Weekly Deity: Chac


Chac is an ancient Mayan deity.  He was the god of fertility, rain, lightning, and farming.  His name could also be spelled Chaac.  A surprising amount of information is known about the Mayan gods given that only four of their many texts have survived.  Given the lack of ancient material, there is still only so much we know about individual deities.

Attributes

His form was reptilian in nature, with fangs and a droopy snout.  He also had hair that was always tangled and knotted.  He carried a lightning axe.

Mythology

Chac was both one god and many gods in Mayan belief.  There was the main Chac but there was also a Chac for each cardinal direction, the only differences between them being their corresponding colors: red for east, white for north, yellow for south, and black for west.  All Chacs were rain and lightning gods, and held prominence during the rainy season as young, virile gods but withered to terrestrial/subterranean old men during the dry season, to be rejuvenated by the ocean in between.   This was called the Great Water Cycle.

Frogs were probably a sacred animal to Chac.  There is a record of a rain ritual which featured four boys acting as four frogs.

An apparently well-known myth shows these rain gods as patrons of agriculture, as they were involved in the opening the mountain in which maize was hidden (and corn has long been a staple crop for the Mayan and Aztec peoples).  Another myth tells of Chocl (Chac, ‘Cloud’) as the brother of Sun, and together they defeat their aging adoptive mother and her lover.  But later on, Chocl sleeps with Sun’s wife and is punished, and his tears are the origin of rain.  Various versions apparently show Chac in a war-like fury as he pursues Sun and Moon and attacks them with lightning.  Another version says that he simply weeps, and he gave the secrets of farming away to humans as a kindness and with no strings attached.

Light and Dark Sides

Variations of Chac seem to be divided along Mayan tribal lines.  Some see him as a benevolent rain god who likes humans and handed them the keys to farming.  Others see him as an adulterer and an angry god.  Nevertheless, he seems to be largely a good guy.  His role as a fertility god means he promotes life, and balanced life at that since he’s only a dominant god during the rainy season.  He reminds me, in a way, of Greek Persephone, in that both rise for only part of the year and both bring fertility and abundance in their wake.

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