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Representation of Deities of the Maya Manuscripts
Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Vol. 4, No. 1
Author: Paul Schellhas
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Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology,
Vol. IV.--No. 1
REPRESENTATION OF DEITIES OF THE MAYA MANUSCRIPTS
DR. PAUL SCHELLHAS
Second Edition, Revised
With 1 Plate of Figures and 65 Text Illustrations
Translated by Miss Selma Wesselhoeft and Miss A. M. Parker
Translation revised by the Author
Published by the Museum
In order to make more widely known and more easily accessible to American
students the results of important researches on the Maya hieroglyphs,
printed in the German language, the Peabody Museum Committee on Central
American Research proposes to publish translations of certain papers
which are not too lengthy or too extensively illustrated. The present
paper by one of the most distinguished scholars in this field is the
first of the series.
F. W. PUTNAM.
Since the first edition of this pamphlet appeared in the year 1897,
investigation in this department of science has made such marked
progress, notwithstanding the slight amount of material, that a revision
has now become desirable. It can be readily understood, that a new
science, an investigation on virgin soil, such as the Maya study is,
makes more rapid progress and develops more quickly than one pertaining
to some old, much explored territory.
In addition to numerous separate treatises, special mention should be
made of Ernst Förstemann's commentaries on the three Maya manuscripts
(Kommentar zur Mayahandschrift der Königlichen öffentlichen Bibliothek zu
Dresden, Dresden 1901, Kommentar zur Madrider Mayahandschrift, Danzig
1902, and Kommentar zur Pariser Mayahandschrift, Danzig 1903) which
constitute a summary of the entire results of investigation in this field
up to the present time.
The proposal made in the first edition of this pamphlet, that the Maya
deities be designated by letters of the alphabet, has been very generally
adopted by Americanists, especially by those in the United States of
America. This circumstance, in particular, has seemed to make it
desirable to prepare for publication a new edition, improved to accord
with the present state of the science.
Warmest thanks are above all due to Mr. Bowditch, of Boston, who in the
most disinterested manner, for the good of science, has made possible the
publication of this new edition.
January, 1904. P. SCHELLHAS.
THE MATERIAL OF THE MANUSCRIPTS.
The three manuscripts which we possess of the ancient Maya peoples of
Central America, the Dresden (Dr.), the Madrid (Tro.-Cort.) and the Paris
(Per.) manuscripts, all contain a series of pictorial representations of
human figures, which, beyond question, should be regarded as figures of
gods. Together with these are a number of animal figures, some with human
bodies, dress and armor, which likewise have a mythologic significance.
The contents of the three manuscripts, which undoubtedly pertain to the
calendar system and to the computation of time in their relation to the
Maya pantheon and to certain religious and domestic functions, admit of
the conclusion, that these figures of gods embody the essential part of
the religious conceptions of the Maya peoples in a tolerably complete
form. For here we have the entire ritual year, the whole chronology with
its mythological relations and all accessories. In addition to this,
essentially the same figures recur in all three manuscripts. Their number
is not especially large. There are about fifteen figures of gods in human
form and about half as many in animal form. At first we were inclined to
believe that further researches would considerably increase the number of
deities, but this assumption was incorrect. After years of study of the
subject and repeated examination of the results of research, it may be
regarded as positively proved, that the number of deities represented in
the Maya manuscripts does not exceed substantially the limits mentioned
above. The principal deities are determined beyond question.
The way in which this was accomplished is strikingly simple. It amounts
essentially to that which in ordinary life we call "memory of persons" and
follows almost naturally from a careful study of the manuscripts. For, by
frequently looking attentively at the representations, one learns by
degrees to recognize promptly similar and familiar figures of gods, by
the characteristic impression they make as a whole, or by certain details,
even when the pictures are partly obliterated or exhibit variations, and
the same is true of the accompanying hieroglyphs. A purely inductive,
natural science-method has thus been followed, and hence this pamphlet is
devoted simply to descriptions and to the amassing of material. These
figures have been taken separately out of the manuscripts alone,
identified and described with the studious avoidance of all unreliable,
misleading accounts and of all presumptive analogies with supposedly
Whatever cannot be derived from the manuscripts themselves has been wholly
ignored. Hypotheses and deductions have been avoided as far as possible.
Only where the interpretation, or the resemblance and the relations to
kindred mythologic domains were obvious, and where the accounts agreed
beyond question, has notice been taken of the fact so that the imposed
limitations of this work should not result in one-sidedness.
Since, for the most part, the accounts of Spanish authors regarding the
mythology of the Mayas correspond only slightly or not at all with these
figures of gods, and all other conjectures respecting their significance
are very dubious, the alphabetic designation of the deities, which was
tentatively introduced in the first edition of this work, has been
preserved. This designation has proved to be practical. For the plate at
the end of this pamphlet, examples as characteristic as possible of the
individual figures of gods have been selected from the manuscripts.
It is a well known fact that we possess no definite knowledge either of
the time of the composition or of the local origin of the Maya
manuscripts. The objection might, therefore, be raised that it is a
hazardous proceeding to treat the material derived from these three
manuscripts in common, as if it were homogeneous. But these researches
themselves have proved beyond a doubt, that the mythologic import of the
manuscripts belongs to one and the same sphere of thought. Essentially
the same deities and the same mythologic ideas are, without question, to
be found in all the manuscripts.
The material of the inscriptions has been set entirely at one side,
because the style of representation contained in them, both of the
mythologic forms and of the hieroglyphs, renders comparison exceedingly
difficult. In this field especial credit is due to Förstemann and Seler,
for the work they have done in furtherance of interpretation, and mention
should not be omitted of the generosity with which the well known
promoter of Americanist investigations, the Duke of Loubat, has presented
to the Berlin Museum of Ethnology costly originals of reliefs and
inscriptions for direct study. The representations on the reliefs from
the Maya region, it is true, give evidence of dealing with kindred
mythologic conceptions. Figures and hieroglyphs of gods, made familiar by
the manuscripts, can also be found here and there. But on the whole so
little appears in support of instituting a comparison with the
manuscripts, that it seems expedient to leave the inscriptions for
independent and special study.
