In the book Star Gods of the Maya – Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars, Susan Milbrath of the University of Florida has mentioned a number of indigenous Maya tribes in whose folklore associations to the Milky Way galaxy have been detected.1
- The Lacandon Maya say that the Milky Way is the “White Way of our true lord”, Hachakyum, who is the lord of heaven where the Lacandon go when they die.
- The Yucatec Maya call the Milky Way “White Road” (Sak Be), the same name given to ancient roads.
- The Chorti refer to the Milky Way as the “Road of Santiago”, their god of thunder and lightning – an association which is also present amongst the people of Peru in Southern America.
The overarching idea seems to be that the Milky Way is the White Road traversed by the gods.
Another related belief was that the Milky Way was the pathway traveled by the spirits of the dead, with its countless stars representing the souls of the dead. In Peru, as well as in the Polynesian islands, the Milky Way is called the “Road of Souls”.2
Amongst the American Indian tribes, the Milky Way is known by various names:
- the “Spirit Trail”
- the “Pathway of Dead Warriors” 3
- the “Path to the otherworld”
According to the Apache Indians of Southwestern America, the souls of the dead travel along this “Spirit Trail” for four days, before they reach a place of peace and plenty where there is no disease or death.4
The Lakota Indians, who live in the Great Plains of North America, believe that the spirit, on its journey to the otherworld, must pass by an old woman who inspects their spirit bodies for the proper markings.
Only if they possess the correct markings, are they allowed into the peace and plenty of the otherworld, the land of many lodges, where all one’s ancestors pitched their tipis and buffalo roamed in unending abundance.5
The Pueblo Indians of Southwestern America share the belief that the deceased returns to the underworld through an entrance.
Underworld is not only the place from which the race emerged and the place to which its individuals return, but it is as well the storehouse of all life-giving crops which are in season drawn up to nourish the living.6
So, there was a widespread belief across the Americas that a road or a pathway exists in our galaxy which is traversed by the gods and by the souls of the dead.
This “Spirit Trail” or the “Road of Souls” leads from our galaxy to a mystical underworld of unknown location, where the ancestors live in perpetual peace and happiness.
- Are these ancient folklores telling us of an unknown cosmic pathway leading from the Milky Way galaxy to an alternate realm of existence?
- Is this alternate realm a different galaxy, or is it a star system within our own galaxy?
- Could it be that these age-old myths are not mere figments of imagination, but encode an advanced knowledge of our galaxy?
The Quiche Maya of the highlands of Guatemala actually have a very specific location for this pathway to the otherworld, which indicates that there is a physical reality underlying these intriguing beliefs.
They point to the region of the Galactic Center as being the location of Xibalba Be – the dark road that leads to the underworld.
For someone living in the Northern Hemisphere, it will be difficult to identify the Galactic Center with the naked eye, since the Milky Way appears as an extremely faint band of milky-white glow arching across the night sky.
The Galactic Center lies low in the southern sky during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, and is hard to locate precisely.
This dazzling infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope
Shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded
Into the Swirling Core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy.
In visible-light pictures, this region cannot be seen at all
Because dust lying between Earth
And the galactic center blocks our view.
However, in the Southern Hemisphere, the skies are very dark, and the light pollution is much lower. On a moonless night, away from the city lights, the Milky Way comes into prominent view.
Even a small binocular can resolve this band of light into thousands of stars.