The Maya had a wide array of major and minor gods. And while there were gods for all aspects of Maya life they had a particular focus on god of agriculture and for the elite.
Maya gods were highly flexible: they could be both good and bad, male and female, old and young, and one being or multiple ones (eg Chahk could manifest in four different versions and colors in line with each of the cardinal directions). Some gods had both human and animal forms.
The role of each god and their names often changed over time. And to make things even more confusing, academics haven't translated the gods' names into our alphabet in a consistent way.
Below, we've included the major Maya gods & goddesses: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and
Itzamna was the supreme creator god thought to reside in the sky.
He’s a wise god interested in learning, culture and divination. He is said to have given the Maya writing & the calendar.
He is thought to have had a fling with Ixchel who gave birth to the Pauhatuuns (Bacabs).
FEATURES: Portrayed most often as an old man with large square eyes, a Roman nose, elaborate headdress and a distinguished bearing.
AKA: God D, Itzam Nah Yax Kokaj Mut
A CREATOR GOD
Itzamna sitting on a skyband throne made of the sun, moon and other celestial bodies.
Ixchel is the goddess of midwives, medicine and weaving.
She has a dark side as a formidable warrior and goddess of floods.
Said to be the mother of the four Pawahtuuns (Bacabs)
FEATURES: Portrayed as an aged woman with jaguar ears, serpent headdress, crossed bones on her skirt and sometimes claws instead of feet and hands.
AKA: Goddess O, Ix Chel, Chak Chel, Ix-Chebel-Yax
IX SAK UH
THE MOON GODDESS
Ix Sak Uh is the goddess of marriage, fertility and growth (both human & vegetation).
She is closely linked with the maize god and could even be his female manifestation.
FEATURES: She’s often shown as a young woman with a netted jade skirt holding her trickster rabbit (the moon rabbit), and framed by the crescent of the waxing moon.
AKA: Goddess I
THE STORM GOD
Chahk is the god of lightning, storms and all important rain.
With his lightning axe, Chaak 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, tendrils curling from his mouth and wears a shell over his ear.
AKA: God B, Chac, Chac-Xib-Chac, Chaak
THE GOD OF KINGSHIP
Kawiil is the principal god of the Maya royal line.
In displays of power kings are shown holding Kawiil like a scepter.
Kawiil is Chahk’s lightning axe brought to life.
FEATURES: Kawiil has a large “god-eye”, a bright mirror forehead that emits smoke, a cigar or an axe blade & one of his leg ends in a snake rather than a foot.
AKA: GOD K, Gii, K'awiil, Manikin Scepter, Bolon Tzakab
THE SUN GOD
Kinich Ahaw means sun-eyed ruler. He brought good health and happiness, but could also scorch you.
During the day he travels west as the sun. During the night he travels back to the east through the underworld as the Jaguar God of the night.
FEATURES: Shown as a middle-aged man with a Roman nose, large square “god-eyes” and t-shaped filed incisors. Often has a flower-like k'in (sun) glyph on him.
AKA: GOD G, Giii, K'inich Ajaw, Kinich Ahau
THE MAIZE GOD
Hun Hunahpu is the maize god and father of the hero twins.
He is closely linked with the moon goddess Ixchel.
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 in the front.
AKA: GOD S, One Hunahpu, Hun Ixim, Ajan
HUNAHPU & XBALANKE
THE HERO TWINS
These twin brothers are the sons of the Maize god.
In Maya mythology they defeat the Lords of Death, resurrect their father and rise to the sky as the sun and moon. (Though they never manifest as Kinich Ahaw the sun god).
FEATURES: Hunahpu has black spots on his face, Xbalanke has patches of jaguar skin over a short beard.
AKA: Hun Ahaw & Yax Balam, Headband Twins
THE PADDLER GODS
STINGRAY GOD & JAGUAR GOD OF THE NIGHT
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.
FEATURES: These old gods are depicted paddling a canoe load of deities and animals into the underworld.
The Stingray Paddler has squint eyes and a stingray spine through his Roman nose. The Jaguar Paddler has a jaguar pelt on his chin, a jaguar ear and sometimes a jaguar helmet.
THE GOD OF VIOLENT AND UNNATURAL DEATH
GOD OF DECAPITATION
Akan is one of the strangest death gods. His main occupation seems to be cutting his own head off with a stone axe or flint knife.
He is also the god of intoxicating beverages - so 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
GOD OF TRAVELERS & CACAO
Ek Chuwah is the patron god of journeys, travelers, merchants and cacao.
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' Chuwah
the Powerpoint presentation of this page
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, a large “god-eye”, a Roman 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, Bacabs, Pauahtun
Maya rulers had a personal “way” or spirit monster they would send to attack their enemies – like a curse.
These nightmare beasts give their victims deadly diseases.
FEATURES: The “way” were strange mutant animals: monkeys with antlers, fire-eating peccaries, skeleton centipedes, tapirs with burning tails, deer with distended eyeballs, evil jaguars on sticks, etc…
Note: "Way" is the singular, "Wayob" is the plural.
GOD OF MERCHANTS, WAR & THE UNDERWORLD
There is no consensus on the name of this god even though he appears frequently in the codices and Maya art.
He is often shown in scenes of Xibalba (the Maya underworld) and he also presided over the committee of gods 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, broad brimmed hat with black tipped owl feathers on top (or the entire bird) and a fringed cape. He is often smoking a cigar.
AKA: God L
GOD OF WAR
Tlaloc originated in Teotihuacan (Central Mexico) where he was a rain and thunderbolt god like the Maya god Chahk.
A Tlaloc cult spread through the elite in the Maya region 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 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 in Maya pottery.
3. Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, Friar Diego de Landa's book about the Maya 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 it's pyramid are associated with the relevant Maya god: Ixchel, Kawiil, 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
houses 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 putrefaction.
Ah Pukuh is a comical, grotesque figure and a terrifying god. He hangs out with spiders, centipedes, scorpions, owls, or bats.
FEATURES: Often shown as an animated skeleton with a gas-distended belly emitting bad smells. Usually sports an eyeball necklace and eyeball head gear.
AKA: God A, Kimi, Kisin (farter), Yum Kimil.