attributes of the divinity; while the materials used reflected the essence of their religion and customs.

Finally, today, after thousands of years, the Mayan masks, unique pieces, a symbol of spirituality, of their connection with life after death, somehow confirm the existence of this advanced civilization, demonstrating the close relationship that must exist between man and the environment that surrounds him. If you have the opportunity to find an exhibition of them, do not hesitate to see these magical objects.