The Maya universe is a living universe; it is the same universe as ours.
It will live on as long as the celestial vault with its stars continues to exist;
And this land, with its skies, its moon, and its sun, at dawn and at dusk.
As long as we keep our jungles alive.
As long as the jaguar —the night sun— continues prowling between ceiba and
mahogany trees.
As long as jade mosaics speak to us from the faces of ancient Lords
we will know how to decipher the codes of their essence.

A jade mask is simultaneously life, death and resurrection in an infinite cycle
of existence; it is the divine countenance of a sovereign whose power came to
be the vital power of his people, of the universe itself.

Maya culture, our patrimony, living patrimony, has an eloquent face;
a jade face that is actually the melting pot of a culture, its universe.

I was surrounded by
underground water that for an instant
became sky

Carlos Pellicer

For its sacred meaning, jade is the essential component of the funerary masks of
Maya sovereigns.

Only rulers were permitted to wear divine attributes and during their lives they
could move between the three levels of the cosmos. At death, their funerary
trappings gave them the identity they needed to assume in the underworld. The
mask, as an element of transformation, gave its owner the face of the maize god.

This emerald green jade was obtained from the foggy deposits on the banks of
the Motagua River in Guatemala. Given its association with water and because
it possesses the essential color of nature, jade is related to the sky and the
primordial sea of creation. It is a symbol of the breath of life, fertility and rebirth.

Time was measured by the goodness of the sun,
by the netting formed by the stars

Chilam Balam de Chumayel

The earflares of the mask are in the shape of a four-petaled flower, which
represents the model of the Mesoamerican cosmos.

According to the Mayas, at the start of time the world was demarcated by
four corners, four sides and a center. This sacred space houses the three
planes of the universe: the sky, earth and underworld.

At the same time, flowers are capable of inhaling and exhaling moisture,
the breath of life. Its nectar symbolized fertility; it is the "sacred essence"
that gives life to all things.

And so it smells of soursop
from the ferns to the ceiba

Carlos Pellicer

The shell fangs on the jade earflares are those of a serpent. Their presence
on the mask is an allusion to the celestial and therefore divine plane.

The appearance of the serpent in royal attire marks the ruler’s divine status.
For the Maya, the serpent is a creature of the sky, the earth and the water,
with the power of moving from one of the three cosmic realms to the next,
so as the divine Maya ruler.

The serpent and the concept of sacred lineage shared the same
significance. Calakmul was known as the kingdom of the serpent and its
rulers held the title K’uhul Kanal Ahaw, "Divine Lord of the Serpent."

Ceiba tree that casts my race to the winds

Rosario Castellanos

The shell appliqué on the nose and mouth of the mask represents the essential
breath of the spirit, the exhalation of the sovereign’s last breath at his demise.

His open mouth, a metaphor of the sacred cave, is the threshold for the passage
of the spirit that needed to transcend the supernatural planes.

This breath of life, synonymous with the soul and life force, mirrors its presence
in nature through the wind as a supernatural element, for it can be felt, but not
seen. It is the creative spirit that resided in all living things.

The sun is such a jaguar that it passes by silently

Carlos Pellicer

Present in the mask with its four extended wings under the chin, the
butterfly is closely linked to the wind and the soul of the deceased

In pre-Hispanic art the butterfly is a symbol of Venus: the "Morning Star",
the Sun’s emissary, a daytime and nighttime star in constant movement.

Just as the enduring soul of the dead ruler, the butterfly is omnipresent in
nature, active during the day and at night. It is a being in continuous state
of transformation, a tangible sign of the cycle of life.

Those who lived in the citadels
[their mountain place] multiplied then

Popol Vuh

The carving of plant motifs in the mask’s headdress refers to the place
where the world was created. It is the Sacred Mountain, the threshold for
the descent into the underworld.

Maya pyramids are also a metaphor of the Sacred Mountain known as
Witz. In its interior is the Sacred Cave, the place where the primordial
grains of corn were deposited in mythical times.

The funerary chamber where the mask was found symbolizes this Cave.
In its interior the ruler was to be reborn as the Maize God after defeating
the Lords of the Underworld.

The making, the modeling of our first mother-father,
with yellow corn, white corn alone for the flesh,
food alone for the human legs and arms

Popol Vuh

Within the Sacred Mountain, in the headdress of the mask, two small jade
leaves represent sprouts of young maize.

At death, the sovereign symbolically became a seed to be planted in the
Sacred Mountain. He would sprout as the young Maize God to ensure the
sustenance of his people.

For the Mayas, the first man was shaped from the three primordial grains of
corn. Thus, in an infinite cycle of life, death and resurrection, the jade mask
expresses the continuity of existence.

Nowadays corn is still the primordial staple of the Maya people. It stands
at the core of Mexican culture.

I am like the sun and moon for those who
are born in the light, begotten in the light .

Popol Vuh

Each of the mask’s elements has a meaning of its own, but at the
same time, they are all interrelated with one another. They are part
of a complex whole.

The Maya cosmogony does not involve a linear way of thinking.
In it, nature and divine, animal and human, life and death
are dimensions that are inextricably interwoven in ongoing

The three levels of the cosmos —the sky, earth and underworld— are
strata with clear boundaries, yet they are in permanent conjunction.

Funerary mask
Tomb 1, Structure VII
Calakmul, Campeche
Between 660 and 750 AD
Jade mosaic, shell and gray obsidian
36.7 x 23.0 x 8.0 cm
Museo de Arquitectura Maya,
La Soledad Fort, INAH
Campeche, Camp.

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