The evening of October 9, 2017, I was sitting on the small balcony outside my budget hotel in Palenque, Mexico, when I first met the ancient Maya god Unen Kawiil.
I had learned to expect Mexican cataclysmic manifestations of nature from my many visits there. I experienced earthquakes strong enough to wake me out of a deep sleep, the periodic eruptions of a volcano near Mexico City, rain storms, lightning displays, hurricanes, and roaring thunder enough to make me appreciate the pagan gods who controlled them.
Mexicans are so accustomed to natural disasters and death they have created national holidays to them. The unique Mexican holiday called El Día de los Muertos, “The Day of the Dead,” stretches from October 31 to November 2 and is its most popular holiday. The residents of a death-plagued country spend an entire week honoring death.
My vacation in Mexico from September 25 to October 16 was preceded by natural disasters. On September 7, the state of Chiapas in the southernmost part of the country was rocked by an earthquake measuring 8.1, and aftershocks almost as strong for days afterwards. On September 19, another quake measuring 7.1 struck Mexico City, killing hundreds.
My rich experiences with the powers of nature well-prepared me for the arrival of the Maya god of lightning. I caught my first glimpse of Unen Kawiil announcing his arrival as he crept over the distant jungle. Like a giant, the storm marched across the fertile flat jungle, slowly approaching the base of the Chiapas Mountains and ruins of the many temples and palaces of the city of Palenque that once ruled the plains. Slowly the god crept closer and closer, each time announcing his presence with a flash of lightning from his eye.
Sent ahead to prepare his arrival was a windswept cloak of black clouds and the first pattering of raindrops. By my third glass of wine, he was hovering above, surrounding me with wailing winds, lashing rain, and most importantly, blinding bolts of lightning. It was not the rain or wind that announced the arrival of the god but rather the shattering bolts of lightning.
According to the complex mythology of the kingdom of Palenque, it was such bolts of lightning that first separated the earth from the primal sea and prepared the world for the advent of humanity some 5,319 years ago. According to Palenque inscriptions, Unen Kawiil was born in the year 3,121, only 188 years after creation according to inscriptions.