Maya civilization

A Mayan Glossary

The Maya word for "god" and for "high king".
Ah kin
A high priest.
Spear-throwing device.
A class of important gods.
Balam (pl. Balamob)
Jaguar spirit. There are traditionally four of these, which watch to keep evil away from Maya villages and householders, even today. The balamob were benevolent but feared, and acted as guardians of the corn fields.
A strong wine.
A natural waterhole. Cenote is a corruption by the Spanish of the Maya word dzonot, a large circular sink-hole created by the collapse of limestone caves. The water in cenotes is filtered through limestone and constituted one of the primary sources of drinking water for the Maya. Patterns of settlement among the early Maya often followed the location of cenotes.
The juice of the sapodilla tree, used in the making of chewing gum.
A soothsayer or medium.
Chultun (pl. Chultunob)
A bottle-shaped cistern constructed underground by the Maya. The entrances to these were surrounded by plastered aprons which directed rainwater into the chultunob during the rainy seasons.
Indian woman's traditional full-length skirt.
One of the three Maya calendars, and the one which corresponds most closely to ours in length. The haab is also known as the "Vague Year" by archaeologists, since it is 365 days in length, or about a quarter day short of the actual solar year.
Halach Uinic
Literally, "the chief of men" - a leader or king.
A traditional Maya wraparound, woven cotton dress, worn leaving the shoulders bare.
A region of rain forest between the Petén and the eastern slopes of the Chiapas highlands. Also refers to the Maya people who inhabit this region.
Sustenance or alms, used as an offering to the gods. It could be any precious substance, such as blood, semen, sap, maize, dough, gum from trees, rubber, and so on. The god of sustenance is named K'awil.
A person of mixed Maya-Spanish race.
A square of cloth, used as a cloak or blanket; still worn by the Maya today.
The Maya originated around 2600 B.C. and rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Inheriting the inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations, the Maya developed astronomy, calendrical systems, hieroglyphic writing, ceremonial architecture, and masonry without metal tools. Maya civilization started to decline around A.D. 900, although some peripheral centres continued to thrive until the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century.
The language group of the Maya peoples, composed of 31 mutually unintelligible languages. (The term should be reserved for Mayan languages. The word "Maya" should be used for the name of the people, either as a noun or an adjective.)
An ethno-geographical area in Central America, which included Guatemala, Belize, the northwestern edges of Honduras and El Salvador, and the Mexican provinces of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche and part of Tabasco.
A cornfield.
A Maya military commander.
A highly elaborate Mesoamerican culture on the Mexican gulf coast which was at its height from 1200 to 600 B.C. The Olmec influenced the rise and development of the other great civilizations of Mesoamerica, such as the Maya, and were probably the first to develop large religious and ceremonial centres with temple mounds, monumental sculptures, massive altars, and sophisticated systems of drains and lagoons. The Olmec were probably also the first Mesoamericans to devise glyph writing and the 260-day calendar.
The northern portion of Guatemala. Covered for the most part by rain forest, Petén was the centre of Classic Maya civilization until its collapse, after which the area was largely abandoned.
A Maya ball game.
The resin of the copal tree, used by the Maya for rubber, chewing gum and incense.
A rare Central American bird. It was prized by the Maya kings for its brilliant blue-green feathers. The male bird has a tail close to 60 cm. long. Today this bird is nearing extinction.
Literally, "white road"; a Maya stone causeway linking Maya buildings and settlements.
Thin-walled neckless jars used by archaeologists to date Maya sites.
The Toltecs ruled much of Maya central Mexico from the tenth to twelfth centuries A.D. The Toltecs were the last dominant Mesoamerican culture before the Aztecs, and inherited much from Maya civilization. The Toltec capital was at Tula, 80 kilometres north of Mexico City. The most impressive Toltec ruins, however, are at Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, where a branch of Toltec culture survived beyond the civilization's fall in central Mexico.
The 260-day Maya calendar, also known as the "Sacred Round".
The five unlucky days in the 365-day haab calendar of the Maya.
The first mountain in the Maya creation story. Temples are representations of Witz.
The Maya underworld where people go when they die.
The homeland of the first Maya; from here, they spread to Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and other provinces of Mexico. Yucatán was called the "Land of Turkey and Deer" by the Maya, because of the abundance of edible wildlife found there.

