Monday, January 20, 2014

Tongue Piercing with Lady Xoc

Lintel 24
In Central America, the Mayan Civilization flourished. Wealth from trade and war led to developments in science and technology as well as engineering. Great Mayan cities rose. Names like Tikal, Palenque, and Chichen Itza became famous today throughout the world. The city of Yaxchilan became thriving cities with strong rulers at the top. Women also played key roles to the Mayan societies. One important duty concerned the religious bloodletting rituals of their civilization. Among those who participated in these bloodletting rituals was a powerful woman named Lady Xoc (pronounced as Shook).

From the archaeological remains of the once glorious city of Yaxchilan, lintels or carvings depicting the story of the city can be seen. Among the interesting lintels reveal a ritual of the rulers of the city. The Lintel 24 shows a scene of the leader of the city, Itzamna Balam II or Shield Jaguar, alongside his wife Lady Xoc who was performing a bloodletting ritual. The event in the lintel suggest that the year was 725. The ritual was done as a thanksgiving for the birth of the heir of Shield Jaguar, Bird Jaguar, from another woman. It was also to commemorate as well the alignment of the planets Saturn and Jupiter. The two powerful figures dressed elegantly, complete with their headdresses and garments. Lady Xoc in particular wore checkered designed garments, probably the huipil, and what appears to be gold accessories in her neck and wrist. Shield Jaguar apparently holds a torch that could suggest that the time of the ritual was night or the ritual was conducted in a dark cave.

The ritual proper involves Lady Xoc piercing her tongue. A string with sharp bits, some suggesting thorns and some suggesting obsidian (volcanic stone and one of the sharpest material in the world), passing through the tongue of the Lady as she pulls it. In front of her, a small basket with paper, blotted by blood. Her ornaments on her cheeks is also stained with blood as the sharp objects passes through the tongue.

The rituals main purpose was to induce hallucinations. According to Mayan legends, the rulers of Yaxchilan claimed that they were descendants of Gods. As the pain of Lady Xoc became intense, hallucinations appears. In Lintel 25, a hallucination of a serpent appears with its tongue revealing their ancestors showing approval to Lady Xoc and Shield Jaguar. The basket in front of Lady Xoc symbolizes the replenishing of the blood spent by their Gods to bring life to the born child, Bird Jaguar.

From the bloodletting ritual of Lady Xoc, the Aztec did not have a monopoly for bloody rituals. The Mayans also saw blood as a sacrifices to their Gods. They show great reverence and gratitude to their Gods for a new life that came to their life.
Kleiner, F. Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Concise Global History. Massachusetts: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. 

Sokolow, J. The Great Encounter: Native Peoples and European Settlers in the Americas, 1492-1800. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003. 

"Bloodletting with Lady Xoc: A Woman’s Work is Never Done". The Art Minute. Accessed on January 20, 2014.

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