For my next goddess of witchcraft, I traveled to Central America and did a little research on Ix Chel, an ancient fertility goddess. For this series, I consider a goddesses’ use of spells, herbs, and their abilities to heal, as a rule of thumb to tie these deities to what we consider witchcraft today. Although, arguably, modern medicine is technically in the same category if you think about it. Because there are so many gods and goddesses that don’t necessarily tie in with the modern day witch, I felt that deities tied with the moon would also be a good starting point. That is how I found Ix Chel for our discussion today.
Along with being tied to medicine, Ix Chel was tied to gestation, textiles and was considered the goddess of the moon. She was not only in charge of fertility of the people, but also of sending rains to nourish the crops. In that function, she was known as “the lady of the rainbow.” Although, I would like to mention that the ancient Mayan’s didn’t think of rainbows as a good thing, as I found a reference that indicated they thought of them as bad omens. That won’t be something I will go into for this post, but something I found interesting as we discuss her various duties. Like most goddesses of her time, she seemed to have her fingers in a whole lot of things, so let’s dive in and find out more about her.
Ixchel – Origins
Ix Chel (Ixchel) was a goddess in the ancient Maya culture, and she is corresponds to goddess O of the Dresden Codex. This codex is a Mayan manuscript created in around 1200 to 1250, and is the oldest and best preserved of its kind. It is currently in the collections at the Saxon State and University Library, in Dresden, Germany. It seems that she has also been tied to goddess I, which represents the “maiden” aspect of her identity. These letters of the alphabet were assigned to the gods and goddesses prior to the deciphering of the texts and were used to categorize the traits of the deities. We, of course, may never know if we are translating things correctly, unless we can bring a Mayan back to life and ask them. Even then the information might not be accurate, since it seems to have differed depending on the area it came from.
Like most of the ancient gods and goddesses, some of the tasks were passed on from deities that were no longer worshiped, and given to those who were given favor by the people. Because each of the Maya communities were governed as a separate unit, the people were free to honor deities as they saw fit, which makes things a little confusing for the scholars trying to sort things out. From what I have come across, it seems that Ix Chel was one of those goddesses that incorporated a few minor deities into her fold. Similar to Hecate, Brigid, or the Triple Goddess of Mecca, she is a multi-faced goddess, however her distinct personalities, Maiden, Mother, Crone, seem to be referenced in the codex as separate deities. For the intents of my post, we will presume that at one point or another, all three identities merged into one triple goddess.
As a maiden, Ix Chel wears a coiled snake headdress and is called goddess I in the codices. She is known as the young moon goddess and the headdress reflects her powers of healing, knowledge of medicine and midwifery. The women of the time prayed to her for fertility and it was believed that she was responsible for the development of the fetus and sex of the baby. Her name means “Lady Rainbow” and she is closely associated with water. In modern times, women sometimes sleep near the water as they seek guidance from her, hoping that the answers will come in their dreams.
As mother, Ix Chel is still called goddess I in the codices, but is given the additional name of Ixik Kab which translates to “Lady Earth.” In this form, her headdress changes and contains items that associate with weaving and the dry season. She is busy as a wife and mother, tending to those who require healing, and in this form she is also associated with weaving, the earth and the success of crops. The codices also reflect her in some amorous scenes, so it is presumed she is also the goddess of desire. It is in this stage that she is shown in several sexual unions with many romantic partners, the theory being the moon has many lovers because she moves quickly through the sky.
As a crone, Ix Chel is referred to as goddess O, and the name Chak Chel is tied with that persona. She once again wears the snake headdress of her youth and represents both life-giving and destructive powers. She aids the sick and dying and it is said absorbs the bodies of the deceased into her physical form, the earth. It is in this form that she picks up attributes that tie her to death and being a world destroyer. Pictures of this aspect, show her with sharp claws on her hands and feet, and at times, a skirt full of crossed bones. She is commonly shown with a large earthen vessel or gaping mouth, and is depicted as a more frightening version of her “maiden” self. Guessing all of those lovers are long gone by this phase!
