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Specters of the Mayab.

by Yucatan Times
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The colonial era in the Yucatan was a very propitious time for new magical thought to emerge in the Mayan and Spanish who inhabited this region, as a result of the interaction of the two different cultures that were then in the Yucatan peninsula: the indigenous and the European.

The supernatural had a strong presence in people’s thinking at that time. The imagination was filled with mystical beings that Indians, Creoles, Spaniards, and mestizos feared.

The environment, unknown to the colonizers, also contributed, since the novelty of animals, plants, fruits, and the very landscape they faced, impressed their senses and stimulated their fantasy, heir to medieval thought.

It was in those moments of contact and discovery, endless by the colonizers, and also by the Mayans towards the new foreign culture when new supernatural beings emerged in Yucatan. Mainly with indigenous characteristics, after the censorship and religious condemnation that friars and priests made of the ancient Mayan deities, as it happened with the fearsome “Xtabay”.

This colonial spectrum, arose from the ancient Mayan goddess of suicide “Xtab,” to whom was added the word “huay,” which means witch, converted into a beautiful young woman who at night, by the foot of the ceiba (another ancient Mayan religious element: the tree that represents the union of earth and the underworld) but with an altered meaning, linked to the negative- combed her long black hair, whether naked or not, while attracting with her figure and her song the men, especially the drunkards, to kill them. The belief in this ghost has survived, and today is usually heard in the Yucatecan villages, the fear that produces the “Xtabay“.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, an event occurred in the town of Valladolid “terrorized” that community and other nearby towns. Some chroniclers, like the priest Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar, who in 1639 published his work Informe contra idolorum cultores, del Obispado de Yucatán” described this event in the following way

“In the 1560’s, the town of Valladolid was persecuted and scandalized by a “demon” that talked to anyone who spoke to it at eight or ten o’clock at night with the candles out, had a voice like a parrot, and answered everything that two conquerors, Juan López de Mena and Martín Ruiz de Arce, asked him since the goblin lived in those houses and talked more than in others.

For example, those conquerors ordered him to play a guitar, and the specter did, besides he could play the castanets. The ghost was never seen. If he disappeared for two or three nights, and when he returned, they asked him where he had been, the goblin would answer that in Merida, in the house of another conquistador named Lucas de Paredes, because he was also his friend”.

The chronicler Sanchez de Aguilar, says that the specter was funny in the early days of his appearance. Still, as time passed and some people rejected it and tried to conjure it with Christian prayers, the goblin was hostile and aggressive. People then asked a priest to intervene with the help of some saint, and the elf disappeared for more than thirty years. Still, he reappeared, setting fire to houses, both in Valladolid and in communities near that city, and it was up to him, Sánchez de Aguilar to confront it.

He banished the goblin from a town where it was causing damage, but the specter returned to Valladolid to continue causing misfortune. The people then placed crosses on the roofs of their houses, and the entity moved away.

The colonial chroniclers after 1640, do not provide news about this fact, so we can assume that the goblin of Valladolid “disappeared” one day from the Yucatan scene, as mysteriously as it appeared.

As years went by, this became one the first legends of the Mayab.

For The Yucatan Times
Indalecio Cardeña Vázquez
Merida, Yucatan
March 15, 2020

Indalecio Cardeña Vázquez. – Anthropologist, researcher and writer.
He has collaborated with the “Unidad Yucatán de la Dirección de Culturas Populares”, Instituto Nacional Indigenista and was the director of the Pinacoteca “Juan Gamboa Guzmán” of the INAH.
Among his anthropological works are the iconographic analysis of the colonial sacred art of the Yucatan Peninsula; the symbolisms in the facade of Conquistador Montejo’s house, in Mérida; the Mayan symbolism in the Yucatan Cathedral and the archaeoastronomy among the Mayans.

Professor Cardeña has written several books and articles since the mid 1980’s to this date.


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