The Sacred Ceiba Tree as Art

A Mayan artist used the thorn-studded ceiba tree trunk as inspiration for this ceramic pot. Photos by Justin and Barbara Kerr/Charles Zidar

The ceiba tree (Ceiba pentandra) was believed by the Mayan to stand at earth’s center. They thought it was the sacred world tree or the axis of the earth and that it held an energy connection between the Earth, the cosmos, and the underworld. In Mayan, this tree is called yax che. Rosita Arvigo, who spent 10 years studying with Don Elijio Panti, one of the last Mayan healers, writes that yax has three meanings: green, first, and sacred.
This rainforest tree was pictured on a Mayan pot. It shows the odd, conical thorns found on the trunk of this tree. The artwork perfectly depicted these funny-looking thorns, leading to the identification of the ceiba tree as the inspiration for the pot’s design.
The ceiba tree’s massive trunk was used to construct dugout canoes for travel on the rainforest’s waterways. Some ceiba trees have grown to be 200 feet tall with a diameter up to 8 feet.
We know now that the seeds of the ceiba tree are rich in oil (20%) and protein (26%). Whether the Mayan used the seeds for food is not known.

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