Maya maize god

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Fig. 1: Tonsured Maize God as a patron of the scribal arts, Classic period Maya maize god.jpg
Fig. 1: Tonsured Maize God as a patron of the scribal arts, Classic period

Like other Mesoamerican people, the traditional Mayas recognize in their staple crop, maize, a vital force with which they strongly identify. This is clearly shown by their mythological traditions. According to the 16th-century Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins have maize plants for alter egos and man himself is created from maize. The discovery and opening of the Maize Mountain - the place where the corn seeds are hidden - is still one of the most popular of Maya tales. In the Classic period (200-900 AD), the maize deity shows aspects of a culture hero.

Mesoamerica Cultural area in the Americas

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.

Maya civilization Mesoamerican civilization

The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. This region consists of the northern lowlands encompassing the Yucatán Peninsula, and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, running from the Mexican state of Chiapas, across southern Guatemala and onwards into El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain.

Maize Cereal grain

Maize, also known as corn, is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago. The leafy stalk of the plant produces pollen inflorescences and separate ovuliferous inflorescences called ears that yield kernels or seeds, which are fruits.


Female and male maize deities

In Mayan oral tradition, maize is usually personified as a woman [1] - like rice in Southeast Asia, or wheat in ancient Greece and Rome. The acquisition of this woman through bridal capture constitutes one of the basic Mayan myths. [2] In contrast to this, the pre-Spanish Mayan aristocracy appears to have primarily conceived of maize as male. The classic period distinguished two male forms: a foliated (leafy) maize god and a tonsured one. [3] The foliated god is present in the so-called maize tree (Temple of the Foliated Cross, Palenque), its cobs being shaped like the deity's head. A male maize deity representing the foliated type and labeled God E is present in the three extant Maya books of undisputed authenticity.

Rice cereal grain and seed of Oryza sativa

Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima. As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in Asia. It is the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize.

Wheat Cereal grain

Wheat is a grass widely cultivated for its seed, a cereal grain which is a worldwide staple food. The many species of wheat together make up the genus Triticum; the most widely grown is common wheat.

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Whereas the foliated maize god is a one-dimensional vegetation spirit, the tonsured maize god's functions are much more diverse. When performing ritually, the latter typically wears a netted jade skirt and a belt with a large spondylus shell covering the loins. On stelae, it is a queen rather than a king that tends to represent the tonsured maize god. The queen thus appears as a maize goddess, in accordance with the Mayan narrative traditions mentioned above.

<i>Spondylus</i> genus of molluscs

Spondylus is a genus of bivalve molluscs, the only genus in the family Spondylidae. They are known in English as spiny oysters.

Maya stelae Intricately carved stone slabs made by the Pre-Columbian Maya

Maya stelae are monuments that were fashioned by the Maya civilization of ancient Mesoamerica. They consist of tall, sculpted stone shafts and are often associated with low circular stones referred to as altars, although their actual function is uncertain. Many stelae were sculpted in low relief, although plain monuments are found throughout the Maya region. The sculpting of these monuments spread throughout the Maya area during the Classic Period, and these pairings of sculpted stelae and circular altars are considered a hallmark of Classic Maya civilization. The earliest dated stela to have been found in situ in the Maya lowlands was recovered from the great city of Tikal in Guatemala. During the Classic Period almost every Maya kingdom in the southern lowlands raised stelae in its ceremonial centre.

Late pre-classic and classic Mayan maize mythology

Fig. 2: San Francisco Capstone depicting the Tonsured Maize God residing in a well. SAN FRAN-1.jpg
Fig. 2: San Francisco Capstone depicting the Tonsured Maize God residing in a well.

Many classic Mayan paintings, particularly those on vases, testify to the existence of a rich mythology centered on the tonsured maize god. The late pre-classic murals of San Bartolo demonstrate its great antiquity. [4] [5] Several theories, with varying degrees of ethnographic support, have been formulated to account for episodes such as the maize deity's resurrection from a turtle, his canoe voyage, and his transformation into a cacao tree.

San Bartolo (Maya site) Mayan arqueological site in Guatemala

San Bartolo is a small pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site located in the Department of Petén in northern Guatemala, northeast of Tikal and roughly fifty miles from the nearest settlement. San Bartolo's fame derives from its splendid Late-Preclassic mural paintings still heavily influenced by Olmec tradition and from examples of early and as yet undecipherable Maya script.

