Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sak Nik (God H)

Author's note: to see the overview post on Maya gods and goddesses, go here.

God H -- Sak Nik (literally "white flower" a term used for the soul) -- is a god who may the god of a diversity of things. He used to be confused with another god (either termed God CH or God J), a god now understood to be the Hero Twin Xbalanque (Yax Balam). 

Appearance
The appearance of Sak Nik is of a young man. In the codices, he has a headband with flowers on it.

Function
Sak Nik could be a god of music,  the soul and/or the wind -- he is thought to be connected to the day Ik (meaning "wind"). Sak Nik may also be the god depicted in the "head glyph" variant for the number three (numbers could be written several ways, including with heads of gods). Another thing he may have been connected to is the Water-lily serpent -- a creature with a bird's head and snake's body with a headdress made of a lily and lily pad.

Beyond these things it is possible that Sak Nik was also god of music. In scenes found in the codicies in which the gods are making music, one of the most common gods in those scenes is Sak Nik.

Consideration
In the codices, Sak Nik is possibly connected somehow with Itzamná (God D). Examples used as evidence include sections 12c and 15c of the Dresden Codex.


References: 

"Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars"; Susan Milbrath; 2000

"Prehistoric Mesoamerica"; Richard E.W. Adams; 2005 

"The Maya and Teotihuacan: Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction"; Geoffrey E. Braswell; 2004

"Of Macaws and Men: Late Preclassic Cosmology and Political Ideology in Izapan-Style Monuments"; Julia Guernsey Kappelman; 1997

"To Be Like Gods: Dance in Ancient Maya Civilization"; Matthew G. Looper; 2009

"The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather Irene McKillop; 2004



Monday, October 22, 2012

Kinich Ahau (God G)

God G was the sun god of the ancient Maya. In the Classic period and the Postclassic period, he was referred to either as Ahau Kin (Ahaw K'in) or Kinich Ahau (K'inich Ahau, K'inich Ajaw). One of the most famous pieces of jade found in the ancient Maya land is a jade head bearing his appearance, from Altun Ha. His head has also been used to decorate temples.

Appearance
There are variances in how Kinich Ahau was drawn. In Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of f Mexico and Central America he is described as having several distinguishing features: a hooked nose (a spiral often heading out from it in profile drawings); eyes that looked like crosses in full view but with an eye that looked like a square in profile; and sometimes a beard that had sections curling at the corners of his mouth.

Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars says some similar things but also says some different things. It uses examples of Kinich Ahau found in the codices: in the Madrid Codex he is depicted as a aged being with crooked teeth; but in the Dresden Codex he is depicted to be around middle age, though on a table concerning eclipses he is drawn with a beard. The book also says that during the Postclassic period, Kinich Ahau was drawn with the glyph for the day Kin on his head or body. Sometimes, he was drawn with fangs or with one tooth.

Function
Kinich Ahau was the sun, and was believed to turn into a jaguar as he went through Xibalbá each night. He was the patron of the day Muluc (also spelled Muluk), and was associated with Maya rulers and warriors as well as jaguars.

Change of Kinich Ahau's Patronage of Kings
The association of Kinich Ahau with kings changed over time. In the Classic period it was very common for a ruler to say he had a connection with the god. However this changed to become less common in the Postclassic period, as did the prominence of Kinich Ahau.

A God or an Aspect?
Kinich Ahau might not actually be a god by himself. There is a possibility that he is only an aspect of Itzamná (God D), a creator god (Itzamná has been identified as having an aspect named Kinich Ahau Itzamná).


References:

"The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather Irene McKillop; 2004

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert. J Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Prehistoric Mesoamerica"; Richard E. W. Adams; 1991

"Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars"; Susan Milbrath; 2000

"Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of f Mexico and Central America"; Kay Almere Read, Jason J. Gonzalez; 2002

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Maize God (God E)


Author's note: I have come into many varying sources when it comes to the Maize God's name and appearance. Two sources state the god's name was Yum Kaax, so I have used that name in this post. For the overview post on the gods and goddesses, go here.

