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Maya Gods

The line-up of Maya gods evolved over time, but there were deities for all aspects of Maya life. Some gods were major, some were minor, but the gods associated with agriculture and with kingship were most important.


Maya gods were flexible in appearance and character: they could be both good and bad, male and female, old and young. They could also be one being or multiple beings. Some gods had both human and animal forms. Some had human form but animal or plant characteristics - like spotted jaguar patches or reptilian scales on their skin, animal ears or even a head like a corncob. The younger gods are often depicted with “god-markings” - glyphs that indicate brightness/shininess, or  darkness - on their bodies. The aged gods often have “god eyes” large square or “goggle” eyes. It seems that the roles of the gods, and also their names, sometimes changed over time.


Below, we've listed the major Maya gods & goddesses, many of whom you’ll encounter in the Jaguar Stones books: Itzamna, Ixchel (and her youthful form Ix Sak Uh), Chahk, K’awiil, K’inich Ahaw, Hun Ixim, the Hero Twins, The Paddler Gods, Pawahtuun, Ah Pukuh, Akan, the Lords of Death, the Wayob, Kukulkan, Ek Chuwah, Hal Chuwah and Tlaloc.


Since different Mayan languages have different versions of these names and since academics aren’t always agreed on them or consistent in transliteration, we’ve also listed their most common ‘AKA’ alternatives.


Itzamna is the supreme creator god and he rules over the heavens where he lives. He’s associated with wisdom, and he gave the Maya people the gifts of culture, writing, art, books, chronology, and the use of calendars.


With IXCHEL, Itzamna fathered PAWAHTUUN.


FEATURES: Usually portrayed as a toothless but sprightly old man with large “god eyes”, hooked nose, elaborate headdress and a distinguished bearing. He can also manifest as the Bird of Heaven.


AKA: God D, Itzam Nah Yax Kokaj Mut

ITZAMNA (eats um nah)

LORD OF THE HEAVENS

Itzamna sitting on a skyband throne made of the sun, moon and other celestial bodies.

IXCHEL (eesh chell)

GODDESS OF THE OLD MOON

Ixchel (Lady Rainbow) is the goddess of midwives, medicine and weaving. Her dual personality is aligned to the phases of the moon. As the goddess of the old moon, she’s a formidable warrior and vents her anger on mortals with floods and rainstorms. As the goddess of the new moon, she manifests as the beautiful young goddess IX SAK UH (see below).

She is the mother of PAWAHTUUN.


FEATURES: Portrayed as an aged woman with jaguar ears, serpent headdress, crossed bones on her skirt and claws on her feet and hands.


AKA: Goddess O, Ix Chel, Chak Chel, Ix-Chebel-Yax, Ix Sak Uh


IX SAK UH (eesh sock ohh)

GODDESS OF THE NEW MOON

Ix Sak Uh (White Lady) is the goddess of marriage, fertility and growth (both human & vegetation). As the goddess of the new moon she is a beautiful young woman, closely linked with the handsome HUN IXIM, the Maize God. But when the moon grows old, so does she and she becomes the angry old goddess IXCHEL (see above)


FEATURES: She’s often shown with a netted jade skirt, holding her trickster pet rabbit (the moon rabbit), and framed by the crescent of the waxing moon.


AKA: Goddess I, Ixchel, Chak Chel

CHAHK (chaahk)

RAIN GOD

God of lightening, storms and warfare, Chahk was one of the oldest and most revered of the ancient Maya deities. Just as the Norse god Thor carries Mjolnir, his enchanted hammer, so Chahk wields the god K’AWIIL as his fiery lightning axe. With this axe, Chahk strikes the clouds and produces thunder and rain.

Chahk is both one god and four gods (east, west, north and south).


FEATURES: Chahk has reptilian skin, a protruding upper lip and tendrils curling from his mouth. He wears a shell over his ear.


