Bonnie Hayman. The Cult of Jaguar ISBN 0915745585. $25.95.

Centuries ago, in the darkest jungles of Mexico, a young Mayan boy named Xichantl witnessed his father and most of his tribe follow the hallowed jaguar into the Graylands, never to be seen again. Now, a divorced mother and her two daughters from the United States go to Mexico for a summer vacation and stumble upon an ancient box that transforms their lives and could change the world. Set in the sultry and mysterious jungles of Mexico, with a backdrop of Mayan calendar, pyramids, Maya prophecies(calendario Maya, pirámides y profecías), the story revolves around several interesting characters who are after the same thing-each for a different reason. What happened to the ancient native civilizations of Mexico and Central America, which disappeared without a trace? The Mayan and Aztec cultures left important archaeological sites in Middle America before their civilizations vanished from this earth. While various theories attempt to explain these phenomena, nothing definitive has been proven, yet. Hayman's The Cult of the Jaguar, deals with this fascinating mystery and offers an intriguing and plausible answer to the question, "What really happened to the Aztecs and the Mayans, and the Cult of the Jaguar?"

While researching these ancient cultures, their customs and rituals, Hayman discovered that there actually was a tribe in the deep jungles of Mexico that worshipped the jaguar, making this work all the more exciting to her. To this day, there is no definitive explanation for why or how so many people abandoned their cities and instantly vanished. Setting aside the scientific theories of sudden plagues causing massive deaths, devastating in-fighting among tribes, and unexpected mass migrations, Hayman explores an idea that has yet to be discussed. Bonnie Hayman

Background of the novel:

By Anthony C. LoBaido, university professor, journalist, writer and photographer. Like the mysteries of the ancient civilization that once thrived in this area, beautiful Tikal, the ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala, is shrouded in wonder and intrigue. Located amid a dense jungle that makes up a 576 square kilometer national park, Tikal was the greatest of all classic Mayan cities. Driving northeast from the lakeside city of Flores, the city emerges as one of the largest Mayan ruins in the world. Tikal boasts 3,000 massive stone temples, some of which are 6,000 years old. Some pottery at the site was used about 200 years before Christ. Amazingly, archaeologists have only discovered about 10 percent of the site. Tikal served as a base for one of the scenes in the film “Star Wars.” It also conjured images of the opening scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” When WorldNetDaily traveled to Tikal recently, the sounds, smells and sights of the jungle came alive with vivid splendor. The jungle and mahogany forests around Tikal are filled with roaring spider monkeys, foxes, pumas, wild turkeys and hundreds of bird species, including the Toucan and Macaw. Amid the steaming heat, overbearing sun and isolated trails, the ruins and stone temples of Tikal emerge in all their magnificence. Interest in the Mayans increased during the past half-decade as the new millennium approached, mainly due to fascination with their calendar. The Mayans of Mexico were master mathematicians and time worshippers. They believed that the Earth would attain some kind of synchronization with the universe by A.D. 2012.

The Mayan calendar is 13 months (moons), each month having 28 days. It flows across a period from 3113 B.C. to A.D. 2012 – 5,125 years. One of the Mayan predictions is the Harmonic Convergence Prophecy, which states that the so-called Age of Materialism must end in 2012. The luxuriant palaces and giant pyramids of Tikal were the crown jewel of Mayan civilization, which reached its apex around A.D. 1000. Almost 250,000 cubic meters of material were used in constructing just one of the temples at Tikal. Art, science, astronomy (solstices, equinox and the cycles of Venus, the Sun and the Moon), astrology and technology exploded during this time, and Tikal grew into a metropolis of sorts, featuring underground tunnels.

The Maya commemorated important events by building stone stelae. These structures were recorded with the date and described the occasion with Mayan hieroglyphics and numbers. Many of these stelae still stand today in ancient Mayan cities. Mayan graves at Tikal For some reason, however, this city was mysteriously abandoned around A.D. 900. Even today, the disappearance of the Mayans from Tikal stands as one of the great conundrums in the fields of anthropology, history and archaeology. One of the first archeologists to work at Tikal was a man named Maler, who worked in the area between 1895 and 1904. “If you examine the course of human history, the arc of technology moved from China, to the Islamic region, then to Europe, on to the United States and now has probably begun its latest transplantation back to Asia,” said Patrick DuPree, a French archaeologist currently digging in the jungle surrounding Tikal. “Yet the Mayan civilization was ahead of its time technologically speaking. It was the only civilization ahead of the technological curve. I mean, they knew the Earth was round at a time when Europeans believed it was flat. This confounds students of history like myself. Where did the Mayans get their knowledge? Some have offered the theory of Atlantis as an explanation,” DuPree said. “The Mayans did not use the wheel. But their linguistic and mathematical concepts, as well as their architecture, were on a par with civilizations in the Old World, or even India, ancient Babylon or China.”

Coming to Tikal

The consensus on the Mayans is that they migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age. It is thought that around 10,000 B.C., these nomads came to Mesoamerica and began to establish a primitive society in the jungle. Cuello, in northern Belize, is the oldest known Mayan city, established during the time of the Babylonian captivity around 2500 B.C. Around 900 B.C., the Mayans began to build what was to become the flower of their civilization at Tikal. Their homes were simple, with reed-like thatched huts with dirt floors. They established trade zones and traded jungle products for salt and sea shells with the Mayans who lived on the Caribbean coast. In time, the Mayans established a society that featured a class system of priests, royalty, nobles, peasant farmers and even slaves. Sometimes, the Mayan played sporting events upon which they bet their lives. If they lost these games, they would be killed and their families sold into slavery. The game involved tossing a ball through a small hole or hoop made from stone and mounted on the wall of a court Karla Hernández, a Guatemalan citizen who teaches English as a Second Language in Flores, told WorldNetDaily that she is proud of Tikal, but “some of the ancient Mayan ways, like human sacrifice make me uncomfortable. I can understand why the Conquistadors put a stop to such evil.”

Hernán Cortés stumbled across Tikal in the year A.D. 1525. At that time, the temples looked far different than they do today. Just as the pyramids of Egypt and the Sphinx were capped with limestone, Tikal’s temples were covered with a rich, red stucco. The Conquistadors destroyed what they considered to be a “pagan civilization” and burned books, biographies, musical compositions histories, genealogies and other Mayan works, making the work of modern day historians and archaeologists that much more difficult. Asks DuPree, “As I said, over 90 percent of the Mayan ruins at Tikal are still waiting to be uncovered. Will we learn everything there is to know about the Mayans, or will time run out in 2012.

Other title by Bonnie Hayman. Tina Modotti's Mexico: A Tale of Love & Revolution.