One of the most often depicted in scenes from the Classic period, God E (sometimes called Yum Kaax or Yum K'aax, which means "lord of the field") was a god who ruled over corn -- a central crop for the ancient Maya. Yum Kaax had at least two aspects: one now known as the Tonsured Maize God (Hun Nal Ye) and another now known as the Foliated Maize God.


Appearance
Yum Kaax's appearance is commonly a young man who is good looking, possibly even feminine looking, and a "crown" of foliage. Sources vary as to the god's appearance. Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World states that the Tonsured Maize aspect had a flattened head with a small amount of hair on top. However, Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia states that the flattened head and hair tuft depiction is actually just the way Yum Kaax was drawn in the Classic period and also states that the foliated head occurred in the Postclassic period.

Often drawn wearing a lot of quetzal feathers and jade jewelry. This could mean that the ancient Maya associated corn with riches.

Father of the Hero Twins?
Some sources such as The Ancient Maya by Robert. Sharer and Loa P. Traxler state that Yum Kaax was Hun Hunapu -- the father of the Hero Twins, Xbalanque and Hunapu. Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World by Lynn V. Foster has a variant of this, and states that the ancient Maya gradually came to believe Hun Nal Ye was Hun Hunapu as time went on.


Diving God?
Some sources such as Star Gods of the Ancient Maya and The Ancient Maya state that a diving figure depicted in various places -- known as the diving god (sometimes capitalized as Diving God) -- was possibly a Postclassic period version of Xux Ek -- the "wasp star", a Venus god. However, according to Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America -- published by Oxford University Press, like Handbook --, the Diving God was the Postclassic version of the Maize God.

Function
Yum Kaax was connected to agriculture and also to plant fertility and human fertility (when shown in the codices, the Maize God usually is near tamales and plant shoots.) He was the patron of the day Kan (a day whose name means ripe corn).

The god's aspects each ruled over a specific time of the life of corn. The Foliated Maize God aspect is connected with young shoots of corn while the Tonsured Maize God is associated with both fertile corn and mature corn.

According to Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America,Yum Kaax and the Diving God are the same, Yum Kaax  was also connected to death and sacrifice. This is due to the fact that Yum Kaax is sometimes represented as a sacrifice.

Consideration

Due to the fact that his head may have literally been thought to be an ear of corn, the ancient Maya may have associated harvesting corn with beheading.

References:

"Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

"Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia"; Susan Evans; 2000

"Historical Dictionary of Mesoamerica"; Walter R. T. Witschey, Clifford T. Brown; 2011

Missouri State University: Maya Gods & Religion

NIU School of Art: Jack Olson Gallery: Crafting the Maya Identity

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Prehistoric Mesoamerica"; Richard E. W. Adams; 1991

Friday, October 12, 2012

Itzamná (God D)




In the Postclassic Period codices, this god used to be called (and in some books still is) god D. Worshiped at least as far back as the Preclassic Period, Itzamná -- a name spelled various ways -- was a god whose name translates as "one who does itz." ("Itz" seems to be a word that means any sacred liquid -- such as water, sap, and blood.)

Itzamná was the first shaman and a creator god (though some books say that he was an aspect of a creator god or one-half of a god.) He had a lot of avatars, was connected with various things such as rulers, writing and possibly god N.  He also seems to have connections to the gods of rain, corn, and the sun as well as the world tree.

History of Importance
As history passed, Itzamná became a very important god to the ancient Maya. Then the Classic Period collapse happened, and he became less important. His importance went down because the Maya had begun to stop believing in rulers that were connected to the gods -- they were switching to councils. Later on, in the Yucatan Peninsula, Itzamná's importance increased again.

Appearance
Itzamná appears to be elderly and male. His nose is big, and a description you may see of it is "Roman." The shape of his eyes was drawn either square or round, depending on the artifact.There are also certain things the ancient Maya tended to draw as part of their depictions of Itzamná. One is his headdress, which has a flower with an ak'bal symbol (ak'bal means dark/night) in it. Another thing they tended to show him wearing was a necklace made of shell.

