MAYA COSMOS by David Freidel


Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path
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 How elements of the Maya creation myth can be found in ancient Maya art as well as in today's Maya folk culture. In A Forest of Kings (1990), Freidel (Archaeology/Southern Methodist University) and Schele (Art/University of Texas at Austin) shared their extensive knowledge lucidly; here, working with writing-instructor Parker, they go astray, throwing in occasional (mostly superficial) material on the shamanic tradition, awkwardly personalizing their intellectual quest. The authors claim to reverse the idea that the Conquest destroyed links between ancient Maya civilization and contemporary Maya. In fact, cultural survivals have long been documented, but Freidel and Schele do quite brilliantly recognize in detail previously unsuspected imagery and symbolic systems that connect present-day practice to ancient myth. Finding that creation myths parallel celestial events, Schele concludes that ``every major image from Maya cosmic symbolism was probably a map of the sky.'' (Interpretations here will fascinate enthusiasts of Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha Von Dechend's Hamlet's Mill, 1969, which contended that myth has an astronomical/cosmological, rather than historical, basis). The authors generously share credit with colleagues, unfortunately studding the already dense text with names of individuals and institutions. Attempts to dramatize the creative process fall flat (``One afternoon, Nikolai had arrived late after meetings in Guatemala City to find a contemplative Linda brooding over the structure of this very chapter''). Moreover, perhaps for political reasons, the recent Maya genocide is barely referred to, while the current cultural revival (in which the authors have played a role) is mentioned but left tantalizingly unexplored. Frustrating, irritating, hard to read--and not for the New Age audience the subtitle seems chosen to attract. Those with a serious interest in Maya myth, symbol, and art, though, can excavate much of value here. (Illustrations--250, including 24 pages color)

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-688-10081-3
Page count: 540pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1993


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