The Maya Pantheon

First Mother and First Father
The First Mother and First Father are the Creator Couple described in the Popol Vuh. All the other gods who subsequently came into being were the offspring of this couple. The First Mother, the Moon Goddess, was born six years before the First Father, Hun Nal Ye. Also known as the Maize God and the Plumed or Feathered Serpent, the First Father was responsible for overseeing the new creation of the cosmos.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque
These Hero Twins overcame the forces of death, paving the way for the conception of humans. They are usually shown wearing red and white cloth headbands, a symbol of Maya rulership. The face of Hunahpu serves as a glyph for the day name ahau, meaning king.
The Patrons of Writing
The Hero Twins had two older brothers who were jealous of the twins and did everything they could to make their younger brothers' lives difficult. The Hero Twins changed their brothers into monkeys and they became the patron gods of scribes.
The Maize God
Like the Sun God, the Maize God is associated with life and death. He follows the path across the sky, descends into the Underworld, is reborn, and returns to the Sky World. The flattened and elongated forehead of this deity is often accentuated by a partly shaven head and eyebrows, leaving patches of hair on the top of his head, which resembles a ripened ear of corn. The Maya elite practised changing the shape of their offsprings' skulls to resemble the Maize God's elongated head by tying two boards front and back against the infant's head.
Itzam-Yeh: the Celestial Bird
Also known as the Serpent Bird and Seven-Macaw, Itzam-Yeh is associated with the four corners of the world. He also marked the four corners of the temple, thereby establishing the sacred mountain's summit.
Itzamná: Lord of the Heavens
Itzamná, or "Lizard House", is a high-ranking god who was the first shaman and diviner; the word itz can mean shaman, a person who could open the portals to the spirit world. The Maya elite considered him an ancient form of the omnipotent, supreme deity. Kings and shamans contacted Itzamná to plead with him to open the way so sacred nourishment would flow into the world to sustain humanity. He is also the inventor of writing and the patron of learning and the sciences.
K'awil: the god of sustenance
K'awil is associated with royal power, which originates with the gods. He often appears on sceptres clasped by rulers during ritual ceremonies and when they ascend to the throne.
The Jaguar Sun God
Almighty God the Sun dwells in the highest levels of heaven. When he traces the path of the sun across the sky in the daytime, his name is Kinich Ahau. When the sun falls into the West Door and enters the Underworld, he becomes the fearsome Jaguar God.
Ix Chel: Lady Rainbow
Wife to the high god Itzamná, she oversees weaving, medicine, and childbirth. Like the First Mother, she is a moon goddess, who is depicted sitting in a moon sign holding a rabbit.
Chac: the Rain God and Cosmic Monster
Chac is a dragon-like monster with a crocodilian head and deer ears. Since he exists on the perimeter of the cosmos, this cosmic monster marks the path between the natural and supernatural worlds. In the creation story, Chacs were placed at the four corners of the world. They bring the rains by shedding their blood; they create thunderbolts by hurling down their stone axes. Chac was also the name given to Maya elders who assisted at ceremonies and sacrifices.
The Lords of Death
Many Maya gods dwell in the Underworld. The Lords of Death are depicted as skeleton people or ugly bloated beings wearing ornaments such as disembodied eyes taken from the dead.
The Witz monster
The Witz monster is the symbol of the living mountain. Images of this creature were placed on temples to transform them into sacred, living mountains. He is depicted with a zoomorphic face, a huge gaping mouth, and a stepped cleft in the centre of his forehead. The open mouth became the entry into the mountain.

Further information :
Gods of the Maya