A Mayan Pantheon

The Mayans are a people still living in Central America (Eastern Mexico and the Yucatan, Guatemala, Belize, and some parts of Honduras and El Salvador). They constructed a gifted and literate civilization in the days of the late Roman Empire, one which endured more than 500 years. After that time, they retained a number of sophisticated states in the region, and were not entirely subdued by the Spanish until the end of the 17th century. It should be pointed out that the Mayans are not a single people, but a complex group of closely related nations, with dialects that in some cases are as different from one another as English from Swedish. Information about their religion comes from a variety of sources, but most especially from a book of creation cosmology called the Popol Vuh, written and preserved by the Quiche, a Mayan nation living in the hilly south.

Here is a catalogue, hopefully reasonably complete, of known Mayan God-forms. The information here is necessarily brief; a full accounting of all these entities would be a massive book in its own right. What is included here is:

A Name, Mention if the God was localized to a particular tribe or city. Occasionally a note on previous labels for the deity in question - before the language could be transcribed with any clarity. Any important epithets or sobriquets that are associated with the Name, and a basic description of spheres of influence, attributes, and/or descriptive stories.

"A" Lord of Death, and ruler of the realm of the dead. His dwelling place is in the uttermost West, a land of the bones of His subjects. His attributes are a skull and an obsidian knife.

Acan He is the Patron of drunkeness and ruler of the the art of brewing Balche, a fermented honey concoction flavored with Balche bark.

Acat One of those referred to as a Becab, possibly the Becab of the East. He has several diverse functions, among which He is Lord of the art of Tattooing. He is regarded as a Life Spirit, and has charge over the growth and proper development of fetuses.

Ahau-Chamahez An obscure Healer divinity, often called Lord of the Magic Tooth.

Ahluic A merchant's God, and ruler of wealth. He is a member of a Triad, with Chac and Hobnil.

Ahmucen-Cab A creator divinity, one who figures in several tales of earliest times, albeit with some lack of clarity as to His role. He is said to have descended from the skies, and scattered seeds and boulders over the land which had newly arisen out of the depths. This creation was erased, however, by the Becabs, who started the work anew.

Ahpuch A God of Death, cthonic demon ruler of the Ninth Underworld Realm of Mitnal.

Ajbit A creator divinity, one of a group of thirteen who attempted the creation of sentient creatures - from wooden models - after two previous attempts had met with failure.

Ajtzak A creator divinity, involved in the attempt to form sentient creatures from wood.

Akna A Goddess of motherhood and birthing, She is associated with the Becabs.

Alom A creator divinity, one who attempted to form sentient creatures at the beginning of days. His associates in this were Bitol, Qaholom, and Tzacol. At the time of the third creation, He became Hunahpu-Guch.

Backlum Chaam One of the Becabs, He is Lord of male sexuality, invariably displayed with the appropriate attribute.

B'alam The Jaguar God, dweller in the forest and Lordof the wild. He is mainly described in Quiche sources.

The B'alams A group of four entities who are the progenitors of humankind, in Quiche tradition. They were originally Godlike in form and power, created by Gucumatz, Huracan, and Tepeu from stalks of maize to govern the four quadrants of the earth. Granted the ability to see all things, no matter how well hidden, they drew upon themselves the jealousy of other divinities, who clouded their sight and reduced them to human level. They were : B'alam Agab (Night Jaguar), B'alam Quitze (Smiling Jaguar), Iqi B'alam (Dark Jaguar), and Mahucatah (Not Right Now).

The Becabs A set of divinities, normally regarded as being four in number. They are creator Gods, and represent the successful attempt (after previous failures) to construct the world as we know it. They have many functions, but are primarily Lords of the Winds, each seated at a corner of the world and holding up the sky. They appear as immense iguana-like entities. They are intimately associated with a number of four-part divisions and symbolic orderings. Unfortunately, Mayan society is diverse enough that there are major inconsistencies in the various accounts of these entities; these will be noted in individual descriptions of the four: Cauac, Ik, Kan, and Mulac. Also associated with these four are other spirits as well: Acat, Akna, Backlum Chaam, Chin.

