The Mayan Moon Goddess

by Dr. Mary E. Gutierrez, PhD

According to Central Mexican (non-Mayan) traditions, the Moon and the Sun were created at the same time. Their creation took place at the central Mexican city of Teotihuacan at the dawn of the current cycle of cosmic creation. Two gods, Tecuciztecatl and Nanahuatzin threw themselves into the Fires of Creation and turned into two suns. But the gods who had assembled for this great event threw a rabbit into the face of Tecuciztecatl, thus dimming his brilliance so he became the Moon.

According to the Maya creation story, the POPOL VUH, once the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque finished with their defeat of the Lords of Death and resurrected their father Hun-Hunahpu the Maize God in the ballcourt of Xibalba, they ascended to the heavens. In one version of the POPOL VUH one twin became the Sun and the other Venus, and in another, one became the Sun and the other the Moon.

Therefore, for the pre-Columbians of Central America the Moon was created through a process of transformation in which either divine or semi-divine beings through their own choice sacrificed themselves to become this heavenly body.

In addition to their famous solar calendar, the Maya also used a lunar calendar. It complemented the solar data given in inscriptions and is called the Lunar Series, or the Supplementary Series in older writings. Within the Lunar Series the Maya used a number of hieroglyphics, the majority of yet are still undeciphered as to their exact meanings. This series of usually six hieroglyphics denoted the length of the current lunar cycle and the age of the current moon, meaning what stage it was at during the lunar cycle according to the solar date of the inscription. The length of this Lunar "month" was approximately 29 days and measured the days between the appearance of two moons.

[N.B. The Mad Hatter also seems to have used a lunar calendar. Click here to find out what I'm on about. Click here for other Lunar calendars - Ian]

The Maya, like cultures all over the world, had a Moon Goddess. In Classic Period art (400 B. C. - A. D. 900) she is depicted as a young beautiful woman. During the Classic Period, as far as scholars can determine, her name was not mentioned in conjunction with her depictions. All we know is that she was a beautiful maiden, which brings to mind the Maiden aspect of the Goddess so prevellant throughout Europe as well as other parts of the world. One of the most famous depictions of the Mayan Moon Goddess has her sitting within a crescent moon with a foot dangling over the edge. She is seen in profile and holds a rabbit in her arms. Along with many Native Americans, the Maya say the profile of this rabbit can be seen on the surface of the Full Moon. The rabbit she holds recalls the rabbit used by the gods at Teotihuacan to dim the face of Tecuciztecatl who became the Moon.

The Moon Goddess played an important part in Classic Period hieroglyphic inscriptions. Her head was used to denote the numeral one and also as a prefix to the names of Maya noble women, which served to differentiate their names from those of male Maya nobles. The Mayan Moon Goddess is believed by many modern-day Maya to be a feisty woman. It is believed that in the distant past she often quarreled with her husband, the Sun, who became so angry with his wife that he poked out one of her eyes, that is why she is dimmer than her celestial spouse to this day. There are Classic Period depictions of the Moon Goddess that may indicate that in addition to being feisty and hard to handle, she was also promiscuous. On a number of painted vessels she is depicted with various males who hug her or overtly fondle her breasts, something I am sure displeased Father Sun. Other times she is even seen in the company of man-sized rabbits.

The Mayan Moon Goddess was seen as the Goddess of childbirth, procreation, marriage, and had the power to bring about birth and rebirth. In this way, her vast powers mirror those of the Mother Goddess, Creatrix of the Universe. Nowadays, the Moon Goddess still holds a prominent position for the Maya, but she herself has gone through a type of transformation. With the advent of the Catholic Church, Mayan idols were smashed, their books were burned and their shamans and priests were tortured. Many went into hiding regarding their beliefs and kept small altars to the gods hidden in the surrounding forest, far from the eyes of the Europeans. However, one god had no reason to hide. The Moon Goddess as the beautiful young maiden who presided over childbirth and marriage was quickly identified with the Virgin Mary; and, as such, she has held her position of esteem in Mayan religion to this very day.

Dr. Gutierrez holds email classes on the mayan culture and religion. E-Mail her for details.

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Reproduced with kind permission of Dr. Mary E. Gutierrez

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