Weekly Deity: Ixchel


Ixchel in the Dresden Codex

Image via Wikipedia

Mayan goddess of the moon, healing, medicine, midwifery, and rain.  Her name is roughly pronounced “ish-chel”.

Attributes

Her hair is full of snakes, and she is shown in the Dresden Codex as being slightly hunched over carrying an inverted jar.  Sometimes she is shown with claws instead of hands and feet.  It’s difficult to tell, but at times her skirt has crossed human bones on it.  She is associated with the jaguar.

Mythology

As a goddess of pregnancy and midwives, Ixchel is associated with the moon.  Her association, however, is up to debate over whether she should be matched with the full or waning moon.  Because of her attribute of the inverted jar and her rare epithet of Grandmother, some scholars think she is more associated with the waning moon.

The inverted jar Ixchel carries is also indicative of falling rain.  The water falls from the jar and lands on the earth, though its flow could be a trickle or a flood.  At one point in the Dresden Codex, Ixchel’s emptying of her jar replicates the vomiting of war by a celestial dragon.  At the same time, the emptying of the jar reflects Ixchel’s status as a midwife in that the jar could be taken to represent the sac holding the amniotic fluid, and the reversing of the jar represents childbirth.

Only one myth of Ixchel seems to have survived.  From Verapaz, this myth says that Ixchel and her husband Itzamna had thirteen sons.  Two of these sons created the heavens and the earth and everything held within.  These two sons possibly correspond to the Howler Monkey Gods in the Aztec system, but it’s uncertain.

Light and Dark Sides

As a midwife, Ixchel would hold life and death in her hands.  She could bring life into the world, but at the same time, she could fail to bring mother and baby through the birthing process.  Midwifery implies some measure of trust, as well, on the part of the mothers.  Likely Ixchel was honored greatly by Mayan women in order to retain her favor for their pregnancy. She is also a goddess of medicine, which again means she could hold life and death in her hands.

As a goddess of rain with her inverted jar, Ixchel could bring the killing flood or the life-giving rains for the crops.  Being a grandmother goddess and a goddess of the moon, she would be considered wise yet mysterious.

Since the only myth to survive of Ixchel doesn’t tell us much about her, we can only guess about what her personality would be like.  She seems to be very dual in her duties–on one hand she could be benevolent and helpful, but on the other, she could be cruel and bring death.  It would be wise to stay on her good side and honor her as the wise Grandmother moon, who brings medicine, easy pregnancy, and gentle rain and withholds the deadly floods.

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