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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Further information :
Gods of the Maya