Thursday, April 10, 2008

Xiabalba: "Road to Awe" or "Place of Fright"

"First father, he was the very first human. He sacrificed himself to make the world. The tree of life burst out of his stomach. His body became the trees roots. They spread and formed the earth. His soul became the branches, rising up forming the sky. All that remained was first father's head. His children hung it in the heavens creating Xiabalba."

This is the story of Xiabalba (pronounced Shhbulba) according to the movie The Fountain, by Darren Aronoskfy. This concept of Xiabalba led to a, if not the, central notion/message of his movie - "Death is the road to awe."

It sounds splendid, angelic, but it is farce. History tells us a very different story.

(Mayan depiction of Xiabalba)

In fact, Xiabalba is actually the Mayan underworld, ruled by two gods called, Hun Caquix, "One Death," and Vucub Caquix, "Seven Deaths." Furthermore, Xiabalba, when translated, means something akin to, "place of fright." This is not a likely title for the pearly gates is it?

This Xiabalba is clearly not the Mayan heaven Aronofsky presents.

Though, interestingly, according to Mayan historians, "Life in
Xibalbá was similar to life on earth. Like humans, the death gods had wives and children, they feasted, played ball and conducted business. In their council house, One Death and Seven Death presided over a host of death gods whose names reflected the manner in which they killed people. Adjacent to the council house were a number of buildings known as the Six Houses.”

(Xiabalba Death Gods)

It is here, however, that the normal life on earth comparison dissolves. For in each of the Six Houses is a different test one may face in the underworld.

Maya scholars have gleaned from ancient texts, murals, and engravings that the Six Houses are, "The Darkness House, Shivering House, Jaguar House, Bat House, Blade House and Fire House." Each I'm sure is grueling in its own right. And for those who have to face all of the Six Houses - the horror can be no less than unfathomable.

When you die which Xiabalba do you want waiting for you...The Road to Awe or The Place of Fright?

Note: This is not a review of the movie The Fountain. To see such a review click here.

Text transcribed from The Fountain