Mayan Gods - The Qualities
You’ve just awakened and gazed out your window at the pantheon which honors your ancestors and the Mayan gods with which your kings are united in death. Without hesitation you step outside to look to the four cardinal directions, associated with each four-characteristic god. The images of your gods are complex, each appearing in a host of disguises, bearing many names and titles. Often the Maya’s deities possess diametrically opposed qualities: male/female, old/young, good/evil, or celestial/underworld.
Most of these deities influence the cycles of the calendar, ascending to power again and again at any given time. Every Maya’s ultimate destiny rests upon the date of his or her birth. Rational action in this universe demands an assessment of which gods are in ascent at any given time. The complexity of the calendar permits many gods to reign concurrently, however, there is no guarantee that their dispositions will be consistent or that one’s life is exempt from human sacrifice.
It was imperative that the Mayan gods, which influenced the universe, be appeased. Every Maya conceived of his cosmos as a series of overlapping levels: 13 heavenly levels, 9 underworld levels, and the Earth, in the middle. A large cosmic ceiba tree – The Great Mother – united the levels of the cosmos. Only the gods and “spirits” of powerful men-like shamans or kings could transit through its trunk.
Mayan Gods - The Functions
It becomes difficult to sort the dozens of deities into specific functions. The richness of the well-known gods (or combinations of attributes) reveals themselves in the elaborate Mayan sculptures. The gods appear as personified representations of the simplest merging of supernatural qualities.
Itzamná (Itzaamnaj), God of all Creation – both celestial and terrestrial, serving as ruler of all Underworld; portrayed as a Bird Deity, dragon, or an alligator-like caiman.
Ah Kin (Kinich Ahau), God of the Sun – celestial god (when in sky) and terrestrial god (Underworld) Night Sun (after sunset); portrayed as jaguar/warrior with a curl between its eyes, a large protruding tongue, and upper incisors filed into the form of a “T.”
Ix Chel (Chac Chel), Goddess of Childbirth – wife of Itzamná, presiding over weaving and midwifery; depicted as an old lady with snakes in her hair, sometimes with jaguar claws and eyes; most of the time she was a goddess of destruction as she flooded corn crops and took lives.
Yum Kaax, God of Corn – provided the life-giving seed to maintain Mayan life; portrayed as a young god with an ear of corn growing out of his head.
- Ek Chuah, God of War – death was his constant companion; friend to merchants by guiding them and cacao producers.
Mayan Gods - The Dedication
The Mayan gods were the heart and soul of a remarkable civilization, proud of its skill at astronomy, mathematics, and building. Yet when man first encounters nature, it frightens him. His awareness of his own inadequacies before these forces is overwhelming. He attempts to define, even appease, those forces that he cannot fully control. Whether their gods appeared benevolent or blood-thirsty, the Mayas worshipped and served their deities without question.
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