I. REPRESENTATIONS OF GODS.
A. The Death-God.
[Illustration: Figs. 1-6]
God A is represented as a figure with an exposed, bony spine, truncated
nose and grinning teeth.[10-1] It is plainly to be seen that the head of
this god represents a skull and that the spine is that of a skeleton. The
pictures of the death-god are so characteristic in the Maya manuscripts
that the deity is always easily recognized. He is almost always
distinguished by the skeleton face and the bony spine. Several times in
the Dresden manuscript the death-god is pictured with large black spots
on his body and in Dr. 19b a woman with closed eyes, whose body also
displays the black spots, is sitting opposite the god. While the Aztecs
had a male and a female death-deity, in the Maya manuscripts we find the
death-deity only once represented as feminine, namely on p. 9c of the
Dresden manuscript. Moreover the Dresden manuscript contains several
different types of the death-god, having invariably the fleshless skull
and (with the exception of Dr. 9c) the visible vertebrae of the spine.
Several times (Dr. 12b and 13b) he is represented apparently with
distended abdomen. A distinguishing article of his costume is the stiff
feather collar, which is worn only by this god, his companion, the
war-god F, and by his animal symbol, the owl, which will both be
discussed farther on. His head ornament varies in the Dresden Codex; in
the first portion of the manuscript, relating in part to pregnancy and
child-birth (see the pictures of women on p. 16, et seq.), he wears on
his head several times a figure occurring very frequently just in this
part of the Dresden Codex and apparently representing a snail (compare
Dr. 12b and 13b), which among the Aztecs is likewise a symbol of
parturition. In view of these variations in the pictures of the Dresden
Codex, it is very striking that in the Codex Tro.-Cortesianus, there is
only one invariable type of the death-god.
[10-1] See Plate for representations of the gods, A-P
A distinguishing ornament of the death-god consists of globular bells or
rattles, which he wears on his hands and feet, on his collar and as a
head ornament. As can be distinctly seen in Dr. 11a, they are fastened
with bands wound around the forearm and around the leg; in Dr. 15c these
bells are black.
Among the symbols of the death-god a cross of two bones should be
mentioned, which is also found in the Mexican manuscripts. This cross of
bones seems to occur once among the written characters as a hieroglyph
and then in combination with a number: Tro. 10.* The figure [Death-god
symbol] is also a frequent symbol of the death-god. Its significance is
still uncertain, but it also occurs among the hieroglyphs as a death-sign
and as a sign for the day Cimi (death).
The hieroglyphs of the death-god have been positively determined (see
Figs. 1 to 4). Figs. 1 and 2 are the forms of the Dresden manuscript and
Figs. 3 and 4 are those of the Madrid manuscript. God A is almost always
distinguished by two hieroglyphs, namely Figs. 1 and 2 or 3 and 4.
Moreover the hieroglyphs are always the same, have scarcely any variants.
Even in Dr. 9c, where the deity is represented as feminine, there are no
variations which might denote the change of sex. The hieroglyphs consist
chiefly of the head of a corpse with closed eyes, and of a skull. The
design in front of the skull in Figs. 2 and 4 and under it in Fig. 3 is a
sacrificial knife of flint, which was used in slaying the sacrifices, and
is also frequently pictured in the Aztec manuscripts. The dots under Fig.
1 are probably intended to represent blood.
The death-god is represented with extraordinary frequency in all the Maya
manuscripts. Not only does the figure of the god itself occur, but his
attributes are found in many places where his picture is missing. Death
evidently had an important significance in the mythologic conceptions of
the Mayas. It is connected with sacrifice, especially with human
sacrifices performed in connection with the captive enemy. Just as we find
a personification of death in the manuscripts of the Mayas, we also find
it in the picture-writings of the ancient Mexicans, often surprisingly
like the pictures of the Maya codices. The Aztec death-god and his myth
are known through the accounts of Spanish writers; regarding the death-god
of the Mayas we have less accurate information. Some mention occurs in
Landa's Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan, §XXIII, but unfortunately
nothing is said of the manner of representing the death-god. He seems to
be related to the Aztec Mictlantecutli, of whom Sahagun, Appendix to Book
III, "De los que iban al infierno y de sus obsequias," treats as the god
of the dead and of the underworld, Mictlan. When the representations of
the latter, for example in the Codex Borgia, and in the Codex Vaticanus
No. 3773, are compared with those of the Maya manuscripts, there can be
hardly a doubt of the correspondence of the two god figures. In the Codex
Borgia, p. 37, he is represented once with the same characteristic head
ornament, which the death-god usually wears in the Maya manuscripts, and
in the Codex Fejervary, p. 8, the death-god wears a kind of breeches on
which cross-bones are depicted, exactly as in Dr. 9 (bottom).
Bishop Landa informs us that the Mayas "had great and immoderate dread of
death." This explains the frequency of the representations of the
death-god, from whom, as Landa states, "all evil and especially death"
emanated. Among the Aztecs we find a male and a female death-deity,
Mictlantecutli and Mictlancihuatl. They were the rulers of the realm of
the dead, Mictlan, which, according to the Aztec conception, lay in the
north; hence the death-god was at the same time the god of the north.
It agrees with the calendric and astronomic character of the Maya deities
in the manuscripts, that a number of the figures of the gods are used in
connection with specified cardinal points. Since, according to the Aztec
conception, the death-god was the god of the north, we might expect that
in the Maya manuscripts also, the death-god would be always considered
as the deity of the north. Nevertheless this happens only _once_, namely
in the picture at the end of Codex Cort., pp. 41 and 42. Elsewhere, on
the other hand, this god is connected with other cardinal points, thus
Dr. 14a with the west or east (the hieroglyph is illegible, but it can
be only west or east), and in Dr. 27c with the west. It is interesting
to note that once, however, in a series of cardinal points, the
hieroglyph of the death-god connected with the numeral 10 stands just in
the place of the sign of the north; this is on Tro. 24* (bottom).
