“Hellmouth” – The Gates of “Becab” the Mayan Earth Monster

I am interested in doing other things besides Cathenge (those of you who know me know that I have spent the past six years mostly on Cathenge).  However, over the past 1.5 years I have taken three trips to Mexico and and have been inspired by the Mayan temples and other Meso-American art that I’ve seen there. Especially, the “Becab Gates” that I saw in the temples at Xpujil made an impression on me. 

It was my second trip to the Yucatan in February of 2024. I rented a car at the Cancun airport and drove to Xpujil, a jungle town at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula not too far from the Guatemalan Border. This is certainly the heartland of the Maya and it’s a long drive from Cancun to get to this remote area, but Mexico is working mightily to change that situation with the installment of the epic Maya Train, a train to start in Palenque, Chiapas and encircle the entire Yucatan Peninsula.

Maya Train Construction – Typical Activity – Station in Progress at Xpujil, Campeche

It so happened that my road trip was right in the midst of this enormous infrastructure project and the road was full of an endless procession of work trucks barreling down the highway (to be passed in the – not for the feint of heart – “let’s-play-chicken” style of the Mexican thoroughfares). The armies of Mexican workers are busy carving a long swath through the Yucatan Jungle – the largest New World jungle outside of the Amazon – to encircle the entire Yucatan peninsula with a modern railway system. The Yucatan is basically a vast flat outcropping of limestone, and so these trucks were filled with white chalk that they all seemed to be hauling somewhere – I know not where, but presumably it’s a buyer’s market for limestone in Mexico now. I hadn’t really thought it through that my effort to see these remote ruins before the Maya Train got to them would bring me directly into the most fervent and busy construction and that it would not be pleasant to be around. By the time I got to Xpujil I was exhausted, but eager to make my rounds of the temples.

Gates of Becab at Hormiguero Ruins near Xpujil, Campeche, Mexico
Gate of Becab at Chicanna Ruins near Xpujil, Campeche, Mexico.

My goal was to visit Calakmul – the largest and most remote Mayan Ruins in Mexico, but I got started by visiting a few of the ruins closest to Xpujil. Despite the clamor of construction all around these ancient ruins were utterly tranquil within. First I visited the ruins of Chicanna and had the entire place completely to myself for hours – there simply was no one else there except the custodian at the gate. Then I visited Becan (an extensive site full of tall pyramids to climb!), and by the time I got back to town I could barely walk (due to plantar fasciitis and was exhausted and knew that I was getting sick. I could not make it out of my hotel room until the mid afternoon the next day when I, somewhat deliriously, drove 25+ km into the jungle to visit the ruins called “Hormiguero“.

At Hormiguero I once again had the luxury of solitary communion with the ancient ruins, and it was here that I was impressed with the gaping visage of the Mayan elemental earth deity, The Earth Monster Becab. In my feverishness I photographed for the second time in two days this enigmatic figure of Becab. The possibilities of archaic ritual drama, of dances and sacrifices, enflame even the most tepid imagination when beholding these weird monuments. But it was more than imagination which overtook me in the remote ruins of Hormiguero, it was an atavistic call from this primordial spirit to my peculiarly sensitive nature, capable of hearing and understanding such chthonic voices in telepathic reverie. I knew then that Becab was displeased with the Maya Train wounding and gouging his limestone dominion immemorial, and it was this audience with a displeased and mostly forgotten and ignored old Mayan god that in fact sickened me.

The illness receded long enough for me to make my way back home, through Tulum, to Cancun, Mexico City and back home to San Francisco. Upon my return I became intensely ill with a high fever, and though it was likely Covid 19 (update: it has been recently diagnosed as a prostate infection). Yet I have known that it was more than a mere physical ailment: It is the Curse of Becab! In ancient times I suppose that the sacrifice of a virgin girl might have resolved everything, but that’s not an option for me. To placate Becab I must make a work of art that is inspired by this God of the Underworld. So I resolved to make a “Hellmouth” inspired by the Mayan Architecture.

Detail of The Mouth of Hell, from the book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 1440

Of course a “Hellmouth” is a distinctly Medieval European Christian motif, but I will fuse this idea with the Mayan style, and the spirit of Becab.

In the coming days I will be making some initial 3D visualizations of the “Hellmouth” I wish to make.  This will draw on the basic geometry of the Mayan design, but the decorative embellishments will draw upon more Medieval iconography fused with Pop sensibility.  This eclectic fusion is an example of “Crazyology” and I will overtly tout this project as a work of “Crazyology”. I have it in mind to propose this to one of the Burning Man “regional” festivals that I understand is working with the theme “Underworld”.