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Ix Chel

Maya Goddess of Fertility, Childbirth and Weaving

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Sacul Vase Portraying Ix Chel As Young Moon Goddess

Sacul Vase Portraying Ix Chel As Young Moon Goddess

Simon Burchell

Ix Chel (sometimes spelled Ixchel), the moon goddess, is one of the most important ancient Maya deities, connected to fertility, and procreation. Her name has been translated as “Lady Rainbow”, or as “She of the Pale Face”, alluding to the moon's surface.

Although not directly mentioned in colonial sources, in the codices Ix Chel appears in both old and young variations, to whom Maya religion specialists attribute respectively the names of Goddess O and Goddess I. As an aged woman, Ix Chel is usually portrayed with a serpent headdress, a skirt adorned with crossed bones, and jaguar claws instead of hands. It has been proposed that the two variants correspond to different aspects of the moon: the old Ix Chel is connected with the full moon, and its waning aspect, and the young Ix Chel is connected with the crescent moon. This interpretation is partially supported by some Classic period depictions of the young goddess sitting on a crescent moon, holding a rabbit.

According to ancient Maya mythology, Ix Chel was the wife of the god Itzamna, and they were the progenitors of all the other gods.

Ix Chel, Good and Bad

In Classic period inscriptions and some later codices, she is sometimes referred to as Chaak Chel, “Red Rainbow”. For the ancient Maya, the rainbow came from the underworld and its appearance was feared as a bad sign, bearing illness and death.

During the Postclassic period and at the time of the European contact, however, Ix Chel was considered a positive deity related to fertility, childbirth and weaving.Shrines to Ix Chel were dedicated on the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, just off the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, and many women made pilgrimages to her shrines to venerate her and consult her oracle.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Maya, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Sharer, Robert J., 2006, The Ancient Maya. Sixth Edition. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California

Taube, Karl, 1997, An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, Thames and Hudson.

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