Art with Itzamná in it shows him doing things like creating the sky or being a ruler that's managing a ritual. Also, it was common for the ancient Maya to draw him sitting on a throne.

Function
Among other gods, rulers may have looked to Itzamná's supernatural court as something to imitate as a form of 'correct' behavior. If true, this included how they set up their cities as well as how they acted themselves. (It seems that other gods' lives were possibly imitated as well.)

Quirigua's Stela C appears to be an example of the belief that Itzamná helped make the current world. It seems like the stela says that Itzamná -- which the stela calls Six Sky Lord -- and three other gods set three "throne stones" for a hearth in the sky. (Itzamná's throne stone was the water or waterlily throne stone.) Part of this stela also shows Quirigua's Ruler I in a ceremony, dressed up as Itzamná -- dressing up as gods as part of rituals was something the Maya did, and one of the gods they're known to have imitated in rituals was Itzamná. (There's a theory that rulers used quetzal feathers as part of their headdresses to copy the Principal Bird Deity, one of Itzamná's aspects.)

The ancient Maya in the Postclassic Period went to him (among certain other gods) when the coming year was predicted to be an unfortunate year, with disasters such as crop failure. They would ask him to keep the year from having disasters.

Curiously, it seems Itzamná had a bad side too. This negative part of him would destroy crops.

Aspects
Four aspects of Itzamná are a peccary, a turtle with a k'an sign on its shell, a possum, rattlesnake and the crocodile-like creature that makes up the earth -- that is, the part that people live on, in between the upperworld and underworld. (There is a theory though that Maya art that shows animals as being the land on which people walk should not be taken literally.) Itzamná also has a group of four aspects, each connected to one of the four cardinal directions and a color.

The goddess Chak Chel (you might come across books that refer to her as Ix Chel) may be an aspect of Itzamná, or perhaps they were two parts of one deity. The ancient Maya may have given Itzamná and Chak Chel credit for being the creators of people as well as time. The two may have been seen as the gods of healing as well.

In the Classic and Postclassic Period at least, another aspect  -- or perhaps spirit animal companion -- of Itzamná was a supernatural bird that has the same headdress as him. Images of the bird also tend to have it holding a snake in its beak. Archaeologists sometimes call this bird the Principal Bird Deity (PBD for short) or the Itzamná bird. Because of how it looks, this bird's appearance may have been based off of a real species of bird called the laughing falcon or guaco (Herpetotheres cachinnans). The Paris Codex connects this aspect of Itzamná to the end date (11 Ahau) of a specific k'atun (a period of 7200 days) on pages about rituals for the ends of k'atuns.

Consideration
Itzamná tends to be drawn with a hummingbird. In these images, the hummingbird is giving him things. This may mean that the hummingbird was Itzamná's messenger.


References:

The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System: "High-resolution speleothem record of precipitation from the Yucatan Peninsula spanning the Maya Preclassic Period"; Medina-Elizalde, Martín; Burns, Stephen J.; Polanco-Martínez, Josué M.; Beach, Timothy; Lases-Hernández, Fernanda; Shen, Chuan-Chou; Wang, Hao-Cheng; March 2016


"Re-Creating Primordial Time: Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Postclassic Maya Codices"; Gabrielle Vail, Christine Hernández; 2013

"Maya Sacred Geography and the Creator Deities"; Karen Bassie-Sweet; 2008

"Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya: Rituals of Body and Soul"; Andrew K. Scherer; 2015

Five College Compass Digital Collections: "Birds and Environmental Change in the Maya Area"; Peter Stuart (with contrib. by David Stuart; 2015

The University of Texas at Austin: Texas Scholar Works: University of Texas Libraries: "Framing the portrait : towards an understanding of elite late classic Maya representation at Palenque, Mexico"; Kaylee Rae; 2007

Journal of Ethnobiology 32(1): 74-107: "Water Lily and Cosmic Serpent: Equivalent Conduits of the Maya Spirit Realm"; J. Andrew McDonald, Brian Stross; 2012




Sunday, October 7, 2012

God C -- The God Who May Not Be A God

Author's Note: I have been unable to find a specific description of God C's appearance so I have left the description simple, based on pictures I have seen.

