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

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