There are many descriptions of Mayan religious practices involving human sacrifice. For example, the Wikipedia has a long article on bloodletting and human sacrifice by the Mayans. However, these treatments do not clearly explain the purported purpose of these practices.

On one hand, sometimes it is said that the purpose was to propitiate the gods. In this explanation, the gods will be angry if the sacrifice is not made and will punish the men who fail to make the sacrifices by visiting hardships on them. So, hardships might be pestilence or famine, for example.

On the other hand, the sacrifices are said to nurture the gods. In this explanation, the purpose would be to feed or support the gods in some way. The idea is that if the gods are not fed, then they would waste away. For example, the sun might be imagined to darken or even disappear altogether unless it is fed. Or likewise, if the rain god is not fed then he might lose his vigor and rain would become less frequent.

A third possible explanation is that the sacrifices would please the gods who would then favor the followers with good fortune. This is the inverse of propitiation. Instead of the gods becoming angry and punishing the humans, the gods are pleased and reward them with imagined benefits such as good crops and health, or other benefits such as the ability to foretell the future.

Is there any clear and definite indication of which of these (or other possible) rationales for human sacrifice motivated the ancient Mayans?


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