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Myth / Mayan Mythology

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Mayan sun and moon disk calendar.

The Mayans (also known as the "Maya people") are one of the three great American civillizations that flourished in Pre-Columbian America, alongside the Incas and Aztecs. However like the other two, their culture and mythology are often plagued by negative depictions in popular culture to the point they are often confused with each other and have spawned the Mayincatec trope. While there are some simularities and overlaps between these people in Real Life, they are different enough from one another to warrant an entry. Here the reader can find out more about the Mayans, while making sure to also check out the Aztec and Inca mythology.

People who wish to find out more about the inaccurate stereotypes and portrayals in fiction, read the Mayincatec page. While those who want to learn the truth and historical facts, read the Pre-Columbian Civilizations page.


  • Bat Out of Hell: The Camazotz was a bat-god associated with night, death and sacrifice. The name literally translates as "death bat". In the Popol Vuh, Camazotz are the bat-like monsters encountered by the Mayan Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque during their trials in the underworld of Xibalba. The twins had to spend the night in the House of Bats where they squeeze themselves into their own blowguns in order to defend themselves. When Hunahpu stuck his head out of his blowgun to see if the sun had risen, Camazotz immediately snatched off his head and carried it to the ballcourt to be hung up as the ball to be used by the gods in their next ballgame.
  • Bee Afraid: Averted with Ah Muzen Cab, the god of peaceful and stingless honeybees.
  • Crystal Skull: All of the real crystal skulls that have been subjected to scientific examination, have been determined to have been constructed using twentieth-century tools and machinery, which would make this a Discredited Trope.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Interestingly, the Lords of Xibalbá are associated with darkness and play an antagonistic role, but they aren't as explicitly evil as Vucub-Caquix. This is because they represent death and illness, hence they are hateful but never killed, as opposed to the severe punishment of Vucub-Caquix and their offspring.
  • Deadly Game: The Maya ballgame, in a sense. While not fundamentally deadly in itself, there's evidence that the game had a lot to do with the selection of human sacrifices in some civilizations. Historians are still debating on who gets killed, the winning team or the losing team.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: Played dead straight with Ah Puch who has always been a malevolent evil god of the Underworld that Mayans avoided and hated for good reasons since times old.
  • Feathered Serpent: Kukulkan is one of the two Trope Makers alongside Quetzalcoatl from Aztec Mythology.
  • God in Human Form: In the Popol Vuh, the Maya Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque, are said as the mortal incarnations of two gods, Hunahpu being the incarnation of the sun god Tohil, while Xbalanque was the incarnation of the moon goddess Awilix.
  • God of Light:
    • Kinich Ahau is the god of the sun.
    • Tohil is the god of lightning and fire, sometimes also presiding over the sun or even being a pet of the sun god.
    • Chak Ek is the god of the morning star, Venus.
  • God of the Moon: Depending on the story, region and time period the moon is usually either conceptualised as male (one of the hero twins in Popol Vuh) or as female. In the later case the popular goddess Ix Chel became conflated with the moon, much like Artemis started off unrelated to the moon but became conflated with Selene later on.
  • Happy Rain: Chaac is the god of the life-giving and life-sustaining aspects of rain, rather than the melancholy.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The goddess of fertility and healing, Ix Chel takes three forms (although she is most frequently seen in her Crone form). She is a young woman with a snake on her head, who practices medicine, a slightly older woman holding a rabbit (a symbol of fertility), who has taken time off from her career as a healer to focus on her family, and an old woman pouring out water, and going back to her career as a healer.
  • Human Sacrifice: Played straight, though not to the extreme degree as the Aztecs.
  • Impossible Task: In the Popol Vuh, Hunahpu and Xbalanque are assigned several tasks of these during their descent to Xibalba (the Underworld). One of them was to keep a cigar lit a whole night without burning it out. They attached fireflies to the end of the cigar so they would appear lit.
  • Light Is Not Good:
    • In the Popol Vuh the demonic macaw Vucub Caquix claims to be the sun and moon and light the world, before the Hero Twins (who would later become the sun and moon) end his tyranny.
    • Kinich Ahau the sun god is mostly benevolent, but his marriage with the moon goddess Ix Chel was abusive, culminating with him scarring her face.
    • Chak Ek is the god of the planet Venus and just about as luciferian as that other guy associated with the morning star, seething over his brother's brilliance and routinely murdering other gods, causing warfare, starvation and social unrest on earth.
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming: Screams of pain and suffering are the only things that will ward off Ah Puch.
  • Lunacy: Several moon deities such as the goddesses Ixchel and Awilix.
  • The Maker: Itzamna, who is speculated though not confirmed to also be the Top God.
  • Mayan Doomsday: The Trope Namer. However as you may have noticed, none of this stuff ever happened. Popular culture had a lot of fun with the supposed doomsday and that's what we're here to record.note  Since December 21st 2012 has come and gone, it's safe to say that this is now a Discredited Trope.
  • Mayincatec: Averted.
  • Mystical Jade: For the Mayan people, due to this stone being as green as the rivers and the vegetation, jade was associated with life and the Maize God and bits of it were put in the mouths of kings. Jade also was associated with the Sun and winds.
  • The Power of the Sun: Also several solar deities such as the gods Itzamna and Kinich Ahau.
  • Psychopomp: Ixtab is the protector goddess of people who commit suicide by hanging, and sees to it that they reach a pleasant afterlife.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The earliest recorded version of this are the Mayan stories of Hunhapu (Blue) and Xbalanque (Red) in the Popol Vuh and in Mayan stelas (some dating back to at least 200 CE and potentially even dating back to Olmec iconography), making this trope at least Older Than Feudalism.
    • The trope in relation to Mayan Mythology gets a bit complicated as Hunahpu takes the initiative in the mortal world, but Xbalanque does in the land of the dead Xibalba; however, Xbalanque is more animalistic (in many depictions, being a jaguar Half-Human Hybrid), thus fitting more in the Red Oni role despite having turned into the Moon whilst his brother became the Sun.
  • Toothy Bird: Seven Macaw in the Quiche Maya creation myth of the Popol Vuh has teeth made from precious stones.
  • Top God: While it's actually unknown who was the supreme Mayan god since the conquistadors destroyed most records of Mayan mythology, from what survives it's believed the spot was held by Itzamna for the Yucatecs and Gucumatz for the Ki'iche. Spanish sources also mention a more abstract God of Gods figure named Hunab Ku who was sometimes said to be Itzamna's father, but most scholars conclude the Maya did not actually believe in this deity and he was made up by the conquistadors to assist in transitioning the Maya to monotheism. Which is sad, considering that the only surviving records we have are of Spanish origin.
  • The Underworld: Metnal (which translated means "place of fear") and Xibalba.

Alternative Title(s): Maya Mythology