AKA: God B, Chac, Chac-Xib-Chac, Chaak

KAWIIL (caw weel)

THE GOD OF KINGSHIP

K’awiil is the principal god of the Maya royal line. In portrayals of power situations, kings are shown holding K’awiil like a scepter. Like Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, K’awiil is CHAHK’s lightning axe brought to life.


FEATURES: K’awiil has a reptilian face with a long snout, large “god-eyes” and a dark mirror forehead that emits: smoke, a flaming torch or an axe blade. One of his legs ends as a snake rather than a foot.


AKA: GOD K, Gii, Manikin Scepter, Bolon Tzakab, Hurukan

KINICH AHAW (keen each uh how)

SUN GOD

K’inich Ahaw means sun-eyed ruler. He brought good health and happiness, but he could also scorch you. During the day he travels west as the sun. During the night he makes the perilous journey back east through the underworld as the Jaguar God of the night.


FEATURES: Shown as a middle-aged man with a hooked nose, large “god-eyes” which are often slightly crossed and t-shaped filed incisors. He often has a flower-like k'in (sun) glyph on him.


AKA: GOD G, Giii, Kinich Ahau


HUN IXIM (who knee shim)

MAIZE GOD

Hun Ixim is the Maize God and father of the HERO TWINS. He is the living spirit of maize and revered by Maya farmers. He is a passive god and needs to be nurtured and protected by humans.


FEATURES: He is handsome youthful man, with princely clothes, and a head in the shape of a  corn-cob. On the top of his head he has either maize foliage or a tonsure representing corn silk. He often wears a netted jade skirt and a belt with a large shell hanging down in the front.


AKA: GOD S, Hun Hunahpu, Ajan

HUNAHPU (who gnaw poo) & XBALANKE  (shh ball on kay)  

HERO TWINS

These twin brothers are the sons of HUN IXIM the Maize God. In Maya mythology the twins make the world more hospitable for humankind. They bring down the proud Macaw and they trick and tame the earthquake monster. Most importantly, they travel down to XIBALBA (the Maya underworld) and defeat the Maya LORDS OF DEATH reducing their power over humans. The Twins then resurrect their father the Maize God and rise to the sky as the sun and moon. (They never however manifest as K’INICH AHAW the Sun God).


FEATURES: They are depicted as youthful men. Hunahpu has black spots on his face, Xbalanke has patches of jaguar skin under a short beard and on his body.


AKA: Hun Ahaw & Yax Balam, Headband Twins

THE PADDLER GODS

STINGRAY GOD & JAGUAR GOD

The Paddler Gods are one of several paired gods which personify oppositions such as day vs night, light vs darkness, sky vs earth, etc. Their name glyphs, which can’t be read, are found on monuments concerned with creation. They’re called the paddler gods because they’re often depicted paddling a canoe full of despondent deities and animals into the underworld.


Academics gave them the nicknames Stingray God and Jaguar God because one has a stingray spine through his hooked nose and the other has a patch of jaguar skin on his chin, a jaguar ear and sometimes a jaguar helmet.

AH PUKUH (awe pooh coo)

DEATH GOD

AKAN (ah kahn)

GOD OF INTOXICATION

Akan is one of the strangest death gods. He is often depicted cutting his own head off with a stone axe or flint knife. As the god of intoxicating beverages, the decapitation may just be an extreme hangover cure.


FEATURES: Usually shown as a youthful god with the "percentage" (%) death sign on his cheek, dark bands over his eyes, a collar of eyeballs, a femur bone in his hair, and the glyph for darkness on the top of his head.


AKA: God A', Uac Mitun Ahau, Ahkan, Atan

EK CHUWAH (ehka chew whah)

GOD OF TRAVELERS & CACAO

Ek Chuwah (Black Star) is the patron god of journeys, travelers, merchants and cacao. Cacao was used as a currency by the Maya and was therefore linked to merchants. It is thought that Ek Chuwah could represent the North Star which guided the traveler.


