Life In The Ancient Mayan Empire Was Unbelievably Strange
Life In The Ancient Mayan Empire Was Unbelievably Strange

Life In The Ancient Mayan Empire Was Unbelievably Strange

Shannon Quinn - February 21, 2023

Life In The Ancient Mayan Empire Was Unbelievably Strange
Ancient Mayan ritual, show by the Mexican group Xipetotek, reenacting Maya history. Credit: Shutterstock

Mayans Haven’t Completely Disappeared

Sometimes old civilizations die hard. The Maya are still alive today. Though no longer at the height of glory, there are still 8 million people of Mayan ancestry who live throughout Central America. Both the Mayan people and modern researchers work passionately to try and recover as much of the Maya’s lost cultural past as they can. The Mayan language is even taught today in schools. There is hope among some researchers that ancient Mayan medicine will prove useful in curing modern diseases. Some of the Maya live as close to their traditions as they can. Others have decided to integrate into modern society. Mayan culture is attracting more and more attention and appreciation. It’s truly inspiring how far the Maya have come in the face of so many centuries of persecution and suppression. Perhaps one day we can see Mayan culture reborn, thriving in the 21st century.

Life In The Ancient Mayan Empire Was Unbelievably Strange
Much of the ancient Mayan civilization is either underground or lost in the jungle. Credit: Shutterstock

Most of the Mayan Civilization Remains Underground

Despite being over 40% of the population of Guatemala, people of ethnic Mayan descent still often suffer discrimination for their ancestry. As recently as 1960 to 1996, the Mayan people were subject to genocidal oppression during the Guatemalan Civil War. Scorched earth tactics involving raping, pillaging, destroying crops and cultural artifacts. They killed almost 200,000 people during the war. The oppression of the Maya was done because they were “suppressing communism”. It’s no wonder why the Maya might want to integrate and abandon their heritage, or hide it. However, things are changing. Knowledge of and appreciation for Mayan culture is spreading in the West. Cultural tourism is now a huge part of the Guatemalan economy. This has had a negative effect, however, and traditions are sometimes invented at the expense of authentic ones in order to meet western tourists’ expectations.

Life In The Ancient Mayan Empire Was Unbelievably Strange
A modern cacao ritual. Credit: Shutterstock

You Can Still Experience Mayan Cacao Rituals Today

Since the first mass market chocolates got churned out of Hershey, Pennsylvania, chocolate has been an essential part of the modern western experience. We love chocolate! It is only natural that when someone discovers a culture that shares that love, because we want to know more and dive deeper into their unique and shared experiences. Mayan Cacao ceremonies are a key part of the shaman and yoga communities. They can be found in San Francisco, Portland, New York, and London. These eclectic groups use these ceremonies for meditation, spiritual reflection, and uniting the community. The ceremonies themselves vary. Some involve singing and dancing, others quiet meditation. Some try their best to be as ritually close and authentic as possible to Mayan tradition. Other groups add in other multicultural flares. The historical accuracy may be questionable in most cases, but one can’t deny the natural allure of experiencing spiritual chocolate.

How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Everyday Life In The Mayan Empire Was Way Weirder Than You Thought. Katia Kleyman. Ranker. 2021.

Top 10 Maya Secrets. National Geographic. 2012.

25 Unimaginable Things About The Maya Civilization We’re Still Discovering. Val Kornev. The Travel. 2018.

Human Sacrifice in Maya Culture. Emory University. 2017.

Chocolate and the Mayans. How Stuff Works. 2021.

Scientists find first proof of potent tobacco use among ancient Mayan people. Cathleen Crowley. Times Union. 2012.

The Mayans and Their Hair. Yurina Fernández Noa. Yucatan Today.

The Maya Concept of Beauty. History on the Net. 2023.


Ancient Maya cities, ‘super highways’ revealed in latest survey. Reuters. 2023.

Did the Maya Really Sacrifice Their Ballgame Players? Laura Geggel. Live Science. 2022.

Ancient Mayans Used Saunas For Healing Purposes. Ancient Pages. 2016

Experiencing Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed- Maya Body Modifications. Sarena Salmeri. Connecticut Science Center. 2020.

Head Space: Behind 10,000 Years of Artificial Cranial Modification. Chris White. Atlas Obscura. 2015.

Aztec, Maya Were Rubber-Making Masters? Rachel Kaufman. National Geographic. 2010.

Volcanic Eruption May Have Plunged the Maya into a “Dark Age”. Shannon Hall. Scientific American. 2017.

Ancient city hidden for 2,000 years is discovered in the forest. Jeff Parsons. Metro UK. 2023.

This is Why the Maya Abandoned Their Cities. Elizabeth Nix. History. 2018.

Maya Today. Meso American Research Center.