Ixchel, or Ix Chel as she is also known, is the 16th century name for an ancient Mayan Jaguar deity. She was believed to be the goddess of the moon, midwifery, medicine and catastrophe. She is originally named as ‘Goddess O’ in The Dresden Codex, which is the oldest surviving text of the Americas and dates to approximately the 13th century. In this text, she is described as an aged deity with jaguar ears who was primarily responsible for midwifery and medicine. By the 16th century, the Poqomchi tribe of Yucat who were the descendants of the Mayans, were referring to the deity as ‘Ixchel’. She is known as two aspects of the same deity; the aged goddess of medicine and the beautiful young deity of the moon. However, some ancient Mayan scholars believe that she was a Triple Goddess.
Our belief of her connection to medicine dates to the 16th century. It was discovered that the Mayan calendar month of ‘Zip’ included a feast known as ‘Ihcil Ixchel’. This festival was celebrated by both physicians and shamans in recognition of the deity of medicine. Both divination stones and medicine bundles containing idols of Ixchel which were used during this festival were also discovered. The Mayan document ‚ÄòRitual of the Bacabs‚Äô was also uncovered. This described Ixchel in its medical incantations in connection with childbirth and healing.
The Mayan ‘Birth Vase K5113‘ shows Ixchel in connection with childbirth, along with various other aged women who are wearing the traditional weaving headdress. These women made up the ‘Female Lords’, who were described as being both powerful and fearsome. Ixchel herself is shown wearing an entwined serpent as a headdress, with crossed bones on her skirt. She is shown carrying an inverted water vessel in her hands, which represents her connection to the nourishing aspects of the water. It is also believed that this jug could create rainstorms and floods. The ancient Mayans believed that these were sent to destroy and cleanse the land, ready for its rebirth. This connected Ixchel with the cycle of life and death, as well as sexuality and the serpent. In this image of her as a crone, she is linked with the Aztec deity Toc Yoalticitl. Very similar features are also seen in the Aztec earth deity Cihuacoatl, who was often invoked by their midwives.
Ixchel is also known as the beautiful moon deity, as the moon also held associations with fertility and procreation. The waning moon was often referred to by the Mayans as ‘our grandmother’, which once again brings in the crone aspects we have previously mentioned. The triad of maid, mother and grandmother for the three phases of the moon was particularly common in ancient polytheistic cultures throughout the world. The moon cycle in itself was also of the utmost importance to the work of an ancient midwife. As a result, this may explain why Ixchel is used in connection with both the deities of the moon and midwifery.
While very little is known about the origin myths, Ixchel in her role as the moon deity was said to be in love with the solar deity Kinich Ahau. It was believed that he did not return her love, and so she followed him across the skies each day. As she did so, the tides would rise and flood the earth. As Ixchel did not notice this, the crops would die. Eventually, her superior weaving skills caught the attention of Kinich Ahau as she made a beautiful piece of golden cloth. She bore the solar deity four sons, who were each jaguar gods who would blend into the night. Each of these were named for the four directions of the world, and were believed to each be responsible for holding up a corner of the sky. Kinich Ahau was believed to be jealous, and threw her out of heaven due to the belief that she was having an affair with his brother, the personification of the morning star. Despite returning to him, Ixchel later left him while in her jaguar form so she was unseen in the night.
While the main images of Ixchel show her as either the young moon deity, or the aged goddess of midwifery, she was a Triple Goddess to the ancient Mayans. Each of these roles was personified by each of the stages of the moon cycle, alongside their other aspects.
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