In regard to the name of the death-god in the Maya language, Landa tells
us that the wicked after death were banished to an underworld, the name
of which was "Mitnal", a word which is defined as "Hell" in the Maya
lexicon of Pio Perez and which has a striking resemblance to Mictlan, the
Aztec name for the lower regions. The death-god Hunhau reigned in this
underworld. According to other accounts (Hernandez), however, the
death-god is called Ahpuch. These names can in no wise serve as aids to
the explanation of the hieroglyphs of the death-god, since they have no
etymologic connection with death or the heads of corpses and skulls,
which form the main parts of the hieroglyph. Furthermore, the hieroglyphs
of the gods certainly have a purely ideographic significance as already
mentioned above, so that any relation between the names of the deities
and their hieroglyphs cannot exist from the very nature of the case.
The day of the death-god is the day Cimi, death. The day-sign Cimi
corresponds almost perfectly with the heads of corpses contained in the
hieroglyphs of the death-god.
A hieroglyphic sign, which relates to death and the death-deity and
occurs very frequently, is the sign Fig. 5, which is probably to be
regarded as the ideogram of the owl. It represents the head of an owl,
while the figure in front of it signifies the owl's ear and the one
below, its teeth, as distinguishing marks of a bird of prey furnished
with ears and a powerful beak. The head of the owl appears on a human
body several times in the Dresden manuscript as a substitute for the
death-deity, thus Dr. 18c, 19c, 20a and 20c and in other places, and
the hieroglyphic group (Fig. 5) is almost a regular attendant hieroglyph
of the death-god.
A series of other figures of the Maya mythology is connected with the
death-god. This is evident from the fact that his hieroglyphs or his
symbols occur with certain other figures, which are thus brought into
connection with death and the death-deity.
These figures are as follows:
1. His companion, god F, the god of war, of human sacrifice and of
violent death in battle, apparently a counterpart of the Aztec Xipe, who
will be discussed farther on.
2. The moan bird. See beyond under Mythological Animals, No. 1.
3. The dog. See the same, No. 3.
4. A human figure, possibly representing the priest of the death-god (see
Dr. 28, centre, Dr. 5b and 9a). The last figure is a little doubtful.
It is blindfolded and thus recalls the Aztec deity of frost and sin,
Itztlacoliuhqui. A similar form with eyes bound occurs only once again in
the Maya manuscripts, namely Dr. 50 (centre). That this figure is related
to the death-god is proved by the fact that on Dr. 9a it wears the
Cimi-sign on the middle piece of the chain around its neck. Furthermore
it should be emphasized that the Aztec sin-god, Itztlacoliuhqui, likewise
appears with symbols of death.
5. An isolated figure, Dr. 50a (the sitting figure at the right). This
wears the skull as head ornament, which is represented in exactly the
same way as in the Aztec manuscripts (see Fig. 6).
6. Another isolated figure is twice represented combined with the
death-god in Dr. 22c. This picture is so effaced that it is impossible
to tell what it means. The hieroglyph represents a variant of the
death's-head, Cimi. It seems to signify an ape, which also in the
pictures of the Mexican codices was sometimes used in relation to the
The symbols of the death-god are also found with the figure without a
head on Dr. 2 (45)a, clearly the picture of a beheaded prisoner. Death
symbols occur, too, with the curious picture of a hanged woman on Dr.
53b, a picture which is interesting from the fact that it recalls
vividly a communication of Bishop Landa. Landa tells us, the Mayas
believed that whoever hanged himself did not go to the underworld, but to
"paradise," and as a result of this belief, suicide by hanging was very
common and was chosen on the slightest pretext. Such suicides were
received in paradise by the goddess of the hanged, Ixtab. Ix is the
feminine prefix; tab, taab, tabil mean, according to Perez' Lexicon of
the Maya Language, "cuerda destinada para algun uso exclusivo". The name
of this strange goddess is, therefore, the "Goddess of the Halter" or, as
Landa says, "The Goddess of the Gallows". Now compare Dr. 53. On the
upper half of the page is the death-god represented with hand raised
threateningly, on the lower half is seen the form of a woman suspended by
a rope placed around her neck. The closed eye, the open mouth and the
convulsively outspread fingers, show that she is dead, in fact,
strangled. It is, in all probability, the goddess of the gallows and
halter, Ixtab, the patroness of the hanged, who is pictured here in
company with the death-god; or else it is a victim of this goddess, and
page 53 of the manuscript very probably refers, therefore (even though
the two halves do not belong directly together), to the mythologic
conceptions of death and the lower regions to which Landa alludes.
7. Lastly the owl is to be mentioned as belonging to the death-god,
which, strange to say, is represented nowhere in the pictures
realistically and so that it can be recognized, although other mythologic
animals, as the dog or the moan bird, occur plainly as animals in the
pictures. On the other hand, the owl's head appears on a human body in
the Dresden manuscript as a substitute for the death-deity itself, for
example on Dr. 18c, 19c, 20a and 20c and elsewhere, and forms a
regular attendant hieroglyph of the death-god in the group of three signs
already mentioned (Fig. 5).
Among the antiquities from the Maya region of Central America, there are
many objects and representations, which have reference to the cultus of
the death-god, and show resemblances to the pictures of the manuscripts.
The death-god also plays a role, even today, in the popular superstitions
of the natives of Yucatan, as a kind of spectre that prowls around the
houses of the sick. His name is Yum Cimil, the lord of death.
B. The God With the Large Nose and Lolling Tongue.
[Illustration: Figs. 7-10]
The deity, represented most frequently in all the manuscripts, is a
figure with a long, proboscis-like, pendent nose and a tongue (or teeth,
fangs) hanging out in front and at the sides of the mouth, also with a
characteristic head ornament resembling a knotted bow and with a peculiar
rim to the eye. Fig. 7 is the hieroglyph of this deity. In Codex
Tro.-Cortesianus it usually has the form of Fig. 8.
