Fascinating! A major Mayan ritual was associated with being born again, purification, cleansing from sin, confession of sins to a priest, changing one's nature to be a better person, and gaining salvation in the afterlife - all very LDS and Christian concepts (at least early Christianity - some of these concepts have been lost in some parts of modern Christianity). It was readily recognizable as a Native American form of baptism by a Catholic friar in the sixteenth century. The ritual, like Christian baptism, was performed by a priest, to whom candidates for baptism confessed their sins, if serious sins were present - again similar to the restored Christian practice in LDS religion. White cloth was associated with the ritual, as in the LDS practice (though for LDS baptism, the candidates dress completely in white.) Though sprinkling was done rather than immersion, Christian baptism went a similar route in the centuries after the loss of apostles, and the Book of Mormon records that baptism was becoming corrupted in the fourth century among the Nephites, when infants were being baptized (presumably by sprinkling). Unlike the Aztecs, though, the Yucatan form of baptism is for children in the range of 3 to 12 years. And, as in Christian baptism, the ceremony is associated with "the descent of the god" - akin to the description of baptism in Romans 6, where Paul explains that it is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Sec. XXVI. Method of baptism in Yucatan; How it was celebrated
Baptism is not found anywhere in the Indies save here in Yucatan, and even with a word meaning to be born anew or a second time, the same as the Latin word renascer. Thus, in the language of Yucatan sihil means 'to be born anew," or a second time, but only however in composition; thus caput-sihil means to be reborn. Its origin we have been unable to learn, but it is something they have always used and for which they have had such devotion that no one fails to receive it; they had such reverence for it that those guilty of sins, or who knew they were about to sin, were obliged to confess to the priest, in order to receive it; and they had such faith in it that in no manner did they ever take ft a second time. They believed that in receiving it they acquired a predisposition to good conduct and habits, protection against being harmed by the devils in their earthly affairs, and that through it and living a good life they would attain a beatitude hereafter which, like that of Mahomet, consisted in eating and drinking.
Their custom of preparing for baptism was as follows: the Indian women raised the children to the age of three, placing for the boys a small white plaquet, fastened to the head in the hair of the tonsure; the girls wore a thin cord tied very low about the waist, to which was attached a small shell over the private parts; to remove these two things was regarded among them as a sin and disgraceful, until the time of the baptism, which was given between the ages of three and twelve; until this ceremony was received they did not marry.
Whenever one desired to have his child baptised, he went to the priest and made his wish known to him, who then published this in the town, with the day chosen, which they took care should be of good omen. This being done, the solicitant, being thus charged with giving the fiesta, selected at his discretion some leading man of the town to assist him in the matter. Afterwards they chose four other old and honored men to assist the priest on the day of the ceremony, these being chosen with the priest's cooperation. In these elections the fathers of all the eligible children took part, for the fiesta was a concern of all; those so chosen were called Chacs. For the three days before the ceremony the parents of the children, as well as the officials, fasted and abstained from their wives.
On the day, all assembled at the house of the one giving the fiesta, and brought all the children who were to be baptized, and placed them In the patio or court of the house, all clean and scattered with fresh leaves; the boys together in a line, and the girls the same, with an aged woman as matron for the girls, and a man in charge of the boys. . . .
[Landa then describes how the priest purifies the house and casts out demons, and refers to the priest carrying a hyssop made of a short stick and the tales of serpents like rattlesnakes (the aspersarium).]
The chacs then went to the children and placed on the heads of all white cloths which the mothers had brought for this purpose. They then asked of the largest ones whether they had done any bad thing, or obscene conduct, and if any had done so, they confessed them and separated from the others.
When this was done the priest called on all to be silent and seated, and began to bless the children, with long prayers, and to sanctify them with the hyssop, all with great serenity. After this benediction he seated himself, and the one elected by the parents as director of the fiesta took a bone given him by the priest, went to the children and menaced each one with the bone on the forehead, nine times. After this he wet the bond in a jar of water he carried, and with it anointed them on the forehead, the face, and between the fingers of their hands and the bones of their feet, without saying a word. The liquor was confected out of certain flowers and ground cacao, dissolved in virgin water, as they call it, taken from the hollows of trees or of rocks in the forest. . . .
The fiesta then ended with long eating and drinking; and the fiesta was called em-ku, which means 'the descent of the god.'
Could the three days of fasting of the adults before the baptism ritual be associated with the symbolism of Christ being in the grave for three days? Perhaps. Later in Landa's book (p. 50), there is a reference to the troubling practice of human sacrifice: "At times they threw the victims alive into the well at Chichen Itza, believing that they would come forth on the third day, even though they never did see them reappear." The three-day concept could be tied to ancient lost knowledge of the death and resurrection of Christ.
And after baptism, the baptized people were anointed with sacred water, being anointed on the head and elsewhere, a practice which could very well have derived from knowledge of anointings in the ancient temple.
