#7 from Account of the Affairs of Yucatán
(Diego de Landa, c. 1570)

Ixtab: Goddess of the Gallows

The Maya have always believed in the immortality of the soul more than many other peoples―even though they may not be so civilized―for they believed that there was a more excellent life after death which the soul enjoyed on departure from the body. They said that this future life was divided into a good and a bad life, into a painful one and one full of peace. They said that the bad and the painful one was for the wicked and the good and delightful one for those who had lived well according to their beliefs. The easy life, which they said they would achieve if they were good, was to go to a very pleasant place where nothing would give them pain, and where they would have an abundance of food and drink of great sweetness and a tree which is there called yaxche, which is very cool and shady (and is a cotton tree), beneath whose branches and shade they would all rest and take pleasure for eternity.

The punishment for a bad life, which they said that the wrongdoers would have to suffer, was to go to a lower place than the others, which they call Mitnal, meaning Hell, and there to be tormented by devils and by great extremes of hunger, cold, fatigue, and misery. There was also in this place a devil and prince of all the devils whom all obeyed, and they called him in their tongue Hunhau: They claimed that these good and evil lives had no end, because the soul had none. They also said, and held it to be absolutely true, that those who hanged themselves went to this heaven of theirs. Thus there were many who for slight reasons of sadness, troubles, or sickness hanged themselves in order to escape and to go and rest in their heaven where they said the goddess of the gallows, whom they called Ixtab, came to take them. They had no concept of the resurrection of the body and had no record of the person from whom they had heard about this heaven and hell of theirs.

[#7] “Ixtab: Goddess of the Gallows,” from A. R. Pagden, ed. and tr., The Maya: Diego de Landa’s Account of the Affairs of Yucatán (Chicago: J. Philip O’Hara, 1975, p. 95; quotation in introduction, p. 16).

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#7 from Account of the Affairs of Yucatán
(Diego de Landa, c. 1570)

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