6114 - Pre-Hispanic Maya Reliance on the Opossum: Scenes from the Dresden Codex

The pre-Hispanic Maya religion of the Yucatan peninsula was closely connected with the celestial

realm, as the illustrations in the Dresden Codex show. There we see that essentially human forms and modes of dress were enhanced to create such deities as the sun god and the moon goddess. These constructs provided important channels through which humans could direct rituals designed to control

the natural environment, thereby ensuring their survival. This dependence on supernatural projection of

the mundane is further seen in characterizations of animals, including the opossum. For example, in the passage on the ceremonies for the New Year (pages 25-28), the creature is depicted with human and animal features as well as attributes of the Bacabs. This research surveys all the contexts in which the animal appears in the Dresden Codex and reviews information from colonial and modern ethnographic sources to determine how it enriched the religious life of the Maya. Of particular interest is the question of how the opossum functioned in the celestial pantheon.

Keywords: Yucatan, Dresden Codex, pre-Hispanic Maya, animals, opossum

Author: Paxton, Merideth (Latin American and Iberian Institute, University Of New Mexico, Ud States of Am / USA)


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