Which gods did the Mayan people worship?
A little context about the 4 deities on our Mayan map.
Stating definitively exactly who the Mayan gods were is a difficult task. Some such as Kukulkan were active as a deity from long before the Maya themselves were recognized as an ethnic group. Others appeared to fulfill different roles for different Mayan groups making the identification of them a challenge to historians. Our Mayan map depicts a non exhaustive representation of 4 of these supernatural gods.
Kukulkan can be translated to meaning the ‘feathered serpent’. kukulkan is known within the Aztec world as Quetzalcoatal, and as Ququmatz in the Kiche culture. The anthropomorphic figure is one of the most recognizable within MesoAmerica, whilst his exact image and name change across cultures, the aspect of a feathered serpent is always present.
The earliest accepted images of Kukulkan hail back to the Olmec culture and spread around then mesoamerican region from there. It is clear that he was an enduring god since his image is contained in post-classical temples such as the most famous Mayan temple bearing his name in Chichén Itzá. It is clear his adoration lasted for well over 2,000 years.
In some accounts he is seen as the all powerful creator of life on the planet, in others he takes a more secondary role. Some traditions credit the deity with the creation of laws and writing for humanity, others strongly tie him to earthquakes and others still associate him with rain, water and wind. Rarer accounts identify Kukulkan as being a mortal king in conflict with the god of the nighttime.
The image on which this depiction of Kukulkan was drawn is based on a scene discovered in the Mayan temple of Yaxchilan.The scene depicts Kukulkan appearing as a vision serpent as part of a bloodletting ceremony performed by lady Wak Tuun in 755 C.E.
The goddess Ix Chel has strong associations with many roles, from rainbows, moon worship, birthing, water, medicine and love. A busy goddess indeed.
In regards to the moon Ix Chel is often depicted as a beautiful young lady at the start of the cycle who ages into an old lady as the moon grows to its full cycle. The Mayans also believed in the shape of a rabbit being contained in the moon so she is often depicted holding a little bunny.
Ix Chel’s main place of worship within the Mayan world can be found on the large island of Cozumel, at the temple of San Gervasio, the largest temple on the island. It was here that many Mayan women made a pilgrimage to pray for the birth of 18 children! The island is a treasure trove of artifacts dedicated to the goddess. The temple itself is over 2000 years old highlighting the ancient routes of adoration for Ix Chel herself.
Our image here of Ix chel is based upon the image of her depicted in the Dresden codex. Anthropologists have a certain degree of agreement that this codex derived from the Chichén Itzá región since many of its written images are unique to the area. It is believed to be a codex made some time in the 12 or 1300’s.
Ek Chuah was revered as both a god of war and trade and also associated with cacao, a much sought after luxury in the Mayan region. His name can be translated as ‘black star’. He is sometimes associated with the North Star. As a god of merchants this would make sense as Polaris can act as aguiding star to facilitate travel in the night.
There is also another strong connection with trade. Since the Maya had no official money in our traditional understanding, chocolate beans were used as a valuation system. All items from tomatoes to Turkey’s had a value in cacao beans used to fix barter prices. Wealth could be stored in Cacao beans and there have even been examples of carved fake cacao beans acting as counterfeit currency.
Ek Chuah was sometimes depicted as an old man with a single tooth and at other times he possessed a violent image as the god of war. In this image he is seen as a rather well fed merchant surrounded by abundant wealth in the form of cacao pods. Our fine detailed drawing highlights the more peaceful trading aspect of Ek Chuah.
One of the most iconic gods from the Mayan region is without doubt YumKaax. His image is seen in a wide variety of Mayan codices, Yum Kaax is the son of two Mayan gods, Ixchel and Itzamna.
The translation of his name means lord of the forest or wild, Yum means Lord, with Kaax being translated as either the wild or the forest. This leads to some confusion since the most widely known images of Yum Kaax show him with a domesticated corn plant. As such the image and the name do not fully connect together.
The answer to this riddle may lie in the fact that the images of Yum Kaax such as the one we have drawn show offerings being made before a hunt in the forest. Yum Kaax is depicted with a domesticated corn plant since the corn is being offered in a ritual offering to bless a hunting expedition into the forest. As such the corn being offered is designed to bring good fortune to the foray into the wild in hope for a successful hunting foray. Within this context the name of Yum Kaax is still connected with the hunt and the Corn is seen as a ritual offering.
The first known cultivation of Corn within the Mayan region is dated to 2500 B.C.,exactly how long Yum Kaax has been around as a deity is impossible to determine. It does seem likely that Yum Kaax was a deity within the region for longer than this but we are clearly now in the realms of speculation. What is evident is that the association of Yum Kaax with domesticated corn and wilderness are distinct possibilities,
All 4 of these Deities can be found decorating our Mayan regional map, if you have any questions, please feel free to get in contact with me.