FEATURES: He is shown painted black, with a bulbous or long Pinocchio nose, a big lower lip and often carrying a pack and a spear (indicating the transportation of goods and the dangerous life of a merchant).


AKA: God M, Ek' Chuah

"Create your own

Maya god/goddess"

worksheet download




PAWAHTUUN (paw wah toon)

GOD OF SCRIBES

Pawahtuun presides over the end of the old year and is the patron god of scribes.


He is both one god and four gods. His four manifestations stood like atlas at the four corners of the world holding up the earth and the sky.


FEATURES: He is an old god and has a net headdress, large “god-eyes”, a hooked nose, toothless jaws and a wrinkled face. He’s often shown with a snail or a turtle shell on his back which he sometimes comes out of.


AKA: God N, Bakabs, Pauahtun

WAYOB (why ohb)

SPIRIT MONSTERS

Maya rulers and shamans had a personal “Way” or spirit companion with a sinister dimension. These nightmare spirit beasts could be sent out to attack enemies like a curse to make the victim suffer or contract a deadly disease.


FEATURES: Wayob were strange mutant animals: monkeys with antlers, fire-eating peccaries, skeleton centipedes, tapirs with flaming tails, deer with distended eyeballs, evil jaguars on sticks, etc…


AKA: Nagual


Note: "Way" is the singular, "Wayob" is the plural.

HAL CHUWAH (hahl chew whah)

GOD OF MERCHANTS, WAR & THE UNDERWORLD

Even though this god appears frequently in the codices and in Maya art his name is still uncertain. He is often shown in scenes of XIBALBA (the Maya underworld) and he presided over the committee of gods that assembled when the cosmos was created. His jaguar and owl attributes point to sorcery, violence and warfare.


FEATURES: A wrinkled, aged god with a huge nose, large “god eyes”, a broad brimmed hat with black-tipped owl feathers on top (or the entire bird) and a fringed cape. He is often smoking a large cigar.


AKA: God L, Haal Chuhaj


TLALOC (tlah-lohk)

GOD OF WAR

Tlaloc originated in Teotihuacan (Central Mexico) where he was a rain and thunderbolt god like the Maya god CHAHK. After Teotihuacan conquered the Maya city of Tikal, a Tlaloc cult spread through the Maya elite and he was incorporated into the Maya pantheon as a god of war. Tlaloc was particularly identified with obsidian weapons and meteors and was literally the personification of the spear-thrower (atlatl).


FEATURES: Tlaloc has sharp fangs and his big goggle-like eyes represent the finger holes of a spear-thrower. He often has obsidian blades in his headdress.

HOW DO WE KNOW ALL THIS?

Our knowledge of the Maya gods come from four main primary sources:

1. The four surviving Maya codices (accordion folded painted bark books): which are full of drawings and references to Maya gods. In 1904, Paul Schellhas published a detailed survey of the gods found in these codices. He created a classification system based on the letters of the alphabet and listed each god's attributes, attire and powers.

2. The Popul Vuh (the sacred book of the Quiché Maya) provides an account of the origins of some of the Maya gods and tells the story of how the gods created the world. Scenes from the Popul Vuh and the gods involved are frequently depicted on Maya pottery.

3. Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, Friar Diego de Landa's book provides a description of Maya gods and religious practices at the time of the conquest. (He also tried to destroy Maya culture and burnt all the remaining Maya books.)

4. Stone inscriptions, wall paintings, pottery and sculpture found in archaeological digs. These provide imagery and insight into Maya rituals and the look and behavior of the Maya gods.

A page of gods from the Dresden Codex,

one of the four surviving Maya books.

THE MAYA GODS IN THE JAGUAR STONES SERIES

The story in the Jaguar Stones series is partially inspired by the myth of the Hero Twins as told in the Popul Vuh. In the Popul Vuh two ball-playing brothers are summoned into the Maya underworld and must face off against the Maya Lords of Death.