Related to de Landa's account of baptism in Mesoamerica is the later account of Mexican-born Spaniard, Mariano Veytia (1720-1778; full name: Mariano Fernandez de Echevarria y Veytia), who recorded what he learned from native Mexicans about their ancient history. His writings, which were not even printed in Joseph Smith's day and only recently have been translated to English, are available in the book Ancient America Rediscovered, translated by Ronda Cunningham, compiled by Donald W. Hemingway and W. David Hemingway (Springville, Utah: Bonneville Books, 2000). The following excerpt from Veytia is taken from pages 167-169 of Ancient America Rediscovered:
Some may question how well Veytia understood Mesoamerican legends and whether what he heard or what he wrote was tainted by an effort to find contrived parallels between Mesoamerican legends and the Gospel, but much of what he writes on the topic of baptism is supported by other sources and appears credible. (On the other hand, he may have relied heavily on de Landa in his description of baptism, so I cannot say how valuable Veytia is here as an independent witness of Mesoamerican traditions.) But in any case, the parallels between Mesoamerican baptism and Christianity certainly are consistent with the Book of Mormon.
Other customs and rites were still found among these peoples at the time of the arrival of the Spanish, which, because of being more particular and characteristic of Christianity, prove more effectively that the person who introduced them was an apostle or disciple of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the first sacrament necessary, without which there can be no salvation, and therefore they rightly call it the door of the Catholic Church, to which no one can enter except by it; and it is evident that throughout this country a type of baptism was found to be established. Although it varied in the ceremonies according to the places, substantially they all agreed on this bath of natural water, saying upon the baptized person some forms such as honors and prayers and putting a name upon him, and this they observed as a rite of religion, preserving the memory of Quetzalcohuatl's having taught it to them. Father Remesal affirms that the first Spanish who arrived at Yucatan found that those natives used a type of baptism, to which they gave a name in their language which in our language means being born again. An expression more in agreement with that of Christ in the Gospel cannot be given. They had (he says) so much devotion and reverence for it that no one failed to receive it. They thought that in it they were receiving a pure disposition to be good and to not be harmed by the devils, and to attain the glory that they were hoping for. It was given to them from the age of three years up until twelve, and without it no one got married. They would choose a day for it that was not one of their tragic days, the fathers would fast for three days beforehand and would abstain from the women, the priests would handle the purification of the home, casting out the devil with certain ceremonies, and once these ceremonies were over the children would go one by one, and the priests would give them a little corn and ground incense in the hand, and they in a brazier, and in a cup they would send wine outside the town, with an order to the Indians not to drink it or look back, and with this they believed that they had cast out the devil. The priest would come out dressed in long, solemn clothing with a hyssop in his hand. They would put white cloths on the heads of the children, they would ask the big ones if they ha done any sin, and in confessing they would remove them to a place and bless them with prayers, making movements as if to strike them with the hyssop, and with certain water that they had in a bone, they would wet the forehead and the features of the face and between the toes and the fingers, and then the priest would get up and remove the cloths from the children, and certain notifications being done, they were thus baptized and the festival would end in banquets, and in the nine following days the father of the child was not to approach his wife.
In the territories of Texcoco, Mexico, Tiacopan, Culhuacan, and other regions there were certain festivities in which the ceremony was solemnly done of bathing the children and putting names upon them; but when these festivities were not immediate, it was a custom to bathe the children seven days after they were born, standing them on their feet and throwing water on them from the top of the head, and at the same time they would put the name upon them. If it was a boy, they would put an arrow in the right hand and a target in the left, and if it was a girl, in one hand the spindle and in the other the shuttle, or a broom; and two months after birth (which was after forty days), because each month of theirs was twenty days long, the mothers would take them to present them at the temple, where they were received by one of the priests who was the one who was in charge of keeping the count of their calendar or ecclesiastical chart. This priest would present the child to one of their gods as it seemed right to him, and as a surname would give the child the name of that deity, to whom he did certain honors, and they amounted to asking him to give that child a good and peaceful nature, that it not be hard for him to learn what he should learn, for him to be happy in war, for him not to suffer travails and need, and other similar things.
In some towns their bath was not until the tenth day after birth, and in others it was not by infusion but by immersion, submerging the children in ponds, rivers, springs, or fonts full of water; but in all parts they gave them a name in doing this ceremony of the bath; and although in some parts the remembrance had already been lost of the one who introduced these ceremonies or many of them among them, and among the better educated people, as I have said, the knowledge was found that it was Quetzalcohuatl who taught them this ablution or bath of natural water and to give the children a name at the time of performing it; and it seems natural that being an apostle or disciple of the Lord he would carry it out that way, to fill the commandment that the Lord gave to all his apostles when he commanded them to preach the Gospel throughout all the world and to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, promising eternal salvation through faith and baptism: Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. . . .
No less remarkable is the custom that they found established of confessing to the priests, declaring to them those things that they had as sins, and accepting the penitence that the priests would impose upon them; and the obligation that the priests had, not to reveal the sins that were confessed to them, was so rigorous that if they violated this confidentiality they were severely punished even with the penalty of death.
Could it be that such native practices reflect elements derived from knowledge of ancient Christian ceremonies such as baptism, though in a pagan and corrupt form?