Ixchel

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Ixchel or Ix Chel (pronounced [iʃˈtʃel]) is the 16th-century name of the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine in the ancient Maya culture. She corresponds, more or less, to Toci Yoalticitl ‘Our Grandmother the Nocturnal Physician’, an Aztec earth goddess inhabiting the sweatbath, and also appears to be related to another Aztec goddess invoked at birth, viz. Cihuacoatl. In Taube's revised Schellhas-Zimmermann classification of codical deities, Ixchel corresponds to the goddess O.

Contents

Identification

Referring to the early 16th-century Mayas, Landa calls Ixchel “the goddess of making children”, and also mentions her as the goddess of medicine.In the month of Zip, the feast Ihcil Ixchel was celebrated by the physicians and shamans (hechiceros), and medicine bundles containing little idols of "the goddess of medicine whom they called Ixchel" and also divination stones were brought forward. In the Ritual of the Bacabs, Ixchel is once called 'grandmother'. The goddess’s two principal qualities (birthing and healing) suggest, in their combination, an analogy with the aged Aztec goddess of midwifery, Tocî Yoalticitl.

Ixchel was already known to the Classical Mayas. As Taube has demonstrated,[1] she corresponds to goddess O of the Dresden Codex, an aged woman with jaguar ears. A crucial piece of evidence in his argument is the so-called ‘Birth Vase’ (Kerr 5113), a Classic Maya container showing a childbirth presided over by various old women with weaving implements in their headdress, and headed by an old jaguar goddess, the codical goddess O. On another Classic Maya vase, goddess O is shown acting as a physician, further confirming her identity as Ixchel. The combination of Ixchel with several aged midwives on the Birth Vase recalls the Tz'utujil assembly of midwife goddesses called the ‘female lords’, the most powerful of whom is described as being particularly fearsome.[2]

Meaning of the Name

The name Ixchel was in use in 16th-century Yucatán and in the Baja Verapaz. Its meaning is not certain. Assuming that the name originated in Yucatán, chel could mean ‘rainbow’. Her glyphic names in the (Post-Classic) codices have two basic forms, one a prefix with the primary meaning of ‘red’ followed by a pictogram, the other one logosyllabic. Ix Chel's Classic name glyph remains to be identified. It is quite possible that several names were in use to refer to the goddess, and these need not necessarily have included her late Yucatec and Pokom name. Her codical name is now generally rendered as 'Chak Chel'. The designation 'Red Goddess' seems to have a complement in the designation of the young goddess I as 'White Goddess'.

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