Mayan Pantheon: 11 Principal Deities

The Maya civilization had a rich and complex pantheon of deities. With its rich history, sophisticated astronomical systems, and profound mythology, the Mayan culture viewed their deities as pivotal figures linking the cosmos, the earthly realm, and the underworld.

After the Spanish conquest of the Maya region, the worship of Maya deities was suppressed, and many of their stories and practices were lost or blended with Christian beliefs. Nonetheless, the importance of Itzamná can still be seen in the various inscriptions, carvings, and texts that have survived from the pre-conquest period.

While the importance and characteristics of some gods could vary between city-states and time periods, here are some of the principal gods of the Mayan pantheon:


As a principal deity, Itzamná was widely worshipped throughout the Maya region. He had various temples and ceremonial centers dedicated to him, and he played a central role in many rituals, ceremonies, and festivals.

Often regarded as the chief deity, Itzamná was associated with creation, writing, and divination. He was considered the god of the heavens, day, and night”Itzamná” can be translated as “lizard house,” though the exact etymology is not entirely clear. He was sometimes referred to as the “god of the heavens,” “god of day and night,” and other titles suggesting his paramount status in the Maya pantheon.

While many Maya deities have specific and consistent attributes, Itzamná is often depicted in various ways. He is sometimes shown as an old man with reptilian or amphibian features, and in other instances, he might be shown in more anthropomorphic forms.

Itzamná is associated with creation, wisdom, and learning. He was also connected with the heavens, the sun, and the moon. As a deity of culture and knowledge, he is credited with the invention of writing and the calendar.

This Maya creator god is often paired with Ix Chel, a major goddess in the Maya pantheon who is associated with the moon, childbirth, and weaving. In some traditions, they are considered a divine couple, with Ix Chel being Itzamná’s wife.

In various Maya myths, Itzamná is involved in foundational acts of creation and the establishment of order. His actions often set the stage for the functioning of the natural and cosmic world.

Ix Chel

Ix Chel, often spelled as “Ixchel,” is a significant goddess in the Maya pantheon. She is often associated with the Moon, childbirth, weaving, water, and medicine. She was sometimes portrayed in a dual role, as both the young and beautiful maiden and the old, destructive crone.

Ix Chel has been depicted in various ways throughout Maya art. In some representations, she is shown as a young, beautiful woman, while in others she appears as an old woman with claws and a jaguar headdress or skirt. The jaguar, a symbol of power and fertility in Mesoamerican cultures, is frequently associated with her.

One of Ix Chel’s primary roles in the Maya pantheon is as the Moon Goddess. As such, she’s connected to the cycles of the moon and their influence on terrestrial events, especially in relation to fertility and agriculture.

Also, Ix Chel was invoked for matters related to fertility, pregnancy, and safe childbirth. She’s also associated with medicine, and ancient Maya midwives and healers might have sought her guidance in their practices.

She was considered a patroness of weavers and weaving. The act of weaving was a deeply symbolic process in Mesoamerican cultures, representing the interconnectedness of life and the cosmos.

As stated above, in some Maya myths, Ix Chel is the consort of Itzamná, the supreme god. Their relationship is central to several creation stories and foundational myths of the Maya.

The island of Cozumel, off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, was a significant pilgrimage site dedicated to Ix Chel. Maya women from the mainland would make pilgrimages to the island to seek Ix Chel’s blessings, especially for matters related to fertility.

Today, Ix Chel is often celebrated and venerated as the embodiment of feminine power, creativity, and healing.

Kukulkan (or Q’uq’umatz in K’iche’ Maya)

A feathered serpent deity similar to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Kukulkan was associated with creation, wind, and was considered a bringer of civilization. Image: The Classic Maya vision serpent, as depicted at Yaxchilan (today’s State of Chiapas in Mexico)

This deity is from the ancient Maya civilization. He is often depicted as a snake adorned with the feathers of a quetzal bird, which combines elements of the earth (snake) and the sky (feathers).

Both Kukulkan (Maya) and Quetzalcoatl (Aztec) are “feathered serpent” deities. This means that these two gods from two distinct civilizations share similar characteristics and roles. They’re both seen as feathered serpents and have overlapping attributes and stories.

According to the myths, Kukulkan had a role in the myths that explain the origins of the world, the creation of humans, and the structure of the cosmos.

In Mesoamerican beliefs, wind can be associated with communication, the spirit, and the divine breath that gives life. Given Kukulkan’s connection to the wind, it underscores his importance in life-giving processes and his ethereal nature.

In the nutshell, Kukulkan wasn’t just a deity to be worshiped; he was also considered a cultural hero. He is believed to have brought crucial elements of civilization to the Maya, like writing, agriculture, or calendar systems. A “harbinger” is something or someone that announces or signals the approach of another, so in this context, it means Kukulkan heralded the onset of an organized, civilized society.

Kukulkan is a Mayan feathered serpent deity, akin to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. Symbolizing the fusion of sky and earth, he’s associated with creation, wind, and knowledge. Revered as a civilization-bringer, Kukulkan’s influence is prominently displayed in the architecture of Chichén Itzá, particularly the El Castillo pyramid’s equinox phenomenon.


