6 - Myths
IxChel, the moon goddess of the Maya, will get caught in the middle of a "love triangle," the gossips of Chac, the rain god, and her grandfather's mistakes. In the afterword, we explore more about the gods and the goddess in the story. As well we present another version of IxChel's story and why she leaves away from the sun.
1. The Rabbit on the Face of the Moon, Mythology in the Mesoamerican tradition by Alfredo Lopez Austin, published by the University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
2. The Complete Dictionary of Symbols by Jack Tresidder, General Editor, published by the Chronicle Books in San Francisco.
3. The Bird Who Cleans the World. Víctor Montejo. Publicado por Curbstone Press. 1991.
4. Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddess from Around the World retold by Katrin Hyman Tchana illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, published by Holiday House, New York.
Adapted from the version found in the book The Moon in the Well by Erica Helm Meade.
IxChel and the Dragonflies
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz text updated on 9/5/19
Long ago, in the land of the wandering jaguar, the sacred deer, the magnificent quetzal bird, the ants who conquered and the brave butterflies.
Beneath the Jade Mountain and alongside the turquoise sea, in the land of the Maya people, the moon was said to be the most beautiful of all the heavenly bodies.
People would spend hours during clear nights, just looking at IxChel, the Moon.
But IxChel, well, she had a busy agenda. She was in charge of watching over the tides of the ocean, steadily guiding the waters in and out; no one's timing was more reliable.
She would also hold sway over the pulse of life, women’s fertile cycle, and agriculture. And she would guide midwives, healers, and weavers. But her favorite pastime was traversing the cosmic streams paddling in her canoe and admiring the stars.
Sometimes she would shine boldly. Other times she would partially hide beneath her silken shawl. And other times she would completely wrap herself beneath her silken shawl, so nobody would get to see, not even a sliver of her luminous cheek. And then in silence, she would glide across the Milky Way.
In the meantime, the Sun was secretly in love with her. Oh! He would watch her as much as he could. He would strain his ray lights trying to catch a glimpse of her. And sometimes, she would slightly open her silken shawl, so he would get to see: her earlobe! Oh! And when he was lucky, he would get to see: her shoulder! Oh! The harder he looked at her, the brighter she shone!
And this waiting and watching, and shinning and flirting, went on for eons, so the Maya said.
In the land of the Maya, there are two seasons, the calm season and the storm season. The storms were created by the storm maker: Chac.
And Chac, well…he would get really bored during the calm season! And you know what happens when the gods get bored. They tend to gossip…and Chac loved to stir things up.
One day to pass time Chac went to the Moon’s palace while IxChel was away, to pay a visit to her guardian, her Grand Father, and so Chac said:
Chac: Grandfather, you know I see things everywhere, and just the other day I noticed a glint in the Sun’s eyes for IxChel!
Grandfather: Well, Chac, I have not noticed anything different.
Chac: Well, …to me, just to me, not everybody is talking about this yet, but to me, it seems as the Sun’s ray lights are like arrows of desire for IxChel!
When Chac left, grandfather could not get that thought out of his mind. This was unthinkable! These two could not get together!
IxChel’s domain was of the night, guiding midwives, healers, and weavers; while the Sun’s domains were of the Day and nourishing the crops. If these two were going to come together, do you know what that is? An Eclipse!
If an eclipse was going to happen floods, darkness would come upon the earth. No! no! no! this could not happen.
Meanwhile, Chac was bored to death. This time he decided to pay another visit to another fellow that lived on top of the jade mountain, Vulture.
Chac: You know Mr. Vulture that I hear things everywhere, and just the other day, I heard that whoever gets to marry IxChel will become the King of the Skies!
Well, when Chac left, Vulture could not get that thought out of his mind. In that time, he was not yet eating rotten and dead meat. That is another story. But he was already eating rotten vegetables and well-matured fruits, which not exactly made him a high-class bird, more so a low-class bird. And the whole the thought of becoming the King of the Skies!
was certainly an intriguing thought. Vulture was a meek fellow but quite persistent. After that, every morning before dawn, he flew up the skies to visit IxChel and say:
Vulture: Jewel of the skies! I couldn’t help to notice how radiantly you glowed through the clouds last night!
Of course, these visits did not pass unseen to the Sun. Who grew jealous. Well, the calm season was nearly over, and Chac again felt the need to pay another visit to Grandfather.
Chac: Oh, Grandfather, everybody is talking! And they are saying that Vulture is planning to elope with IxChel and to prevent that the Sun is planning to kidnap her! Oh! But I am sure; you are well aware of this situation, right?
