Mayan Superstitions: Echoes of Ancient Beliefs in the Modern World

Mayan Superstitions: Echoes of Ancient Beliefs in the Modern World

For the ancient Maya, the world was brimming with spirits, omens, and powerful forces interwoven with daily life. While many aspects of their civilization have changed, echoes of traditional beliefs and superstitions still linger. These superstitions provide a fascinating window into Mayan cosmology and their deep connection to the natural world.

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Superstitions of the Home and Hearth

  • Hanging a Horseshoe for Luck: Reversing the horseshoe’s traditional ‘U’ shape is believed to prevent good fortune from draining away. This superstition might reflect a blend of Mayan and Spanish traditions after colonization.
  • Don’t Sweep at Night: It’s thought that sweeping after dark will brush away good luck or financial blessings. This belief likely centers on practicality – in the low light of the past, you might accidentally sweep out something valuable!
  • The Power of the Cross: Crosses placed above doorways are believed to ward off evil spirits. The cross symbol likely found new meaning after the introduction of Christianity, blending with existing Mayan concepts of sacred powers.

Nature’s Warnings and Omens

  • Beware the Black Bird: Seeing a black bird flying into your house is considered a harbinger of misfortune or even death. Black birds often had associations with the underworld in Mayan tradition.
  • Whistling Attracts Snakes: Whistling at night, especially in wilderness areas, is believed to beckon snakes. Snakes held complex symbolism for the Maya, sometimes representing danger, but also power and transformation.
  • Owl Calls and Misfortune: Just like many cultures, the Maya associate hearing an owl’s call with an impending death. This likely stems from the owl’s association with the night and its status as a stealthy predator.

Health, Healing, and the Body

  • Beware a Pregnant Woman’s Gaze: It’s believed a pregnant woman’s gaze can “sour” crops or leave a child with the “evil eye.” This might relate to concerns about vulnerability during pregnancy and the potential dangers of envy.
  • Hang Garlic for Protection: Hanging garlic in the home wards off sickness and deflects negative energies. This tradition, common in many cultures, might relate to garlic’s strong odor being perceived as a repellent.
  • Sleeping with Scissors Under the Pillow: This practice is believed to prevent nightmares. The sharp object might be seen as symbolically cutting through negative dreams and anxieties.


These are but a few examples of the rich tapestry of Mayan superstitions. While some have faded into obscurity, others persist in adapted forms within modern Mayan communities. They offer us a window into the profound worldview of the Maya, where the natural and supernatural realms were inextricably linked.

Were the Mayans Really Responsible for “Killing” Themselves?

If we need to be on the progressive side of the fence, we need to look at the past. We could learn
a lot of things from the past. But, the best teacher of all that comes from the past is the demise of a once-great civilization and the Mayan civilization is one of them.

The Mayans were once a great race and we owe a lot of things from them from agriculture to
astronomy, from architecture and even to communications and engineering. We have learned
so much from them. But, the one that we should be attentive to is how they have “killed” themselves?

The Mayans flourished in the past and you can even say that a Mayan city was teeming with people numbering between 2,000 to 3,000 people per square mile. Even in the Mayan rural areas, there could be 200 to 300 people per square mile. Think Los Angeles or even New York. That was how a Mayan city or town would look like. But, all of a sudden, as if a swift wind blew them away, everything became silent. The Mayans were gone. What happened?

Just like us, the Mayans were also growing in number and they needed much space to occupy everyone. Yes, they did live harmoniously with the environment. They always pray to their “gods” for bountiful harvests and they respect all kinds of life here on Earth. But, when the call for progress was unavoidable, they resorted to things like deforestation. Not only they needed more space for their ever-growing population but they also needed progress. They were building temples as fast as anyone can imagine back in those days. To build a temple, they needed lime plaster from limestone that must be burned. To burn limestone, they needed wood. So, off to the forests they went and cut as many trees as they can. They need to cut down like 20 trees just to make 1 square meter of lime plaster. They have a lot of “gods”. So, they needed a lot of temples.

More temples mean more lime plaster which means more limestone to burn which means more trees to cut down. Before they know it, drought came upon them and a lot of them died of starvation. Since they don’t have a lot of vegetation and animals that they hunt also ran away to look for “greener pastures”, they also left their settlement.

That is how the Mayans “killed” themselves. We owe a lot from them and we can learn from their mistakes. If we don’t do anything to correct ourselves, 200,00 years from now, a new race will be digging up a place that was once called New York and find some artifacts like an iPad or a vehicle and would be studying a lot of things about “New Yorkers”, that is, if there is anything left including subway train fossils.