God B is evidently one of the most important of the Maya pantheon. He
must be a universal deity, to whom the most varied elements, natural
phenomena and activities are subject. He is represented with different
attributes and symbols of power, with torches in his hands as symbols of
fire, sitting in the water and on the water, standing in the rain, riding
in a canoe, enthroned on the clouds of heaven and on the cross-shaped
tree of the four points of the compass, which, on account of its likeness
to the Christian emblem, has many times been the subject of fantastic
hypotheses. We see the god again on the Cab-sign, the symbol of the
earth, with weapons, axe and spears, in his hands, planting kernels of
maize, on a journey (Dr. 65b) staff in hand and a bundle on his back,
and fettered (Dr. 37a) with arms bound behind his back. His entire myth
seems to be recorded in the manuscripts. The great abundance of symbolism
renders difficult the characterization of the deity, and it is well-nigh
impossible to discover that a single mythologic idea underlies the whole.
God B is quite often connected with the serpent, without exhibiting
affinity with the Chicchan-god H (see p. 28). In Dr. 33b, 34b and 35b,
the serpent is in the act of devouring him, or he is rising up out of the
serpent's jaws, as is plainly indicated also by the hieroglyphs, for they
contain the group given in Fig. 10, which is composed of the rattle of
the rattlesnake and the opened hand as a symbol of seizing and
absorption. God B himself is pictured with the body of a serpent in Dr.
35b and 36a (compare No. 2 of the Mythological Animals). He likewise
occurs sitting on the serpent and in Dr. 66a he is twice (1st and 3d
figures) pictured with a snake in his hand.
God B sits on the moan head in Dr. 38c, on a head with the Cauac-sign in
Dr. 39c, 66c, and on the dog in Dr. 29a. All these pictures are meant
to typify his abode in the air, above rain, storm and death-bringing
clouds, from which the lightning falls. The object with the cross-bones
of the death-god, on which he sits in Dr. 66c, can perhaps be explained
in the same manner. As the fish belongs to god B in a symbolic sense, so
the god is represented fishing in Dr. 44 (1). His face with the large
nose and the tongue (or fangs) hanging out on the side in Dr. 44 (1)a
(1st figure) is supposed to be a mask which the priest, representing the
god, assumes during the religious ceremony.
Furthermore the following four well-known symbols of sacrificial gifts
appear in connection with god B in the Dresden manuscript; a sprouting
kernel of maize (or, according to Förstemann, parts of a mammal, game), a
fish, a lizard and a vulture's head, as symbols of the four elements.
They seem to occur, however, in relation also to other deities and
evidently are general symbols of sacrificial gifts. Thus they occur on
the two companion initial pages of the Codex Tro.-Cortesianus, on which
the hieroglyphs of gods C and K are repeated in rows (Tro. 36-Cort. 22.
Compare Förstemann, Kommentar zur Madrider Handschrift, pp. 102, 103).
God B is also connected with the four colors--yellow, red, white and
black--which, according to the conception of the Mayas, correspond to the
cardinal points (yellow, air; red, fire; white, water; black, earth) and
the god himself is occasionally represented with a black body, for
example on Dr. 29c, 31c and 69. This is expressed in the hieroglyphs by
the sign, Fig. 9, which signifies black and is one of the four signs of
the symbolic colors for the cardinal points.
God B is represented with all the _four cardinal points_, a
characteristic, which he shares only with god C, god K, and, in one
instance, with god F (see Tro. 29*c); he appears as ruler of all the
points of the compass; north, south, east and west as well as air, fire,
water and earth are subject to him.
Opinions concerning the significance of this deity are much divided. It
is most probable that he is Kukulcan, a figure occurring repeatedly in
the mythology of the Central American peoples and whose name, like that
of the kindred deity Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs and Gucumatz among the
Quiches, means the "feathered serpent", "the bird serpent". Kukulcan and
Gucumatz are those figures of Central American mythology, to which belong
the legends of the creation of the world and of mankind. Furthermore
Kukulcan is considered as the founder of civilization, as the builder of
cities, as hero-god, and appears in another conception as the rain-deity,
and--since the serpent has a mythologic relation to water--as serpent
deity. J. Walter Fewkes, who has made this god-figure of the Maya
manuscripts the subject of a monograph (A Study of Certain Figures in a
Maya Codex, in American Anthropologist, Vol. VII, No. 3, Washington,
1894), also inclines to the belief that B is the god Kukulcan, whom he
conceives of as a serpent-and rain-deity. This view has been accepted by
Förstemann (Die Tagegötter der Mayas, Globus, Vol. 73, No. 10) and also
by Cyrus Thomas (Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices, Washington,
1888). The same opinion is held also by E. P. Dieseldorff, who, a
resident of Guatemala, the region of the ancient Maya civilization, has
instituted excavations which have been successful in furnishing most
satisfactory material for these researches (see Dieseldorff: Kukulcan,
Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1895, p. 780). Others have considered god B
as the first parent and lord of the heavens, Itzamná who has a mythologic
importance analogous to that of Kukulcan. Itzamná is also held to be the
god of creation and founder of civilization and accordingly seems to be
not very remotely allied to the god Kukulcan. Others again, for example
Brasseur de Bourbourg and Seler, have interpreted the figure of god B to
represent the fourfold god of the cardinal points and rain-god Chac, a
counterpart of the Aztec rain-god Tlaloc. The fact that this god-figure
is so frequently connected with the serpent and the bird is strongly in
favor of the correctness of the supposition, that we should see in god B
a figure corresponding to the Kukulcan of tradition. Thus we see the god
represented once with the body of a serpent and with a bird near by
(Cort. 10b), while B's hieroglyph appears both times in the text. God B
is also pictured elsewhere repeatedly with a serpent body, thus for
example on Dr. 35b, 36a. On pages 4-6 of the Codex Cortesianus he is
pictured six times and each time in connection with a serpent.
The accounts we have received concerning the mythology of the Maya
peoples are very meagre and owing to the uncertainty respecting the
origin of the Maya manuscripts, it cannot even be determined which of
these accounts are applicable to the Maya manuscripts, or, indeed,
whether they are applicable at all. For it is by no means positively
proved that these manuscripts did not originate in regions of Maya
culture, regarding which we have received no accounts at all. As our
present purpose is purely that of description and determination, it
remains quite unimportant which of these recorded figures of gods shall
be regarded as god B.