Bitol A creator divinity, one who attempted to form sentient creatures at the beginning of days. His associates in this were Alom, Qaholom, and Tzacol. In the third creation, He was transformed into Ixmacane.

Camalotz Demon servitor of Alom, His name means "Sudden-Bloodletter". He aided in the destruction of the Second Creation, by beheading most of the Tsabol-People who inhabited that world.

Camazotz Demon Bat-God inhabiting the Mayan hell, Xibalba. A blood-feeder (similar in some ways to the indigenous vampire bat), He clawed the head off of Hun Hunahpu, but was ultimately defeated and cast out of creation.

Caprakan Demon spirit of earthquakes, Child of Gucup Cakix and brother of Zipacna. He was defeated by Hunahpu and Ixbalanque.

Cauac One of the principal Becabs, Cauac is regarded as the Upholder of the South. He represents the beginning of the year, and the first quarter of the 260-day religious calendar cycle (the so-called Tsolk'in). His color symbol is normally red, but some authorities say it is blue, or even yellow.

Chac An important weather divinity, Chac is Lord of the Rains, and is also associated with wells, springs, and other water sources. By extension, He has considerable authority over agriculture in general. He has oracular functions as well, and is served in such matters by a special temple functionary. He presides over the Chacs, who may be considered as extensions of His power. He is also a member of a Triad, alongside Ah-Kluic and Hobnil. For a sense of the context of His importance, note that the Yucatan is a water-poor region: the soil does not hold rain well, and rain patterns are often unpredictable to begin with.

The Chacs A group of four lesser weather spirits, servitors of Chac, and located at the four corners of the world. They are thereby closely associated with the Becabs as well.

Ch'en Goddess of the Moon, and the first female entity to experience intercourse.

Chin A death God associated with the Becabs.

Chirakan-Ixmucane A creator Goddess, formed out of partition of four earlier creators. She is among the Thirteen divinities who attempted a new creation. Other tales speak of a Goddess with many of Her attributes, called Ixcuiname.

Cit-Bolon-Tum A healer divinity, whose image is that of a wild boar bearing nine tusks.

Cotzbalam Demon servitor of Alom, His name means "Crunching Jaguar". He aided in the destruction of the Second Creation, by devouring the bodies of the Tsabol-People who inhabited that world.

"E" An agricultural divinity, evidently Patron of maize and maize produce.

Ekchuah Earler known as "M". An agricultural divinity, the Patron of cacao and cacao products. He also has associations with travelers and journeys. He is often portrayed as an opponent (usually unsuccessful) of God "F".

"F" A god of war, with some associations in human sacrifice. He often occurs in tales of conflict (usually successful) against Ekchuah (God "M").

Gucumatz The Quiche version of Kukulcan. In Quiche tradition, He is one of thirteen creator divinities who between them shaped the world. A shapeshifter, and master of many realms, He is primarily an agrarian deity, concerned with wind and rain. His essential shape is that of a feathered serpent.

Gucup Cakix An evil giant, who pretended to be both the sun and the moon, but was thrown down and defeated by Hunahpu and Ixbalanque. Astrologically, He corresponds to the seven primary Pleiades (and, in fact, His name means "Seven Macaw"). His children areCaprakan and Zipacna.

Hacha'kyum An astral divinity, He created the stars by scattering sand into the sky.

Hapikern An evil adversary-deity, He is a world-girdling serpent who is ever at war with Nohochacyum, and is fated to be slain by that God at the end of days. Note a rather startling parallel to Jormungand and a culture the Maya surely never had any contact with, the pre-Christian Scandinavians.

Hobnil An agricultural God associated with bountiful harvests, He is a member of a Triad, alongside Ahluic and Chac.

Hun-Cane A cthonic demon lord of the Mayan hell, Xibalba. He was defeated alongside His partner, Vukabcame, by Hunahpu and Ixbalanque.