Popol Vuh twin myth extension

The tonsured maize god is often accompanied by the hero twins. Following Karl Taube, many scholars (such as Michael D. Coe) believe that the resurrected tonsured maize god of the classic period corresponds to the father of the hero twins in the Popol Vuh called Hun-Hunahpu. [3] However, this generally accepted identification has also been contested. [6]

Karl Andreas Taube is an American Mesoamericanist, archaeologist, epigrapher and ethnohistorian, known for his publications and research into the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. As of 2009 he holds a position as Professor of Anthropology at the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, University of California, Riverside. In 2008 he was named the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences distinguished lecturer.

Michael D. Coe is an American archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher and author. Primarily known for his research in the field of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies, Coe has also made extensive investigations across a variety of other archaeological sites in North and South America. He has also specialised in comparative studies of ancient tropical forest civilizations, such as those of Central America and Southeast Asia. He currently holds the chair of Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, Yale University, and is Curator Emeritus of the Anthropology collection in the Peabody Museum of Natural History, where he had been Curator from 1968 to 1994.

Popol Vuh literary works

Popol Vuh is a cultural narrative that recounts the mythology and history of the Kʼicheʼ people who inhabit the Guatemalan Highlands northwest of present-day Guatemala City.

Cosmological creation myth

Linda Schele's emphasis on creation has led to a series of interconnected hypotheses all involving the cosmological centrality of the tonsured maize god (or "first father"), to wit: his establishment of the so-called "three-stone hearth" (assumed to represent a constellation); [7] [8] his raising of the world tree; [7] his "dance of creation"; [7] [9] [10] and his stance as an acrobat, which (more or less coinciding with representations of a crocodile tree) seems to evoke the central world tree. [11] The maize god's presence in the San Bartolo arrangement of five world trees has been interpreted as his establishment of the world. [12]

Linda Schele American mesoamericanist

Linda Schele was an expert in the field of Maya epigraphy and iconography. She played an invaluable role in the decipherment of much of the Maya hieroglyphs. She produced a massive volume of drawings of stelae and inscriptions, which, following her wishes, are free for use to scholars. In 1978, she founded the annual Maya Meetings at The University of Texas at Austin. She was from Hendersonville, TN, a northern suburb of Nashville. Her mother Ruby Richmond was active in historic preservation at Historic Rock Castle in the 1980s.

Seasonal myth

Another theory, formulated by Simon Martin, [13] focuses on the tonsured maize god's interaction with an aged jaguar deity of trade, God L. This interaction is related to the hero's transformation into a cacao tree conceived as a "trophy tree." God L is assumed to have presided over the dry season dedicated to long-distance trade, warfare, and the cacao harvest, and the Tonsured Maize God over the wet season and the growth of the maize. The onset of the two seasons is thought to be symbolized by the defeat of the maize deity and of God L, respectively.

Gulf Coast maize myth

In many scenes, an aquatic environment strongly comes to the fore (see fig. 2), most famously in the maize deity's resurrection from the carapace of a turtle that is floating on the waters. Braakhuis [6] pointed out that such an environment also characterizes an important maize myth shared by many ethnic groups (such as Huaxtecs, Totonacs, Nahuas and Zoques) inhabiting Mexico's Gulf Coast. The fact that this myth focuses on a male, rather than a female maize deity, while at the same time establishing an intimate connection between the maize god and the turtle, is adduced in support of the idea that the classic Mayas once formed part of the same narrative tradition. More in particular, the Pre-Classic San Bartolo Mayan maize deity dancing with a turtle drum amidst aquatic deities may have a connection with a Zoque (Popoluca) version of the Gulf Coast maize myth. [6] [9] [14]

Names and calendar functions

Several designations for the pre-Spanish maize god occur in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. They include ah mun (tender green shoot) [15] and zac uac nal (white six new corn) or uac chuaac nal (six tall new corn). [2] In the wake of Schele, the tonsured maize god (hypothetically equated with Hun-Hunahpu) has often been nicknamed "first father." The classic name of the tonsured maize god, which usually includes the numeral "One", is not known with certainty. Schele's "Hun-Nal-Ye" used to be popular; more recently, "Ixim" (maize grains) and "Nal" (wet ear of corn) are being considered. [16]

In a general sense, maize relates to the day Qʼan (ripe or ripeness). The appearance of the tonsured maize god is connected to the base date of the Long Count, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku. The head of the tonsured maize god serves to denote the number 1, that of the foliated maize god the number 8. [16] The tonsured maize god is sometimes found associated with the lunar crescent and may therefore have played a role in the divisions of the lunar count; his head seems to occur in glyph C of the Lunar Series (see also Maya moon goddess).

