Chaac

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Chaac (also spelled Chac or, in Classic Mayan, Chaahk) is the name of the Maya rain deity. With his lightning axe, Chaac strikes the clouds and produces thunder and rain. Chaac corresponds to Tlaloc among the Aztecs.

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Rain Deities and Rain Makers

Like other Maya gods, Chaac is both one and manifold. Four Chaacs are based in the cardinal directions and wear the directional colors. In 16th-century Yucatan, the directional Chaac of the east was called Chac Xib Chaac 'Red Man Chaac', only the colors being varied for the three other ones.[1]

Contemporary Yucatec Maya farmers distinguish many more aspects of the rain and the clouds and personify them as different, hierarchically-ordered rain deities. The Chorti Maya have preserved important folklore regarding the process of rain-making, which involved rain deities striking rain-carrying snakes with their axes.

The rain deities had their human counterparts. In the traditional Mayan (and Mesoamerican) community, one of the most important functions was that of rain maker, which presupposed an intimate acquaintance with (and thus, initiation by) the rain deities, and a knowledge of their places and movements. According to a Late-Postclassic Yucatec tradition, Chac Xib Chaac (the rain deity of the east) was the title of a king of Chichen Itza[2], and similar titles were bestowed upon Classic rulers as well (see below).

Images of the Great Water Cycle

Particularly the Huastec Maya (Teenek), have a cyclical concept of water. Virile, young lightning deities dominating the skies during the rainy season are transformed into wasted, terrestrial and subterranean old men (Mamlab 'Grandfather') during the dry season; in the ocean, the old men rejuvenate themselves again. This cyclical concept may well have been shared by the Classic Period Maya.

Rain Rituals

Among the rituals for the rain deities, the Yucatec Cha-Chaac ceremony for asking for rain was a ceremonial banquet for the rain deities; it included four boys acting as frogs. Asking for rain and crops was also the purpose of 16th-century rituals at the karstic wells, or cenotes, of Yucatan. Young men and women were lowered into these wells and left to drown there, so as to make them enter the realm (and possibly, become the escorts) of the rain deities. Alternatively, they were thrown into the wells later to be drawn up again, and give oracles.

Mythology

The rain deity is a patron of agriculture. A well-known myth in which the Chaacs (or related Rain and Lightning deities) have an important role to play is about the opening of the mountain in which the maize was hidden. In Tzotzil mythology, the rain deity also figures as the father of nubile women representing maize and vegetables. In some versions of the Q'eqchi' myth of Sun and Moon, the rain deity Choc (or Chocl) 'Cloud' is the brother of Sun; together they defeat their aged adoptive mother and her lover. Later, Chocl commits adultery with his brother's wife and is duly punished; his tears of regret give origin to the rain. Versions of this myth[3] show the rain deity Chac in his war-like fury, pursuing the fleeing Sun and Moon, and attacking them with his lightnings.

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