God C of the Schellhas deity classification system is a god of sacredness. Known also as k'uhul (or ch'ulel), this god is currently understood to be some kind of personification of sacredness and not necessarily a god.

Appearance
God C's appearance is that of a man. Sometimes the head of God C is bearded. One theory exists that God C's appearance is unlike anything that can be found in the natural world, and so is not an anthropomorphic relation to the natural world.

K'uhul Defined
The term k'uhul is understood to mean both divinity and a life force the ancient Maya considered sacred. These two things both existed in the world and were brought into the world via magic rituals.

History of Redefining God C
When Schellhas first made his classification of the gods found in the Maya codices, he thought that the god he termed God C was a simian (monkey) deity. Later a theory existed that stated God C was a god of the north. This theory was replaced by the current understanding.

Consideration
God C may also have had functions archaeologists have yet to find out. In the Madrid Codex, ancient Maya artists depict God C in various ways that could possibly mean that the god may have a connection to astronomy. Various ways he is drawn in the codex include being placed in a skyband, on a skyband throne or walking on a road with a merchant's bag.

Another possible indicator of God C being related to astronomy is an image in the Madrid Codex that shows Chac (God B) coming out of God C's mouth. This could be an artistic representation of a conjunction.


References:

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

"Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia"; Susan Evans; 2000

"The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather Irene McKillop; 2004

"Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World "; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

"Star Gods of the Ancient Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars"; Susan Milbrath; 2000

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kisin (God A)

Author's note: I have recently found that some Schellhas classification charts list God A as a different alphabet letter. However, several resources connected to places of higher learning state that God A's alphabetical designation is A.

God A, -- called Kisin (also spelled Cizin) in the Madrid Codex -- is an ancient Maya god of death, associated with putrefaction as well as gas produced by human beings (flatulence). He is associated with the owl, as the ancient Maya connected the owl with caves (Xibalbá -- the underworld -- was understood to be underground), night and killing prey. 

Name Meaning
Kisin translates as "Stinking One" or "Flatulent One" (the modern Yucatec Maya word for fart is "kis".) This isn't just a modern name for God A, it is also the understood to be an ancient name.

In the ancient Maya writing system, Kisin's name was written two ways: one way depicts a dead body whose eyes are closed, and the second way depicts Kisin's head but with a short nose and bone jaws and a sacrificial knife.

Appearance
Ancient Maya artists sometimes depicted Kisin as a skeleton in motion -- understood to be dancing --, sometimes with large spots who is holding something that resembles a lit cigarette. Other times Kisin was drawn as a bloated figure whose chest has sores and whose skin in general has dark jagged spots.

Another part of Kisin's appearance is his "costume". Kisin was drawn wearing as a neck collar. This collar was made of what the book Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World describes as "extruded eyes" and gives the name of "death eyes" -- possibly eyes and their nerve cords. Alternately, instead of a collar, Kisin would be depicted as having hair or cuffs on his wrists and ankles made of the death eyes.

Functions
Kisin ruled Xibalbá, controlled earthquakes, and was also the patron of the day Kimi (a day whose name means death.) In the codices he can be seen in scenes connected with human sacrifice, next to one of the Maya war gods. At times in the codices he is shown killing trees that Chac (God B) had planted.

Consideration
Kisin may not have just been one god, but one aspect of a god. In this theory, this multiple-aspect god had other guises as well as names, including Ah Puch, Yum Kimil and Xibalbá.


References:
 Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

"Historical Dictionary of Mesoamerica"; Walter R. T. Witschey, Clifford T. Brown; 2011

"A Mythological Reference"; G. Rodney Avant; 2005

Encyclopedia of religion: Volume 1"; Lindsay Jones; 2005

Encyclopedia Britannica: Cizin

"Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005