The Maya World of the Cross

A Dissertation on the Great Maya Symbol

January, 2010

Allen J. Christenson
Dennis Tedlock
David A. Freidel
David Stuart

Michael D. Carrasco

Copies To:
Brian M. Stross
Kerry M. Hull
Michael John Finley
Various other individuals

Nothing could be more puzzling and enigmatic than the native Crosses of Mesoamerica. How did the Maya ever come up with a symbol that is the center of Christian belief? And make it their own center of religious belief? They did this long before, perhaps millennia before, western white man appeared on their shores. When we tie the Maya Kauil, the tradition of a god who came from heaven and lived as a man, with the Maya Cross, we have the essential core of Christian religious belief.

Except that Mayan religious observances were loaded with an elaborate system of ritual that can only be regarded as pagan.

Countless scholars and laymen have struggled with this riddle.

The panels at Palenque profoundly illustrate the fact of eternal life in the heavens for human mortals who should be fortunate enough to be eligible to enter that blessed land. Unfortunately, you will not find the words eternal life indexed in Maya Cosmos. But you will find the word shaman indexed many times. FSP did not recognize the hope of eternal life in Mayan understanding of the cosmos. They understood only superstitious pagan belief. They may not now call the Mayan perspective of religious reality idolatry, as did the Spaniards, but only because they see the Universe as the result of an evolutionary process without a real living God.

FSP, page 33, believe that the ancient Maya prophets fell into trance states, just as do the modern Maya medicine man. They see all ancient religious devotion as nothing more than the result of shamanistic practices. They state it thus, after sitting in on the performances of Don Pablo, a "doer," a shaman of his town:

My heart cries out for all those beautiful minds who will go to their deaths unbelieving in God. They cannot distinguish between shamanistic practices of medicine men and the hand of God in the affairs of humankind. They cannot untwist the deep religious faith of the ancient Maya from the superficial practices of modern shamanism.

How should we interpret the many statements left on the walls of the Temples in Palenque?

Temple of the Cross

Ju'n Ye Nal Chaahk entered the sky. He arrived in Matawil, the heavenly home, after he embraced the Waka Chan. The Waka Chan was the Maya hope of eternal life. When Christians enter the sky after they embrace the Cross of Jesus they accept their act as embarkation upon eternal life. Should I then throw away two thousand years of belief by Christians? Should I throw away perhaps more time in Mayan belief? Because of modern scholarly godlessness?

I may not understand the full meaning of these remarks from the Panels in the Temple of the Cross, but I certainly understand the promise of eternal life. A movement of the conceptual framework from the Mayan world of two thousand years ago to the conceptual framework of today makes our grasp of the Maya very difficult. We may even have serious errors in translation. What is the 'mouth of the sky'? Is that the heavenly portal to Matawil? What is the 'heated' place? Is that a poor social memory of the comforts of heaven? Ju'n Ye Nal Chaahk may have died, and thus 'entered upon high' in his soul resurrection. According to this remark the Christian Cross, the Waka Chan, was dedicated early in Mayan history, circa 3,000 BC. The Maya may have understood the Eight Chaahk House, the House of the North, to be the northern part of the sky, the Big Dipper, the abode of the gods in the ancient mythologies of the world. Mayan understanding of a celestial framework was the same as ancient knowledge from all over the world.

We can honestly say that Jesus embraced the Waka Chan, the Cross. 663 years after that event Ju'n Ye Nal Chaahk may then have arrived at Matwil. The 'earth-touching' of Matawil by the person of creation, the Creator, may easily be understood as the touching of the universe by Jesus, when he brought it into existence. We may not understand what is meant by the 'three offspring' but we clearly understand what is meant by the birth of Jesus from the human Mary. Does this make Mary the Lady? Or should we follow modern Maya scholarship and understand the Lady as some Mayan earthly Princess? Or better yet, should the Lady be understood as the female counterpart of the Creator? (Refer to discussions in the Urantia Papers.)

Temple of the Sun

Was this 765 years after Jesus embraced the Cross, the Waka Chan? This date seems uncannily close to historical dates, dates that we now mark from the life of Jesus. Have all these Mayan scholars realized that we change the Mayan dates to a calendar we understand based upon the life and death of someone we knew as God - until they came along in their disbelief.