Maya deity Chaac is often depicted with a reptilian or amphibian-like face, large round eyes, and long, curly nose. He typically carries an axe, which he uses to strike clouds to produce thunder and rain.

As the god of rain, Chaac was invoked for matters related to water, agriculture, and fertility. His favor was crucial for the sustenance of Maya society, as regular rainfall was vital for the growth of crops, especially maize, a staple food.

In some Maya beliefs, there are four Chaacs, each one associated with a cardinal direction (North, South, East, West). They collectively oversee rain’s distribution across the world.

The god of rain, thunder, and lightning. He was depicted with a long nose and often with serpents coming from his nostrils. He was a particularly significant deity for the agricultural-based Maya.

The ancient Maya conducted various ceremonies and rituals to appease Chaac, especially during periods of drought or before planting seasons. Such rituals might involve offerings, dances, and other ceremonial practices, sometimes even including human sacrifice to ensure rainfall.

There are some researchers that have stated that the Maya ball game, a significant Mesoamerican sport with ritualistic undertones, was played in honor of deities like Chaac. The ball’s movement might symbolize the sun or the moon, but the game could also be a ritual to ensure rain and fertility.

Given the environment of the Yucatán Peninsula, where prolonged dry periods are interspersed with intense rain, it’s understandable why a rain deity like Chaac held such significance in the religious and daily life of the ancient Maya.

Yum Kaax

While Yum Kaax is closely linked to wild vegetation and the jungle, he’s also recognized as a god of maize (corn), which was a staple crop and fundamental to the Maya diet. Maize was not just food; it held deep symbolic significance in Maya creation myths.

Yum Kaax is also known as the “Lord of the Woods” and was considered the protector of animals, especially those that dwell in forests.

The god of maize and vegetation, Yum Kaax was essential for the survival of the Maya, given the importance of maize as a staple crop.

He is often depicted as a young man adorned with ears of corn, emphasizing his role as a maize god. In some representations, he may be shown with features or attributes of wild animals.

Farmers would invoke Yum Kaax for a bountiful harvest and protection of their crops. Rituals, offerings, and ceremonies might be performed at the start of the planting season to seek his blessings.

While Chaac is the god of rain and is thus vital for agriculture, Yum Kaax represents the actual vegetation and fertility of the land. The two deities complement each other in the context of agriculture – with Chaac providing the necessary rain and Yum Kaax ensuring the fertility and growth of crops.

Kinich Ahau

The Sun god Kinich Ahau is often linked with rulership and the jaguar. Sometimes identified with or as an aspect of Itzamná. He is a symbol of continuity, life, and the cyclical nature of existence. As the sun rises and sets each day, it represents the balance of life and death, light and darkness, and the eternal cycles that govern existence.

Kinich Ahau is primarily recognized as the god of the sun. The word “Kinich” is believed to mean “sun-faced” or “sun-eyed” in the Maya language. As a solar deity, he represents the powerful and life-giving aspects of the sun.

He is often depicted with a humanoid form, with certain distinct facial features that include a squared eye, a Roman or aquiline nose, and sometimes with a k’in glyph (which denotes ‘day’ or ‘sun’) as part of his forehead.

Beyond being a sun deity, Kinich Ahau is sometimes associated with music, poetry, and art, representing the enlightenment and creativity the sun brings.

Kinich Ahau is sometimes identified as an aspect or manifestation of other major deities, especially Itzamná. Itzamná is a principal god in Maya mythology, associated with creation, knowledge, and culture. In some traditions, Kinich Ahau is seen as the sun-facing aspect of Itzamná.

There is also an association between Kinich Ahau and the Jaguar God of the Underworld, particularly in his manifestation as the Sun God during its nightly journey through the underworld. This emphasizes the cyclical nature of day and night, as well as life and death in Maya cosmology.

Given the sun’s central role in daily life, agriculture, and the functioning of the cosmos, Kinich Ahau was an essential figure in religious practices. Temples, rituals, and ceremonies were dedicated to him, especially in relation to the solar cycle.

Hunahpú and Xbalanqué

The Hero Twins from the Popol Vuh, a creation myth of the K’iche’ Maya. They undertook several adventures and challenges in the underworld (Xibalbá) and eventually became the Sun and the Moon.

Maya hero twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué were born to Xquic, the daughter of a lord of Xibalba (the Maya underworld). Their father was Hun Hunahpú, who, along with his brother Vucub Hunahpú, was defeated in a ballgame by the lords of Xibalba and subsequently decapitated. Hun Hunahpú’s head was placed in a tree, which bore fruit and later interacted with Xquic, leading to the twins’ conception.

The twins are best known for their confrontations with the lords of Xibalba. Using their wit, strength, and mystical powers, they avenged their father’s death by challenging and eventually defeating these underworld lords in various trials, including a deadly ballgame.

In their adventures, the twins also sculpted the Earth’s features. One notable story involves their transformation of their half-brothers (who were bird-like deities) into monkeys after they treated the twins poorly. They’re also credited with clearing land for agriculture and other acts that made the world habitable for humans.