Ixchel – Mythology
Because there is no distinct path to a single goddess, there are many myths that are tied to Ix Chel, which gives her a wide variety of family members and partners. There is some conflicting information on exactly who her husband was, but if she was indeed the goddess of desire and had multiple partners, who’s to say they aren’t all true? In some references she is married to Voltan (Mortal deified for great deeds/Earth god) and in others Itzamna (Founder of Maya Culture/Moon god) or even Ah Kin/Kinich Ahau/ Ah-Kinchil (Sun God). Link here to a wonderful reference to the Mayan Pantheon posted by Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Voltan (not to be confused with Votan) is listed as a mortal deified for great deeds or an Earth god, depending on what you are looking at. He does seem to be the first “husband” listed for Ix Chel, however, I couldn’t find any references to children that came out of that union. Maybe he was gone too much doing his great deeds, or Ix Chel wasn’t feeling it, either way she left him for Itzamna who was considered the founder of the Maya culture. He is also referenced as the moon god, and it was he who taught the Maya how to read, write and grow crops. This sounds super similar to a post I wrote about Isis, which you can link to here. I would also like to add that this pantheon as just as confusing as Egypt’s. Anywho…moving on.
When Ix Chel hooks up with Itzamna (god of the moon) she bears him four (by some accounts 13) sons, who become known as the Bacabs. The children (two of them) created heaven and earth and (four of them) were charged with holding up the skies in four directions. To make matters more confusing, it was also mentioned that the four Bacabs may have also been known as a single son, which is quite possible since his mother was a triple goddess and, you know, genetics. In that aspect, he would sort of be like Atlas I suppose. Poor guy. The story of Ix Chel and Itzamna seems to be very similar to that of Isis and Osiris in that the people knew prosperity under their rule.
So accounts of Ix Chel and the sun god are the most confusing, since not only does he go by numerous names, but the myths themselves are also not consistent. In some cases Ix Chel is the pursuer, and in some she is the object of desire. In one of the myths, she longed for Kinich Ahau who wouldn’t give her the time of day. She moped around after him, and the more she followed him, the worse the weather on earth became. Soon it was causing the tides to rise and floods to destroy crops. Realizing she wasn’t getting anywhere, she settled at home and started to weave and that was when she finally caught Kinich Ahau’s eye. It seemed he liked nothing more than a fine bolt of cloth, and they became lovers.
By some accounts, it was Kinich Ahau that Ix Chel bore four sons for, and they were known as the jaguar gods. They were named after the four directions they were responsible for holding up, similar to the Bacabs I mentioned before. What seems to be consistent is that the relationship was not meant to last. There is a myth that her grandfather disapproved of the union and struck Ix Chel with lightning and killed her. For weeks, she lay lifeless with hundreds of dragonflies surrounding her and sharing their lifeforce. She came back to life under their care and returned to her husband.
The union between the Sun god and Moon goddess was turbulent, and Kinich Ahau was said to have a horrible temper that he often took out on her. After being accused of having an affair with the morning star (the sun king’s brother), Ix Chel was kicked out of the sky and found refuge with the vulture gods until he returned to apologize. It wasn’t long until he was back to mistreating her, and she finally left him for good.
Worship of Ix Chel
Cozumel is known as Ix Chel’s sacred island, and the small Isla Mujeres (“Island of Women”) was devoted to her worship. As she represented all stages of life, she was revered as the weaver of the life cycle and was thought to protect the fertility of women. She was one of four goddesses worshipped, and pilgrimages were made to the temples of Ix Chel, Ix Chebal Yax, Ix Hunie and Ix Hunieta. According to historical record, the shrine on Cozumel island was a square tower, wide at the base and stepped all around, very similar I would imagine to some of the structures that can be found still today.
Ix Chel was the goddess of feminine gifts throughout all stages of life, and as such is in charge of the arts, beauty, fertility and weaving. But she also had the wisdom and sage advise as the crone, and there were feasts in her name which both physicians and shamans would bring their supplies to be blessed. She was the ruler of the moon, weather, water and had a connection to healing, but could also be fierce and destroy those who defied her. She was the keeper of the souls of the dead and protector of the hearth.
Like many of the goddesses we have looked at from other cultures, Ix Chel represents the most important aspects of life and living. One of healing the sick, comforting the dying, and guiding new life into the world. I can see why her allure hasn’t faded over time.
For anyone interested in learning more, you can check out the videos below, or the links under resources. In the meantime, thank you for popping by my blog and be sure to put a note in the comments if there is a goddess you would like to learn more about! In the meantime, be good to one another!
Ix Chel videos
Ix Chel: https://www.gods-and-goddesses.com – Gods & Goddesses, May 27, 2020