What The Blood Sacrifice Of The Maya Can Teach Us About Today

Genital mutilation vs. the mutilation of the planet. What’s more gruesome?

7 min readMay 24


The Maya characters for genital blood-letting, which was the highest kingly sacrifice. From A Forest Of Kings

Mesoamerican civilization is usually characterized as blood-thirsty, which I suppose it technically is. As the late Linda Schele and David Freidel write in A Forest Of Kings,

Now we call this world Mesoamerica, a term which refers not only to geography, but to a Precolumbian cultural tradition that shared a 260-day calendar, religions beliefs including definitions of gods and bloodletting as the central act of piety, [etc]

In that book’s area of focus (the Maya, roughly 0–1000 AD, or to, within that area of focus, they describe the blood-letting rituals of Maya kings which I think should be viewed with an open and self-critical mind. Maya rituals are, to modern sensibilities, gruesome, but we should be aware that modern sensibilities include destroying the whole natural world.

Ours is a deeply blood-thirsty civilization which simultaneously faints at the sight of blood. We’re both killers, and I’d venture that modern civilization is A) worse and B) cowardly and delusional. Maya kings at least drew blood with their own hands, and from their own bodies. Hence, I will give you the ‘gruesome’ details, but not to gawk at. They are elder and we are younger and they deserve to be treated with respect or, at the least, an open mind.

Pacal’s sarcophagus, showing him descending into the Underworld/Otherworld

A Look Into Maya Sacrifice

This is how Schele and Freidel describe the heart of Maya spiritual life:

During the Classic period, the heart of Maya life was the ritual of bloodletting. Giving the gift of blood from the body was an act of piety used in all of their rituals, from the births of children to the burial of the dead. This act could be as simple as an offering of a few drops of one’s blood, or as extreme as the mutilation of the different parts of the body to generate large flows of this precious fluid. Blood could be drawn from any part of the body, but the most sacred sources were the tongue for males and…




Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.