Hunahpú and Xbalanqué are often linked to celestial bodies. Some interpretations associate Hunahpú with the sun and Xbalanqué with the moon, while others link them to the hero twins visible in the constellation Orion.

After their many exploits and after setting the world right, the twins did not die but rather transformed. Hunahpú became the sun, while Xbalanqué became the moon, reinforcing their lasting impact and significance in the cosmos.

Beyond their literal adventures, the twins symbolize duality and balance, which are recurrent themes in various cultures. Their tales reflect the cycles of life and death, light and darkness, and the ever-ongoing struggle between order and chaos.

Ah Puch (or Yum Cimil)

Unlike the often heroic and positive tales of deities like the twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, Ah Puch’s domain is darker and more foreboding.

Ah Puch is primarily known as the god of death in Maya beliefs. He reigns over Xibalba, the Maya underworld, a place where the souls of the deceased might journey after leaving the mortal realm.

He is often depicted with a skeletal or decaying body, sometimes with bells hanging from his hair or clothing. His grotesque imagery, complete with bloated bellies, staring eyes, and jagged teeth, is meant to instill fear and symbolize decay and the inevitable end that comes with death.

While Ah Puch is not the central figure in major Maya myths like the Popol Vuh, his presence is always looming. He plays the role of an antagonist or a dark force in various tales, emphasizing the dangers of the underworld and the inevitable cycle of life and death.

Owls, especially the screech owl, are often associated with Ah Puch. These birds, believed to inhabit dark and desolate places, were considered messengers or heralds of the god of death, signaling his approach or presence.

The ancient Maya would conduct rituals to appease Ah Puch, especially in efforts to ward off premature or unnatural death. Offerings might include food, flowers, or incense, and rituals would invoke protection or favor for both the living and the souls of the departed.

Ah Puch was the god of death and the underworld. Also known as Xibalbá, he was depicted with skeletal or decaying features. Ah Puch embodies the darker, inevitable facets of existence: death, decay, and the underworld. While he might seem grim or even terrifying, he is an essential component of the Maya cosmological view, which encompasses the full spectrum of life, death, and rebirth. Image: Ah Puch from the Dresden Codex.

Buluc Chabtan

Buluc Chabtan (sometimes spelled Bolon Chabtan or Bolon Tzabte) is primarily associated with the grim aspects of life, including war, conflict, sudden death, and human sacrifice. He was invoked in the context of battles, and his favor was sought by warriors and leaders to ensure victory or to appease through sacrifices.

There isn’t a consistent or widely-recognized depiction of Buluc Chabtan, but when he is represented, it is usually in connection with tools of violence or sacrifice. This might include weapons like spears or knives, or even scenes depicting acts of sacrifice.

While Buluc Chabtan doesn’t play as prominent a role in the major recorded myths as deities like the twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué or the death god Ah Puch, he was nonetheless important. His association with war and sacrifice made him a deity that was both respected and feared.

As the god of sacrifice, rituals to Buluc Chabtan were likely to be intense. They might involve bloodletting, a common Mesoamerican religious practice where rulers or priests would pierce parts of their bodies to offer blood to the gods. In more extreme cases, human sacrifices, especially in the context of war, might be dedicated to him.


Sculpted image of Yopaat on Quirigua Altar O’

Yopaat’s prominence and worship appear to be more localized than some other deities. He is particularly associated with certain city-states and their respective dynastic narratives.

In the instances where he appears in Maya art, Yopaat is often associated with symbols of storm and rain, such as lightning bolts or related imagery.

It’s not uncommon in Mesoamerican religious systems for deities to have overlapping domains or attributes. Yopaat’s association with storms and rain might draw parallels to other deities like Chaac, the more widely recognized Maya rain god.


Ixtab, often referred to as the “Rope Woman” in translations, is a deity in Maya mythology associated with suicide, more specifically with those who died by hanging. Image: Ixtab from the Dresden Codex

Ixtab is considered a goddess who escorted souls to the paradise of the afterlife. In the Maya worldview, there were various ways one could die that would lead directly to paradise without passing through the trials of the underworld, Xibalba. One of these methods was suicide by hanging.

This Maya goddess is often depicted with a rope around her neck, signifying her association with death by hanging. Sometimes she is shown with closed eyes, possibly indicating death or a peaceful rest.

The prominence of Ixtab in Maya mythology indicates a complex cultural understanding of suicide. It’s believed that, in some cases, suicide, especially by hanging, was not necessarily viewed negatively but instead as a means of achieving a direct passage to a peaceful afterlife.

While Ixtab is associated with a specific type of death, it’s unclear to what extent rituals or ceremonies were dedicated solely to her. However, her role suggests that the Maya had specialized ceremonies or beliefs associated with various types of death.

Many ancient cultures had deities or spirits associated with specific types of deaths or the afterlife’s various aspects. Ixtab’s role in guiding souls to paradise is somewhat reminiscent of psychopomps in other mythologies, though her specific association with hanging is unique.

READ MORE: Most Famous Psychopomps From Around the World

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