God B is nearly allied to, but in no wise identical with, the deity with
the large ornamented nose, designated by K, who will be discussed farther
on. God K is an independent deity designated by a special hieroglyph, but
like C he stands in an unknown relation to God B (for details see K).
Finally it should be mentioned, that god B never appears with death
symbols. He is clearly a deity of life and creation, in contrast to the
powers of death and destruction.
His day seems to be Ik (aspiration, breath, life). (Compare Förstemann,
Die Tagegötter der Mayas, Globus, Vol. 73, No. 10).
C. The God with the Ornamented Face.
[Illustration: Figs. 11-16]
This is one of the most remarkable and most difficult figures of the Maya
manuscripts, and shows, at the same time, how imperfect must be the
information we have received in regard to the Maya mythology, since from
the frequency of his representations he is obviously one of the most
important deities and yet can be identified with none of the
representations of gods handed down to us. His hieroglyph is definitely
determined (Figs. 11, 12). The circular design in front of the forehead
of the hieroglyph head seems, as a variant from the Codex Tro. (Fig. 12)
leads us to suppose, to denote the ideographic representation of pouring
out or emptying a vessel, the contents of which flow into the mouth of
the god. Another variant of this prefix occurs in Tro. 13*b; Fig. 15,
the symbol of the sacrificial knife, and instead of the prefix the
numeral 13 occurs in one instance! (Tro. 12*c). The head alone, without
any accessory symbol whatever, is also found a few times, not in the
text, however, but only in the pictures, for example Cort. 10 (bottom)
and Tro. 13* (bottom). This deity does not occur very often in the
Dresden manuscript, the places where it is depicted are: Dr. 5a, 6c,
13b, 35a, 68a, and as a subordinate figure on 8c, 42a. His
hieroglyph occurs alone a few times, as in Dr. 4; it is more frequent in
the Madrid manuscript. It appears on pp. 15 to 18 of the Paris
In regard to the significance of this deity, he doubtless represents the
personification of a heavenly body of astronomic importance, probably the
polar star. In Codex Cort. 10 (bottom), his head is represented
surrounded by a nimbus of rays, which can only mean a star (see Fig. 13).
On the lower part of the same page, the third picture from the left, we
again see the deity hanging from the sky in a kind of rope. Furthermore
it appears in Codex Tro. 20, 22 and 23 (centre) Fig. 14, in the familiar
rectangular planet signs. Tro. 17* (at the top) the head surmounts the
cross-shaped tree of god B, which denotes the lofty, celestial abode.
Indeed, these passages prove positively that a heavenly body underlies
the idea of this deity.
Furthermore, the head of this god recurs in entire rows in the calendric
group of tabular form on the so-called initial page of the Codex Tro. 36,
with its continuation in the Cort. p. 22, and in exactly the same manner
in the allied passage of Tro. 14 (middle and bottom). In addition, his
head is contained in the symbol for the north (Fig. 16); the head
contained in this sign is in fact nothing else than the head of god C.
Brinton also accepts this interpretation of god C. According to
Förstemann (Die Mayahieroglyphen, Globus, Vol. 71, No. 5), the fact that
the figure of god C in the Tonalamatl in Dr. 4a-10a occurs on the day
Chuen of the Maya calendar, which corresponds to the day Ozomatli, the
ape, in the Aztec calendar, seems to indicate that the singular head of C
is that of an _ape_, whose lateral nasal cavity (peculiar to the American
ape or monkey) is occasionally represented plainly in the hieroglyph
picture. Hence it might further be assumed that god C symbolizes not the
polar star alone, but rather the entire _constellation of the Little
Bear_. And, in fact, the figure of a long-tailed ape is quite appropriate
to the constellation, at any rate decidedly more so than the Bear;
indeed, it suggests the prehensile tail by means of which the ape could
attach himself to the pole and in the form of the constellation swing
around the pole as around a fixed point.
These astronomical surmises seem to be contradicted by the fact that god
C, as already stated, is represented with all the four cardinal points
(compare for example Cort. 10 and 11, bottom), which would certainly seem
to harmonize ill with his personification of the north star, unless we
assume, that in a different conception of the polar star he is ruler of
the cardinal points, which are determined from him as a centre.
It has already been remarked of B, that the deity C appears to stand in
some sort of relation to him. In fact, we find on those pages of the
Dresden manuscript, where B is represented with the four cardinal points,
that the hieroglyph of C almost always occurs in the text also (for
example Dr. 29, et seq., especially Dr. 32c). Indeed, C's hieroglyph is
connected even with the signs of the symbolic colors of the cardinal
points, already mentioned in connection with B.
Finally, it should be borne in mind, that god C also seems to be
connected in some way with the serpent (compare Dr. 36b, 1st and 3d
According to Förstemann, the day ruled by C seems to be Chuen.
D. The Moon- and Night-God.
[Illustration: Figs. 17-20]
This is a deity who is pictured in the form of an old man with an aged
face and sunken, toothless mouth. He is frequently characterized by a
long, pendent head ornament, in which is the sign Akbal, darkness, night,
which also appears in his hieroglyph before the forehead of the deity,
surrounded by dots as an indication of the starry sky. His name-hieroglyph
is Fig. 17, and a second sign almost always follows (Fig. 18) which
evidently serves likewise as a designation of the god, just as god A also
is always designated by _two_ hieroglyphs. The second sign consists of
two sacrificial knives and the sign of the day Ahau, which is equivalent
The head of this deity appears in reduced, cursive form as the sign of
the moon (Fig. 20). This character also has the significance of 20 as a
number sign in the calendar. The association of these ideas probably
rests upon the ancient conceptions, according to which the moon
appearing, waxing, waning and again disappearing, was compared to man,
and man in primeval ages was the most primitive calculating machine,
being equivalent, from the sum of his fingers and toes, to the number 20.
