The ceiba, the sacred tree of the Maya

For the Maya communities, the ceiba or ya’ax’che is a sacred tree that holds the sky with its branches and weaves the underworld with its roots.

The Ceiba, courtesy from Gobierno de México.

Perhaps the most magical aspect of ancient cosmogonies is that they gave divine qualities to nature and its elements, to animals and plants. This reveals the intimate connection our ancestors had with their environment; they not only observed and learned from it, but deeply worshipped it.

The Mayan have a cult of the ceiba (or ya’ax’che) that is still practiced. But the ceiba is a very special tree, which appears in several cultures in Mexico. In some southern regions of the country (such as Oaxaca and Morelos), it is known as ceibo or pochote (from the Nahuatl pochotl), and its wood is used to make handicrafts.  

This beautiful tree can grow up to 70 meters high and reach a diameter of three meters. Its generous crown grows forming several “floors” of branches and leaves, and its flowers with fleshy petals give off a peculiar perfume. Also notorious are its magnificent roots, which are capriciously embedded in the ground, exhibiting the power of its anchorage.

There is also a legend that tells the story of the X’tabay a woman who leads men into their dead and hides behind this magical tree.

In many communities, ceiba is valued for its healing qualities. Traditionally, the wood bark, leaves and stems are used to heal wounds and treat acne, as well as to ease symptoms of rheumatism, intestinal diseases, inflammation, toothache, burns and rashes. But above all, it is a sacred tree.

References:

La Vaca Independiente, P. (2020, junio 24). La ceiba, el árbol sagrado de los mayas. La Vaca Independiente. https://lavacaindependiente.com/ceiba-arbol-sagrado-mexico-mayas-yucatan/

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