Tuesday, November 6, 2012

K'awiil (God K)

A ceramic box made between 450 AD and 550 AD (and therefore from the Early Classic.)
K'awiil is on the left side. From LACMA.

K'awiil or K'awil was a god connected to several things: royalty, flint, and like Chaak, lightning -- and you may also see it said that he was connected to rain as well. (It seems he was perhaps also worshiped at Palenque as a patron god.) Other names you might see him called include the scepter god and god K.

K'awiil has a snout that turns up, big eyes that have spirals for pupils, a fang coming out of his mouth, and one or both of his legs is a snake, with a snake's head where a foot should be. K'awiil's forehead has a smoking item stuck to it -- a smoking ax head seems to be a common item the Maya would draw on his forehead, though they would draw other items sometimes, like a cigar or a torch. (In a definition of K'awiil on the Metropolitan Museum's website, K'awiil's forehead is also described as being high and having a cartouche on it -- and it is this cartouche that the item is stuck into.)

Connection to Royalty
This artifact may have been a leg from a K'awiil
scepter. It was made between the 600s to 800s AD,
and came from either Guatemala or Mexico.
From The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The ancient Maya connected K'awiil with protection of royal lines as well as coronation -- that is, rulers officially becoming their city-state's ruler. There are drawings of rulers becoming their city'state's ruler while holding a scepter that looks like K'awiil. Inscriptions would have a phrase for when a new ruler took power, a phrase that translates as "he took the K'awiil."

But it went further than that in some city-states like Dos Pilas and Copan. Rulers of these city-states would use the name "K'awiil" as one of their own, as a title. It's possible that because rulers did this -- and also would use Chaak and Yopaat as names -- that it may have been that the ancient Maya thought their rulers had "co-essences" that were lightning.

On a related note, it's possible that people with dwarfism were also connected with K'awiil. They may have been thought to somehow actually be K'awiil.

Connection to Flint/Chert
This eccentric flint came from
Guatemala. It was made between the 
600s AD and 700s AD. From 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The ancient Maya would create items that are now called eccentric flints. These artifacts are pieces of flint/chert or obsidian that the ancient Maya sculpted into different shapes. Some were meant to look like real things, some were meant to look like gods, and some were just shapes. Among these various designs, they would make K'awiil-shaped eccentric flints. (And on a related note, the ancient Maya either may have thought or really did think that flint/chert happened when lightning hit the ground.)

It's also been found that, at the site of Piedras Negras, there are flakes of flint that had been painted with different gods's image, including K'awiil's image. In fact, K'awiil's image was the one that got painted the most.

Connection to Chaak
Speaking of stone, K'awiil was sometimes drawn as a hammer -- but not just any hammer. In his hammer form, drawings show him being used by Chaak.

This vessel was made between 800
AD and 1200 AD, in Mexico. From
the Yale University Art Gallery.
Patron God at Palenque
You may find it said that K'awiil was one of three patron gods of Palenque. He is seen as being the same as a god worshiped there that was called "Baby K'awiil" or "Unen K'awiil. (Archaeologists also call this god GII.)

Consideration: Astronomy Connection?
In the Late Classic, it was common for references to K'awiil -- inscriptions that include his name, or images of him -- to also talk about either Saturn or Jupiter when in retrograde. (Retrograde is the part of an object's orbit when it looks like it is moving west to east in comparison with the stars.)

There is a theory that has a lot of ideas about what this meant. Two ideas in it wonder if K'awiil was connected somehow to Jupiter -- or perhaps to Saturn and Jupiter's retrograde part of their orbits.


Google Books: "The First Maya Civilization: Ritual and Power before the Classic Period"; Francisco Estrada Belli; 2011

Image Credits:

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