Hunab-Ku The supreme deity in the Mayan pantheon. Invisible, emmanent, and formless, He is the husband of Ixazalvoh and the father of Itzamnaj. To the extent that He has a definable essence, He is often referred to by the style "Eyes and Ears of the Sun".

Hunahpu & Ixbalanque Demi-god hero twins, born in miraculous fashion from the saliva of the dead Hun Hunahpu. As adults they went on a number of adventures, defeating several sorts of evil beings, Gucup Cakix and His children Caprakan, and Zipacna chief among them. Hunahpu is, among other things, God of evening, at the commencement of which He restores to the sky those stars Zipacna has swept away.

Hunahpu-Guch The final name of Alom, used in the third and current creation.

Hun Hunahpu & Vukubahpu Demi-god hero twins, ensnared in Xibalba, the Mayan underworld hell. They were tricked into playing a ball game there and, losing, forfeited their lives. Camazotz hung Hun Hunahpu's head on a Calabash tree, whereupon the tree grew heavy with miraculous fruit. A young woman, Xquiq, approaching the tree, was enduced by the head to take saliva from it, and thereafter bore Hunahpu and Ixbalanque.

Hun-Nal-Ye Earlier known as "GI". A sea God who is clearly related to, or patron of, sharks.

Huracan A creator deity, Huracan occurs around the Caribbean Basin among many peoples. He is first and foremost a storm God, a Lord of the whirlwind, and His power and the dread of Him is felt most keenly in the seasonal cyclones which still bear His name. He associated with Gucumatz and Tepeu in the second and third creations, building sentient creatiures from wood, and then from maize. He is said to have given humans the gift of fire.

"I" A Goddess whose name is likely to be something like "Ixik", but this is not certain. She is an early Goddess of water, springs, wells, and perhaps the sea.

Ik' One of the principal Becabs, Ik' is regarded as the Upholder of the West. He represents the last quarter of the 260-day religious calendar cycle (the so-called Tsolk'in). His color symbol is black.

Itzamnaj A senior God, Patron of many functions and attributes. A creator and a healer deity, He can bring the dead back to life. He is a fertility Lord, and among His gifts to mankind are maize and rubber. Perhaps His chief gift though, are the arts of drawing, carving, and above all writing; thus, He is Lord of scribes and priests. The son of Hunab-Ku and consort of Ix-Chel, He is normally pictured as a toothless and gnarled but spry old man.

Itzam-Ye The Serpent Bird, or Celestial Bird. The Way of Itzamnaj, and an important divinity in its own right. It was regarded as being seated at the top of the World Tree, able thereby to survey all of creation. A master of magick and sorcery, its image when placed upon human structures marks them as houses of sorcery, places where the vital spells were cast to organize and protect the World.

Ixazalvoh Consort of Hunab-Ku (in some versions of Kinich Ajaw), She is inventor and Goddess of weaving, of female sexuality, and of childbirth. She has healing functions, and She has oracular powers.

Ixchel Earlier known as "O". Consort of Itzamnaj, She is a healer Goddess, Keeper of medicines, and Patroness of childbirth. She is also a Patroness of the weaving arts. Despite Her pleasant-sounding name (it means "Lady Rainbow"), She is normally pictured as a rather ominous-appearing gnarled old woman, with a medusa-like hairdo and a bone skirt.

Ixcuiname Goddess of the four ages of womankind, Her name means "Four Sisters", or "Four Faces". Some tales connect Her with the four creator divinities Alom, Bitol, Qaholom, and Tzacol - in these relations She is called Chirakan-Ixmucane.

Ixmacane The final form of the creator deity originally called Bitol.

Ixpiyacoc A late form of Tzacol, a creator deity who, in the third creation, was split into two separate entities, Ixpiyacoc being one of them.

Ixtab A death Goddess, ruler and Patroness of those who die by hanging.