If we reverse the order of social understanding we can easily see the meaning behind the Maya Cross, the Waka Chan. Why should I not call the Christian Cross the Waka Chan? Did it not give us a lifting up into the sky?

Temple of Inscriptions

He gave the “Quadripartite badge,” it was headdress of the twenty bundles of Chaak.
He gave Tziik, it was the headdress of the twenty bundles of the infant K'awiil.
He gave white bark-paper, it was the headdress of the twenty bundles of the Sun Lord.

The headdress-tying of the icons of the “three ? gods,” the Maize God, the Infant K'awiil, and the Fire God was the diligent service of K'ihnich Janaab' Pakal, the Divine Palenque Lord.

. . .

He gave the divine bundle of [the Infant K'awiil], twenty wrappings were its white bark-paper necklace, the first jopoy sky-face was its earspool, Divine veneration (tziik?) was the headdress of the sprout, the Infant K'awiil.

Of course, all of these references show a consecration of K'ihnich Janaab' Pakal, the Divine Palenque Lord to his gods. He believed in the Maize God, the Infant K'awil, and the Fire God. He believed in the nurturing of human kind, in the infant to be born, and God's righteous judgment. He believed the same as devout Christians believe to this day, except his devotions were to his gods as he best understood them.

Not only do many people recognize this planet as The World of the Cross, but the relationship of the Mayan Cross to the Christian Cross is profound.

The images of the Mayan cross found at Palenque are some of the most famous objects in Mayan archeology. The title Temple of the Cross obtained its name from this celebrated cross. In 1841 John L. Stephens, the man who helped open the Mayan archeological ruins, remarked that this image “has given rise to more learned speculations than perhaps any other at Palenque”

See: Stephens, John L., Incidents of Travel in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan. Volume II, Dover Publications, New York, 1969. This book is also available for free download at http://www.archive.org/details/incidentsoftrave02stepuoft.

FSP express it this way:

Here is a copy of an image of the famous Cross. This drawing was done by Linda Schele.

In a dissertation for a Masters Degree at the University of Texas at Austin by Carl Douglas Callaway in 2006 entitled, The Maya Cross at Palenque: A Reappraisal, now on the Famsi web site, we find an excellent summary of remarks pertinent to our study of the Mayan Crosses.

Well, yes, the Cross was well known as a symbol throughout the world. But not the cross of crucifixion. They were simple X crosses or swastikas. The Cross of crucifixion did not come into the minds of men as a social practice until some time before Jesus.

Callaway then enters into a tabulation of the speculations on this famous Cross.

Most modern scholars continue to follow the idea that the Mesoamerican Crosses represent the Tree of Life, rather than a Cross of crucifixion. But I see it differently. If the Palenque Cross in the Temple of the Cross is not a near duplicate of the Christian Cross I have lost all of my senses. Daniel Brinton, Zelia Nuttall, and all those scholars were off into the never, never land of academic fantasy to deny the reality of the Cross.

Obviously, the Cross has seen much scholarly speculation. Again, many of these scholars, separated from the Christian tradition, prefer to not recognize the relationship to the Christian Cross. This is such a denial of reality, of evidence staring us in the face, that we can only regard them as bordering on intellectual lunacy.

The difficulty is that many crosses are seen from various parts of the world since very ancient times. Most of these images are simple X crosses, or swastikas, and have no relationship to the Christian Cross. Nor is it my purpose here to enter into an historical review of the different forms of crucifixion used by ancient societies. I focus on the Mayan Cross, and its relationship to the Christian Cross.

Maya scholarship has made much of the Maya Cross as a World Tree. This changing of the meaning of the Cross has helped them to place the symbol in a social perspective they can tolerate. This is an illustration from A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya by David Freidel and Linda Schele, William Morrow and Co., 1990.

We can get some clues of the relationship between a World Tree, and the Christian Cross by noting how the Maya viewed the Cross. The following photographs are from San Juan de Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico.

This is the Cross the Spanish saw when the first entered the land of the Maya. It was a Christian Cross, implanted in the yards and courtyards of that society. It was found everywhere. But that was long before we uncovered the Crosses in the Temples of Palenque.

