The word “astrotheology” refers not only to worship of the stars, including our “day star” the sun, but also to religious and mythological ideas revolving around other celestial bodies and landmarks, such as the moon, planets and constellations. Astrotheology or “cultural astrology” is part of the nature worship found around the globe from remotest times, reverence that includes elements and attributes of our planet or celestial body, the earth. These “earthy” elements that find their way into religion and myth include wind, water, foliage, fauna, trees and mountains. These items are often intertwined with celestial myths, and the entirety can be characterized as “astrotheological.”
In this regard, water has been a very prominent element within mythology, for obvious reasons, such as that life cannot exist without it on this planet. As is the case with solar deities, viewed as both savior and pestilence depending on the region, water deities would be perceived with both reverence and fear, since water also can kill, as in floods or boat wrecks, the latter involving sinking to the bottom of a deep and cold river, lake, sea or ocean.
Indeed, the sheer terror of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, for example, led to fascinating myths such as those on the sea’s eastern end, such as Greece, Egypt and the Levant. In those regions’ religions and mythology appear stories about dangerous and frightening sea monsters, such as the Mesopotamian Tiamat or the biblical Leviathan, or menacing deities including Poseidon/Neptune or his Semitic and Egyptian equivalents. I discuss these various sea monsters and water gods in my book Did Moses Exist?, so the reader may turn there for more information about that area’s religious and mythological legacy.
A new discovery in the Central American country of Belize exemplifies this widespread cult of the water deity, found around the globe because of water’s profound significance to life, per Archaeology magazine:
A water temple complex where archaeologists think a “drought cult” offered sacrifices has been discovered at the Cara Blanca site in Belize. A lodge and two smaller structures had been built near a deep cenote, where the Maya placed pots, jars, and bowls and may have prayed for rain. The water temple had been built from the cenote’s tufa stone, and its floors had been covered with broken water jars, teeth, and claws dredged from the sacred pool. “The pilgrims came there to purify themselves and to make offerings,” Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois told National Geographic News. She and Andrew Kinkella of California’s Moorpark College explored the cenote and found that more offerings to Chaak, the Maya rain god, were placed in the shrine after a widespread drought hit the Maya region.
As we can, see water or rain deities such as Chaak or Chaac, whose Aztec counterpart is the infamous Tlaloc, would be vital to natives of desertified or drought-prone regions, and temples would be erected and elaborate rituals and myths composed to propitiate these gods and goddesses.
National Geographic reports further in “At Newly Discovered Water Temple, Maya Offered Sacrifices to End Drought“:
Ancient people sacrificed offerings to water god at edge of sacred pool.
Nestled in a quiet forest in Belize, a deep aquamarine pool holds ruins from a time when the ancient Maya turned to a “drought cult” and hurried sacrifices to a water god to stave off the fall of their civilization.
At the Cara Blanca site in Belize, archaeologists report the discovery of a water temple complex: a small plaza holding the collapsed remnants of a lodge and two smaller structures. The main structure rests beside a deep pool where pilgrims offered sacrifices to the Maya water god, and perhaps to the demons of the underworld.
The find paints a picture of drought-stricken devotion during the collapse of the Maya. The pyramid-building civilization thrived across Central America for centuries, only to see most of its cities collapse after A.D. 800….
But the temple wasn’t always so busy, a paucity of early offerings suggests. That may point to the time when the Maya’s need to placate Chaak, the rain god who lived in the depths, grew dire….
Earthenware effigy urn (an incense burner) of Chaac, 12th-14th century (Photo: Leonard G.)But Chaak and the evil gods of the underworld set the Maya up for their fall, with the rain they gave and then withheld. Penn State anthropologist Douglas Kennett and colleagues have reported that stalagmite records show that high rainfall likely led to a Maya population boom that lasted until A.D. 660. That in turn undermined the kingdoms when the rain stopped. Repeated droughts unseated the Maya kings, their cities collapsing starting around A.D. 800 throughout Central America. The rain shortfall may have also sparked a “drought cult” of people who, eager to placate Chaak, left a spate of sacrifices at caves and cenotes across the suddenly desperate Maya realm…. Caves and cenotes were both entrances to the underworld.
Even in good times, the Maya deposited offerings in caves and bodies of water… They also transplanted stones and other odds and ends from caves, he adds, intended to imbue ball courts, temples, and other ceremonial structures with sacredness….
The offerings largely date from the “terminal” era of the ancient Maya, the study says, when cities were largely abandoned….
Other caves visited by the drought cult are similarly adorned with blankets of potsherd offerings… Human sacrifices also may have started to appear during that time in the deep recesses of the underworld’s caves, the home of Chaak….
“In the big picture, I do agree this was likely a shrine where ritual practices took place that point to times getting tough for people,” Moyes says. “When you start getting down to actual drought, we are starting to see sacrifices picking up across the Maya world.”
Among the offerings at cenotes were human sacrifices, justified as exchanging life-giving blood for life-giving water:
The Maya in the northern lowlands, which encompasses parts of the present-day states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Campeche, relied on cenotes (a Spanish corruption of the Yucatec Mayan word for sinkhole, dzonot) as their primary source of water. According to tradition, caves and cenotes are also the home of Chac, the Maya god of rain, as well as the entrance to Xibalba, the Underworld. In times of drought or stress, or when, Maya leaders appealed to Chac by making offerings to him in cenotes.
By the time the Spanish arrived in the Yucatán and recorded the practice in the sixteenth century, the Maya had been performing human sacrifice for at least a thousand years.
(Source: Cenotes in the Maya World)
While we do not recommend worshipping or sacrificing to water and rain gods, it would be wise to learn the lesson that drought has destroyed many civilized regions from antiquity and that our culture may go the same way.
Maya Water Temple Discovered in Belize
At Newly Discovered Water Temple, Maya Offered Sacrifices to End Drought
Cenotes in the Maya World
The Maya and the Milky Way
Why do the Maya believe Christ is the sun?
Oldest Maya solar observatory and parallels between Old and New World cultures
Maya watchtowers discovered to align with solstices and equinoxes
Quetzalcoatl, the Maya Maize God, and Jesus Christ
World Tree as Milky Way growing out of the back of a turtle
Adventures in Mayaland, December 2012