Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

On Monday I did a post at Triple P about Isla Mujeres, the tiny island off the Yucatan coast of Mexico. The finger of tropical beauty that sits facing both the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and is just north of far more familiar Cancun was once a holy place to the Maya. Although they did not inhabit the island, the Mayans built temples on it to their multifaceted goddess Ix Chel.

Ix Chel seems like a bit of a conundrum to moderns who take up her study. Like most Mesoamerican deities she was not given dominion over one issue of human concern. She ranged in representation from a lovely, nubile maiden (as shown in the statue above from my collection) to a frightening hag. She was the protector of women, but also the eater of souls. She granted fertility and made men impotent. She wove the sky and fell down dead when struck by lightening. The paradox of her power is unimaginable. But here is an ancient story told about Ix Chel, who was also the Queen of the Moon.

One morning, as she bathed in a waterfall on sacred Mujeres, Ix Chel was seen by the god of the Sun. The Sun fell instantly in love with the shimmering, silver maiden and introduced himself gallantly. Ix Chel was charmed by the golden youth and took him as her lover. Her jealous grandfather, the Lord of Lightening, discovered her with the Sun. Enraged, Ix Chel’s grandfather hurled a lightening bolt at the lovers, killing his own granddaughter.

The Sun ran from the Lord of Lightening who chased after him. Ix Chel’s body was left alone on Mujeres where it was found by a family of dragonflies. Finding the goddess dead sent her totem animals into fits of mourning. For thirteen days they grieved over their patroness, singing sweetly and imploring her to awaken. On the fourteenth day Ix Chel sat up, completely alive and even more beautiful than before. She thanked her dragonflies and granted them the gift of lovely colors that would dance in the light as they flew before ascending to Heaven to join the Sun.

The Sun and the Moon lived happily together for a time but Ix Chel, gregarious and playful, could not help dashing off now and then to dance with the stars or slide down a rainbow. Her behavior made the Sun first jealous and then intolerably angry. He accused Ix Chel of being unfaithful with the Morning Star, his brother. When she did not deny this accusation the Sun picked her up and threw Ix Chel bodily from Heaven. Regretting his harsh treatment of her, the Sun found Ix Chel once again on Mujeres, this time among her other totem animals, the rabbits. The Sun, with promises to never again do her harm, managed to coax the Moon back to his palace. All too soon the same pattern repeated itself though, this time with the Sun growing even more violent than before.

In short order Ix Chel was fed up. She left the Sun and returned to Mujeres. When the Sun again tried to follow her she sent a vulture to frighten him off. The vulture was so large that his wings blocked out the Sun’s light and the god finally gave up trying to win back the silver maiden. He returned to his palace disgraced.

Ix Chel learned to make herself invisible and began to wander among the Mayan people. She took care of the women she found, especially those who were being abused. She attended at births and laid the dead to rest, all unseen by humans. But the women knew Ix Chel was there and those who made the pilgrimage to Mujeres at least once in their lifetime where particularly favored by the Lady of the Moon.

Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, is a now a popular tourist spot but it has not lost the spirit of Ix Chel, the ruins of whose temple can still be visited today.


Timmy! said...

Oh Snapped! I keep picturing the Sun wearing one of those "wife beater" muscle t-shirts and drinking beer in cans by the case... Hey, abuse is never okay.

On another note, I'm guessing this is where they got the name of the "Chel" character in the Dreamworks animated movie, "El Dorado"...

Pauline said...

Ix Chel's story actually outlines a classic pattern of abuse: child abused at home leaves the home for an abusive lover/husband/wife/you-name-it. Props to Ix Chel for breaking the cycle which, based on this story, has obviously been around for a L-O-N-G time.

And yeah, I think you're spot on with the Chel character.