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.
In Mayan oral tradition, maize is usually personified as a woman- 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. 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. 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
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.
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.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.
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.However, this generally accepted identification has also been contested.
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);his raising of the world tree; his "dance of creation"; and his stance as an acrobat, which (more or less coinciding with representations of a crocodile tree) seems to evoke the central world tree. The maize god's presence in the San Bartolo arrangement of five world trees has been interpreted as his establishment of the world.
Another theory, formulated by Simon Martin,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.
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. Braakhuispointed 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.
Several designations for the pre-Spanish maize god occur in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. They include ah mun (tender green shoot)and zac uac nal (white six new corn) or uac chuaac nal (six tall new corn). 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.
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.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).
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 Mayan like 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 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 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.
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.
The traditional Maya religion of the extant Maya peoples of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and the Tabasco, Chiapas, and Yucatán states of Mexico is part of the wider frame 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 has already existed for more than two millennia as a recognizably distinct phenomenon. Before the advent of Christianity, it was spread over many indigenous kingdoms, all after 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. It also includes some ties to polytheist religions.
Ancient Mayan art refers to the material arts of the Mayan civilization, an eastern and south-eastern Mesamerican 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 Mayan 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. Traditional art forms have mainly survived in weaving and the design of peasant houses.
Hun Hunahpu, or 'Head-Apu I' is a figure in Mayan mythology. According to Popol Vuh he was the father of the Maya Hero Twins, Head-Apu and Xbalanque. As their shared calendrical day name suggests, Head-Apu I was the father of Head-Apu. He is believed to be the father of the twins' half-brothers and the patrons of 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 saliva impregnated Xquic, a daughter of one of the lords of Xibalba. She fled the Underworld and conceived the Twins. After defeating the Underworld lords, the twins recovered the remains of their father and their father's brother, but could not resuscitate them.
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.
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.
The traditional Mayas generally assume the Moon to be female, and the Moon's perceived 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.
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 (BU'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 research 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.
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 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.
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, 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.
Chac Chel is a powerful and ancient Mayan goddess of creation, destruction, childbirth, water, weaving and spinning, healing, and divining. She is half of the original Creator Couple, seen most often as the wife of Chaac, who is the pre-eminent god of lightning and rain, although she is occasionally paired with the Creator God Itzamna in the Popol Vuh, the highland Maya bible. This highlights her importance, as dualities such as male/female and husband/wife were extremely important to the Maya, and one cannot function without the other. Chac Chel is also called Goddess O by many Mayanists and she is the aged, grandmotherly counterpart to the young goddess of childbirth and weaving, Ix Chel. Most popular in the Late Classic and Postclassic Periods, she is most often depicted in scenes in the Dresden Codex and Madrid Codex. Depictions of her, and burial goods related to her, have also been found in Chichen Itza, the Balankanche Cave near Chichen Itza, Tulum, The Margarita Tomb in Copan, and in Yaxchilan.
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.