What exactly is this person doing?
The scene represents a bloodletting ritual performed by the king of Yaxchilán, Shield Jaguar the Great (681-742), and his wife, Lady K’ab’al Xook (Itzamnaaj Bahlen III). The king holds a flaming torch over his wife, who is pulling a thorny rope through her tongue. Scrolls of blood can be seen around her mouth. (x)
Bloodletting was an essential part of being Maya royalty. This formidable ordeal mirrors the sacrifice involved in the Mayan story of creation, where the gods let their blood to create humans. The pierced tongue of Lady Xook enables her blood to flow as part of a ritual communication with spirits and gods.
By choosing to take part in the ritual, the queen demonstrated both her moral and physical strength to the people, and her suitability as a Maya royal. (x)
This particular limestone lintel (which you can see the full image of here) is considered one of the masterpieces of Maya art, and was originally one of a series of three panels at Yaxchilán.
Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by KateMonkey.