Animal Manifestations of the Creator Deities in the Maya Codices and the Popol Vuh

Author(s): Gabrielle Vail; Allen Christenson

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Animal Symbolism in Postclassic Mesoamerica: Papers in Honor of Cecelia Klein" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Scholars have long recognized that certain Mesoamerican deities appear in animal as well as anthropomorphic form. The Maya creator Itzamna, for example, has aspects corresponding to a bird, a turtle, and an alligator, while the aged "God L" may be linked to the opossum in its anthropomorphic form (Pawah-Ooch), and to the owl. This paper examines figures named with the "pawah" (or "itzam") prefix in the Postclassic Maya codices, best known for its relationship to an aged deity with a human-like appearance. This figure plays an important role in yearbearer ceremonies in the Madrid Codex, whereas related beings (named with the same prefix) also include turtles, crocodilians, and opossums. Similar patterning appears in the Popol Vuh, an early colonial manuscript from the K’iche’ region of highland Guatemala, where the aged male creator (Xpiyacoc) has associations with turtles (the "coc" in his name likely means ‘turtle’) and opossums (under the name Hunahpu Uch), and one of his sons (Xbalanque) has a special relationship with jaguars (balan) and deer (que). We explore a series of almanacs from the Madrid Codex, as well as contemporary Atiteco rituals, to provide a deeper understanding of "animal" actors in Maya hunting and yearbearer ceremonies.

Cite this Record

Animal Manifestations of the Creator Deities in the Maya Codices and the Popol Vuh. Gabrielle Vail, Allen Christenson. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 451658)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.197; min lat: 16.004 ; max long: -86.682; max lat: 21.984 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23130