Mayan Culture Through the Three Realms

Welcome to our virtual gallery!

Mayan Cosmology identifies three realms of existence – the Upperworld, Underworld, and Natural World – but these three realms are intricately connected.

The World Tree is at the center of the Mayan cosmos and links the three realms. It was often believed that this symbolic tree was the Cacao Tree, representing the important role that this plant played in the every day life of the Mayan civilization. It rose from a cleft in the mountain, which originates from the Underworld. Often times, maize sprouts out from this imagery, representing the Natural World. Further, the World Tree is normally adorned with a Quetzal or bird deity, exploring the Upperworld realm. Together, these significant symbols describe how Mayan culture viewed the universe.

The World Tree supports the firm belief within Mayan culture that all things, both living and inanimate, have a spiritual essence. This provides the Maya the opportunity in which their Natural Bodies can interact with the sacred Supernatural. Thus, Mayan rituals of communication that exist between the realms are critical for their survival because they see the universe as interconnected, relying on interdependent relationships to keep the world balanced.

In the Mayan world, this balance is often carried out through the belief in equally potent yet opposing deities and ideals, including day and night, man and woman, and water and fire. These opposites are not contradictory, but rather complementary. One must always seek the balance between these two poles in everyday life. This continues to illustrate the large importance of interdependence between the living and the inanimate within the Mayan culture.

The cycle of death and resurrection serves as central to Mayan iconography and cosmology. Without birth, there is no life; without life, there is no death; without death, there is no rebirth.

Take a virtual walk through our online galleries to explore the Mayan Upperworld, Natural World, and Underworld through ancient objects, vessels, and iconography! 

Keep an eye out for… 1.) Key overlaps and links between the realms  2.) The deities’ roles  3.) Deeper significance of maize and cacao.