Deciphering the Symbols and Symbolic Meaning of the Maya World Tree

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 16 May, 2013 - 18:20 to 18:40
McDONALD, J. Andrew, The University of Texas - Pan American

Cosmic tree symbolism among pre-Columbian societies of Mesoamerica traces from the pre-Classic period, but the significance of the motif and its many and varied symbolic permutations are poorly understood.   Efforts to identify the plant in a botanical context on ceramic vessels, stucco reliefs, and stone stelae of the lowland Maya usually favor a kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) or maize plant (Zea mays).   Nevertheless, a morphological and ecological evaluation of the motif favors a white-flowered water lily from the lowland swamps of southern Mexico and Central America: Nymphaea ampla.  Recurrent associations between various gods and dynastic rulers with a personified aspect of the water lily world tree draws additional attention to the crucial symbolic and ritualistic roles this aquatic plant once played in the practice of religion and expression of kingship among lowland Maya communities.