Aztec and Mayan Gods/Goddesses: List and Descriptions
Ancient Central America - The Aztecs and Mayans
Long ago, before Mexico was called Mexico, there were ancient indigenous people who not only lived on the land but worshiped the land in Central America. As a part of their religion, they believed in great deities - gods that would bring war and goddesses that brought peace, gods that brought rain and goddesses who helped things grow. Two of the largest ancient Central American civilizations included the Aztec people and the Mayan people.
While the Aztec and Mayan civilizations have disappeared or faded, the memory of their power (both in warfare and culturally) still survives today. We will examine the following in this article:
- the most well-known Aztec Gods and Goddesses
- the most well-known Mayan Gods and Goddesses
- the qualities and characteristics of each god and goddess
He was the patron national god of the Mexicas people before he became a god to the Aztecs. He was a god of war, mostly. All credit was given to him if a battle or war was won. His name has been translated to mean either "Hummingbird of the South" or "Left-handed Hummingbird". In addition to being a god of war, he was also considered a god of the sun, a god of the women who died in childbirth and warriors who died in war. It was believed he was celebrated for almost the entire month of December each year and the city of Tenochtitlan was dedicated to him.
The Lord of the Land of Death, or the king of the underworld, Mictlantecuhtli was one of the most feared and respected of the Aztec gods. The worship of this god was rather grisly, involving human cannibalism in its rituals. His image was usually depicted as a creepy monkey-looking man with his ribs on the exterior of his body. Often he had blood splatters all over his body, in representation of the dead. Spiders, bats, owls and other nocturnal animals are associated with Mictlantecuhtli, and he ruled over the night.
Perhaps the most famous of the Aztec gods, Quetzalcoatl was the great "feathered serpent" of the Aztec people. He was the guardian between the earth and the sky, between the mortal and immortal. In this way, he could be looked upon as a dragon of some kind. A pyramid in Cholula was built to honor and worship Quetzalcoatl, and it is the world's largest pyramid. Quetzalcoatl was the god of war, the four directions, god of prosperity, god of judgment, and resurrection. His influence can be seen in many ancient Aztec artifacts and at various historical sites.
The god of rain and also fertility, Tlaloc was a well-loved god of the Aztecs. He ruled over the element of water, and therefore could also be a vengeful god and use hail and thunderstorms to punish the people if angered. He is depicted as having features like that of a jaguar, with large eyes and teeth and sometimes claws. Tlaloc was a widely-worshiped deity and there was a site in Tenochtitlan dedicated in his honor. He was a god of the heavens, of a part where people who died from drowning or by water would go.
A popular goddess of the Aztec people, she ruled over the hearth and also the element of fire. She was therefore also associated with volcanoes. Because she was a goddess of fire, she was also a passionate and angry god. There are legends of her anger after someone has stolen something from her. She is usually depicted as a red serpent, but sometimes in the image of a dog according to legend.
A goddess of abundance, Chicomecoatl presides over the fields - over corn and agriculture in general. She was a goddess of "plenty", and was an Aztec version of the triple goddess. She was shown in a maiden form carrying flowers, in a mother form carrying corn, and in a crone form who brought death in a subtle and loving manner. She was said to have been married to Tezcatlipoca, the god of the sky and winds.
She may have been one of the oldest of the Aztec gods, and she was the mother of Quetzalcoatl. Historians believe Chimalma originated with the Toltec people, as did her son. These gods were adapted by the Aztec during a time when they lived with the Toltecs. Chimalma can be seen as a Great Mother Goddess, and mother of the "Absolute Being". In Christianity, she would be compared to Mary Mother of God.
Coatlicue was seen as a creator goddess in that she gave birth to the sun and the heavens. She was a powerful goddess and presided over the life cycles of men - both death and birth. The Aztec people often depicted her as both beautiful and cruel, just as the Earth is. She could be loving and nurturing, but also cruel and destructive because the Earth is all of these things. Coatlicue is said to have worn skirts made of snakes, hence her name (coatl meaning snake). She was considered a primordial god and often seen as an old woman. She protected and aided women who died in childbirth.
She was the Aztec goddess of fertility, and therefore also of life, death and rebirth. She could be looked upon as a Queen of the Ages. Some might call her a psychopomp, as she is there to guide those who have died to the other side safely. She is the sister of Chimalma and Coatlicue, according to Aztec mythology.
The Mayan people also had their set of gods and goddesses. While many of them seem to be the same as the Aztec gods, they hold their own unique qualities and characteristics making them inherently Mayan.
The feathered serpent god worshiped by the Maya in the Yucatan. He is thought to be the same god as the Aztecs' feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl (mentioned in the Aztec gods section above). His cult is believed to have began in Chichen Itza. He is a powerful god associated with storms, rain, wind, and the elements. There are various myths about Kukulkan relating to the Sun and the Ocean.
Just like many other gods' names, Mam is a god and a name that was used in different context depending on the region of South America; however, he is believed to have originated with the Ancient Mayans. He is an ancestor god, and his name often means grandfather, father or king. He is related to the Earth and the Mountains, and his domain is over such. Mam is also a protector of travelers and from witchcraft. In one region in South America, he is called Maximon and is considered a saint by the people there.
While he is often said to be more of a legendary figure than a god, Votan was surely a well-known name in the Mayan civilization. There is much confusion and debate over whether or not Votan is the Mayan equivalent to the Norse god Odin or Wotan. He has been related back to legends of Atlantis, and he is also said to have traveled to Mexico in ancient times from the "Old World" (Europe/Asia). He is a god/deity that represents happiness and humanity.
This Mayan god is the South American equivalent to the Celtic god of the hunt, Cernunnos (amongst other names). Yum Kaax guards animals in the wild and is a god of vegetation and earthly abundance. He aids hunters on the hunt, directing their arrows to the most appropriate places.
An inspirational Goddess of the Mayans, Alaghom Naom was the goddess of inspiration, creativity, and inevitably the goddess of knowledge. She is said to have thought certain intangible things into existence. All things that cannot be held in one's hand are her domain.
This Mayan Goddess is featured in an oracle card deck called the Goddess Oracle. It says that she is the goddess of creativity. The Mayans related her to the Moon, and she was also thought to be part jaguar. She helped women in midwifery and in medicine. Fertility was another of her attributes, and it was said that she would pour out her waters from her sacred jar (her womb) in order to replenish the earth.
© 2015 Nicole Canfield