See also

Related Research Articles

Maya mythology myths of Maya civilization

Maya mythology is part of Mesoamerican mythology and comprises all of the Maya tales in which personified forces of nature, deities, and the heroes interacting with these play the main roles. The myths of the Pre-Hispanic era have to be reconstructed from iconography. Other parts of Maya oral tradition are not considered here.


Kʼawiil, in the Post-Classic codices corresponding to God K, is a Maya deity identified with lightning, serpents, fertility and maize. He is characterized by a zoomorphic head, with large eyes, long, upturned snout and attenuated serpent tooth. A torch, stone celt, or cigar, normally emitting smoke, comes out of his forehead, while a serpent leg represents a lightning bolt. In this way, Kʼawiil personifies the lightning axe both of the rain deity and of the king as depicted on his stelae.

Itzamna deity

Itzamna was, in Maya mythology, the name of an upper god and creator deity thought to reside in the sky. Although little is known about him, scattered references are present in early-colonial Spanish reports (relaciones) and dictionaries. Twentieth-century Lacandon lore includes tales about a creator god who may be a late successor to him. In the pre-Spanish period, Itzamna, represented by the aged god D, was often depicted in books and in ceramic scenes derived from them.

Chaac Mayan rain deity

Chaac is the name of the Maya rain deity. With his lightning axe, Chaac strikes the clouds and produces thunder and rain. Chaac corresponds to Tlaloc among the Aztecs.

Maya religion beliefs of the ancient Maya people

The traditional Maya religion of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and the Tabasco, Chiapas, and Yucatán regions of Mexico is a southeastern variant of Mesoamerican religion. As is the case with many other contemporary Mesoamerican religions, it results from centuries of symbiosis with Roman Catholicism. When its pre-Spanish antecedents are taken into account, however, traditional Maya religion already exists for more than two millennia as a recognizably distinct phenomenon. Before the advent of Christianity, it was spread over many indigenous kingdoms, with all their own local traditions. Today, it coexists and interacts with pan-Mayan syncretism, the 're-invention of tradition' by the Pan-Maya movement, and Christianity in its various denominations.

Ancient Maya art Pre-Columbian art

Ancient Maya art refers to the material arts of the Maya civilization, an eastern and south-eastern Mesoamerican culture that took shape in the course of the later Preclassic Period. Its greatest artistic flowering occurred during the seven centuries of the Classic Period. Ancient Maya art then went through an extended Post-Classic phase before the upheavals of the sixteenth century destroyed courtly culture and put an end to the Mayan artistic tradition. Many regional styles existed, not always coinciding with the changing boundaries of Maya polities. Olmecs, Teotihuacan and Toltecs have all influenced Maya art. Traditional art forms have mainly survived in weaving and the design of peasant houses.

According to the Popol Vuh, Hun Hunahpu, or 'Head-Apu I', is the father of the Maya Hero Twins, Head-Apu and Xbalanque. As their shared calendrical day name suggests, Head-Apu I is first and foremost the father of Head-Apu. He is also stated to be the father of the twins' half-brothers, the patrons of the artisans and writers, Hun-Chowen and Hun-Batz. Head-Apu I is paired with his brother, Vucub-Hunahpu 'Head-Apu VII'. The brothers were tricked in the Dark House by the lords of the Underworld (Xibalba) and sacrificed. Head-Apu I's head was suspended in a trophy tree and changed to a calabash. Its spittle impregnated a daughter of one of the lords of Xibalba, Xquic. She fled the underworld and conceived the Twins. After defeating the lords of the Underworld, the Twins recovered the remains of their father and father's brother, but could not resuscitate them.

Howler monkey gods

Among the Classic Mayas, the howler monkey god was a major deity of the arts—including music—and a patron of the artisans, especially of the scribes and sculptors. As such, his sphere of influence overlapped with that of the Tonsured Maize God. The monkey patrons—there are often two of them—have been depicted on Classic vases in the act of writing books and carving human heads. Together, these two activities may have constituted a metaphor for the creation of mankind, with the book containing the birth signs and the head the life principle or 'soul', an interpretation reinforced by the craftsman titles of the creator gods in the Popol Vuh.

Xultún is a large Maya archaeological site located 40 km northeast of Tikal and 8 km south of the smaller Preclassic site of San Bartolo in northern Guatemala.

