The Maya World Tree
In Mesoamerican theology the sacred World Tree stands in the centre of the world, crossing and connecting three horizontal levels, the heavens, the earth and the underworld. It has its roots embedded deep in the underworld, with its trunk straight and sturdy in the earthly realm and its branches high up in the heavens, diverging into the four cardinal directions. Each direction has a colour. East is Red, North is White, West is black and South is yellow. The World Tree itself is the Centre Point and has the colour Green. In Maya mythology everything on the earthly plane originally sprouted and emanated from the World Tree. It is the original source, the Tree of Life.
According to Maya mythology the World Tree allowed human souls to come to be and is symbolised by the White flowers of Ceiba trees, which are still found in Maya lands today. Following that, the human bodies which souls reside in allow them to pass through this experience of life on earth. All souls came from one of the four cardinal directions, defining not only characteristics and personality traits, but also general destiny.
After death, souls would journey along the roots of the World Tree to the underworld. Here they would be challenged and tested for some time, before they could reach a place of eternal rest in the afterlife (although some had to remain behind for an eternity). This process according to mythology could not be avoided. All souls would have to make this journey, except for children who died in infancy and adults who experienced unexpectedly sudden or violent deaths. Ancestors could use the same route back along the roots of the World Tree, being portals to the underworld, to visit the living on special occasions.
The underworld had nine different levels with the lowest one being the most “frightful”. Although, unlike the Western concept of hell, the underworld also has the symbolism of being a primordial source – this is where life sprung from in the first place (World Tree roots grow from the underworld). All three levels, the underworld, the earthly plane and the heavens remain connected to each other through the World Tree, which is a conduit of communication between them, the supernatural world and the human world.
In Maya cosmology there were originally only two realms, the heavens and the underworld, but at a certain date in time the creator gods, known as Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, made a decision to raise the sky and create the physical earthly realm in-between, setting the ground for souls to be able to experience this intermediate world. At the foot of the World Tree a crocodile or water turtle is usually depicted, symbolising the surfacing of land out of the primordial waters. The World Tree is the central pillar holding up the sky. The four cardinal directions, into which the tree branches out, are considered to be additional pillars, and so there are five pillars supporting the world, with the World Tree in the centre.
The Long Count calendar of the Maya measures each world age as having a duration of more or less 5125 years. According to many modern day Maya timekeepers the world has so far completed four ages, the fourth one ending at the end of 2012. Each age has had a direction and an element, in accordance with the four cardinal directions, East, North, West and South (not necessarily in that order). The fifth age has the position of the centre, or middle, and it started at the end of 2012. As we know, the Maya World Tree symbolises the centre, where everything came from – and where everything returns to.
In Maya mythology, the old world was destroyed each time at the end of an era before a new one was created. Another interpretation was that the sky of an old era would “fall” at its end (it was “raised” at its beginning) and for the new sky to be raised sacrifice had to be made. Outside Maya circles this has given rise to a huge amount of cataclysmic predictions (“the sky is falling!”) and prophecies related to the actual end of the world, but the above symbolism was never meant to be taken literally. Symbolically speaking there would be many societal and cultural changes each time there is a transition to a new age. History has in fact proven the Maya to be very accurate in forecasting some events, but these predictions usually refer to energetic changes affecting the human mind and consciousness, which then result in the societal and cultural changes.
Evolution expanded into a different cardinal direction each time during the four previous ages, each age representing the energetic characteristics of its direction. The elements of Water, Air, Earth and Fire have all been passed through (not necessarily in that order). The next cycle, which relatively speaking only just started, is meant to contain the element of Ether. During the fifth age the movement would be towards the centre, resulting in harmonisation and a balance of the previous expansions, reaching a blend of the four previous energies, plus a new one. What this means in practice will have to be experienced to know, but according to wise Maya elders, during this age we are meant to be co-creators in this harmonisation process – in line with our personal energetic traits and characteristics as defined by Maya cosmology.
We could interpret this further by suggesting that in order to be participants we need to get to know our selves much better to start with. During this new age we are inevitably returning to the centre of everything, including ourselves. This process is two-fold: First, the universe is facilitating this movement naturally by us having entered the fifth age, which means that this is increasingly the very nature of the times we currently live in and secondly, the expectation of us being co-creators means that we can meet the universe halfway during this process. We can actively engage in knowing ourselves better, through introspection and reflection, acknowledgement and correction – which then will lead us to act in accordance with our authentic higher selves.
There will inevitably have to be some personal sacrifices to achieve this and the most difficult of these will be the hardest sacrifice of all for post-modern man and woman: sacrificing the vanity of the ego – and replacing it with humility. By doing so we will be working towards bringing a return to a part of consciousness we have lost, the consciousness of the sacred within everything, a consciousness which can ultimately lead us back to harmony within the universal centre and to the Source of everything.
Article and photographs by J.J. Montagnier
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Additional notes: The concept of the Maya underworld is compatible with the Jungian concept of the Collective Unconscious, which underlies all individual consciousness. In a Jungian sense, the underworld is the subconscious, the earthly plane is every-day consciousness, and the heavens relate to having arrived at higher levels of awareness and consciousness.
Note: I have made use of information from various sources to write this piece. I have kept it as factual as possible, as far as that is possible, considering the subject matter, but have allowed intuition to guide me in how I have put it together and have used some creative license in reaching conclusions and formulating interpretations. Please contact me should the reader require any references or citations. – JJM.
Some background on the concept of moving from the 4th Age to the 5th age – by Kenneth Johnson: