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A study of classic Maya priesthood
Raymond, J. Scott
AuthorZender, Marc Uwe
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractThis study employs a conjunctive, interdisciplinary approach to contemporary iconographic, epigraphic and archaeological evidence to shed light on the role of religious specialists and religious practice in Maya society of the Classic Period (A.D. 250 - 900). Its central contribution is a thematic model of Classic Maya priesthood. While the existence of priests in Classic society has been questioned - and while some have seen the religious specialists and political leaders of the period as shamans - this study finds evidence for an elect group of professional worshippers who constituted a 'class apart', wearing distinctive vestments, propitiating deities in temples, producing liturgical documents (codices), and performing community-wide services on a regular, calendrical basis. Such traits are all characteristic of priests in universal comparison. Priests occupied various ranked offices since at least the outset of the Late Classic Period (A.D. 600), including: (1) ajk'uhuun or "worshipper", a propitiator of deities and keeper of codices, but also a court chaplain (parallel to the Colonial Yucatec ajk 'iin ); (2) yajawk'ahk' or "fire's vassal", primarily a warrior priest, but also responsible for incense ceremonies (parallel to the Aztec tlenamacac "fire priest"); and; (3) ti 'sakhuun "speaker of/for the white headband", a prophet and oracular priest ( cognate with the Colonial Yucatec chi'laan), intermediary betweens humans and gods, and also a spokesman for the king. Importantly, a number of prominent ixajk 'uhuun or "priestesses" are also known from the second half of the Late Classic Period (A.D. 700 - 800). The existence of a Classic Maya priesthood reveals hitherto unsuspected dimensions of the social, political and economic organization of Maya society. Like their Postclassic and Modem descendants, Classic priests were more than esteemed religious specialists, scribes and teachers; they also wielded considerable political and economic power. They commissioned their own monuments and temples, governed their own segmentary lineage compounds, and even acted as regents or stewards for young rulers. While most priests acknowledged subordination to their k 'uhulajaw or "holy lord" - himself the divine king and ex officio high priest - this information could be suppressed in private documents, and some priests served multiple rulers in tum. As such, the monumental commissions of priests and other non-royal nobles comprise a crucial, nominally independent register of historical information which reveal emic dimensions of resistance to royal ideology, and which can be profitably compared and contrasted with "official" royal history.
Bibliography: p. 411-470
CitationZender, M. U. (2004). A study of classic Maya priesthood (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. doi:10.11575/PRISM/18863
InstitutionUniversity of Calgary
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