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). 

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

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.

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.


"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.

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.

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).


"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: this post was last updated on 11/19/17.

Composite image by the author, made from photos of figurine made in the 700s AD,
in Mexico.It shows the Maize God wearing jewelry and a headdress,
in a corn plant. Source photos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fertility, jade, beauty, and the idea of being young were all things the ancient Maya thought when they thought of the Maize God; they also would draw his head when they wanted a symbol of corn -- or a symbol of cacao. Other than all of these things, this god was connected to rulers and may have had several aspects. The ancient Maya believed in a lot of gods, and the Maize God -- which you may see called God E -- was definitely a major one in their religion.

The Maize God was drawn as young and with a head that looks somewhat like an ear of corn. That is, his head was elongated and he only had hair right on top of his head. He is also drawn with a whole bunch of jewelry made from jade, and on his belt there's an ornament that you may see called the "xook monster." (The "xook monster" looks like the head of a shark that was drawn with a lot of artistic license.)

This stucco artifact was made between
100 BC and 100 AD. It comes either from
Mexico or Guatemala. From LACMA, which
calls it an "architectural medallion."
The ancient Maya also liked to draw images of the Maize God wearing a netted "skirt" of jade that goes down to the middle of his thighs. This "skirt" might be a symbol of something else. Another is that it represents a turtle shell, which is a symbol representing the earth. (The turtle shell symbol is also part of a myth about the Maize God that the ancient Maya seemed to like a lot. See below for more in The Myth of the Maize God section.)

 How the ancient Maya drew the Maize God didn't always stay exactly the same. For a while, in the Early Classic (the first part of the Classic Period,) the ancient Maya liked to draw the Maize God so that his mouth was open and his two front teeth stuck out. They moved away from this, and eventually began to like drawing him with a closed mouth.

The Two Aspects
This description of the Maize God -- being young, with a long head and having only some hair -- might only apply to an aspect of the Maize God. You may know this aspect as the Tonsured Maize God. His ancient Mayan name might be Juun Ixiim, which has several translations including "One Grain Corn."

The reason why the description might be only for the Tonsured Maize God is because of what the ancient Maya who lived in the Classic Period never seemed to want to put on their pottery: images of another possible aspect, the Foliated Maize God. (Though they did use his name glyph as a "head variant" for the number eight.)

The Foliated Maize God, whose name might be Ajan, was connected to corn plants that were fully grown. The ancient Maya drew this possible aspect with an ear of corn coming out of his head. The ancient Maya who created the four known codices -- which come from the Postclassic Period -- seem to have drawn only him.

These two aspects might not even be aspects at all. There is also the belief that they were both gods on their own, though they were both gods of corn.

The Myth of the Maize God
There is a myth of the Maize God, seen from the Preclassic Period on into the Popol Vuh. (It doesn't mean it's always the exact same myth, though.) In it, the Maize God dies, goes into the underworld, and comes back to life.
The front pieces of a pair of earflares
showing the head of the Maize God
as a symbol of picked corn -- his
close eyes mean he's dead. They
were made in the 400s AD to 600s AD
and might be from Guatemala. From
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When they drew the Maize God going to the Underworld, which is drawn as being watery, Ancient Maya artists liked to show him going there in a canoe. The Maize God is then reborn, but as strange as it may sound, he isn't resurrected yet -- he only does that after he forces his way back above the ground. (He doesn't do it alone either -- he either has Chaak or the Hero Twins help him back out.) Before he can force his way back above ground through, women in the Underworld put pieces of jade jewelry on him -- this has to be done before he resurrects.

Connections to Ancient Maya Rulers
It seems rulers in the ancient Maya world wanted people to look at their family's rule as like the cycle of plants: when a ruler died, another one took that ruler's place. (It was supposed to be like the cycle had started over with the new ruler.)

