As the owls undertake their flight to the world above the ground, let us take a quick tour of the underworld. The Mayan underworld is more like hell than the Greek and Roman underworlds where both the good and the evil souls land up. The ones who die a brave death in a violent manner or through ritualistic suicide would ascend to the skies where the Gods live. Suicide was also considered a honorable way of death in the Mayan culture in contrast to Christian culture that holds suicide a sin. They even worshiped Ixtab, the rope lady who was supposed to be the Goddess of suicide who lead those who committed suicide to paradise. Only the ones who die of sickness and other maladies are supposed to be the cursed ones who were claimed by the underworld. That is why there are Lords pertaining to each of the diseases known at that time. The death Lords often used to hunt in pairs to kill of people in different manners and claim their souls.
|picture credit : Felipe Sobreiro|
The chief pair of course was One Death and Seven Death as I had mentioned earlier one. They were the overall rulers and did not go on individual soul gathering missions. That was left to the lesser Lords. The first pair of lesser Lords was Blood Gatherer and Scab stripper. These lords had domain over blood and injury. They claimed people who die of various forms of injury, gangrene, rotting of wounds etc. The next pair was Pus Demon and Jaundice demon. These lords had domain over people dying due to jaundice and swelling of body parts. The next pair was skull scepter and the bone scepter. These demons caused people to be reduced to skeleton. The people dying of starvation and wasting diseases were their domain. Wing and pack strap had domain over sudden death, coughing up blood. Maybe poisoning, heart attacks etc! Last but not the least, demon of filth and demon of woe, who were responsible for death due to lack of hygiene and mental sickness.
The underworld had six houses meant to torture the new souls brought here. They were called the house of gloom, the house of blades, the house of jaguars, the house of fire, the house of cold and the house of bats. The underworld had no laws and the tortures were not meant to be penance for sins. They were more for the sadistic pleasure of the Lords. The Mayan death Lords did did not have a sense of justice like Lord Yama of Hinduism or Hades of Greek mythology. They were egoistic and cruel. People had to worship them out of fear for them.
I must now stop psyching my readers with grotesque and gory details of the Mayan underworld for the owls have by now reached the home of our protagonists. So we can return to the world above the ground. One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu lived in a small hamlet with their mother and One Hunahpu’s sons Chouen and Batz. One Hunahpu’s wife was already dead and Seven Hunahpu was not married. It is likely that Mayans followed the tradition of only the eldest brother in a family marrying and having progeny in order to avoid property dispute between cousins.
They were about to fall asleep when they were surprised to see four owls flying in through the windows. One must note these are owls from the underworlds and not cute fluffy snow owls from Harry Potter. So the surprise would not have been a pleasant one. The message was not on parchments. It was verbally delivered as the animals those days could speak the human language. The sender of the message could magically embed a message into an animal's stomach. The animal would speak out the message on being in presence of the intended receiver.
|Picture Credit : Felipe Sobreiro|
“We bring you greetings from the Lord of Xibalba. Our Lords One Death and Seven Death, Blood Gatherer and Scab Stripper, Pus Demon and Jaundice Demon, Skull scepter and Bone scepter and Wing and Pack Strap wish you long life and health“, said Arrow owl.
“Our Lords have been watching you play ball. They wish us to convey to you their great appreciation of your skill”, hooted One Leg Owl.
“Our Lords find it dull in the underworld. They think a nice game would invigorate them. They would like to welcome you to their home for a game of ball”, added Macaw owl.
“Pack up your gear at once and come with us. We will escort you to our Lords. They eagerly await your arrival.” , concluded Skull Own.
Though the message sounded innocuous and friendly, any kind of message from the underworld was not a good sign. So the brothers were not too excited about the prospect. But the Lords summons could not be denied either. So One Hunahpu spoke up, “We are glad to accept your Lords’ invitation. But please give us time to take leave of our old mother”
The owls nodded their assent. The brothers went up to their mother to tell her of the invitation. The minute she heard, she turned pale.
“Please do not go, my sons. No one has ever returned from the underworld “, she pleaded with them.
“We know mother. But now that their vile eyes have fallen on us, no place is safe for us anymore. Who can stall the inevitable! Let us go like men and face what is in store for us”, replied One Hunahpu.
Their mother knew he was right.
“But we will try to keep our losses to minimum. We will not take our sons with us. I think the Lords are interested only in the two of us. If we go, they will be spared. Also we want to leave our gear in the middle world for our sons in our memory”, continued One Hunahpu.
So saying the two brothers put the gear in a bag and tied it to the roof beam. Next they had to take leave of their two sons.
We will leave the story at this point as the brothers ready themselves for their journey to the underworld. They seem to have already resigned themselves to their fate. Would they be able to come out successful in an encounter they have lost even before it has begun? In the next episode we will follow them on their journey to the underworld.
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