We can understand why the Spanish looked upon this imagery as idolatry. How could the Mayan pagan religious belief be compatible with the Christian devotion to a true living God? It had to be devil work.

Importantly, the Maya understood their Cross as a Tree. This is evident in the manner in which they decorated their Crosses. Trees were planted next to the Crosses, or decorated with branches from trees. This behavior has given strong foundation to the modern scholarly assessment of the Cross as a Tree of Life. But this view is only as a Tree of Life, and not the Cross of crucifixion.

Then again, the Maya were not alone in regarding their Cross as a Tree. Christians did also.

The Christian Cross as a Tree

The ancient author Justin wrote about Jesus hanging on the Tree. Many thousands of similar designations may be found in Christian literature.

Thus we see a direct correlation between the Christian Tree and the Mayan Tree.

We should not forget western history. Early in the fourth century, when execution by crucifixion was abolished by Emperor Constantine and the process began to convert the 'official' religion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, the cross became the emblem for Christians. Not until the cross took on such prominent role in symbolizing Christian belief did it also take on much of the symbolic value of the tree. As in any pagan view both of them represent the meeting place for divine and human, heaven and earth, and they affirmed a renewal of spiritual life. Clearly the idea of the Tree had substantial historic support directly from the Apostles.

Where do we separate the image of a World Tree from the Cross as a Tree. Was not the same identity made by both the Maya and Christians? Because we did not decorate Christian crosses with trees, and kept the image pure in our minds, does not that mean no relationship existed in Christian belief. But we had the crucifixion, the Maya did not. This altered how we might view and illustrate our understanding of the Cross. Perhaps we feel an aversion to decorating our Cross with trees.

Following is the image that ignited a whole new realm of speculation on the Mayan Cross.

A replica of the famous sarcophagus lid of Lord Pacal near Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. See The Blood of Kings, Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller, George Braziller, Inc, New York, 1986, Page 282.

Clearly this is a Cross, and not merely a Tree. This fact is recognized by even the most naive and simple-minded.

Although Schele and Friedel refer to this Cross as The World Tree, and although the designation of the cross beam as "branches" is invoked by others, without acknowledging it as a Cross, those views are intellectually induced perceptions based upon two primary assumptions: 1) that there was no cultural exchange with the Old World prior to Columbus, and 2) that all of human kind and all cultures derive from purely evolutionary origins. Therefore any similarity of the Mayan Cross to the Christian Cross is purely coincidental. Hence it has no meaning as a Cross. Any explanation of the Mayan Cross must derive out of some other cultural notions, such as a World Tree, and not out of the Cross of Sacrifice in Christianity. Since the idea of a World Tree, or Tree of Life, can be found in many cultures this explanation as a Tree conveniently derives from some far more ancient common notion among purely evolutionary and primitive mankind.

This intellectual process is nothing more than an attempt to interpret the Mayan Symbol without recourse to the meaning as a Cross, and the profound connections to the Cross in Christianity. Such ideas are based upon those primary assumptions and not upon fact. They are widely accepted methods of coming to grips with the religious evidence of non-Christian cultures.

But did the Mayan Cross derive from Christianity, or from some other realm of knowledge now mostly unknown to western man?

In contrast to the Schele and Friedel speculative methods derived out of such basic assumptions, consider the images of the Mayan Cross. It is richly decorated, with symbolic meaning to each of the various decorations, thus incorporating the religious images of the Mayan people.

The choice of Pacal, the Mayan King, to place these images on the lid of his sarcophagus shows how much he was appealing to the power of the Cross to save him in eternity. While he appears to be "falling" into the ravenous maw of underworld death, he believed he could be rescued from that eternal fate by the Cross. The power of the Christian Cross to save us from eternal doom is invoked over and over again by Christians. 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. It is a theme that has carried for two thousand years in Christianity.

This conflict between the intellectualized and secular interpretation of the symbols of The World Tree by Mayan scholars, and the close identity to images derived out of the Christian Cross, forced me to examine the origin of the Mayan literal designation for this object. In many, many cases, the translators give us literal expression for Maya words. For example, Allen J. Christenson gives us: All alone are the Framer and the Shaper, Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent, (PVC).

