One of the most devastating consequences of so many Maya codices and sacred art having been burned during the Conquest is that to this day there is no consensus on the relationship between the Maya gods. In spite of this, the reverence for some of these gods is still alive and well in customs celebrated by the Yucatec Maya of today, such as the Chá Chaac ceremony and in the burning of the Milpa.
According to the Maya worldview there was a hierarchy of gods which also varies by time and region. These gods frequently had helpers and other mystical presences that followed their orders. Today, we’re going to tell you about some of the main gods for the ancient Maya, and where you can see evidence of their worship today.
Itzamná, god of the sun.
This deity is frequently associated with Hunab Kú (an amorphous entity that is considered the creator of the universe), in part because of their mutual representations of the sun, light, and the heavens. He is also strongly associated with Kiin, the sun itself. The church in Colonia Itzimná in Mérida lays on the remains of a large temple and city which was dedicated to this god, but you can also visit other temples to the sun, such as Kinich Kakmó in Izamal.
Kukulkán, the feathered serpent.
You have most likely heard about Kukulkán (known to the Aztecs as Quetzalcóatl). This entity was worshipped at sites such as Chichén Itzá, Maní, and Mayapán. One of his most iconic appearances is during the spring and fall equinoxes (March 21 and September 22). On these days you can see how Kukulkán himself comes down the Castillo in Chichén Itzá, to visit Earth.
Chaac, the god of rain.
This deity took on special importance in the Puuc Route at sites such as Kabáh and Uxmal. This area of Yucatán doesn’t have cenotes, making rainfall all the more important for sustaining life. Closely related to Chaac are different types of animals such as turtles, parrots, and frogs, as well as the Chaaques: four sub-deities, one for each cardinal point, that do his bidding.
Ixchel, goddess of fertility.
She is frequently considered as being Itzamná’s wife and is closely tied to the moon. Most of the archaeological vestiges alluding to her are found at the sites of the coast of Quintana Roo, mostly in Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.
Ah Puuch, god of the underworld.
It is said that he lives in Xibalbá and has a close connection to cenotes and caves, often seen as passages to the underworld. He is closely associated with the Monstruo de la Tierra (the Earth Monster), which we see in sites throughout the state. One of the most impressive ones is the one at Ek Balam, whose wide-open jaws are said to take you straight to Xibalbá.
Yuum Kaax, god of corn and agriculture.
The Maya designed a sophisticated agricultural system that is focused on polyculture. Representations of Yuum Kaax are mostly found on pottery; he is usually portrayed as sitting cross-legged, with his arms stretched out, and corn growing from his hands.
Maya gods, deities and supernatural beings often display unique aspects of nature in correlation to the four Bacabs or Cardinal points and/or with the central earth position represented by the sacred Ceiba tree, which still holds the center position of all sacred Maya rituals and spiritual ceremonies. This tree is placed as a symbol of sacred life force, an energy vortex or interconnection between the Thirteen Heavens (where gods and mythological deities dwell), our earth plane (where man, flora and fauna reside), and the Nine Underworlds (where death and night with the corresponding deities dwell).
Ah muzencab – God of Bees and Honey.
Ah Puch – also known as Hun ahua is a God of Death and dwells in the underworld.
Bacab – The Four Guardian Deities, related to the Cardinal points, carrying the sky in the center of them is the sacred tree of life “Ceiba”.
Chaac – God of Rain, a highly venerated God.
Chak Chel – Wife of Itzamnaaj, a red rainbow warrior young goddess with jaguar ears and claws; she is thought to be the young version of Ixchel, a weaver and patron of women in the underworld.
Camazotz – Bat god, also a monster deity of the underworld.
Gukumatz – Feathered Snake God and one of the God Creators of humanity.
Kukulkan – Messenger of Venus; the Sovereign Feathered Serpent Deity revered in Chichén Itzá and Mayapán (believed to be Quetzalcoatl for the Aztecs).
Hun-Hunahpu – the Sacred Maize Deity. He is the Maya ideal of beauty and youth.
Hunahpu – A ballplayer deity characterized as a hunter of birds.
Huracan – God of Storm (extreme bad weather) and Wind and Fire, one of the creator deities.
Itzamnaaj – The Supreme God Creator ruled the skies and invented writing; associated with the Sun. Also known as the God of Cacao.
Ixchel – Aged jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine; associated with the Moon, water, fertility and childbirth.
Ixtab – Goddess of Honorable Suicide; depicted as the “rope woman,” for hanging was to the Maya an honorable way to die; she will take the brave soul to paradise. Also depicted as a symbol of lunar and solar eclipses.
K’awiil – God of Lightning; also the Jaguar God of the underworld.
Xbalanque – a ballplayer deity whose name means Jaguar Son or Hidden Sun.
Xochiquetzal – goddess of Xocolatl (chocolate; a sacred godly beverage prepared only for the upper Maya royalty).
Zipacna – Underworld Demon Deity with great sexual appetite, symbolized by his favorite food: crabs. A very arrogant and powerful deity believed to have created the mountains.
By Maggie Rosado and Carlos Rosado
With additional information from:
Fundación Maya In Láakeech A.C. and Hacienda Chichen
Photography by Nora Garrett, SEDECULTA, Carlos Rosado, Esteban Dupinet, and Laura Pasos for its use in Yucatán Today.
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