Ix-Tub-Tun A serpent deity who is said to spit precious stones, and is associated in some fashion with rain.

Kan One of the principal Becabs, Kan is regarded as the Upholder of the East. He represents the second quarter of the 260-day religious calendar cycle (the so-called Tsolk'in). His color symbol is normally yellow, but some authorities say it is red.

K'awiil Earlier known as "K". Patron of royal lineage, Kingship, and the nobility.

Kianto A minor God whose theme is Unwelcome Influences; most notably foreigners and disease.

Kichigonai In Quiche tradition, the creator of Day, and a God of light in general.

Kinich Ajaw Earlier known as "G". Patron of the Numbers 4 and 14. Solar deity, the Face of the Sun. He is a healer and Patron of medicine. In some sources he is regarded as the consort of Ixazalvoh.

Kisin An earthquake deity, brother of Nohochacyum and the Yantho Triad; He is associated closely with Usukun.

Kukulcan He is the Yucatec Mayan version of a divinity found all over Central America; see Gucumatz for the Quiche version. Originally a Toltec God, He is primarily a creator deity, and associated with several of the creation works current in Mayan cosmology. He is probably best known today by His Nahuatl name, Quetzalcoatl. He has many forms and functions; His most typical form is that of the Feathered Serpent. In the current creation, He seems to have invented the calendar, and instituted the laws governing human conduct. His tale varies from culture to culture, but in essence, He is said to have journeyed to a land of the dead, there to steal bones and revivify them to create the current race of men. Authorized to rule over mankind as a just earthly King, He falls under evil spells and thereby breaks taboos. This requires him to leave the world, and he journeys across the eastern waters, vowing to return again some day. As Kukulcan, His chief center of worship was in the city-state at the modern town of Quirigua.

"L" A God asociated with darkness; perhaps a divinity or Patron of evening or night.

Manik God of sacrifice, and purificatory suffering.

Mulac One of the principal Becabs, Mulac is regarded as the Upholder of the North. He represents the third quarter of the 260-day religious calendar cycle (the so-called Tsolk'in). His color symbol is normally white.

Nacon A war God, about which little else is known.

Nohochacyum A creator-destroyer deity, His name means "Grandfather". He is a brother of the Yantho triad and Kisin. The eternal opponent of the evil world-serpent Hapikern, He will succeed at the end of days in wrapping Hapikern around Himself and smothering it, not incidently snuffing out earthly life in the process.

Pawahtuun Also known as "N". Patron of the Numbers 5 and 15. A calendar deity associated with the end of the year. He stands at the four corners of the sky, upholding both it and the world. He is also known to be a Patron of scribes.

Qaholom A creator divinity, one who attempted to form sentient creatures at the beginning of days. His associates in this were Alom, Bitol, and Tzacol.

Tepeu A creator God, one who associated with Gucumatz and Huracan in several creations, building sentient creatiures from wood, and then from maize.

Tzacol A creator deity. During the third creation, He became two separate deities, Himself and Ixpiyacoc. They then joined with Ajbit and Ajtzak to fulfill that creation.

Uc-Zip Cthonic herald of the Vision Serpent in Xibalba.

Voltan A God of the earth, about which little else is known.

Vukub-Cakix A giant with emerald teeth who was fought and ultimately defeated by Hun Hunahpu and Vukubahpu in one of a series of adventures those heroes experience. Vukub-Cakix also has strong solar and lunar associations.

Vukubcane In Quiche tradition, a demonic lord in Xibalba, the Maya hell.

The Ways Any of a class of protector spirits (or, perhaps, emanations of Spirit-Doubles from the soul). Each person has a Way who looks after that individual's needs on a spiritual level. On the rare occasions when a Way manifests as a material entity, it appears as a small animal of one sort or another. The concept is similar in many respects to guardian angels among Christians, Fetches among Pagan Norse, or Totem creatures among other Amerindian groups. Normally, they communicate to their charges (sources ?) through dreams, a realm (Wayib, the Dreaming Place) that both can visit. Note further that Gods themselves seem to have individual Ways associated with Them (eg. see Itzam-Ye).