This piece of pottery is from Guatemala and was
made between 300 AD and 600 AD. The ruler drawn
on it is impersonating the Maize God. From LACMA.
It also looks like rulers thought that they would actually have the same thing happen to them that happened to the Maize God in the myth -- so they had jade jewelry put on their bodies when they died. While alive, rulers would impersonate the Maize God for rituals, which was something they did with other gods too.

An example of where you can see a ruler dressed like the Maize God (and another god, K'awiil) is the sarcophagus lid of K'inich Janaab Pakal I, a ruler of Palenque. He may either be rising up from the Underworld, rising up to the Upperworld, or perhaps falling into the Underworld.

Another example of an impersonation of the Maize God is on Stela H at the site of Copan. The king impersonating the god on this stela is Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil. His netted "skirt" though goes to his ankles, which is not the normal length at all for it.

Consideration: Other Aspects?
According to Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, the Maize God had a lunar aspect. This is because there are a lot of images where he is drawn with a rabbit as well as a symbol representing the moon. This symbol, can start from one of two places: either his armpit or his back.

The figure on the left of this vase is a drawing of the Maize God
with that moon symbol. The vase comes from either Guatemala or Mexico
and was made between 300 AD and 900 AD. From LACMA.

There is a theory that the Maize God was somehow female too. This is because of the netted "skirt" that the ancient Maya liked to draw him wearing. However, this garment doesn't have any specific connection to women.

Florida Museum: Latin American Exhibit: "Mesoamerican Artifacts"; Jeffrey R. Vadala; March 23rd, 2017

Google: Books: "Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia"; Erin Kenny, Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols; 2017

Google Books: "Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya"; Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos; 2017

Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

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

Mesoweb: "The PARI Journal" Volume XV, No. 2: "On the Reading of Three Classic Maya Portrait Glyphs"; Marc Zender; 2014

Google Books: "The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence"; Stephen Houston; 2014

Mesoweb: "Antiquity" Volume 85; "In the path of the Maize God: a royal tomb at Nakum, Peten, Guatemala"; Jarosław Zrałka, Wiesław Koszkul, Simon Martin, Bernard Hermes; 2011

Google Books: "Death and the Classic Maya Kings"; James L. Fitzsimmons; 2009

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

Google Books: "The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather McKillop; 2004

Google Books: "Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia"; Susan Toby Evans, David L. Webster (editors); 2001

Google Books: "Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan"; Elizabeth A. Newsome; 2001

Los Angeles Mission College: "Jade - The Green Gold of the Maya"; Elisabeth Wagner

Image Credits:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Young Corn God

LACMA: Architectural Medallion Depicting the Maize God

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Pair of Earflare Frontals

LACMA: Seated Ruler in the Guise of the Maize God

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.

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.

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.

Itzamná was a god of scribes -- and he was a scribe himself. He was also a god of knowledge.

This god was also connected to some more pointedly mystical things. One of these was foretelling the future. The other was the ability to look at things that you couldn't normally see as a person.

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

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. And another aspect of his was the Milky Way.

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, there's a theory that this bird's appearance may have been based off of a real species of bird called the laughing falcon or guaco (Herpetotheres cachinnans) -- but not everyone agrees on what bird the Principal Bird Deity is supposed to be like though. 

(There's a also theory that  Itzamná (god D) is actually a a mix of of Pauahtun (god N) and the Principal Bird Deity.)

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. It's not the only possible messenger of this god's though. Archaeologists have found evidence that there were times where the Principal Bird Deity delivered messages for Itzamná. The name for the Principal Bird Deity as a messenger could be Muut Itzamnaaj.

Google Books: "Philosophy of the Ancient Maya: Lords of Time"; Alexus McLeod; 2018

Google Books: "Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya"; Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos"; 2017

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

Google Books: "The Origins of Maya States"; Loa P. Traxler, Robert J. Sharer (editors); 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, as its known in the Schellhas system, is a bit wrongly named. 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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

 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