The Mayan Pantheon: Gods and Goddesses
Beings who represent love, life, and death in a vast universe of stories and legends
In the world, there were polytheistic cultures that found ways to personify forces, feelings, and stars in different gods, some of whom are adored to this day. One of them is the Maya culture.
Surely you have heard of Kukulkán’s descent from Chichén Itzá during the spring’s equinox, or maybe of Chaac, the rain god who is an immense part of the Maya Pantheon we know today.
Considering the amazing stories surrounding these Mayan gods, we’d like to share nine of them with you. These will certainly surprise you!
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This is one of the most important gods of the Mayan Gods. He is often depicted as a toothless old man with a large nose. He was the son of the creator god Hunab Ku and, he was associated with the sun god Kinich Ahau as well as the goddess Ix Chel. There are many stories and myths about him since he was considered a cultural hero, because of his contributions to the cultivation of corn, the creation of calendars, and the discovery of Maya medicine.
Another fragment of his story says he was a priest who came to find the majestic city of Chichén Itzá and who produced the first characters that served as letters in the region.
The god Itzamná is the symbol that represents wisdom as well as the teaching of knowledge.
This is the famous Maya rain god. The story says that he carried an ax in one hand with which he struck the clouds to make it rain. Another legend tells that Chaac was the brother of the sun god and together they defeated their adoptive parents. In this legend, it is also said that Chaac committed adultery with his brother’s wife for which he was punished, and when he cries in repentance, the sky becomes cloudy and it rains.
In the Yucatán Peninsula, he was considered the protector of agriculture, so even today rituals are offered for a good harvest. He is often depicted with a huge nose, bulging eyes, and a body full of reptile-like scales. This representation can be found in different archaeological sites of the Maya world, such as Uxmal and Chichén Itzá.
3.- Ix Chel
Ix Chel is known as La Blanca and is one of the most important goddesses in the vast Maya Pantheon. She was wife to Itzamná, one of the most powerful gods. Together they fathered 13 children, including Yum Kaax; corn god and Ek Chuah; god of merchants, cocoa, and war.
A legend tells that Itzamná fell in love with her while weaving on a backstrap loom, of which she was the inventor. Likewise, this passage of history gave rise to one of her most famous representations. Ix Chel was worshiped in a temple located on the Island of Cuzamil, today Cozumel.
She was the lady of the moon and was thought to have control over the cycles of this natural Earth satellite. Like all the Mayan Gods, Ix Chel had other attributes such as being the goddess of fertility, harvests, sexuality, and pregnancy, so women entrusted her with the protection of their children.
4.- Kinich Ahau
He is the Sun god of Maya culture. Often represented by a jaguar, eagle, or deer; animals that depicted power. It is said that he was a generator of light, time, heat, and the four directions that the universe had in its vast expanse. However, the most common representation of this great god was an old man with a prominent nose dressed in invaluable garments, a mocking gesture, and crossed eyes.
The importance of this Mayan God was such that the rulers in the classical era of Mayan culture used the word “kinich” in their titles. Kinich Ahau was idolized with dances and sacrifices for being a being of war with which they sought to obtain protection.
5.- Hun Nal Ye
According to the Popol Vuh, Hu Nal Ye is known as the first father and his name in Mayan means “first seed of corn”. Also, this ancient book of the Maya tells the man was created from this seed. It narrates that Hun Nal Ye built a house divided into eight parts oriented towards all the cardinal points of the universe.
At the center of his creation, he placed three stones to indicate its beginning, as well as a huge tree that represented the four winds of life, and that was the bridge between heaven, earth, and the underworld: the ceiba tree.
This Mayan God was the father of the Hunahpú and X’Balamque twins, who descended into the underworld to search for him. These famous twins fought great fights with the lords of Xibalbá.
6.- Ah Puch
He is the god of death in the Maya Pantheon and was also called the Flatulent (Kisin), the Lord of Death (Yum Kimil), and was the sovereign of the lowest of nine underground worlds of the Maya. His image is depicted as a being with exposed ribs and spine with black details suggesting decomposition.
Ah Puch is considered the opposing side of the god Itzamná, the god of life. The name of the fleshless god has two hieroglyphs; the first represents the head of a corpse with its eyes closed and the second the head of the god himself with a truncated nose, gaunt jaws accompanied by a flint knife. His representations in the world were owls, dogs, and bats, animals considered by the Maya to be a bad omen.
A legend tells that this god went out at night to visit the houses of the sick to feed on them or take them to Xibalbá. The living had the advantage of being able to hear his bells and necklaces that moved with every step that the god took to hide from him.
7.- Ek Chuah
The duality of the Mayan gods is perfectly represented with Ek Chuah, while he was the god of merchants and cocoa, he was the god of war, chaos, and destruction too. His benevolent side was represented by a man with a large cane that worked as a lance and carrying various items on his back. His warrior side always appeared fighting and defeating enemies or, on the contrary, being defeated by other warrior gods.
One of the offerings made to Ek Chuah took place once during the month of Muan, which corresponded to cocoa farmers, in which dogs dyed with the color of cocoa were sacrificed, as well as blue iguanas, probably painted with pigments of the time, offerings that were later consumed by the Maya.
8.- Kukulcán God
He is the most well-known god of the Maya Pantheon, who has been an ambassador of the great Maya culture around the world due to the Kukulcán Castle in Chichen Itza; one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. He is the deity of water, wind and some suggest that Kukulcán and Quetzalcóatl are the same being. As we explore the Maya world, we find different names for this god such as Muku Le Chan in Tabasco or Q’uk’umatz in Guatemala.
The importance of Kukulcán can be verified in the majestic Chichén Itzá, one of the most important cities in the Maya world, where its founders, the Itzaes, worshiped the feathered serpent through offerings and integrating it into their architecture.
Today we can relive during the spring equinox what the ancient Maya could see hundreds of years ago; this occurs when the angle of the sun reflects its shadows on the north staircase of Chichén Itzá, giving the illusion of how a great serpent descends to the ground. This is one of the most amazing experiences to live in the Maya World.
9.- God L Lord of the Underworld
The name of this Maya Pantheon deity is unknown. What we do know, is that he is related to the night and the underworld, as well as death and the moment of creation of the cosmos. As in the other powerful gods of the Maya culture, his image is represented through an old man with jaguar ears and black painted body parts.
One of the most distinctive features of this god is a kind of hat decorated with owl feathers of the horned species. His back is covered by a huge jaguar skin or he appears naked showing the flaccidity of his belly.
The Maya Pantheon is the equivalent of Greek and Roman mythology, with countless gods and goddesses who were once worshiped by the great cities that the Maya once inhabited. These gods we mention are only a small part of its extension, there are still many stories to tell such as the thirteen levels of heaven and the nine levels of the underworld.
If you want to continue exploring this wonderful Maya universe, just leave us a comment with what you would like to know about this culture.
What else would you like to know about these Mayan Gods?