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Life And Death In Sin City: The Mayan Tree of Life in Jungle Hollywood
I was thinking about death. Someone else's actually... Earl Curtis, one of the main characters in Hoodwink, the latest book in my Timestalker series. You see he's obsessed by a scary Mayan death goddess and...as you can imagine...it gets him into VERY nasty trouble indeed.
Not only that, he's a sleazy, double-dealing scumbag operating in one of the most sinfully decadent eras in human history - Hollywood in the 1930s. And believe me he enjoyed every last lick of the forbidden fruit in that particular version of paradise.
Yep, no wonder Earl meets a most sticky end... Wonder what he was thinking as he breathed his last? Did he believe his fierce-eyed Mayan death goddess was going to save him?
What do you think's going to happen to you?
Whether we admit it or not, everyone wants to know what happens after we take the biggest ride in the amusement park - death. And being the cheeky monkeys that humans are, every culture in history has come up with an intricate explanation about what happens after we step off that rollercoaster.
Many cultures actually map out their expected post-death journey...where you go, what you see along the way, such as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Tibetan Bardo Thodol (Book of The Dead).
One element that many of these ancient maps of the afterlife use is an axis mundi or cosmic axis - a detailed description of the centre of the universe. It's the place where heaven and earth meet, where mortals and gods interact and where all compass directions start...
So it makes sense sticking one in a map of the afterlife because if you see death as a transition from this existence on Earth to another plane of being...whether it's heaven or...er, cough, cough...somewhere a little less comfortable, then you'd damned well better know how to find your way to where you want to end up! There's no GPS available on this stretch of the cosmic tour. J
And the axis mundi, which connects the earth to the sky, has been depicted as everything from a sacred ladder to a great tree to a lofty mountain... To some the great red rock of Uluru is the axis mundi of Australia.
Now back to the question of whether Earl's Mayan death goddess is going to do right by her boy?
The Mayans, living in the middle of a hot, steamy jungle, picked a tree. They depicted the centre of their cosmos as the mightiest living being they ever laid eyes on - the ceiba tree, It's literally the veggie version of a green whale.
The ceiba tree is gigantic with huge buttressed roots and a massive trunk that reaches up and out into limbs that form the rainforest canopy. It reaches down through its roots to connect Earth to the Underworld below and up through its limbs to Heaven above.
But to the Mayans the mighty ceiba was not only their axis mundi it was also the Tree of Life - it connected all creatures. In the jungle the mighty ceiba tree forms its own micro habitat sheltering a multitude of plants, animals and insects in its leafy embrace.
But life wasn't all the Mayans were interested in...
Death is so fearsome to most humans that just the threat of it wields great power. The power over life and death has been the cornerstone of many of our political systems and control over what happens after it is the foundation of many of our religions.
The Mayans, like the rest of humanity, cottoned on to the power that death wields and ran with it. Everyone has seen pictures of (if not movies about) the human sacrifices that were made by ancient cultures in Meso and South America.
And the awesomely, frightening temples that were used as the performance venues for these death-magic rites.
Which brings me to that infamous axis mundi of the West...where mere mortals are turned into stars and placed in the heavens for worship - Hollywood.
Frank Lloyd Wright (arguably the most famous American architect of all time) may've believed Sin City was the axis mundi of barbarism...because when he was commissioned to build several houses there in the 1920s he turned to the ancient temples of Meso and South America for inspiration.
The most beautiful one he built was Hollyhock House in East Hollywood, which is inspired by the Mayan city of Palenque. Now the Mayans liked to decorate their temples with all sorts of fierce motifs: snarling jaguars, writhing serpents, screaming gods, howling sacrificial victims...
You know the usual house decor...
But somewhere along the way Wright decided to create a Mayan-style hollyhock motif for his new house project instead - which must've have been a HUGE relief to the people who were going to live there!
In the alternate reality of Hoodwink, my sleazy character Earl Curtis was lucky enough to convince Frank Lloyd Wright to build him a house too. One based on a Mayan temple just like Hollyhock House, but decorated with the symbol of his Mayan death goddess - a ceiba tree.
You see the ceiba connects all beings, mortal and divine, good and bad...and Earl's hungry goddess watches over all from her own, special branch on that mighty tree.
Or rather she waits for prey.
So what does happen to Earl Curtis? Does Kannon Dupree find out in Hoodwink?