But not here.

The Maya designation chan can mean six, but it is also used to designate the sky, or some times celestial.

[I found it difficult to see use of the term heaven in the Mayan scholarly literature. They shy away from use of that term as much as we would shy away from an odiferous skunk. Dictionary examples are chaanna ch'ul = "the heavenly gods"; chaan = "celestial god(s)" literally "sky-god(s)", "heaven-god(s)".]

Obviously, in this context, wakah chan means to be lifted up into the sky, or to be raised up to the celestial realms. That was the formal designation for the Mayan Cross by the Maya. The Mayan Cross had the power save Pacal, to lift him up into the celestial realms.

How apt this statement is to the foolish wisdom and intelligence of the modern secular scholar.

Why would Mayan scholars be so adept at giving us literal translations of many of the Mayan formal designations, but avoid giving us a literal translation of the Mayan designation for this Cross? Why would they avoid telling us that this object has the power to lift us up into the sky, but gladly designate it as a World Tree, with nothing more than a material geoastronomical interpretation?

They engage in these interpretations of reality because they do not believe in God. They do not see the universe as a creation by a being who has such power. Hence all things in it, and all reality, must be a sheer accident of time. Interpretation of a wealth of evidence contrary to such notions must be twisted and massaged to fit such godless theory.

The Maya referred to this object as a tree exactly the same way as Christians use the word tree to refer to the Cross. They did not use the word che = tree, or te = wood, or q’än che’ = mahogany tree, or q’än te = Madre cacao tree, or kik’ che’ = rubber tree, or sak te = white tree, or any other kind of tree to designate a World Tree. Yes, it came from a tree, and was fashioned as a Cross. Yes, it was made of wood, just as the Christian Cross was made of wood. But they used the words wakah chan.

This intellectualized manner of understanding the Mayan Cross is illustrated by the writing of Michael John Finley, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,  Canada, December, 2004. See http://www.members.shaw.ca/mjfinley/glyphs.html#Milky.  Raising the Sky: The Maya Creation Myth and the Milky Way. He illustrates how Mayan scholars have influenced the thinking of the world.

One can see how the symbolism of the Mayan Cross can lead to great speculative imagination and fantasy on a World Tree. If the Milky Way stands erect at dawn on August 13 how did the Mayan calendar start on that date?

In his dissertation The Mesoamerican Sacrum Bone: Doorway to the Otherworld, pg 6, http://research.famsi.org/aztlan/uploads/papers/stross-sacrum.pdf Brian Stross asks us to consider that:

As Carl Douglas Callaway summarized in his Masters Thesis:

Allen J. Christensen who, as a Mormon, should know his New Testament, offers these observations in his The Sacred Tree of the Ancient Maya, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1-23, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1997:

The Maya literal meaning of this Cross is far from a "World Tree" as a piece of wood stuck into the ground to represent a world or celestial axis. While Mayan scholars recognize the celestial implications for their "World Tree" they avoid discussion why this should be in the form of a Cross, except for involved speculation on connections to celestial appearances of the Milky Way or other objects from the starry realms. Christensen has deformed the Cross into a piece of wood with three branches all intersecting with one another at right angles.

The Cross as the Tree of Life

Designations as the "Tree of Life" are found many places in the Mayan literature. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_life where the "Tree of Life" is discussed from various world cultures. Numerous other references may be found about the Mayan "Tree of Life."

Literally, millions of designations of Jesus with the power to give us eternal life derived through the Christian Cross as the Tree of Life are also found in Christian literature.

The Tree of Life itself is a sad memory of a plant that once existed on this world. It was lost in the planetary upheavals. We have only poor and debased tales of that miraculous shrub. But that is the social memory left to us from those days of long ago. As described by The Urantia Papers:

From Whence Comes The Cross?

I would like to know how a stone age people learned how to read and write. Did they develop such a sophisticated social activity on their own? Or did someone with superior knowledge show them?

I would like to know how a stone age people developed the most sophisticated method of time keeping ever known to the world.

If this time machine among the Maya was the product of critical scrutiny of natural phenomena by a Master Mind, I would like to know who that person was.