The World Tree In basic Mayan architecture, a house has four walls, and the roof is held up and supported by a large post. Mayan cosmology regards the world as an immense house, the four walls of which are the Becabs, and the center post is the World Tree. Its base emerges from the cracked shell of the Cosmic Turtle, and its form can be seen as the Milky Way when in a north-south orientation. Itzam-Ye perches high at its crown, surveying all below. In the material world, the Ajaws, the rulers of the cities, were regarded as the earthly incarnations of the World Tree.

The Witzob (sing. Witz) "Witz" means "Mountain" in most early Mayan dialects. Mayans regarded mountains as living creatures, material manifestations of spiritual power. The temples the Mayans constructed are explicitly formed as artificial Witzob, and much Mayan ritual can be seen as works designed to imbue and sustain these structures with vital strength and magickal awareness. The cycle of rituals were performed in the plazas adjacent to the temples, and only a few specialized persons could ascend the steps and enter the sanctuaries within, which contained objects associated with the patron deities of the city. Personally, I have a suspicion that some of the temples were regarded as Ways of the city - I have no documentation on that, its just an intuitive leap, but it makes sense within the context of Mayan cosmology.

Xamaniqinqu A directional deity, Lord of the North. He is a brother of Nohochacyum, and therefore also of Yantho, Usukun, and Uyitzin.

Xecotcovach Demon-bird servitor of Alom, His name means "Face-Gouger". He aided in the destruction of the Second Creation, by rending the eyes of the Tsabol-People who inhabited that world.

Xquiq The woman who, accepting spittle from the severed head of Hun Hunahpu, became thereby the mother of Hunahpu and Ixbalanque. Thus, She is a fertility and motherhood divinity.

Xumucane A creator deity, the maker of the broth which instilled life in the maize models constructed for the third creation.

Yantho, Usukun, & Uyitzin A triad of fraternal deities, associated in several ways with another brother, Nohochacyum. The words Yantho, Usukun, and Uyitzin mean "Good", "Bad", and "Indifferent".

Yum Caax An agricultural God, specifically a Patron both of maize and of cacao.

Yum Camil A demon ruler in Xibalba, the Maya hell.

The Yumbalamob Any of a class of protector spirits. In colonial times, they were regarded as spirits tasked specifically with being the protectors and guides of Christians.

Yumchakob An elderly, white-haired male, dwelling in the heavens and responsible for rain. He is nearly always pictured smoking a cigar. Some conflation with Kukulcan seems to have occured, since there are a number of close parallels between the two in both image and story.

Zipacna God of the dawn. Every morning, He attempts to destroy the stars, and succeeds in sweeping away several hundred. See also, Hunahpu.

MAYAN COSMOLOGY A perusal of the above notes will bring to light an unexpectedly large number of creator deities, and references to a number of different creations. Mayan creation history is very complex, and it is difficult to keep track of without supplementary material. What follows is an attempt to organize such material somewhat, and thus provide a starting point from which more detailed explorations can begin.
    In order to do this, some comments on the Mayan calendar are necessary. Most descriptions of the Classic Mayans have at least one section or chapter on mathematics and/or calendrics. I will not repeat all the great profusion of data available, but some commentary is unavoidable. Suffice it to say that the Mayans had a number of different calendars for particular purposes: short-term measurments, long-term measurements, religious cycles, civil cycles, agricultural needs, astrological lore, etc. The standard measurement of large amounts of time was the so-called "Long Count". This was a cycle of several units of diurnal measure, not connected to seasons but simply an enumeration of days. Here is a chart of the Long Count units:

KINCHILTUN = 20 Kalabtuns (1,152,000,000 days) = c. 3.15 million years
KALABTUN = 20 Piktuns 
(57,600,000 days)
= c.157,720 years
PIKTUN = 20 Bak'tuns 
(2,880,000 days)
= 7886 years
BAK'TUN = 20 K'atuns (144,000 days) = about 394.3 years
K'ATUN = 20 tuns (7200 days) = about 19.7 years
TUN (Haab) = 18 Winals (360 days) = nearly one solar year
WINAL = 20 K'ins (20 days) = c. 3 weeks
K'IN = 01 day = 1 solar day

NB. Bear in mind that the Mayan names are likely to be largely inaccurate: K'in is correct, but Tun was almost certainly called "Haab" (it is called Tun nowadays because otherwise confusion would arise from use of "Haab" in the 365 "Vague Year" calendar), Bak'tun was an invention of 19th century archeologists, and the remaining names are at best educated guesses.

    Tied to this Long Count seems to have been yet another cyclical measure, called the Great Cycle, identical to it except that it stops at 13 Bak'tuns, and then repeats. All of Mayan history, and thus all the dates and references to dated events found in Mayan inscriptions and texts, have occured within one particular  Great Cycle, which commenced on September 8th, 3114 BCE. These Great Cycles play a large part in the ordering of the Mayan Universe. What follows is an interpretation of the data; it's accuracy is emphatically not guarenteed; yet, it fits the information as we understand it today.
    The Mayans regarded the Universe as a vast House, the walls of which were the four iguana-divinities, the Becabs of the four cardinal directions. In the beginning of all things, Gucamatz, Tepeu, and Huracan agreed that when dawn emerged the world would commence, and man appear. Therefore they called the earth into being, and created plants and animals. They called upon the plants and animals to speak, and to praise their creators, but heard only the mindless noises that animals make. Clearly, this creation was not sufficient, and a new one was necessary.
    In the next creation the original three were joined by other Gods, and models of mankind were constructed from clay and mud, but these first specific attempts at creating sentient beings failed. Though the creatures built cities in the dark (it had not dawned yet), they could not speak (although they tried), and eventually they simply dissolved in water, breaking apart into the mud the arose from. These entities the Mayans call the Saiyamkoob.
   Another attempt was made, more divinities called to the task (Alom, Bitol, and Tzacol among them), and this time wooden images were carved, and these infused with life. They did not dissolve, and they spoke. But they merely wandered over the land, doing nothing but eating; and their words were senseless and without praise. The Gods were angered by this, and destroyed most of these folk, whom the Mayans call Tsolob. Some survived the destruction by Alom and His demons, and these remnants can be seen today in the forest; they are monkeys.
    A final creation took place, during which several divinities split into multiple Gods. Alom became sundered, leaving not only Himself, but  Hunahpu-Guch as well. From Tzacol emerged Ixpiyacoc. Bitol issued Ixmacane. In this creation, sentient creatures were constructed of images formed from maize, and these were infused with life as before. The work proceeded well, too well in fact, for the race of humans which arose were approximately as powerful as the Gods themselves. The Gods thus clouded their sight and reduced them to mortal levels. These were the original Maya. The present world holds a mixture of all the previously created beings.
    It is not entirely clear from the sources how many creation eras there have been. The Quiche creation account, the Popol Vuh, isn't specific as to whether the Saiyamkoob were created during the First Age, or should be considered an Age of their own. Similarly, it isn't entirely clear whether the Maya had their own age, and are now living as remnants in a subsequent age, or whether this present time is the Maya Age. Depending on how one interprets the texts, we could be living in the Third, Fourth, or Fifth Age.. What is somewhat clearer is that these eras of creation seem to correspond to the Great Cycle of thirteen Bak'tuns. Since Mayan cosmology and sacred mathematics is strongly focussed on quadrapartite symmetry, it is a safe bet that there should be four ages, or perhaps era groups of four ages each. The question is of interest because, as astute readers may have realized, 13 Bak'tuns (1,872,000 days, or 5126 years) measured from the commencement of the current Mayan calendar results in the era ending quite shortly. The next era begins, in fact, on December 23rd, 2012.

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