Twenty days is also the duration of that period during which the moon
(aside from the new moon) is really _alive_. Moreover the sign (Fig. 20)
appears in many places as a counterpart of the sign for the sun.
God D occurs once as feminine in the same passage mentioned above, in
which the death-deity is also pictured as feminine (Dr. 9c). In a few
other places the god is, curiously enough, depicted with a short beard,
as Dr. 4c, 7a, 27b. He seems to stand in an unknown relation to the
water-goddess I (see this deity) with the serpent as a head ornament,
compare Dr. 9c, where apparently this goddess is represented, though the
text has D's sign; still it is possible that god D is pictured here with
the attributes of goddess I.
God D is not connected with the grim powers of destruction; he never
appears with death symbols. In Dr. 5c and 9a he wears the snail on his
head. He seems, therefore, like god A to be connected with birth. In Dr.
8c he is connected with god C, and this is quite appropriate, if we look
upon these gods as heavenly bodies. The aged face, the sunken, toothless
mouth are his distinguishing marks. In the Madrid manuscript, where god D
occurs with special frequency, his chief characteristic, by which he is
always easily recognized, is the single tooth in his under-jaw (see Fig.
19), compare too Dr. 8c, where the solitary tooth is also to be seen. In
Dr. 9a (1st figure) the god holds in his hand a kind of sprinkler with
the rattles of the rattlesnake, as Landa (Cap. 26) describes the god in
connection with the rite of infant baptism (see also Cort. 26, Tro. 7*a
A very remarkable passage is Tro. 15*; there a figure is pictured carving
with a hatchet a head, which it holds in its hand. Above it are four
hieroglyphs. The first shows a hatchet and the moon; the second probably
represents simply a head, while the third and fourth are those of god D,
the moon-god. This passage, the meaning of which is unfortunately still
obscure seems to contain a definite explanation of god D.
J. Walter Fewkes has made god D the subject of a special, very detailed
monograph (The God "D" in the Codex Cortesianus, Washington, 1895) in
which he has treated also of gods B and G, whom he considers allied to D.
He believes D to be the god Itzamná, as do also Förstemann, Cyrus Thomas
and Seler, and sees sun-gods in all three of these deities. Whether god D
is to be separated from G and B as an independent deity, Fewkes thinks is
doubtful. Brinton again holds that god D is Kukulcan. These different
opinions show, at all events, on what uncertain grounds such attempts at
interpretation stand, and that it is best to be satisfied with
designating the deities by letters and collecting material for their
purely descriptive designation.
According to Förstemann the calendar day devoted to D is Ahau.
E. The Maize-God.
[Illustration: Figs. 21-27]
This god bears on his head the Kan-sign and above it the ear of maize
with leaves (Fig. 23); compare Dr. 9b (left figure), 11b, 12a, etc.
The hieroglyph is definitely determined (Fig. 21). The god is identical
with the figures recurring with especial frequency in the Madrid
manuscript, the heads of which are prolonged upward and curved backward
in a peculiar manner; compare Cort. 15a, 20c, 40 (bottom), Tro. 32*b
(Figs. 25-27) and especially the representation in Dr. 50a (Fig. 24),
which is very distinct. This head was evolved out of the conventional
drawing of the ear of maize; compare the pictures of the maize plant in
the Codex Tro., p. 29b (Fig. 22) with the head ornament of the god in
Dr. 9b (Fig. 23), 9a, 12a; what was originally a head ornament finally
passed into the form of the head itself, so that the latter appears now
as an ear of maize surrounded by leaves. Compare the pictures, Figs.
25-27. That these gods with elongated heads are, in point of fact,
identical with E is plainly seen from the passage in Dr. 2 (45)c (first
figure). There the figure represented, which is exactly like the pictures
in the Madrid manuscript, is designated explicitly as god E by the third
hieroglyph in the accompanying writing.
The hieroglyph of this deity is thus explained; it is the head of the god
merged into the conventionalized form of the ear of maize surrounded by
leaves. When we remember that the Maya nations practised the custom of
artificially deforming the skull, as is seen in particular on the reliefs
at Palenque, we may also regard the heads of these deities as
representations of such artificially flattened skulls.
God E occurs frequently as the god of husbandry, especially in the Madrid
manuscript, which devotes much attention to agriculture. He seems to be a
counterpart of the Mexican maize-god Centeotl. The passages in the Madrid
manuscript (Tro. 29a and Cort. 39a, 40a) are very remarkable, where
the deity E is represented in the position of a woman in labor with
numerals on the abdomen; perhaps the underlying idea is that of
In the Codex Cort., p. 40, this grain-deity is pictured with a tall and
slender vessel before him, which he holds in his hands. It is possible
that this is meant to suggest a grain receptacle; to be sure, in the same
place, other figures of gods likewise have such vessels in their hands.
At any rate, it is interesting to note that in the passage already
mentioned (Dr. 50a) god E also holds a similar tall and slender vessel
in his hands.
According to all appearances the scene pictured in Dr. 50a has reference
to the conflict of the grain-god with a death-deity. The latter, the
figure sitting on the right, is characterized by a skull as a head
ornament (see Fig. 6) and seems to address threats or commands to god E,
who stands before him in the attitude of a terrified and cowed
Furthermore god E has nothing to do with the powers of the underworld; he
is a god of life, of prosperity and fruitfulness; symbols of death are
never found in connection with him. Brinton calls this god Ghanan,
equivalent to Kan; it is possible, too, that he is identical with a deity
Yum Kaax who has been handed down to us and whose name means "Lord of the
According to Förstemann the day dedicated to this god is Kan.