I would like to know why, with all this intellectual sophistication, they never developed the wheel and remained in their stone age culture. The wheel was applied to their children toys, illustrated many places, but they refused to develop it into a technological advantage.

How did their practice of human sacrifice fit with their high intellectual accomplishments? Human sacrifice has been known since time immemorial. The Hebrews practiced it. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, Gen 22:9. Other examples are 2 Kings 16:3, 2 Chron 28:3, and so on. In Knossos of Minoan Crete, 2700 TO 1500 BC, the bones of at least four children (who had been in good health) were found which bore signs that they had been butchered, suggesting that they had been sacrificed. Ancient Phoenicia and Carthage was notorious for child sacrifice. The Romans early on, the Celts, and virtually every other ancient people had similar practices. Archeologists have found remains of forty-two children sacrificed to the Aztec god Tlaloc. The Inca sacrificed children in a ritual called capacocha. Their frozen corpses are still being discovered on the South American mountaintops. We seem to fail to understand that people in their devotion to their gods gave the utmost in sacrifice - other human beings. If the Maya had increased such practices to every token occasion then they had entered into perversion. Nevertheless this did not prevent them from exercising other socially sophisticated knowledge.

As Friar Diego de Landa, Yucatan Before and After the Conquest (1566), Dover reprint of Gates' translation, 1978, said

Was it this god-like figure who mysteriously came to Middle America? Was he the inspiration behind these social developments? How could we have such high cultural developments and also not have an origin for them?

Did he also bring knowledge of the Cross? Are we to assume that Jesus had already died on the Cross, and that he was relaying an historic event to the Maya, an appeal so strong that they incorporated it into their social system, and that became the center of their religious belief?

The difficulty with virtually all modern scholars is that they fail to do their homework. Someone comes up with an assumption, through repetition it becomes an ordained explanation, and the rest of them follow suit to continue intellectual nonsense into what is then regarded as a literal truth. Thus the course of evolutionary theory.

We can gain some insight into the fact that the life and death of Jesus was known in many cultures millennia before the event. An example is from the Egyptian culture. Consider the ank memory. This symbol was stylized to their peculiar view of the world. For reasons which may not be clear they formed the top of the Cross into a loop.

They also had a belief in Osiris that directly paralleled Jesus.


Osiris was a Creator God; so was Jesus. The story of Osiris predates Jesus by thousands of years. Similar stories were prevalent among people throughout the Near East. Modern minds interpret this phenomenon as an attempt by Jesus to imitate the old stories. They do this because they do not understand, nor do they believe in, religious destiny. The life and death of Jesus was known thousands of year before it actually took place. It was a prophetic memory that became distorted and debased with time.

The Maya were a deeply religious people. Although they knew about heaven and the real gods only by their social distortions nonetheless they recognized that the world and all things in it were ruled by the gods. See the many gods portrayed in the Dresden Codex.

If the Cross and Kauil were introduced into Mayan religious beliefs, and if they became important symbols of eternal life, we would naturally think that the idea would have come sometime after the life and death of Jesus. This symbol then was carried to the New Land by Kukulcan, or whoever that mysterious figure might have been. But not necessarily. The Cross and Kauil could have been knowledge that was prophetic, as well as historic. Perhaps that Great Mind was introducing a connection to Jesus that uplifted the thoughts and expectations of the Maya people. Whoever this important figure was he had enough wits to not destroy the Mayan culture. He did not remove their gods. But he did uplift them with higher conceptual and worshipful practices. He probably knew that the introduction of these higher sophisticated concepts would eventually lift the Maya out of their primitive ways to more superior social views. It would take time, but he allowed the element of time to the improvement of the people. Unfortunately, the forces of time outpaced his contribution and the Mayan civilization collapsed.

We have remaining only the scattered written records that survived the cultural holocaust of the Spanish Conquest. This social holocaust is a testimony to the mental attitude of the Friars deriving out of a nearly equal debased Christianity.

We have other ideas of the Cross, and death on a tree. The following quotations are from The Urantia Papers. The numbers refer to the respective Paper, the Section in that Paper, and the paragraph within that Section.