The Maya ballcourt and the Mountain of Creation : myth, game, and ritual




Gutierrez, Mary Ellen

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The topic of my dissertation is the architectural symbolism of the Maya ballcourt. The typical Mesoamerican ballcourt is a sunken playing surface that is situated between two parallel mounds that form a cleft in the earth, resembling the cleft Mountain of Creation. In fact, the ballcourt was an architectural analog of the Mountain of Creation and they shared a number of associations. In Chapter 1 I discuss previous research on the ballgame pertinent to my arguments. Chapter 2 is an analysis of a particular ballgame between a bird and a deer that I interpret as metaphorical of the hunt, sacrifice, and the vision quest. Chapter 3 is a summary of the concept of the sacred mountain in various locations around the world with an emphasis on Central America. In Chapter 4 the discussion focuses on the pattern as it appears in its most complete form at Y axchilan. The connection between dance and the cleft in the Mountain of Creation is analyzed in Chapter 5. First Father and his importance regarding creation, the ballgame, and the ballcourt is the emphasis of Chapter 6. Elements of the pattern as they appear at Copan and Piedras Negras is the topic of Chapter 7. Within Chapter 8 I discuss elements of the pattern as they appear outside the Maya area at Teotihuacan, El Tajin, Tenochtitlan, and in various central Mexican codices. I conclude that the association between the ballcourt and the cleft Mountain of Creation, which began at the Olmec site of La Venta, permeated the cosmology of later civilizations, with the Maya serving as the prime example. Elements of this cosmo-political pattern were so widespread as to make it abundantly clear that this overall pattern served as the ideological foundation of Mesoamerican civilization from the time of the Olmec until the coming of the Spaniards.