Egyptian and Mayan Similarities—Ginseng, Religion, and Hieroglyphics
I came across an article on American and Chinese ginseng and how they are considered to be the “yin” and “yang” of each other. This got me thinking. Suddenly, I was making other connections about similarities of other objects, people, and cultures across the world.
Have you ever thought about how there were pyramids in Egypt and in Mesoamerica, that two disparate cultures came up with the same idea? Or how religious doctrines in India and the Far East seemed similar to Native American beliefs?
Perhaps there is a global “yin” and “yang” at work here.
More About Mayan Pyramids
The pyramids between the ancient Mayan civilization and the ancient Egyptian civilization are not related. But, it’s still interesting to think about how different cultures came up with the idea of constructing pyramids as part of their cultural identity.
The Mayan pyramids are newer than Egyptian pyramids. They were built around 100 BCE. They used their pyramids as temples and in ceremonies. Their pyramids weren’t designed to last millennia. In fact, the Mayans built them knowing they would want to rebuild them.They constructed their pyramids with staircases in the hearts of their cities for easy access. Although kings were sometimes buried inside, the functional usefulness of Mayan pyramids was fundamentally different than Egyptian pyramids.
The Egyptian pyramids were built about 2000 years earlier. The Egyptians built their pyramids not as a place of worship, but as a tomb. The sarcophagus (stone coffin) was placed inside, with the idea that it would last for eternity. So, the pyramid structures – with three layers of cut stone – were designed to last a very long time. There were no staircases or obvious entrances, either. They were a means to keep out would-be invaders and allow the pyramids to endure through the ages.
Despite the fact that the two types of pyramids are unrelated, it’s still remarkable that completely different cultures at different times employed their use.
The Mayans and the Egyptians Weren't the Only Ones Who Built Pyramids
Mayan and Egyptian Hieroglyphics
The Egyptians and Mayans both used symbols to convey meaning in written language. However, the similarity pretty much stops there. This is remarkable, though, considering the fact that these cultures – millennia and worlds apart – developed similar writing systems.
The Egyptian hieroglyphics didn’t have punctuation and they were written in long lines of script. They were found on everything from paper, to stone, to jewelry. Reading the glyphs, you go from left to right. Egyptian glyphs are divided into phonograms - representing sounds and ideograms - representing ideas or objects.
The Mayans’ system used picture blocks to convey meaning. Their glyphs were mostly on stone. Reading the glyphs is very different from reading Egyptian glyphs. You go left to right and read a “pair” of glyphs and then go down to the next line and read the next pair. They form a sort of a zig-zag pattern. Thus, if reading, you would read block 1A, then block 1B. Then you go to the next line and read 2A, then block 2B. Mayan glyphs are divided into logograms to express meaning or syllabograms to represent sounds.
As stated above, though these cultures were completely different in time and space, it’s amazing that they had such striking parallels with the construction of pyramids and the use of hieroglyphics.
Languages of Siberia and Native Americans
Here’s a fact: Scientists have discovered that Native Americans and groups of Siberians share a same mother tongue.
Researchers have linked an old family of languages in Siberia (Yeniseic) with a family of Native American languages(Na-Dene) in the Americas. They have many cognates, or words that sound alike in different languages and carry similar or the same meaning.
It is notable that neither family of languages is the “mother tongue”. No one knows which came first.
This is significant, however, because this is strong evidence that humans crossed the Bering land bridge long ago and spoke a common language.
It also attests to the fact that humans have been around long enough to have migrated from continent to continent at very early stages of human existence and carried their languages and customs from place to place, tying early humanity together.
Did You KNow?
You can purchase ginseng (as the root) from one of the world's largest commercial planters - Chai-Na-Ta in British Columbia - for $126/lb.
US consumers spent over $100 million in 2008 on ginseng products.
Worldwide demand for ginseng continues to increase, and farmers are hard-pressed to meet this demand.
American Ginseng and Chinese Ginseng
The Chinese consider Chinese ginseng the “yang” and American ginseng the “yin”. Yang is the male counterpart to the female yin. Chinese ginseng, therefore, is “warm” and increases virility. American ginseng, on the other hand, is “cool” and relaxing. Asians consume both versions of this plant for improved well-being of the body.
It’s interesting that ginseng itself grows on virtually opposite continents. The Iroquois Native American Indians are known for smoking or chewing their ginseng. The Chinese, however, prefer theirs in tea.
This is quite a valuable plant, with the Chinese Qing Dynasty funding its rise to power from being an exclusive trader for ginseng.
Another interesting fact is that scientists have concluded that about half of the flora and fauna in Asia and North America are related. This gives credence to the fact that long ago these continents were connected.
Thus, seemingly disparate areas and cultures can be related in more ways than one!
Native American and Eastern Philosophies
Native American religious practices and Eastern philosophies are not related in their origins or ways of conveyance. However, I wanted to illustrate the idea that across cultures and histories, these two groups of people have parallels in their approach to life and living.
Many Native American groups are fundamentally intertwined with a deep respect for nature and Mother Earth. They do not have a “religion” in the same way as Christians, for example, do. Native Americans had, as part of their culture, a system of beliefs that pervaded their existence and ways of living.
Panentheism is often used to describe Native American spirituality – a belief that spirits exist in the present and in all things across the universe. There is a Great Spirit that pervades all things. They spend a lot of time in reverence and silence in honor of nature – a kind of meditation. They live their lives out in pursuit of high moral values and ethics of honesty, truth, and giving of oneself.
Similarly, in Hindu teachings, there is an inherent respect for all living things. Hinduism could be described as panentheistic, as well. It recognizes a Supreme Being, but that this being is present in all things and transcends the universe in place and time. (One could argue that it’s also monotheistic, pantheistic and Trinitarian, depending on the perspective.)
Buddhism and Hinduism both use meditation as a cornerstone for spiritual access. Both religions place high value in high moral character of the individual, including leading an honest life, living truthfully and being generous. The fact that Buddhism and Hinduism recognize the idea that everything is intertwined is similar to Native American philosophies.
Werner, Louis. “An Enduring Panacea.” Americas. 4/2008. Pp. 37-43.
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun