The ancient Mayans had a word for their soul, Sak Nik Nahal, meaning “The white conscience of flowering.” They believed that a person was not just a functional creature with an independent body and soul, but was expressed by the world around them. The soul was their bond with the world, and how the world reacted to them was their soul.
We think about identity being the combination of our identifiers; badges, credentials, events and transactions. We move freely around the world, adjusting the presentation of these identifiers for different situations and contexts. The view is adjusted to signal reputation, sometimes privately, sometimes more openly. That presentation creates a feedback loop. It’s that point of engagement, where our soul meets the world.
Soulbound tokens are a blockchain identity primitive that enable our identity to bond with the digital world. They form our Soul, on-chain. They are publicly visible, non-transferable, and represent affiliations, credentials, achievements, transactions and other unique social identifiers. A Soul interacts with others, applications, systems and networks. Those interactions can feedback onto that Soul in a variety of ways.
The Mayan’s had a second type of soul too. The Huay soul. This often appeared as an animal like a deer, monkey or dog. The animal was strongly linked to the person based on their birthdate. Mayans believed some people could transform into their Huay or wear masks and take on other forms altogether.
Souls with soulbounds tokens can wear masks too. They can transform our digital identity as we like. Your work self, your weekend self, or your weird self. This is how we present ourselves in different contexts. We use different aliases, avatars and images online, to signal who we are, and express ourselves in different ways.
The Mayans also believed in the immortality of the soul. That souls would live on, long after the body had departed. These souls did not die, rather they would pass into the afterlife where they continued to live on. Each year the Day of the Dead celebrates the return of these souls to visit their families.
Our on-chain Souls are also forever. They are immutable records of our identities for our descendents to cherish. They will survive long after we are gone, forever preserved by the immutability of the blockchain. Since they are forever, they must be carefully curated to ensure they preserve the mask we wish our soul to wear.
The link between our soul and identity is not new. It spans the ages. Soulbound tokens are a new emerging form of identity that help us portray our soul in web3.
I’ll be exploring more about Soulbound tokens and their role in identity in web3. Reach out if you’d like to discuss and check out what we are building at Verida, if you are keen to get involved.
Header photo by Geri Chapple on Unsplash.
Read more about the Mayan Soul on Yucatan Living.