This brief article touches upon a fascinating subject that includes as a central feature of the pre-Christian Mayan religion and mythology the cyclical death and resurrection of the solar maize/fertility god. As I say in my article and elsewhere, there are many parallels between Old and New World religion and mythology.
The reasons for the amazing correspondences are complex, but the chances that they derive from pre-Columbian diffusionism are actually slim to none. In my book The Christ Conspiracy, I delve into the idea of a global civilization in antiquity that spread these ideas. However, since the time of publication in 1999, science has made great strides on this question, from the perspective of DNA and disease studies in particular, as well as species migration studies, as with invasive plants and animals.
Because we simply have no hard scientific evidence of any sort of large-scale and sustained diffusionism of “Old World” ideas (or species) to the “New World,” after the early migrations across the Bering Land Bridge and before Columbus, most of these parallels must have been developed as part of humankind’s natural thought processes. This latter contention is logical, because the human brain in general operates the same way, wherever it may be found, just as do other species, even though they may possess variants. For example, birds and dogs may differ widely in looks and size, beak/muzzle shape, and so on, but they have the same basic body type, instincts and needs. The bottom line is that, if a human being can think of something once in one part of the world, straight “out of the blue,” then another human being can have the same thought elsewhere, likewise “out of the blue” and independently.
The Sacred Mountain
Humanity possesses a basic archetype of how it views the world and cosmos, with seemingly unlimited expressions of the same, depending on where and when humans are thriving. Thus, the basic idea of a “sacred mountain” point of origin, where humanity first arose, can be found in many cultures globally, with a variety of portrayals. This sacred mountain idea occurs in peoples in the southern regions of Africa, such as the Pygmies, who claimed that the Mountains of the Moon were the point of human origins, a notion given credence by the fact that the range is one of the sources of the life-giving Nile. Moreover, as we know, some of the oldest hominid remains have been discovered in nearby Tanzania, at Olduvai/Oldupai Gorge.
This sacred-mountain point-of-origin concept may have been carried with humanity as it migrated out of Africa 70,000 years ago (as the current paradigm holds), with various groups localizing the mountain on Earth as they traveled. This theory would explain the numerous sacred mountains in global myths, as well as the terracing or shaping of hills and building of pyramids where no such natural features existed. Or the notion could have developed independently; in either case, the sacred mountain is arguably one of the oldest religious ideas in existence.
DNA and Disease Markers
As concerns pre-Columbian diffusionism, we do not have any disease markers indicating epidemics like those that occurred when the Europeans arrived, wiping out some 90% of the Native Americans. Genetic studies of whether or not there could have been some smaller scale contact and breeding, such as with Japanese sea drifters, seem to be contradictory, as some analyses claim one only migration, while others indicate up to nine. Currently, the mainstream academic paradigm favors the one-migration theory, with no genetic indication of post-Beringian mating between Old and New World peoples.
Yet, some of the religious and mythological parallels between the Old and New Worlds are very detailed, and, although most diffusionist “evidence” has been rebutted, stories of occasional discoveries of Phoenician or Roman artifacts in the Americas continue to intrigue, such that there seems to remain a small portal for limited contact between the two worlds, such as unintentional drifting with the currents.
For the most part, however, the parallels between the Old and New World religions and mythologies exist largely because of the observations of nature worship, such as the cycles of the sun, moon, planets and so on. This basic global archetype founded upon natural observations and insights subsequently was expanded upon with variations explained by the immediate environment, including local topographical features, animals, plants, weather systems and so on.
In this same regard, natural cycles such as spring and fall, corresponding to the time of planting and harvesting, likewise find their way into many myths, with the advent of agriculture. In areas where agriculture is not developed or is limited, these myths would not play as central a role as they do in agricultural regions.
In this regard, in my book Did Moses Exist? I discuss how Israel as a people came to exist when tribal groups adopted agriculture, including the rituals and myths that accompany it, in this case those of the Canaanite/Ugaritic/Northwest Semitic peoples. Thus, the “Feast of the Tabernacles” is a fall harvest ritual, including the time of the vintage and serving as the beginning of the New Year in the arid and warmer region of the Levant. It was at this time that the ancient Levantine peoples expected the “early rains,” which signaled the renewal of life.
Vine and Wine
In this same regard, with the spread of grapevine cultivation or viticulture, along with wine-making or viniculture, came the myths of the vine/wine god, later called Dionysus/Bacchus. This vine/wine cult was immensely popular wherever the highly useful grape and wine were cultivated and produced. Grapevine cultivation and wine production have been extremely important and lucrative around the Mediterranean for the past 3,000 to 5,000 years, if not longer. I will also be discussing this subject extensively in Did Moses Exist?, because the Bible is full of references to vines and wine, and the god Dionysus figures prominently in the comparative-religion studies of the Moses myth.
In any event, as we can see, the reason for parallels between disparate and far-flung peoples represents a complicated subject not easily solved by either diffusionism or strict isolationism.
Oldest Maya solar observatory gives rise to new origin theory
Maya watchtowers discovered to align with solstices and equinoxes
Why do the Maya believe Christ is the sun?
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