Excavating Mayan Symbols of the Goddess Ixchel
Goddess Symbols of the Mayan Deity Ixchel
Ixchel is a Mayan goddess – we know that for sure, but her roles within the Mayan structure of divine rites are complicated.
What I find particularly interesting is that the goddess Ixchel is featured in ancient Mayan drawings with one or several snakes in her hair. Snakes are huge when it comes to Mayan symbols, and especially the goddess Ixchel. Snakes associated with Ixchel are symbolic of renewal, life, transformation and so much more.
As a community changes and grows – particularly when the collective progress is swift and massive, the gods and goddesses of the community have to change with its people.divine representations and purposes may have required tailoring as the needs of her people evolved.
In other words, we see Ixchel’s role morphing through the rapid evolution of the Mayan culture.
She is known as a moon goddess, an agent of fertility and a midwife. She’s been a water goddess, which ebbs nicely with esoteric symbolism of childbirth (water being closely associated with the womb, and the birth of a child being symbolic of being born from the cosmic oceans of teeming life). She’s also been a healer, a shaman and a female warrior.
The Mayan goddess Ixchel held down many jobs during her tour of duty as a goddess among the Mayan regime.
Important Roles of the Mayan Goddess Ixchel
- Moon Goddess
- Water Goddess
- Female Warrior
- Matron of Midwifery
- Fertility Goddess
- Earth Goddess
- Crone – Death Goddess
- Patroness of Weaving
- Deity of Divination
- Healing Deity
A little overwhelming, isn’t it? It’s good to know gods and goddesses are unlimited. They cannot be bound to conventionalism. Their identifications are dependent upon one thing, and one thing only: Human perception.
Ixchel has held many titles and executed many divine edicts over her reign. So, when we discover her with our modern minds, it’s hard to pinpoint her “prime-root” – her primary functions – because she’s been so versatile in the ancient ways.
I find exploring the goddess symbol meanings associated with Ixchel provides a more broad understanding of her personality. Even though her purpose and functions morphed throughout the Mayan generations, her symbols were relatively resolute in their meanings.
For example, the symbolic meaning of serpents (a goddess symbol associated with Ixchel) remained pretty consistent within the collective understanding of the Mayans. Even if Ixchel’s persona shifted from benevolent mother to intolerant crone…the meaning behind Ixchel’s symbols remain relatively constant. So, where her personality changes, her goddess symbol meanings offer an anchor and thus a guide to her purpose in Mayan culture.
That said, let’s take a look at the goddess symbols that have adorned and are associated with Ixchel.
Common Mayan Symbols of the Goddess Ixchel
Serpent as a Mayan Symbol:
As mentioned earlier in this article, the snake is a prominent Mayan symbol and is shown in the goddess Ixchel’s hair in many ancient depictions. There is perhaps no other totemic creature of higher popularity among the Mayan culture than the snake. Well, maybe jaguars and eagles ranked equal or higher, but the serpent is an undeniably profound centerpiece in the Mayan’s symbolic nobility. Why? Three reasons:
1) Serpents swallow their prey whole, and that is big magic. In this act, the serpent illustrates the potential of metamorphosis. We (the “modern” human) may see it as swallowing, digesting and then pooping. But, the Mayans saw it as totally transforming a body (snake food) – causing a whole body to disappear completely.
2) The serpent’s mouth is symbolic of a gaping void, or an open cave. This underscores the idea that whatever the snake consumes whole, that object enters a vast mystery and will be forever altered by entering the “dark cave” of the serpent’s mouth. Here again, the modern mind may only see a snake unhinging it’s jaw to stuff a tasty meal down it’s maw, but we must recognize Mayan’s mentality as elsewhere in time-space.
3) Serpents are associated with the sky in Mayan wisdom. In fact, we see countless depictions of snakes with feathered wings in ancient ruins. With their connection with the sky, serpents are divine. In this way, they are also connected with water because rain falls from the skies, and snakes are sky creatures.
With these three points, we see themes of: Transformation, Initiation, Divine Communication. All three of these themes are germane to Ixchel’s many roles in the community. Whether a midwife goddess or a water goddess, the snake is a Mayan symbol of great import, and denotes special powers of metamorphosis pertaining to Ixchel. In short, the serpent of Ixchel is a Mayan symbol of complete alteration of the mind, body and spirit. It encourages the adept to take the first step, enter the serpent cave, be consumed and come from the digestive process completely changed. There is also a connection between the initiate and a newborn child. The first breath of new life in this world is further step in transformation – something of which the snake is wholly symbolic. Serpents are also associated with the earth according to Mayan wisdom, and therefore reinforces Ixchel’s role as an earth goddess. Read more about Serpent Symbolism here.
