Earth. Water. Sky. The Liminal Landscape of the Maya Sweatbath
Miller, Catherine Annalisa
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This dissertation investigates the ancient healing tradition of the Maya sweatbath, its landscape, and rituals, which after three millennia is still practiced today among the contemporary Maya. Frequently overlooked because of its size, the ancient Maya sweatbath's location in ancient ceremonial cores, royal courts, and near important ritual structures and sacred water features accentuates its importance and need to understand its role, siting, and connection with the landscape. A three step approach of rooting, projecting, and transcending is applied to the investigation's structure for examining the sweatbaths conception as the womb of Mother Earth, the structure as a replica of the cosmos, the liminal landscape tethering together water, topography, and the celestial domain, and rituals of purification, healing, and transformation. In addition, the ancient Maya site of Yaxchiln and its three sweatbaths serves as the epicenter, the investigation's initial point of beginning, from where projections are made outward to twenty-eight additional sweatbaths augmenting and defining the scope of sweatbath features and site conditions. A combination of archeological drawings, architectural and landscape plans and sections, ethnographic and ethnohistoric texts, and epigraphic interpretations are examined, in combination and juxtaposition, as a means for integrating the symbolic and physical layers, which in union compose a complimentary narrative highlighting liminality as a principal quality encompassing the sweatbath. Liminality, associated with transition and transformation and fundamental to the Maya notion of gestation and creation of the cosmos, is revealed and demonstrated through the cyclical and everchanging nature of the sweatbath landscape of earth, water and sky, and reflected in man's inherent life processes and fundamental to the sweatbath rituals' symbolism of rebirth and renewal.
- Doctoral Dissertations