F. The God of War and of Human Sacrifices.
[Illustration: Figs. 28-34]
This is a deity closely related to the death-god A, resembling the Aztec
Xipe, and may, I think, without hesitation be regarded simply as the god
of human sacrifice, perhaps, even more generally, as the god of death by
violence. His hieroglyph is Figs. 28-30; it contains the number 11. A
variant of this occurs on Dr. 7b, where instead of the 11 there is the
following sign: [Hieroglyph]
The characteristic mark of god F is a single black line usually running
perpendicularly down the face in the vicinity of the eye. This line
should be distinguished from the parallel lines of C's face and from the
line, which, as a continuation of god E's head resembling an ear of
maize, frequently appears on his face, especially as in the variants of
the Madrid manuscript (compare Figs. 25-27). These pictures of E can
always be unfailingly recognized by the peculiar shape of the head and
should be distinguished from those representing F. The black face-line is
the distinguishing mark of god F, just as it is of the Aztec Xipe. It
sometimes runs in a curve over the cheek as a thick, black stripe, as
Cort. 42. Sometimes it encircles the eye only (Dr. 6a) and again it is a
dotted double line (Dr. 6b). The hieroglyph of god F likewise exhibits
this line and with the very same variants as the god himself. See the
hieroglyphs of the god belonging to the pictures in Dr. 6a, 1st and 3d
figures, in which the line likewise differs from the other forms (Figs.
In a few places god F is pictured with the same black lines _on his
entire body_, which elsewhere he has only on his face, the lines being
like those in Fig. 31, namely Tro. 27*c. Indeed, in Tro. 28*c, the
death-god A likewise has these black lines on his body and also F's line
on his face; a clear proof of the close relationship of the two deities.
These lines probably signify gaping death-wounds and the accompanying
rows of dots are intended to represent the blood.
Since god F is a death-deity the familiar sign (Fig. 5), which occurs so
frequently with the hieroglyphs of A, also belongs to his symbols. F is
pictured in company with the death-god in connection with human sacrifice
(Cort. 42); an exactly similar picture of the two gods of human sacrifice
is given in Codex Tro. 30d; here, too, they sit opposite one another.
The identity of this attendant of death with the deity, designated by the
hieroglyph with the numeral 11, is proved by the following passages:
Tro. 19, bottom (on the extreme right hand without picture, only
hieroglyph, see Fig. 29), Dr. 5b, 6a, b, and c and many others. In
some of the passages cited (Dr. 5a and b) he is distinguished by an
unusually large ear-peg. His hieroglyph occurs with the hieroglyph of the
death-god in Dr. 6c, where he is himself not pictured.
As war-god, god F occurs combined with the death-god in the passages
mentioned above (Tro. 27*-29*c), where he sets the houses on fire with
his torch and demolishes them with his spear.
God F occurs quite frequently in the manuscripts and must therefore be
considered as one of the more important deities.
According to Förstemann his day is Manik, the seizing, grasping hand,
symbolizing the capturing of an enemy in war for sacrificial purposes.
F's sign occurs once, as mentioned above, in fourfold repetition with all
the four cardinal points, namely in Tro. 29*c. In ancient Central
America the captured enemy was sacrificed and thus the conceptions of the
war-god and of the god of death by violence and by human sacrifice are
united in the figure of god F. In this character god F occurs several
times in the Madrid manuscript in combat with M, the god of travelling
merchants (see page 35). Spanish writers do not mention a deity of the
kind described here as belonging to the Maya pantheon.
G. The Sun-God.
[Illustration: Figs. 35-36]
God G's hieroglyph (Fig. 35) contains as its chief factor the sun-sign
Kin. It is one of the signs (of which there are about 12 in the
manuscripts), which has the Ben-ik prefix and doubtless denotes a month
dedicated to the sun. There is, I think, no difference of opinion
regarding the significance of this deity, although Fewkes, as already
stated, is inclined to identify G with B, whom, it is true, the former
resembles. It is surprising that a deity who from his nature must be
considered as very important, is represented with such comparative
infrequency. He occurs only a few times in the Dresden manuscript, for
example 22b, 11c, and in the Codex Tro.-Cortesianus none can be found
among the figures which could be safely regarded as the sun-god; in no
manuscript except the Dresden does a deity occur wearing the sun-sign Kin
on his body. But once in the Codex Cort. the figure of D appears with the
sun-sign on his head, as pointed out by Fewkes in his article entitled
"The God 'D' in the Codex Cortesianus". G's hieroglyph, to be sure, is
found repeatedly in the Madrid manuscript, for example Codex Tro. 31c.
God G seems to be not wholly without relation to the powers of death; the
owl-sign (Fig. 5) occurs once in connection with him (Dr. 11c). Besides
the sun-sign Kin, which the god bears on his body, his representations
are distinguished by a peculiar nose ornament (Fig. 36) which, as may be
seen by comparison with other similar pictures in the Dresden manuscript,
is nothing but a large and especially elaborate nose-peg. Similar
ornaments are rather common just here in the carefully drawn first part
of the Dresden manuscript. Compare Dr. 22b (middle figure), 21 (centre),
17b, 14a, b; occasionally they also have the shape of a flower, for
example 12b (centre), 11c (left), 19a. Lastly it is worthy of note,
that god G is sometimes represented with a snake-like tongue protruding
from his mouth, as in Dr. 11b and c.
H. The Chicchan-God.
[Illustration: Figs. 37-40]
The figure of a deity of frequent occurrence in the Dresden manuscript is
a god, who is characterized by a skin-spot or a scale of a serpent on his
temple of the same shape as the hieroglyph of the day Chicchan (serpent).
Moreover the representations of the god himself differ very much, so that
there are almost no other positive, unvarying characteristic marks to be
specified. His picture is plainly recognizable and has the Chicchan-mark
on the temple in Dr. 11a, 12b and 20b.