Ah Pukuh, the Maya god of violent & unnatural death, is the main villain in the Jaguar Stones series and all of the 12 Lords of Death feature. Max and Lola, the two main characters in the books, take on the role of the Hero Twins.


While the five Jaguar Stones themselves and their associated pyramids are a literary invention of the series, they do embody five pillars of ancient Maya society: agriculture, astronomy, creativity, military prowess and kingship. As such, each stone and its pyramid are associated with the relevant Maya god: Ixchel, K’awiil, Chahk, Ah Pukuh and Itzamna.

Xibalba is the underground court of the twelve Maya Lords of Death.

Hun-Kame (One Death) and Vukub-Kame (Seven Death) are the most powerful. The remaining ten Lords of Death work in pairs and are demons responsible for different forms of human suffering, disease and death.

-  Scab Stripper & Blood Gatherer sicken people’s blood.

-  Demon of Pus & Demon of Jaundice cause people to swell up.

-  Bone Scepter & Skull Scepter turn dead bodies into skeletons.

-  Demon of Filth & Demon of Woe hide in the dirty corners of people

   homes and stab them to death

-  Wing & Packstrap cause people to die coughing up blood on the road.

THE LORDS OF DEATH


There are many supernatural beings concerned with death and XIBALBA (the Maya underworld). The death gods spread deadly diseases, stench and decay. Ah Pukuh is a grotesque, but comical figure. He hangs out with spiders, centipedes, scorpions and owls - all considered to be bad omens.


FEATURES: Often shown as an animated skeleton with a gas-distended belly emitting bad smells. He usually wears an eyeball necklace and eyeball head gear.


AKA: God A, Kimi, Kisin (farter), Yum Kimil. (Due to a copying error from a 16th century text he is sometimes mistakenly called Ah Puch.)

The Maya Pantheon of Gods

Quick Links

You can download a free powerpoint on Maya gods from our lessonplans page: here

Lesson plans & activities to download:


"Create your own Maya

god/goddess" worksheet download

You can download a free powerpoint on Maya gods from our lesson plans page: here

Sources:

Maya History & Religion, Eric Thompson, University of Oklahoma Press, 1990

Reading the Maya Glyphs, Michael Coe & Mark Van Stone, Thames & Hudson, 2003

The Popul Vuh, translated by Dennis Tedlock, Touchstone, 1985

The Popul Vuh, translated by Allen Christenson, Mesoweb Publications, 2007

Essential Mayan Gods,  Editorial Veras

The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, Mary Miller & Karl Taube, Thames & Hudson, 1993

Yucatan before and after the conquest, Friar Diego de Landa, Dover Publications, 1978

Reading Maya Art, Andrea Stone & Marc Zender, Thames & Hudson, 2011

Aztec & Maya Gods and Goddesses, Clara Bezanilla, British Museum Press, 2006

Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain forest, Nikolai Grube, Konemann, 2012

Disaster, Deluge, and Destruction on the Star War Vase, Marc Zender, The Mayanist 2(1):57-76, 2020

A Forest of Kings, Linda Schele and David Freidel, William Morrow, 1990


KUKULKAN (coo cool con)

GOD OF MAYA NOBILITY

Kukulkan (feathered serpent) appeared in different guises across Mesoamerica. He was an important god in the Maya post classic period and was particularly venerated in Chichen Itza. Kukulkan is associated with blood sacrifice and the divinity of rulership and the state. Kukulkan evolved from the VISION SERPENT that kings in the Maya classic period used to summon the spirits of their ancestors. To the Lacandon Maya, Kukulkan was the evil pet snake of the Sun God.


Features:  Kukulkan mixes snake and bird characteristics, most commonly as a snake covered in feathers. Occasionally he’s shown as a raptor bird or as a snake with wings or a feathered snake with a human head.


AKA: The Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the K'iche' Maya Qʼuqʼumatz