Grandfather: Of course, Chac! Of course! I am well aware of the situation, not really, but I am still deliberating on What to Do, What to Do?
Chac: oh well! You know I like to brainstorm! and I have been stirring some ideas!
And so, Chac went on telling Grandfather what he had been thinking. More so, what he had been plotting. In the end, Grandfather thanked Chac and encouraged him to be brave on that heroic mission.
Well, if the rumors of this love triangle were true or not, we really do not know, because that happened a long time ago. But what we know is that Vulture and the Sun moved towards IxChel that dawn, as it had been their habit.
But what was special about that day?
Chac, the rain god, was poised upon the sea, ready to release the biggest storm ever seen. First, he sent his clouds to darken the world. Second, he sent the fierce winds. That went everywhere and told everybody it was about time to find shelter. Third, Chac sent the thunderclaps, that came with so much violence, that they nearly jolted the morning star out of her place in the skies.
However, the worst was about to come. Chac had ready his axes. He began to toss the axes against the clouds. When the axes were hitting the clouds, they created lightning bolts, and these lightning bolts began to strike the earth here and there, here and there, here, and…one of those lightning bolts struck IxChel!
The moon fell and sank into the waters of the ocean. Fearing for her life, she changed her self into a crab and left herself go and thinking that she was going to be just fine. Oh! But she was wrong. Chac was so blinded by his own rage that the lightning bolts began to pierce the waters of the ocean striking her, here and there, here and there, until finally Chac grew bored and calm came back.
Ixchel’s lifeless body was found floating in the waters of the ocean next to her canoe. To rescue the pieces of her lifeless body, came crossing the ocean, the mountains, the forest, four hundred dragonflies. They all picked up her pieces and gently placed her on her canoe. Then, the four hundred dragonflies lifted her canoe and brought it back to the Moon’s palace, to her grandfather.
Grandfather: Mi Niña, Mi Niña!
Oh! Grandfather could not help but to blame himself for what had happened to his granddaughter. If only, he hadn't listened to Chac. For thirteen days and thirteen nights, grandfather grieved. For thirteen days and thirteen nights, the four hundred dragonflies covered IxChel and her canoe, as if her canoe was her coffin, and they all hummed. Hummed. Hummed. Hummed.
On the thirteenth night, Grandfather asked the dragonflies if they could take her to the cenotes. The entrances of the underworld. Xibalba. Because it was about time to say goodbye.
At that moment, the four hundred dragonflies elevated themselves in the air. To grandfather’s surprise, IxChel rose up full of life. All those days and nights that the dragonflies had been humming, they were not grieving for her or giving her a farewell. They were filling her up with their life force.
IxChel rose up and resumed her place into the skies as the Moon goddess of the Maya. As for what happened to Chac and Vulture, those are two different stories. But the Quiche Maya that tells this story will tell you too: Do not underestimate the power of a dragonfly, one is steady fast and strong but four hundred, you all together can make miracles!
Very well let's start talking about the culture from which this is story comes from, the Quiche people, the source of this story. The Quiche are part of the Maya people, and Quiche means the place of many trees. They constituted about 11% of the Guatemalan population according to the last census in 2011. The majority live in the highlands, and they speak their own native language and some Spanish. The Quiche share, along with other Maya groups and another native of Mesoamerica similar myths and gods. But unlike other Mesoamerican cultures like the Nahuas or Mexicas, they had a better arithmetical system that helped them predict eclipses.
To talk more about the eclipses, I will be referring the book The Rabbit on the Face of the Moon, Mythology in the Mesoamerican tradition by Alfredo Lopez Austin, published by the University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Maya’s mathematical calculations were more advanced than those of other Mesoamericans. They rejected the idea that the darkening of the sun was a risk. instead they turned this event into a mathematical regularity. Thanks to the creation of the lunation tables the solar eclipses were no longer celestial accidents but extraordinary events governed by universal laws.
However, this does not mean that they were not scared about it. It's simply helped the Mayan priests to avert in a timely manner whatever misfortune the eclipse could bring upon their people.
To the Maya, the moon was also a container, she would hold, or she would release. When she was solid she would retain the liquids, otherwise in any of her other faces she would be emptying the liquid or the light.
Thus, an eclipse of the moon represented an extraordinary violent rupture that for a moment stopped the full moon in order to spill its full liquid in one stroke over the earth. On the other hand, an eclipse of the sun was momentary domination of the sun by the empty moon, which diminishes the Solar’s light equalizing power over the earth.
