The protagonist, Lydia, is a middle age archaeologist, specializing in Mayan translation. She is in the Yucatan helping to excavate a recently discovered (fictional) site, Pakabtum. She has been training in shamanism, and when she and her fellow archaeologist uncover a stele depicting the Queen of Pakabtum tumbling in death to Xibalba, the Mayan Otherworld, she falls into some kind of trance.
Meanwhile, back in Portland, Oregon, her niece is putting the finishing touches on a Virtual Reality tour of the site for a small museum specializing in Mayan history. She returns to Portland where her niece decides to take a walk through the site using the VR apparatus, and is found dead the following morning within the VR area.
The story weaves around the mystical merging of the leader of the civilization and his totem, Itzam Yeh, a mthyical macaw (who is known to the western world as the Big Dipper). Itzam Yeh helps the King perform the ritual sacrifices needed.
The Maya understand that their people were shaped by both history and myth. We think of history as ‘what really happened’ and of a myth as a story made up to account for whatever people didn’t understand — and unnecessary once science and logic have explained everything. But if a myth has influenced anyone’s life, then in some sense, it ‘happened’ — and is therefore history.
What happened to the niece? Was it some paranormal happening? Some easily explained event caused by technology? Was it murder?
The story is about glyphs, gateways, portals, ancient gods, modern technology, and the idea of time being fluid and flexible.
Here’s some interesting mythology for you: In Maya carvings, you often see a snake, or serpent. This is the Vision Serpent, and is sometimes depicted with a head on each end of its body. Each head represents a shamaic portal. One of these gateways opens into the earthly world, the other opens into the Otherworld.
The story of the macaw is that before the coming of the celestial light to earthly creation, Itzam Yeh, the red macaw, had brazenly claimed to be both the sun and the moon. The Hero Twins had humbled him by shooting him down from his perch in Wacah Chan — the World Tree. He has been tumbling through the cosmos ever since and can be seen today as the Big Dipper. You can see one of the Hero Twins in this graphic shooting the macaw in the World Tree.