Maya moon goddess

The traditional Mayas generally assume the moon to be female, and the moon's phases are accordingly conceived as the stages of a woman's life. The Maya moon goddess wields great influence in many areas. Being in the image of a woman, she is associated with sexuality and procreation, fertility and growth, not only of human beings, but also of the vegetation and the crops. Since growth can also cause all sorts of ailments, the moon goddess is also a goddess of disease. Everywhere in Mesoamerica, including the Mayan area, she is specifically associated with water, be it wells, rainfall, or the rainy season. In the codices, she has a terrestrial counterpart in goddess I.

Maya jaguar gods

The pre-Columbian Maya religion knew various jaguar gods, in addition to jaguar demi-gods, (ancestral) protectors, and transformers. The main jaguar deities are discussed below. Their associated narratives are still largely to be reconstructed. Lacandon and Tzotzil-Tzeltal oral tradition are particularly rich in jaguar lore.

William Andrew "Bill" Saturno is an American archaeologist and Mayanist scholar who has made significant contributions toward the study of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. As of February 2015, Saturno holds a position as Assistant Professor in Archaeology at Boston University's College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).. He is also the Director of the Proyecto San Bartolo-Xultun at the Instito de Antropologia e Historia in Guatemala, a National Space SciResearch Scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, as well as a Research Associate at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Prior to his position at BU, Saturno was a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire. Saturno is most well known for his discovery of the discovery in 2001 of one of the oldest extant murals yet discovered in the Maya region, at the site of San Bartolo in northeastern Guatemala.[1] Of this discovery, he has said that it was his favorite and most challenging experience of his career, and that "being the first person to see them [the murals] after more than 2,000 years, uncovering them bit by bit, with each part more beautiful than the last, is an experience unlikely to be matched." In 2010, Saturno and Franco Rossi discovered what they believe to be a workroom of a Xultún record keeper. The Mayan hieroglyphics at the site included representations of dates roughly 7000 years in the future, casting doubt on the speculation that the conclusion of the Long Count calendar would result in a 2012 doomsday scenario His current research interests are New World and Mesoamerican civilizations, landscape archaeology, remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) application in archaeology, Mesoamerican iconography and religion, the evolution of complex societies, and archaeology in pop culture.

Flower Mountain is a term from Classic Maya iconography referring to stylized lateral or frontal depictions of an animate mountain, or mountain cave, characterized by the presence of one or more flower symbols at the mountain's 'brow'. This Flower Mountain is repeatedly found associated with solar symbols and depictions of terrestrial water. The earliest representation of a Flower Mountain is found in the Late Preclassic murals of San Bartolo.

God L

God L of the Schellhas-Zimmermann-Taube classification of codical gods is one of the major pre-Spanish Maya deities, specifically associated with trade. Characterized by high age, he is one of the Mam ('Grandfather') deities. More specifically, he evinces jaguar traits, a broad feathery hat topped by an owl, and a jaguar mantle or a cape with a pattern somewhat resembling that of an armadillo shell. The best-known monumental representation is on a doorjamb of the inner sanctuary of Palenque's Temple of the Cross.

Eccentric flint

An eccentric flint is an elite chipped artifact of an often irregular ('eccentric') shape produced by the Classic Maya civilization of ancient Mesoamerica. Although generally referred to as "flints", they were typically fashioned from chert, chalcedony and obsidian.

Ek Chuaj Maya god of cocoa

Ek Chuaj, also known as Ek Chuah, Ekchuah, God M according to the Schellhas-Zimmermann-Taube classification of codical gods, is a Postclassic Maya merchant deity as well as a patron of cacao. Ek Chuaj is part of a pantheon of Maya deities that have been depicted in hieroglyphs and artwork of various Maya sites and has been interpreted as a significant part of Maya religion.


Yopaat was an important Maya storm god in the southern Maya area that included the cities of Copán and Quiriguá during the Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology. Yopaat was closely related to Chaac, the Maya rain god. Yopaat is depicted as bearing a flint weapon that represents a thunderbolt. Yopaat was held responsible for especially violent lightning storms, that were believed to cause earthquakes. He was often represented with a snake in place of one leg, demonstrating a close relationship with Kʼawiil, another Maya deity with similar attributes.


  1. Bassie, Karen (2002). "Corn Deities and the Complementary Male/Female Principle". In Lowell S. Gustafson; Amelia N. Trevelyan. Ancient Maya Gender Identity and Relations. Westport, Conn. and London: Bergin&Garvey. pp. 169–190.
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  13. Martin, Simon (2006). "Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and other Tales from the Underworld". In Cameron L. McNeil. Chocolate in Mesoamerica. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. pp. 154–183.
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  16. 1 2 Zender, Marc (2014). "On the Reading of Three Classic Maya Portrait Glyphs". The PARI Journal. 15: 1–14.

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