Moon Mayan Symbolism:
Scholars are still on the fence about Ixchel’s association with the moon. Some identify her confidently in certain ruins, holding a rabbit (which is often synonymous with the moon in Mayan symbology). Others discount Ixchel as the goddess pictured with the moon. I think the discrepancy may have to do with age. As mentioned earlier, gods and goddesses are sculpted according to the needs and perspectives of the people. As their customs and requirements change, so too will the Mayan deities. In fact, there are artifacts that could legitimately portray Ixchel with the moon – but in these portrayals, Ixchel is a crone. Although the moon is a Mayan symbol of regeneration (birth), it also carries with it themes of withdrawing, shadows, time and mystery. The moon (and all deities associated with her) works her powers under the cloak of night, and whatever schemes she works out is a mystery to mankind. This can produce a scapegoat for the primitive ego (and modern ego too). What am I getting at?
Here’s my point: Invading tribes, failed crops, terminal illnesses – these can easily be attributed to the moon(goddess) and the dark plans she weaves in the shadow where no one can see or understand what she’s doing, or why. As an old goddess – a hard-lined, fiendish-looking crone – Ixchel manipulates darker forces that explain the darker events of the Mayan culture. In this lunar light, Ixchel is still a transformer (as the moon is a Mayan symbol of transformation too), but she is also a justifier. The moon is symbolic of the unseen aspects of existence, and only the crone version of a goddess like Ixchel has the experience and wherewithal to see the shadows of life and manipulate them in a way to restore balance. War, famine, death – these are manifestations of Ixchel’s manipulations “behind the scenes.” Ixchel’s crone aspect is also linked with her role as the tapestry-maker. She is weaving consequences behind the scenes because only she can see in the shadow, so only she can adequately connect cause with effect. More on Moon Symbolism here.
Water as a Mayan Symbol:
Ixchel is often seen with a pail or a jug, presumably holding water. In her more maiden-like visage, Ixchel is said to pour out her healing rains upon the land, and extol blessings, insuring abundant provisions to the community.
Water vessels are also symbolic of the womb, and Ixchel portrayed with a pitcher would imply her role as a midwife and/or doting mother/grandmotherly type to newborns within the community. Water is also a life-giver (ensuring the survival of the community, the continuation of agriculture). Her association with water would lend further credence to Ixchel’s role as a life-bringer, a midwife, and the goddess of childbearing. Water is symbolic of cleansing and healing, which would support Ixchel’s younger (more beautiful) role as a healing deity. More on Water symbolism here.
Crossbones as a Mayan Symbol of Ixchel:
Bones crossed in an “x” is Mayan symbol of foreboding. Crossbones are a mortal Mayan symbol calling upon the concept of crossroads, which are considered ominous locations. Bones crossed are symbolic of a juxtaposition between god/man, life/death, dark/light, etc. – there is a “meeting of duality” in this crossed bone gesture.
Bones were often left at crossroad sites as a gesture to discard contaminants. For example: If you died of a disease within the community, your bones might have been left at the crossroads as a gesture to “excommunicate” the disease that took your body. Crossbones have been identified as adornments on the Ixchel’s clothing (in some of her renditions). This would imply she could be a sin-eater of sorts. It may also suggest Ixchel morphed into a warrior goddess at some point in the Mayan culture. She has been seen holding a spear and a shield too. These Mayan symbols along with crossbones might reinforce a vengeful attitude, and would suggest Ixchel as fully capable of reaping shrewd judgment in times of tribal war.
Rainbow Mayan Symbol:
Mayans were a primarily agricultural group, and so we see rain plays a vital role in their community, beliefs and consciousness. So, anything resembling or having to do with rain will be a remarkably important icon. Clouds were especially revered and consulted as auguries (namely, seeking optimal agricultural cues). Rainbows would have been very powerful Mayan symbols because they are associated with rain, which is a life-giver.
Rainbows were guideposts to the Mayans, and were considered to be oracles of renewal, life and an appeased status among divine moods. This ties in nicely with Ixchel’s function as a divinatory goddess. Further, there were members in the Mayan community with specialized ability to interpret deeper meaning from rainbows (you can get in a zone, cross your eyes in funny ways and see patterns in the pixilated colors of rainbows. From the patterns, profound understanding can be derived). Ixchel would have been called upon to aid in interpreting a rainbow’s portent. This lends creed to Ixchel’s role as a consulted goddess of divination. Or, better said, Ixchel would have been a gateway into divine knowing. She would have been responsible for sending rainbows to the Mayan people as a symbol of life and renewal. Lastly, as a Mayan symbol of life, the rainbow is a common-sense feature associated with Ixchel in her role as a divine midwife. Get more about the symbolic meaning of rainbows here.
These are just a few Mayan symbols associated with the goddess Ixchel. There’s more to her than meets the eye, so be sure to do more research on your own.
As always, thanks for reading. I hope these insights were enlightening on your journey into Mayan symbols and goddess symbols. May all your Mayan encounters be inspiring. -Avia
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