A Mayan Corn God Loses His Head
The Maize God, habitually depicted in drawings as a decapitated head, was a central deity during the Early Classic Maya period (A.D. 350-500). Due to the 2012 Mayan Prophesies predicting the end of a great era, the Mayans have become a popular topic. We know for a fact that the they were accomplished astronomers, and these riveting prophecies have propagated numerous articles, books, and websites
But what about this headless corn god? Could the Dios de Maiz solely have existed as a sacrificial icon, assuring a superstitious people that the corn would rise once more, glorious and plentiful? I prefer to think that this lofty deity had to give up his brain in order for the heart to take reign.
For several years I struggled to compose a memoir about my life as a young woman coming to terms with her spirituality and identity. For most of my adult life, I was employed as a public school teacher, primarily working with junior high students. As I transited from inner city schools, to university town schools, and eventually to my small hometown, I continued my fledgling path as a writer. Grabbing a few short workshops here and there, I consulted with close friends who also wrote. During the summers I packed my hopeful expectations as well as my clothes, and headed to San Miguel, Mexico, to improve my Spanish, and, supposedly, to finish my book. Despite all my endeavors, I only made it to page 40. Each fall I would return to the classroom, certain that I could maintain my momentum. As I frantically kept pace with adolescent hormonal behavior, posting grades weekly online, as well as attending teacher/parent conferences—this compounded by my two hour commute and the dance of teaching a foreign language--I simply arrived home each afternoon and stuck a movie in my VCR to watch while I ate and graded papers.
Consequently, at the age of 55, I made a decision to cut off my head.
Against all logic, I quit my teaching job so that I could write the book. And
indeed, people did look at me as if I had lost my head. For two years I held a myriad of odd, non-permanent and non-demanding jobs so that I could complete my book. I worked briefly as a bilingual Medicare phone specialist, a substitute teacher, a test scoring specialist, and an English instructor for immigrants at a local factory. My biggest coupe was writing English language learner adaptations for a large educational company. They liked my lessons so well that they never hired me for the second contract, opting to adapt my middle school work for the high school textbook.
When I completed my manuscript, everything stopped, for we had entered full-force into the American recession. So, like the Maiz God of the Mayas, I did a little “blood-letting.” Trying to conserve my resources, I shopped with coupons, sold art collages at the local farmers’ market, and rode my bike to the Walgreen store four blocks away. I even translated for the county jail. (This was a little nerve-wracking, as I was frequently left alone with orange-suited, misdemeanor immigrants while conveying to them their legal rights.)
One definition of sacrifice, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to be of greater value.” Sometimes we don’t even know if we will attain that object of greater value, whether it be enough corn to feed our people for the next year or a book that someone will value enough to publish. Nevertheless, the belief in the heart, over any logical or sensible path merits great respect. I have a book. I am writing my second one. I still don’t have a publisher, but my heart is pulsating with joy.
Most of us don’t entirely comprehend the meaning of the word sacrifice. This giving up is a letting go, providing an aperatura or opening, as the Mexicans say, where one can enter into the place of heart. And true sacrifice is never consciously made with the idea that one is deserving of that valuable exchange. Watching Mexican pilgrims and devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe walk for miles and even crawl on their knees is a sacrifice I have yet to comprehend. I do know that what we think we are giving up frequently becomes a gift to the soul, a release of burdens and frustrations. Before I left for Mexico, I gave up a house and most of my worldly goods. As I watched the Salvation Army take out the most comfortable couch I had ever owned, I experienced a painful moment of doubt. It helped to remember the drawers of forgotten blankets and gloves, along with the growing stacks of clothing that my friend, Mary, gave to mentally handicapped women who could no longer work.
The full story has yet to unfold, but as I reflect upon the Dios de Maiz, I am reminded of one of Lewis Carroll’s characters in Alice in Wonderland.
“Off with her head!” shouts the Queen of Hearts to Alice. Who better than a queen to tell us that we should sacrifice reason and go straight to the heart? We may not know the ending of our sacrificial journey, but we can know an unequivocal joy, which comes from respecting our passionate selves.
Corinne J. Stanley