Alright, let's move on. We are going to talk about the characters. To shed some light about who they were in the Maya culture I will be referring to The Complete Dictionary of Symbols by Jack Tresidder, General Editor, published by the Chronicle Books in San Francisco. To talk about the sun, we will go to page 253, and we find that the sun according to the Maya had different name, Itzamná. The supreme deity of the Mayan pantheon. Itzamná, also known as lizard’s house was the creator of writing and learning and was also consider the first priest. He was represented as a King or as a scribe, or as an old man, and in some cases, he has been depicted as a great serpent.
Alright, let's continue with Chac. He was the Mayan god of water, rain, and lightning. As guardian of fertilizing rains, Chac presides over agriculture and open the stone that concealed the first maze. He's also related to Tlaloc, the Mexican rain deity who just like him (Chac) and Itzamná are shown as old men.
Regarding vulture, we will refer to the book written by Victor Montejo: The Bird Who Cleans the World and in there (the book) vulture is called Usmiq.
His story dates specifically to when the (first) flood happen. During the flood the animals found a house on a hill. After a while the animals noticed that the waters had begun to recede slowly, so they sent Ho ch’ok, the trumpet bird to go and scout the horizon to see if there was land available. Well he comes back with bad news and then again, they waited, and when they noticed that the waters were receding again they sent Usmiq. He finds land, but he also finds a lot of dead animals. Since he's so hungry he begins to eat it. So, when he goes back to the house the animals notice how badly he smelled, and that's when he gets in trouble.
Finally, we will finish our notes with IxChel. Most of the versions that are well known are quite different from the one you heard. So, I will be recounting one of those versions, and it comes from the book Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddess from Around the World retold by Katrin Hyman Tchana illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, published by Holiday House, New York.
So, the story tells us that IxChel was a skillful weaver and she lived with her grandfather. One day the sun saw her weaving, and he liked her so much that he wanted to impress her. So, he went hunting and caught a deer. She was very impressed. So, the next day he realizes that deer were scarce and so he has the idea of using the same skin (from the first deer), and he filled it up with ashes and brought it again to the girl’s window. Of course, she is impressed, and he does the same thing day after day.
Well grandfather grew suspicious, and he tells the girl to throw water right in front of the house so when the sun came back that day caring the deer, he slipped, the deerskin burst and covered the sun with ashes. The sun felt so embarrassed that he turned himself into hummingbird. The old man shot the bird and stunned it.
Then the girl took the bird into the room. When the hummingbird came back alive he resumed his old form and persuaded the girl to run away with him. When grandfather finds out he's very mad, and he goes and finds his friend Chac, and I asked him for help. Well Chac found them (the couple) paddling down the river in a canoe, and so he began to send lightning bolts, and one of these lightning bolts struck IxChel. She burst into pieces.
The sun called the dragonflies who picked up every drop of the girl’s blood and then they placed it in 13 hollowed logs and then they waited for 13 days. On the 13th day the sun opens each log, from the first 12 logs came out serpents and from the last one came out IxChel alive. In the end, the two lovers move together, and for a while everything was fine and beautiful.
But then the sun's brother Xu lab, the morning star, came to leave with them and the sun grew really jealous. So, he began to rage at her constantly. IxChel grew tired of this situation and left the sun and went to leave with the king of vultures. She stayed there for a while, but the sun came an insisted, asking for forgiveness and eventually she forgives him and gave him a second chance.
For a time, everything went well, but the sun became jealous again in then he beat up Ixchel hoping to mark her, so she wouldn't be so beautiful, and none of the other gods would like her. Well, of course, she had enough, and she left the sun, and that is why every day the sun still roams the sky looking for Ixchel, but he can never find her. She only comes out at night when he is asleep.
Well friends this is all for now my name is Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and Tres Cuentos warns you to choose well your friends and lovers. Next time we will be exploring the stories of legendary phantoms, legendary ghosts, such as La Llorona, El cadejo and the Eternal Wanderer.
Nos escuchamos pronto, adiós.
List of credits:
The Poison Princess by Media Right Productions.
Chariots of War by Aakash Gandhi.
Please by Wayne Jones.
Scrapping the Sewer, Doug Maxwell, Media right Productions.
End of Time Ugonna Onyekwe.
From Russia with Love by Huma-Huma.
Air Prelude and At Rest by Kevin McLeod, Creative Common Attributions License.
Sea of Doom and Wild Fires by Doug Maxwell, Media Right Productions.
Under Cover by Wayne Jones.