Around this time of year I often give my “Maya Spooks” lecture to students here at UT-Austin, highlighting the grisly and fright-filled demons (wahyoob) of Classic Maya art and religion. The lecture title is “Spooks, Witchcraft and the ‘Dark Side’ of Maya Art and Rulership (a.k.a. The Halloween Lecture).” This semester I’m teaching on the Aztecs, so in lieu of lecturing I hereby post my brief treatment of the subject written back in 2005. This write-up was part of the larger sourcebook I put together for the Austin Maya Meetings that year, devoted to “Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics.”
My own thinking on wahy beings keeps being refined somewhat. I still see them as animate dark forces wielded by court sorcerers, perhaps even rulers themselves, in order to inflict harm or disease on others. But wahyoob can be exceedingly complex and multi-layered, and they certainly aren’t really the benign, shamanistic “animal companion spirits” as we often described them a couple of decades ago. I’m hoping to find time write something more in-depth on the fascinating topic of royal sorcery one of these days, perhaps even as a book on Classic Maya witchcraft.
In the meantime… boo!
Excerpt from: David Stuart, 2005. Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics. Sourcebook for the 2005 Maya Meetings at Texas. Department of Art and Art History, UT-Austin, Austin.