Ix-Chel, pronounced “ee shell, some,” was the primary Maya Moon Goddess. Her name has many interpretations; “Goddess of Iridescent Light,” “Rainbow Lady,” “Goddess Pale Face,” alluding to the pale face of the full moon.
The Moon goddess is associated with water, where the light shimmers like waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and rainbows.
The ancient Maya believed that the Moon Goddess, Ix Chel, wandered across the sky at night, and during the day, she lived in the “cenotes,” natural sinkholes filled with water.
The Various roles of Ix Chel
She is the moon and weather goddess and controls and influences all water, including the rain. To ensure you had a good crop of maize, which was the staple food of the Maya people, you had to make ritual offerings to the Moon Goddess Ix Chel.
Among her many roles, she was also honored as the weaver of the life cycle, and her spindle is said to be at the center of the universe’s motion. In this sense, she also had great power over all the elements in the universe and is said to have weaved the intricacies of balance, harmony, and nature into the existence of the Mayan people.
At times she was depicted as a war goddess. A powerful goddess who had to wrestle with the sun every day to make him return to the underworld every night. This links her to another sacred symbol, the jaguar. As the moon travels the night sky, the jaguar travels the earth at night and sleeps during the day.
Although a fearsome goddess, she was seen as the protector of fertility and childbirth.
A lunar observatory on the island of Cozumel was the most recognized place of pilgrimage during the waning moon. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and all other women of the city-states would undertake long, arduous journeys to Cozumel to be blessed by the moon goddess
Goddess of fertility and blessings
Mayan women who wanted to ensure their upcoming marriages were successful and fertile spoke their wishes into an oracle hidden in a statue on this beautiful island.
According to historical accounts from the first Spanish conquistadors, a temple was dedicated to the Moon Goddess Ix Chel on Cozumel. A square tower with a broader base and a stepped pyramid was covered with a thatch roof. The thatch roof had four openings and inside this empty pyramid was a life-size ceramic image of the Moon Goddess Ix Chel.
Here the pilgrims would whisper questions to the priests, called Aj’Kin; the priest would relay the answers they received. Gifts for the Moon Goddess were in clay statues, tied with bags of herbs associated with the goddess Ix Chel.
Since Ix Chel was known as a “Goddess of Light,” no ritual sacrifices or blood sacrifices were ever made to her, but herbs and plants, as a revered medicine goddess, especially pink and white flowers, were given as blessed offerings.
The many faces of Ix Chel
Just as the moon has phases, so the face and depiction of the Moon Goddess Ix Chel varies.
These varying depictions of the goddess originate from a description of the Dresden Codex document, in which Ix Chel is depicted as an old crone, with snakes for hair and a beak as her upper lip, dressed in bones and feathers.
The other central depiction of Ix Chel as the Moon Goddess and goddess of fertility, water, and abundance shows a beautiful young sensual woman surrounded by water, herbs, and flowers.
Four Faces of Ix Chel
Like the moon, the Moon Goddess of Maya mythology may have four faces. She was a revered goddess among all the cultural groups in Meso-America and worshiped throughout the peninsula. Upon their arrival in the early 16th century, the Spanish travelers recognized a huge religious following of the Moon Goddess.
Different codices or documents, statues, and carvings depicted other moon goddesses worshiped on the islands of Cozumel and Isla de Mujeres. These Moon Goddesses Ix Chel, Ix Chebal Yax, Ix Hunie, and Ix Hunieta were deities that had to be pleased and honored to have a happy and fulfilled life.
They also had to be revered as they had power over the weather and could bring good rain for crops, drought, or in some cases, floods.
The pilgrimages made to the island of Cozumel, across the Yucutan, were as the moon travels through the night sky, from west to east.
Once the pilgrimage was complete, the women would sleep with statues of Ix Chel beneath their beds as a sign that they had made their sacred pilgrimage. Sleeping with a figure of Ix Chel under your bed would ensure your good luck and fertility.
Mayan dynasties claimed to be descendants of the moon. In ancient Mayan cultures, the moon was as important as the sun, and to claim your descendants from the moon, made you part of the universe and royal descent.
Most ruling dynasties of the Maya city-states claimed to be descendants from one god or another. These dynasties ruled over their city-states, sometimes over centuries, and were only de-throned if another city-state conquered them.
Today Mayan mythology is so intertwined with Catholicism that pilgrimages are still undertaken to Cozumel, where the Virgin Mary is venerated.
The beautiful myths and legends of the Moon Goddess Ix Chel capture one’s soul every time you look into the fantastic night sky.