The hieroglyph belonging to this deity likewise displays the
Chicchan-sign as its distinguishing mark. Furthermore several variants
occur. The Chicchan-sign has sometimes the form of Fig. 37 and again that
of Fig. 38. The prefix likewise differs very much, having sometimes the
form of Fig. 37, and again that of Fig. 38 or of Figs. 39 and 40. Thus
there are, in all, four different forms of the prefix. It is to be
assumed that all these hieroglyphs have the same meaning, notwithstanding
their variations. Taking into consideration the frequency of the
variations of other hieroglyphs of gods and of the hieroglyphs in the
Maya manuscripts in general, it is quite improbable from the nature of
the case, that a hieroglyph, which displays so great an agreement in its
essential and characteristic elements, should denote several different
gods. The dissimilarity which Seler thinks he finds between the forms of
the Chicchan-sign in Figs. 37 and 38 and which leads him to assume that
Fig. 37 is not a Chicchan-sign at all, but that it denotes another face
ornament, cannot be satisfactorily proved, and must be regarded as an
arbitrary assumption. The Chicchan-mark in the sign of the day Chicchan
also differs very much from that on the bodies of the serpents pictured
in the manuuscripts, so that variations of this kind by no means make it
necessary to assume that the hieroglyphs actually denote different
things. Observe, for example, the different Chicchan-spots on the
serpent's body in Tro. 27a. The crenelated, black border of the
Chicchan-spot in Fig. 38 passes in rapid cursive drawing almost of itself
into the scallops of Fig. 37, a transition to which there are distinct
tendencies on the serpent's body in Tro. 27a. Nor does the fact, that
under H's hieroglyph different personages are very often pictured, whom
we cannot positively identify, compel the assumption that we have here
not _one_, but two or more mythical figures, for the same is true of
other hieroglyphs of gods. There are many places in the manuscripts where
the text contains a definite well-known hieroglyph of a god, while the
accompanying picture represents some other deity or some other figure not
definitely characterized, perhaps merely a human form (priest, warrior,
woman and the like). Thus in Dr. 4a we see H's hieroglyph in the text,
but the picture is the figure of god P while in other places we miss the
characteristic Chicchan-spot on the figure represented, for example Dr.
4c, 6a, 7b, 7c, 14a, 21c. In the Madrid manuscript, it is true, H's
hieroglyph also occurs often enough, but _not in a single instance_ is a
deity represented displaying the Chicchan-spot. This fact is, I think, to
be explained by the coarser style of the drawing, which does not admit of
representing such fine details as in the Dresden manuscript. In the Paris
manuscript H's hieroglyph occurs but once (p. 8, bottom).
Seler thinks he recognizes in some of the figures represented under H's
hieroglyph in the manuscripts, a so-called "young god". Such a deity is
unknown and the assumption is entirely arbitrary. Apparently this "young
god" is an invention of Brinton. The purely inductive and descriptive
study of the manuscripts does not prove the existence of such a
personage, and we must decline to admit him as the result of deductive
reasoning. In this so-called "young god", we miss, first of all, a
characteristic mark, a distinct peculiarity such as belongs to all the
figures of gods in the manuscripts without exception and by which he
could be recognized. Except his so-called youthfulness, however, no such
definite marks are to be found. Furthermore there is no figure of a god
in the manuscripts which would not be designated by a definite
characteristic hieroglyph. No such hieroglyph can be proved as belonging
to the "young god". The figures, which are supposed to have a "youthful
appearance" in the Madrid manuscript, often convey this impression merely
in consequence of their smallness and of the pitiful, squatting attitude
in which they are represented. Furthermore real _children_ do occur here
and there, thus, for example, in the Dresden manuscript in connection
with the pictures of women in the first part and in Tro. 20*c in the
representation of the so-called "infant baptism."
That god H has some relation to the serpent must be conjectured from what
has been said. Thus, for example, on Dr. 15b, we see his hieroglyph
belonging to the figure of a woman with the knotted serpent on her head,
in Dr. 4a to the god P, who there bears a serpent in his hand, and in
Dr. 35b in connection with a serpent with B's head. What this relation
is, cannot now be stated.
The day dedicated to god H is Chicchan, and the sign for this day is his
I. The Water-Goddess.
[Illustration: Fig. 41]
In the Dresden manuscript the figure of an old woman, with the body
stained brown and claws in place of feet, occurs repeatedly. She wears on
her head a knotted serpent and with her hands pours water from a vessel.
Evidently we have here a personification of water in its quality of
destroyer, a goddess of floods and cloud-bursts, which, as we know, play
an important part in Central America. Page 27, of the Codex Troano
contains a picture, in which this character of goddess I may be
distinctly recognized. In accordance with this character, also on Dr. 74,
where something resembling a flood is represented, she wears the
cross-bones of the death-god.
The goddess is pictured in the manner described in the following places:
Dr. 39b, 43b, 67a and 74. The figure corresponding to her in the
Madrid manuscript, in Tro. 27 and 34*c, displays some variations, in
particular the tiger claws on the feet and the red-brown color of the
body are lacking. But the agreement cannot be questioned, I think, when
we recall that the Maya manuscripts doubtless originated in different
ages and different areas of civilization, circumstances which readily
explain such variations. The goddess distinguished in the Madrid
manuscript by symbols of flood and water is doubtless the same as goddess
I of the Dresden manuscript described above; her unmistakable character
of water-goddess in both manuscripts is in favor of this. In both
manuscripts she is invariably distinguished by the serpent on her head,
which, as we know, is a symbol of the water flowing along and forming
Strange to say, a fixed hieroglyph of this goddess cannot be proved with
certainty. There is some probability in favor of the sign given in Fig.
41. The well-known oblong signs, which Förstemann (Drei Mayahieroglyphen,
published in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1901, pp. 215-221) interprets
as the sign for evil days, frequently occur with her. This would be
appropriate for the goddess of floods.
In the Dresden manuscript a few similar figures of women are found, who,
like goddess I, wear a knotted serpent on the head. Representations of
this kind occur in Dr. 9c, 15b, 18a, 20a, 22b and 23b. Whether they
are identical with goddess I is doubtful, since there is no symbolic
reference to water in these passages. Besides, the hieroglyphs of other
known deities occur each time in the above-mentioned places, so that
definite mythologic relations must be assumed to exist here between the
women repsented and the deities in question. Thus in Dr. 9c we find D's
sign, in 15b that of H; on 18a, 22b and 23b we see only the general
sign for a woman. In Dr. 20a the signs are effaced.
In the Codex Troano goddess I occurs on pp. 25b and 27; there is also a
woman with the knotted serpent on her head in Tro. 34*c. In the Codex
Cortesianus and in the Paris manuscript these forms are wholly lacking.
[to be continued...]